The close race in the NL Central this year is shaping up to be the race for 2nd place. The Houston Astros have been as hot the past two months as they were cold during the first two months of 2010. The St. Louis Cardinals now find themselves heading in a completely opposite direction.

At the end of May,
–the Astros were 17-34 (.333) in 6th place and 12.5 games out
–the Cardinals were 30-22 (.577) and tied for 1st place

Both teams played at a .500 clip in the month of June, and each team was just a few games over .500 in the month of July. After the trading deadline saw Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman leave Houston, the Astros have gone on to win 62.1% of their games (29-19). Meanwhile the Cardinals, after jettisoning Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook, have lost 58.7% of their games (19-27).

The Cardinals “magic number” to finish second place in the NL Central is at 8 games with 12 to play. The 3rd place Astros have 11 games remaining on the schedule.

The Astros
–record is at 73-78 just 4.5 games behind St Louis
–have 2 games remaining against Washington, and 3 games against each of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago.
–have a .652 Wpct against their remaining opponents.
–will finish with a winning record against every NL Central opponent except Cincinnati

The Cardinals
–are 77-73
–have 5 remaining against Pittsburgh, 3 against the Cubs, and the final 4 of the season against Colorado.
–have a .333 Wpct against their remaining opponents.

If those percentages held true over the final stretch of the season, the Cardinals would finish with 81 wins (4-8) and the Astros with 80 wins (7-4).

(Editor’s note: I began writing this last night before the Astros gave away 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th to the Washington Nationals. Prior to that loss, both teams projected to finish with 81 wins.)