MLB Power Rankings: Red-hot Cardinals are making the NL Central the class of baseball

Spotting a Cardinals loss in August has been almost as rare as seeing a cardinal in many parts of America. It's been absurd. After going 5-1 on a road trip that ran through the Dodgers and previously-hot Rockies, the Cardinals are now 19-5 in August. It's one of the best August performances of all-time, sitting in win percentage behind only 10 teams in history (in full Augusts). 

With an offense led by MVP candidate Matt Carpenter, they are scoring 5.25 runs per game this month. The pitching staff as a whole has pitched to a 2.87 ERA in August. The bullpen has been a problem this season, but that has not been the case this month and it's one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround. They're also hitting in the clutch, coming from behind, playing good defense, etc. The works. They're doing everything well right now. 

Lots of credit has to be given to interim manager Mike Shildt, too, who is 26-12 after taking over for a 47-46 Mike Matheny. Don't count out his impact off the field and he's been pulling most of the right strings with the lineups and bullpen. 

The emergence of the Cardinals as a major threat in the playoff race means the NL Central is the powerhouse of the Senior Circuit. The Cubs have the best record in the NL by 3 1/2 games (four in the loss column). The Cardinals and Brewers are holding down both wild card spots. The Cardinals would be in first in the NL West by a half game and the Brewers would be in a virtual tie. They both have the same number of wins as the NL East-leading Braves, too. 

Even looking at the bottom part of the division, the Pirates are arguably the best fourth-place team in baseball while the Reds are definitely the best last-place team in the NL and at times this season have looked really good. 

Unfortunately, the path forward means the three NL Central powers could eat themselves. In the regular season, here's what left in the head-to-head department: 

  • Cardinals-Brewers: 3 at MIL
  • Cardinals-Cubs: 3 at CHC (the final three games of the season)
  • Cubs-Brewers: 3 at MIL, 3 at CHC

So that's not a ton of head-to-head action left. Perhaps they won't eat themselves in the regular season, but they definitely will in the playoffs at this rate. That is to say that if the Cubs hold the best record in the league and the Cardinals and Brewers square off in the Wild Card Game, only one team from this division can advance to the NLCS. An NL Central team will eliminate another in the wild card game and then the same situation happens in the NLDS. 

Bank on one of them being in the NLCS at this rate. This division is really strong right now. At least two of the teams will make the playoffs and it's entirely possible all three of the contenders end up comprising of 60 percent of the NL playoff field. 

Biggest Movers
3 Brewers
3 Rockies
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Red Sox Sure, they were swept by the Rays, but that was the time they've been swept all season. --51-43
2 Astros Back in first place and my guess is they don't relinquish it the rest of the way. Those A's are pesky for opponents, though. 259-36
3 Yankees Six games left against the Red Sox and six games behind them. Interesting. --59-33
4 Athletics A three-game series in Houston awaits and the A's have five of their last seven against the Astros. 253-41
5 Cubs Boy, Daniel Murphy really woke up the sleeping giant that was the offense, no? It was inevitable anyway, but his addition -- also with Addison Russell going on the disabled list, which helped -- really kick-started things. 150-44
6 Cardinals Matt Carpenter's four-double game on Sunday tied an MLB record (it has happened 43 other times, but it's still fun). 247-45
7 Indians They followed up a split in Fenway Park with losing a series in Kansas City. Baseball, man. Ebbs and flows. 252-40
8 Braves A 5-2 week to bounce back from the soul-crushing sweep last weekend. Well done, Braves. 258-37
9 Diamondbacks The D-Backs are 15-9 against the Rockies and Dodgers. If this trend continues. they'll have won the division based only upon their head-to-head wins. --47-47
10 Rockies Matt Holliday's return and then him hitting a tie-breaking homer a few days later was pretty cool. 346-48
11 Brewers Remarkably, the team that once had a 4 1/2 game lead in the Central is now the least likely of the three contenders to make the playoffs. Baseball, man. 348-47
12 Dodgers Maybe the sweep means they're fixed, but I'll need more than three games against the Padres to convince me. --63-33
13 Rays Coming back from nine games to steal one of the wild-card spots would be historic, but it's hard to see that happening. Regardless, this team is far better than I thought they would be and I'm accountable for being wrong here. I didn't think they'd win 70 games all year and they're already there. 256-40
14 Phillies A 2-4 week against the Nationals and Blue Jays after losing three of five to the Mets. That's not hitting their stride at the right time. 348-46
15 Mariners The M's are now five back of the second wild-card spot and 6 1/2 back in the division. They've gone 18-25 since July 5. They built enough credit that it might not have mattered, but the A's have gone 31-13 in that span. 239-58
16 Nationals Bryce Harper since the All-Star break: .341/.411/.610 with 12 doubles, seven homers and 30 RBI in 34 games. 149-43
17 Giants There are always lots of upsets in a given MLB season, but Dereck Rodriguez being the Giants' leader in WAR on Aug. 27 is a pretty damn big one. 345-49
18 Pirates In five starts with the Pirates, Chris Archer has a 6.45 ERA. 244-49
19 Twins Logan Forsythe was terrible for the Dodgers this season and is hitting .337 with a .402 OBP with the Twins. Go figure. --58-34
20 Angels If Andrelton Simmons maintains his 6.4 K percentage, it'll be the lowest among qualified hitters since Nori Aoki's 5.9 percent in 2013. 249-46
21 Mets The Mets have won 12 of their last 19 games. Not too shabby. 142-51
22 Blue Jays A 5-1 week including a series win over the Phillies. Not too shabby. 235-60
23 Rangers The Rangers have a winning record in August, just as they did in June. This is not a terrible last-place team. 250-44
24 Reds How tough is the Central? The Reds are 20-38 in the division and only one game under .500 outside it. 143-48
25 Marlins Splitting the week against the Yankees and Braves is, you guessed it, not too shabby. 134-57
26 White Sox Michael Kopech through a full start and a rain-shortened one: 8 IP, 1.13 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8 K, 0 BB. So far, so good. 142-48
27 Tigers The team leader in WAR? Mike Fiers, who has been on another team for weeks. 229-60
28 Padres On June 14, the Padres were only four games under .500 at 34-38. Since then, they've gone 16-45. That's a .262 winning percentage, which is a 162-game pace of 42-120. --45-48
29 Royals Salvador Perez missed the first several weeks of the season due to injury and he still might set a career high in home runs. He hit 27 last year for his career best and he's got 23 right now. --33-62
30 Orioles The worst part about this is the Orioles were actually trying to win this year. Remember, they signed Alex Cobb to a four-year deal in the offseason. --28-65
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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