The National League Central was a division that many predicted to be a highly contested one. However what many didn't expect was which teams would be battling at the top and the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

The Cincinnati Reds have been a consistent loser over the past few decades. Many have given them too much credit and we see that they're not on top of the division. The Reds were +175 in the baseball odds to win the NL Central Division at the beginning of the season and the over-under for their amount of wins was 86.5.

Let's break down the division and see where the teams are as they resume the season after the All-Star break.

Zack Greinke Milwaukee BrewersMilwaukee Brewers

After single handedly winning the All-Star game with a home run and giving the National League home field advantage in the World Series, Prince Fielder showed people why he's one of the best players in baseball and why the Brewers are contenders. In essence, Fielder could possibly have gotten the home run to give his team home field advantage in the World Series. However, I'm sure the Phillies would have something to say about that.

Milwaukee needs the home field because they're the 4th worst team on the road while being the best team at home. This might be their downfall.

Currently tied for the division lead at 49-43, the Brewers offense is based around Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Richie Weeks has also been a major contributor. For the season, Braun has 16 HR, 62 RBI, 320 BA, and 19 SB. Fielder leads the team in homers and is currently at 22 HR, 72 RBI, and .297 BA. Look for Prince Fielder to come rushing out of the gate in the 2nd half and have a monster season. Most teams would take the 17 HR, 39 RBI, and .278 BA that he provides. The Brewers offense is solid with these three men leading the charge.

Pitching-wise, the Brewers are led by Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo is 10-6 with a 3.76 ERA. This isn't one of the best pitching staffs in baseball but the Brewers have a couple of options. Shaun Marcum (7-3, 3.39) has also pitched very well for the Brew Crew. Marcum has only allowed .222 BA to opposing batters. Zack Greinke has a nice 7-3 record but he can thank that to the hitting. His ERA is near the bottom of the staff. The Brewers have a good closer in John Axford and it's easy to see why they’re at the top of the division.

Bodog currently has Milwaukee at 27/20 odds to win the division and 16/1 to win the World Series. You never know, Braun and Fielder can carry a team.

Jamie Garcia St Louis CardinalsSt Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are fighting it out, tied with the Brewers for the division lead. However, Bodog lists them as 7/5 to win the division and 20/1 to win the World Series. There's a little more confidence behind Milwaukee and understandably so. Albert Pujols is getting up in age and has been injured for part of the season. When Pujols isn't injured, he might very well be the best player in the game today. Pujols is at 18 HR, 50 RBI, and a .280 BA. Expect these numbers to go up big in the 2nd half of the season.

Matt Holiday has had a good season in limited at bats at 14 HR, 49 RBI, and .324 BA but Lance Berkman has stolen the show. People thought that Berkman was washed up when he was traded to the Yankees. Think again. Berkman leads the Cards with 24 HR, 63 RBI, and .290 BA. He has over a .400 on base percentage. This is a flashback to the Berkman that played in Houston. If these men can keep up the solid play, the Cardinals will have a chance to at least win the division.

If Chris Carpenter can get his game back together, I like the Cardinals pitching staff more than the Brewers. Carpenter is only 4-7 with a 3.85 ERA. Look for Chris to pick it up in the 2nd half. Pitchers Jaime Garcia (9-3, 3.22) and Kyle Lohse (8-6, 3.32) give the Cards a real solid foundation.

In summary, in the 2 team race between the Brewers and the Cardinals, give the Brewers the edge in offense due to youth but the Cardinals are filled with veterans that are good players. Milwaukee's lack of production on the road might be their downfall. It could go either way but I would actually give the edge to the Cardinals.

PNC Park Pittsburgh PiratesPittsburgh Pirates

Now we enter the biggest shocker of the division, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a mere 1 game off the division lead with a 47-43 mark. Pittsburgh is getting no respect by the MLB odds makers. They're 10/1 to win the division and 50/1 to win the World Series. Even the fourth place Reds are getting much more respect. The Pirates at 10/1 is a great value bet. They just came into the all star break crushing the Cubs 9-1.

Pittsburgh doesn't do it pretty, they just find a way to win. Offensively, they don't possess the stars that other teams have. Andrew McCutchen is the only legitimate producer on offense with 14 HR, 54 RBI, and .294 BA. Pittsburgh seems to get timely hits for a less than average offensive team. Neil Walker leads the Pirates in RBI's with 59 and he's also a necessity for this team to have a chance.

A good team needs a good closer, and Joel Hanrahan (0-1, 26 Saves (no blown saves), 1.34 ERA) has been perfect in shutting the door on the opposition. Jeff Karstens (7-4, 2.55), Paul Malholm (6-9. 2.96), Charlie Morton (7-5, 3.80), and Kevin Correia (11-7, 4.01) have given them depth to make the pitching staff and team a formidable one.

The Pirates can't be written off and are appealing considering their odds. They should at least finish the season in 3rd place in the division or possibly better. They're a better team (at this moment) than the Reds, who get more recognition than the Pirates

Travis Wood Pitcher Cincinnati RedsCincinnati Reds

Speaking of the team that was expected to take the division, the Cincinnati Reds have been less than stellar and find themselves in 4th place at 45-47. Personally, I've never been high on the Reds. They haven't been a consistent winning team in past years. However, they do have a foundation of star players. With Johnny Cueto as their ace of the staff and Jay Bruce and Joey Votto at the offensive end, not many teams can match up with these 3 players.

The Reds have a good set of hitters in Brandon Phillips (8 HR, 49 RBI, 290. BA), Ramon Hernandez (10 HR, 26 RBI, .322 BA), Jay Bruce (21 HR, 57 RBI, .268 BA.), and Joey Votto (13 HR, 55 RBI, .324 BA). With this group of hitters along with Cueto, this team's record should be much better than it is. Compare this offense to Pittsburgh's. Cincinnati's offense dominates the Pirates offense.

We see where the problem lies. How many times am I going to say it? Good pitching wins games! The Reds rank 24th in ERA, 25 in saves, 22nd in CG, 28th in SHO, 26 in runs allowed, 27th in HR, 28th in BB. They're giving guys free passes and the opposition is cashing in.

Johnny Cueto (5-3, 1.96) has been outstanding and provided a lot of ‘under’ backers with some wins. Mike Leake and Edison Volquez are fairly good pitchers but they're giving up too many runs.

The bullpen is a disaster. Fransisco Cordero has been less than perfect this season. He's 3-3 with 17 saves (5 blown saves) although a very good 2.95 ERA. He's cost the Reds at least a few games in the win-loss column.

This team can improve. They can't be totally written off with the roster that they have but the pitching needs to get it into gear or they can forget about having any chance of winning a division.

The Reds are currently listed at 7/2 to win the division (not a good price) and 28/1 to win the World Series. You make the call.

Casey Coleman Pitching Chicago CubsChicago Cubs and Houston Astros

I'm going to group these two losing teams into a summary. They were both expected to lose and they haven't disappointed (except their fans). The Cubs are 37-55 and the Astros are 30-62. There's no hope for this season for either team. I bet the Astros wish that they could have Lance Berkman back but I think that he's happy being with a winner instead of playing at home with a loser.

The Cubbies rely on the power of Alfonso Soriano (14 HR, 41 RBI, .265 BA) and Aramis Ramirez (15 HR, 51 RBI, .298 BA). Overall, Ramirez has had a solid season. Let's not forget Carlos Pena and his team leading 19 HR but he's incapable of getting on base, which offsets the positive aspects to his game. Castro is leading the team with a .307 BA to go along with 2 HR, 39 RBI, and 10 SB. It's not an awful offense but there needs to be improvement if they want to be considered legit.

In the pitching department, the Cubs have the ammunition with Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster but they're both having lackluster seasons. Some starters that have filled in need to be released.  In the bullpen, Carlos Marmol has pitched well at times but has blown too many opportunities, 6 blown saves on the season. A team can't rely on a closer that can't seal the deal.

Cubs are 300/1 to win the World Series. Some players just aren’t playing up to potential and the Cubs need a legitimate ace to add to their staff. (Do you think that it's asking too much?)

A.J. Happ Pitcher Houston AstrosHouston Astros

While Hunter Pence is having a career year at 11 HR, 60 RBI, .323 BA, the rest of the team isn't very productive offensively. Carlos Lee's 48 RBI's and Michael Bourn with 114 hits, 35 stolen bases, and .287 BA rounds out what the Astros can count on from some vital players. This is a team that can't hit the ball over the fence but they do rank 2nd in the major in doubles.

Pitching is another problem area, the Astros leading arm in wins is Wandy Rodriguez with 6. As a team, they have 10 saves on the season (ranked 30th-last in the league). Wandy Rodriguez and Enerio Del Rosario have done a decent job on a poor team but that's about as far as it goes. Houston really needs to get rid of J.A. Happ (3-11, 5.76). Happ has been a winning pitcher until he joined Houston. Possibly a fresh start somewhere else will get him back on track.

Astros need to focus on pitching and power hitting. This is a very poor team (that’s being generous).

I've summed up the National League Central for you at the midway point and how it might play out. This is an interesting division. It can possibly be a 4 team fight for the division title. Pittsburgh has surprised everyone and the Reds have been the disappointment of the division. Can Milwaukee start to win on the road? They could win this if they ever started to get a level of comfort on the opponents’ ball park. The Cardinals are filled with veterans and this will be a dogfight.