Through much of the first half of the 2017 season, the NL Central was mediocre. In fact, at times it was a bit of a laughingstock. This wasn't just at certain points in April or May, either. 

Take June 28. The Cubs were sitting at .500 (39-39) and were only one game out. The Pirates were in fourth place with a 36-42 record, 9 1/2 games out of the second wild card. They were only four games out in the NL Central. The Brewers were the leaders at 41-39, even though they would have been 11 games out in the NL West and seven out in the NL East. 

Again, that's a pretty laughable division right around the halfway point of the season. 

It was at that time that the Brewers got hot. They would win 11 of their next 13 games, pushing themselves up to a 5 1/2 game lead in the Central. Through Saturday, they had actually tied the Rockies (holding the second NL wild card spot), meaning a wild-card race might actually be possible at some point. 

The NL Central race seems to be where things could really get interesting, though, especially now that the Brewers have dropped three straight while the three teams behind them are winning. 

As we head to July 19, the Brewers lead over the Cubs is down to 2 1/2. The Cardinals are within 4 1/2 and the Pirates five. Yes, there are four teams within five games of first. 

Even if the Brewers don't play quite as well as they did for several stretches in the first half, it's pretty reasonable to believe they are in this thing for the long haul. 

The Cubs are planning on being there as well and trading for Jose Quintana signals as much, not to mention how much talent is on the team -- with many of them starting to really wake up of late. 

The Cardinals don't even like to say the word "rebuild" and they've won five of seven with the only two losses coming against the red-hot Pirates.

Ah, yes, the Pirates. They've now won nine of their last 11, taking two games each from the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals. They have Starling Marte back and Andrew McCutchen "back" to his old self. 

Could we maybe, please, possibly get a four-team race here? It seems possible. 

Or maybe someone will run away with this thing. There are still more than two months left in the 2017 regular season. All we can do in mid-July is look ahead with hope and I'm hoping this NL Central race includes four teams down to the last month. If that happens, here is the number of times each of these head-to-head battles takes place in September:

Brewers-Cubs: 7
Cubs-Cardinals: 7
Brewers-Pirates: 6
Pirates-Cardinals: 6
Cubs-Pirates: 4
Brewers-Cardinals: 3

Now that would be some Central chaos. Of course, it would probably still be laughable as they jockeyed to see who could take the division with 84 wins or so. 

C'mon, Baseball Gods. Make this happen. 

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1 Dodgers Just not even fair right now. --43-17
2 Astros OK, so the good news about the Carlos Correa injury is that the Astros still win the division without him and he'll surely be back full-go for the playoffs. The bad news is that this totally and completely SUCKS! --29-31
3 Nationals Your new bullpen duo got the job done, Nats fans! (Hopefully you were in bed before Sean Doolittle scared you to death). --26-34
4 Red Sox I don't like them here at all, but look below. Who deserves the spot? Read through numbers 5-9 (no one below was considered for the top five). You'll see. 224-36
5 Diamondbacks They had lost 11 of 14 before beating the Reds on Tuesday, but the J.D. Martinez acquisition helps for sure. And there was some credit built up. 125-35
6 Rays Do you really think the Rays are the sixth-best team in baseball? Hint: Here's the one where you can probably reasonably call me out. They've won six of their last seven. Of course, they were only two games over .500 before this last quick stretch. If anything, this just shows how much a drop there is from the top three teams (with the Nats as the obvious three). In conclusion, send all angry tweets to @daynperry 340-20
7 Rockies Three wins in a row, but before that they had lost 15 of 20. --26-34
8 Brewers They were hot, but now they've lost three straight. --29-31
9 Indians They've lost four of five to the A's and Giants to start the second half. 435-25
10 Cubs Remember that 18-inning game against the Yankees? Willson Contreras went 1 for 8 in that game, lowering his early-season line to .209/.280/.330. Since then, Contreras is hitting .306/.368/.561 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 36 RBI. That's not too tiny a sample, either, as it's 202 plate appearances or around 1/3 of a season. 234-26
11 Yankees If there's a way Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are doing what they're capable of doing by the end of the year, mixing in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle is lethal here. 133-27
12 Twins We mentioned the split earlier in the year, but things can be fluky early. It's not early anymore and the Twins are 21-29 at home and 26-17 on the road. 136-24
13 Mariners Easily the streakiest team in baseball this season. It's remarkable to scroll through their game-by-game results and see the long runs of Ls (sometimes with one or two Ws mixed in) followed by long runs of Ws (sometimes with one or two Ls mixed in). The latest was the Mariners winning five straight before their Tuesday loss to the Astros. 627-33
14 Pirates Ebbs and flows of baseball season, man. They just look like a totally different team right now than a few months ago. 319-41
15 Cardinals Michael Wacha's last three starts heading into the All-Star break: 3-0, 1.53 ERA, 23 K, 4 BB, 17.2 IP. Then on Tuesday, he threw a three-hit shutout. Surely, Cardinals fans, you don't wanna get ahead of yourselves here, but what if? 130-28
16 Braves Impressive sweep of the Diamondbacks meant the Braves had won five of seven. They've lost two against the Cubs now, but maybe the Cubs are just putting it all together. 435-25
17 Rangers Scoring two runs combined in two games against the Orioles has to be worth a deduction. Only two spots is probably being too nice, really. 222-38
18 Royals They were starting to look like a legit playoff threat, but have now lost seven of eight. Of course, they are still very much within striking range and we've already seen them get insanely hot at the drop of a crown. 726-34
19 Angels Albert Pujols is 93 hits away from 3,000, by the way. Just giving you an early heads-up. 326-34
20 Tigers J.D. Martinez was signed for basically nothing after the Astros cut him in the spring of 2014. For the Tigers, he hit .300/.361/.551 with 99 home runs in 458 games. He will be remembered very fondly around those parts. 523-35
21 Blue Jays It doesn't appear that "they keep coming within one game of .500 and can't get there" storyline will be appearing again any time soon, eh? --32-28
22 Athletics In his last 11 starts, 25-year-old Sean Manaea is 7-2 with a 2.92 ERA. He still goes through battles with his command, notably causing inefficiency, but the A's have a good one here. 436-24
23 Marlins Thanks mostly to injury woes, we've never seen a Giancarlo Stanton season with more than 37 homers. He hasn't been hurt all season and he's on pace for 51. Beautiful. 531-29
24 Mets Hopefully they give top prospect Amed Rosario a shot at some point this season to get a taste of the majors. He's tearing up Triple-A and this current iteration of the Mets is going nowhere. 126-34
25 Orioles While it might be jarring for O's fans to see both Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be traded, think about what relievers go for on the July trade market these days. It could be a gigantic return. 325-35
26 Reds They've been outscored 46-14 in going 0-5 since the All-Star break. 231-29
27 White Sox Finally gathering all the prospects. Good job, Rick Hahn. Now it's time to see what Yoan Moncada can do in the Show. --35-25
28 Padres The Padres took two of three from the Giants to start the second half and solidify their claim to the prestigious number 28 spot on the Official Power Rankings. --37-23
29 Giants I know he has blisters now, but that doesn't account for the season Johnny Cueto is having. It's fascinating how bad he's been after his stellar 2016 season. Perhaps it's a microcosm of this team in some way? Nah, it's just a piece of the puzzle. --29-31
30 Phillies In the interest of keeping it positive, I shall now simply list Pat Neshek's stats: 1.17 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 41 K, 5 BB, 38.1 IP. --28-32