Nick Kirby is on his honeymoon this week. For some reason, they asked me to fill-in for his weekly “Intelligence” column, which is an oxymoron of the highest degree.

With their win last night, the Cubs eliminated the Pirates from the NL Central division race. Their magic number to clinch the NL Central is just five games over the only remaining “threat”, the St. Louis Cardinals.

CHC 91 51 .641
STL 75 67 .528 16.0
PIT 69 72 .489 21.5
MIL 64 79 .448 27.5
CIN 60 82 .423 31.0

The Cardinals are also sitting outside the wild card playoff picture just 0.5 games behind the New York Mets for the 2nd wild card spot. The Pirates are a full 6 games back from that second wild card spot and now have to leap over three teams to grab a playoff spot.

SF 77 65 .542 +1.5
NYM 76 67 .531
STL 75 67 .528 0.5
MIA 71 72 .497 5.0
PIT 69 72 .489 6.0
COL 69 74 .483 7.0

Cincinnati Reds

Your Cincinnati Redlegs went 3-4 last week, but who they beat and didn’t beat had major impact on the National League Wild Card race. The Reds were swept at home by the New York Mets, marking 14 consecutive losses to the Mets stretching back into 2014. They turned around and took three of four on the road against the Pirates, effectively knocking them out of the playoff picture. The rest of the Reds season will see them playing the Brewers and the Cubs six times each, while they’ll get another shot against the wild card contending Pirates and Cardinals four games each.

This upcoming week, the Reds will play a three game series in Milwaukee, then return to GABP for another four game weekend series against the Pirates. (NOTE: Saturday’s game is a day-night doubleheader.)

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have such a big lead over the division (16 games) and rest of the league (6.5 games) that they’ve moved to a 6-man starting rotation and are giving their position players frequent off days. As if they needed further help, setup reliever Hector Rondon (45.2 IP, 6 BB, 53 K) returned from the DL on Tuesday after three weeks off with a right triceps strain.

The Cubs will have a chance to clinch the division during a three game series in St. Louis before returning to Wrigley for a four game weekend series against the Brewers.

St. Louis Cardinals

After dropping two of three last weekend in Cincinnati, the Cardinals took two of three from the Pirates to start the week. However, they split a four game series against Milwaukee and enter week 23 on the outside looking in. If the Cardinals (and Pirates) fail to make it into the wild card game, it would be the first time since the introduction of the wild card play-in game (now in its 5th season) that an NL Central team wouldn’t be represented.

Returning from the DL is rookie all-star shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Diaz had been out of the Cardinals lineup for the past six weeks with a fractured thumb. Reliever Trevor Rosenthal is also expected to return this week after missing two months with shoulder inflammation and a strained flexor tendon.

The Cardinals do not have an easy week of baseball in front of them. After hosting the Cubs through Wednesday, the Cardinals head out West to play four games against the NL Wild Card leading Giants. The Giants are still in their division race, just three games behind the Dodgers. To make matters worse for the redbirds, their two most inconsistent, struggling starters (Mike Leake and Jamie Garcia) are scheduled to make four of the seven starts this week.

Pittsburgh Pirates

For all intents and purposes, the Pirates are done. After hosting the NL wild card game the past three seasons, the Pirates would have to make up six games while jumping over three teams just to make it as the second team. If they do close the gap and put themselves back in the race, they finish the season with four games against the Cubs and three against the Cardinals.

The Pirates started the week by losing two of three to the Cardinals before winning the final game of that series. That win snapped an eight game losing streak. Of course, the Pirates are in the midst of another streak, having lost three in a row to Cincinnati.

On a bright note for the Buccos, Gerit Cole is returning from the DL tonight after a brief stint with “posterior inflammation in his right (throwing) elbow”. They are going to need him back, healthy, and pitching like he was in the first half if they’re going to have any sort of comeback chance.

The Pirates are on the road all week, starting with four games in Philadelphia before coming to Cincinnati for that four game series. Currently, Cole and the Reds’ Brandon Finnegan line up to both pitch on Saturday.

Milwaukee Brewers

Like the Reds, the Brewers are left this season playing the role of spoiler. Their victory over St. Louis yesterday knocked the Cardinals out of the 2nd wild card spot. Their sweep of the Pirates over Labor Day weekend was part of Pittburgh’s eight game losing streak. The Brewers will play host to the Reds and the Cubs this week before getting another crack at the Pirates at the beginning of next week.