The Cincinnati Reds lead the National League Central with a 32-26 record heading into Sunday night's tilt with the Detroit Tigers. The Pittsburgh Pirates sit in second place, one game behind the Reds and one game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. Like last season, when the Pirates had early success, it's unlikely Pittsburgh will stay in the division race through September. More likely, the Central will come down to a two-team race between the Reds and Cardinals.
Through the first third of the season, the Reds' pitching, especially the bullpen, has been outstanding, allowing only 221 runs, fourth-best in the majors. If the Reds keep that rate over the course of the season, they would yield just 627 runs, their fewest since 1995, when the team won the NL Central title.
The offense, though, is struggling once you get past Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, who took over third base after Scott Rolen went on the disabled list on May 12. The Reds have scored just 241 runs in 58 games, putting them on pace for 673 this season, exactly the number of runs they scored in 2009, when they went 78-84 and ended the season in fourth place in the Central.
Given how St. Louis has managed early injuries, 673 runs will not be enough for the Reds to win the division. St. Louis has been scuffling lately with many players jumping on and off the disabled list carousel, but even with injuries to Lance Berkman, Allen Craig and Jon Jay, the Cardinals have scored 306 runs, putting them on pace for about 835 runs this season. St. Louis' pitching staff has also been banged up, with injuries to Chris Carpenter and now Jaime Garcia, but the Cards still have allowed only 248 runs. When the Cardinals get healthy, they will pose a serious challenge to the Reds unless Cincinnati can take its offense to the next level.