Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Hurdle: It’ll all come down to pitching

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Chris Archer and rest of the pitching staff will determine the Pirates' chances of winning the National League Central in Clint Hurdle's eyes - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CHICAGO – The National League Central is seemingly the hardest division to predict in the major leagues.

Just 4 1/2 games separate the first-place Cubs from the last-place Reds. By comparison, the first-place team has at least a 5 1/2-game lead in the other five divisions.

So, what will decide the NL Central? Clint Hurdle didn’t need to give a long, convoluted answer when asked Friday before the Pirates were scheduled to play the Cubs in the opener of a three-game series. The Pirates were returning to action following four days off for the All-Star break.

“I’m going to rely on my time spent in the game to say that the team that pitches the best in the second half will win,” Hurdle said before the Pirates played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

If that’s the case, then the Pirates’ hopes of winning their first division title since 1992 might not be so good. The Pirates’ 4.91 ERA is the worst of the NL Central’s five teams. The Reds (3.77) are first, followed by the Cubs (4.09), Cardinals (4.14) and Brewers (4.61).

However, the Pirates’ pitching has been better lately. In 21 games since June 14, the team ERA is 3.88.

“I think we’re trending – to use a fashionable term – in (the right) direction,” Hurdle said. “But time will tell. Again, the focus is on getting our starters to get as deep into ballgames as they can so we can use the bullpen when we want to, instead of because we have to.”

The Cubs lead the division by 1/2 game over the Brewers, two games over the Cardinals and 2 1/2 games over the Pirates.

Chris Archer will start Friday’s opener and be followed in the series by Jordan Lyles and Trevor Williams. Joe Musgrove is scheduled to pitch Monday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, where Dario Agrazal and Archer will also pitch.

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