While the NL Central remains fairly tight from top-to-bottom, the division is really a three-horse race between the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals. Will one of those teams make a big enough splash to pull apart from the pack before the MLB trade deadline?
Chicago Cubs: Buyers
The Cubs made it clear they were looking to make a World Series push when they landed star free agent closer Craig Kimbrel earlier this month. Even after that splash, they could still stand to improve the bullpen as a whole. The Cubs’ bullpen has actually thrown the fifth-fewest innings across the league with the team’s start rotation producing solid results this season. However, Pedro Strop owns an ERA over 5.17 after recording a 2.61 ERA from 2014-18 with the team. Former closer Brandon Morrow remains on the injured list with an elbow injury and has yet to touch an MLB mound this season. The Cubs’ lineup is still dangerous with few holes; they likely won’t tinker with much beyond possibly adding a bench bat.
Milwaukee Brewers: Buyers
The Brewers were already going to be in the market for starting pitching, but now that Jimmy Nelson is moving to the bullpen, that need just got a bit stronger. With major sluggers such as Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas leading the offense, Milwaukee’s entire focus should be beefing up the starting rotation and bullpen. Beyond lockdown closer Josh Hader, the bullpen really isn’t very reliable, combining for a 4.30 ERA. Meanwhile, the rotation’s ERA clocks in at 5.02, 21st in baseball. Milwaukee desperately needs a true ace to rely on for a postseason run; expect them to make runs at Madison Bumgarner, Trevor Bauer, or others as they become available.
St. Louis Cardinals: Buyers
St. Louis has been one of the streakiest teams in baseball this season; after ending April with a 19-10 record, the team slipped to 28-28 by the end of May, but now sits at 40-37 in the thick of the division race. Despite not owning many big-name arms, the Cardinals own the ninth-best ERA in baseball at 4.15. Unfortunately, the offense is still lacking; they score just 4.61 runs per game and the team’s .723 OPS ranks 21st in the league. Massive offseason acquisition Paul Goldschmidt hasn’t hit his stride yet as his OPS still hovers around .770 but the lineup as a whole doesn’t need too much. If St. Louis wanted to shake things up, they could go after a center fielder or second basemen, and there are a few decent options for both on the market.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Sellers
At this point, anyone not named Josh Bell or Bryan Reynolds should be available on the market for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The problem is, they don’t have many valuable assets that will be shopped around. Partially due to a myriad of injuries, the Pirates give up the third-most runs per game (5.50) and have a below-average offense. Melky Cabrera and Corey Dickerson could make decent depth outfielders for a contender, but on expiring contracts, the return won’t be much. Another pending free agent, Jordan Lyles, is currently injured but could make a decent backend rotation piece; he started the year with a 1.89 ERA in his first eight starts. If Pittsburgh really wants to sell big, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are under club control through 2021 and 2023, respectively.
Cincinnati Reds: Sellers
Sitting in the cellar with the Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds should also look to unload some veterans before July 31st. The Reds have actually been better as of late and have a plus-48 run differential; while their 36-40 record doesn’t look great, their Pythagorean record (a record equation based on runs scored and allowed) sits at 43-33, just a half-game behind the Cubs for the NL Central lead. Regardless of the team’s unfortunate luck, their playoff chances don’t look great. Veterans on expiring deals, such as Scooter Gennett (expected to make his season debut next week), Yasiel Puig, and Tanner Roark, should all bring back a solid return for the Reds. Joey Votto has a no-trade clause and is getting paid $25 million per season through his age-39 campaign, so it’s hard to see any contender making a move for that contract.