Party of 5? Competitive NL Central in for taut second half

Published 3:12 a.m. ET July 11, 2019

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Joe Maddon didn’t let the free time created by a rare ejection go to waste.

Shortly after getting tossed by home-plate umpire Joe West on July 4 following an outburst in which the Chicago Cubs’ manager appeared ready to take on any and all comers from the Pittsburgh dugout after taking exception to the way the Pirates kept pitching up and in to his players, Maddon retired to the visiting manager’s office at PNC Park. He eased into a chair, opened a bottle of wine, flipped on the television and watched his wildly uneven team put the finishing touches on an 11-3 victory that avoided a four-game sweep.

Veteran move. Opportunities to relax over the next two-plus months will be scarce in the most competitive division in the majors.

The National League Central enters the second half with the first-place Cubs and last-place Cincinnati separated by just 4 1/2 games, an outlier during an otherwise yawn-inducing first half in which five divisions reached the All-Star break with at least a 5 1/2-game gap between first and second.

There are no front-runners in the NL Central. No room to breathe either,…

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