For 145 consecutive days, the Brewers have held onto first place. Just when you think the Brewers are about to slip into second place, they turn it on and regain their footing. Milwaukee's head-to-head meetings with St. Louis and Pittsburgh likely will decide the division race. Matt Garza is set to return from the disabled list in the coming days, leaving the Brewers with a decision to make. It would be hard to move Mike Fiers to the bullpen with how well he's filled in. While it may seem as if the Brewers are inconsistent offensively, Milwaukee has scored the second-most runs in the NL. The biggest concern heading into September is the bullpen. Nobody is running away with either wild-card spot, making the odds of making the postseason high.
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St. Louis Cardinals, 71-61 second place, 1 1/2 GB
Surprisingly, St. Louis' concerns of late have been with its pitching, as both the starters and relievers struggled in August. The trade to acquire Justin Masterson from Cleveland hasn't worked out, as he has a 7.43 ERA in five starts. John Lackey has boosted the rotation and has pitched well outside of one dud of a start. Adam Wainwright hasn't been himself of late, posting a 5.18 ERA in August. St. Louis has bullpen concerns, as closer Trevor Rosenthal has been shaky. The Cardinals will receive a major boost when Yadier Molina returns in the coming days. While there may be rust, Molina's presence can provide a spark. Outside of the Brewers and Pirates, the Cardinals don't play a playoff contender the rest of the way and enter September in good shape to make the postseason.
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY SportsJoy R. Absalon
Pittsburgh Pirates, 69-64 third place, 4 GB
Winning back-to-back series over the Brewers and Cardinals prevented the Pirates from being buried in the division race. The Pirates survived Andrew McCutchen's trip to the disabled list with a rib-cage injury, but the reigning NL MVP is clearly not 100 percent. But a limited McCutchen is better than no McCutchen. The Pirates lost seven games in a row in mid-August but have since won five of their last seven. Shifting Pedro Alvarez over to first base could help the offense, as Josh Harrison has been fantastic at third base. The Pirates get one more series each with the Cardinals and Brewers. A lot will ride on how well McCutchen can play through his painful injury. The Pirates are as close to healthy as they will be and could be a dangerous team.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
Cincinnati Reds, 64-69 fourth place, 9 GB
A 21-30 record in July and August has removed Cincinnati from the division race, making their odds of playing in the postseason pretty slim. Joey Votto has yet to return from a left quadriceps strain, while Brandon Phillips only recently returned from a thumb injury. Now Homer Bailey could be lost for the season. The Reds have also had problems getting the ball to closer Aroldis Chapman. Since making the All-Star team, catcher Devin Mesoraco is hitting just .226, while Todd Frazier has just three home runs since the break. Only the Cubs, Cardinals and Padres have scored fewer runs than the Reds. Cincinnati can play spoiler in the NL Central, as the Reds have six games remaining with the Pirates and Brewers and seven games left with the Cardinals.
David Kohl-USA TODAY SportsDavid Kohl
Chicago Cubs, 59-73 fifth place 13.5 GB
Even though the Cubs haven't sniffed the race this season, Chicago is an exciting club to watch down the stretch. Top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara have been promoted to the big-league club, giving Cubs fans a glimpse of what appears to be a very bright future. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have had nice bounce-back seasons, while Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber aren't too far off from coming to the big leagues. If they can find some pitching, 2013 will likely be one of the last years in which the Cubs play meaningless baseball in September. That said, Chicago isn't a pushover for the three teams contending in the division this season.