As the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the Pittsburgh Pirates are finding their needs to fill to return to the postseason. The rest of the National League Central division is doing the same. Here’s a look at what each team must fix before the start of August.
It’s either win the division or bust for every team in the National League Central division. If the Pittsburgh Pirates can capture the division, it will be their first NL Central division title.
After sending at least two teams to the postseason from 2011-2015 (twice sending three teams into October in 2013 and 2015), the N.L. Central has struggled this season. Until this week, three of five teams in the division had losing records.
Be that as it may, four of five teams have realistic shots at winning the division. The fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals are only 3.5 games out of first place. With a little over two months remaining in the 2017 regular season, a lot can change.
Here’s a look at what each team will look to target before the July 31st Trade Deadline.
Milwaukee Brewers: relief pitching
In this week’s six-game losing streak, all losses of three runs or less except for on Friday, Brewers relievers have surrendered 13 of the 26 runs that Milwaukee opponents have scored.
To make matters worse, those 13 runs have come in 18.1 innings logged by the bullpen in the six games so far this week. Compare that to Brewers starters allowing 13 runs in 32.1 innings.
Milwaukee’s starting pitching 8.1 WAR is the eighth-best in MLB. The relief corps 2.2 WAR is 15th in the league.
Closer Corey Knebel has been fantastic, posting a 2.37 FIP, 90.7 LOB percentage and 15.68 K/9. Wednesday’s blown save against the Pittsburgh Pirates snapped a 45-game streak of appearances with a strikeout. Besides Knebel, the Brewers don’t have a reliever with a FIP below 3.00 that has a minimum of 20 appearances.
For Milwaukee to acquire another strong reliever to help Knebel, it may have to part with MLB.com’s No. 13 prospect Lewis Brinson or another top prospect. Whether the Brewers are willing to budge from their rebuilding plan by dealing the future or not could determine their 2017 postseason fate.
Chicago Cubs: starting pitching
Adding to the rotation only makes sense. The Cubs’ 4.47 starting pitching ERA is 15th in the league. Chicago starters have logged 509 innings, which is the eighth-worst total in MLB. No Cubs pitcher with at least 11 starts has a FIP below 4.25 (Jon Lester, 3.83).
Jake Arrieta, in particular, has struggled, largely because his velocity has dropped this season. His 46.5 ground ball percentage is his worst in four years with Chicago as is his 15.3 HR/FB ratio and 4.25 FIP. Arrieta is a shadow of his 2015 Cy Young award-winning self.
Quintana was spectacular in his only start, but he can’t fix the Cubs’ issues on his own. With John Lackey potentially going to the bullpen and Kyle Hendricks still on the mend, the Cubs could use another impact arm.
St. Louis Cardinals: relief pitching
As Pittsburgh Pirates fans will recall, the Cardinals’ bullpen allowed the Pirates to pick up two walk off wins last weekend at PNC Park.
Opponents have a .305 BABIP against St. Louis relievers, sixth-worst in MLB. The Cardinals’ bullpen also strane 73.4 percent of baserunners, 13th in MLB and worst among N.L. Central teams.
Three key relievers have especially hurt the Cardinals. Seung Hwan Oh has regressed after a stellar rookie campaign, Brett Cecil is a lefty specialist that can’t get lefties out and Kevin Siegrist is walking batters at a career-worst rate. Trevor Rosenthal is the best reliever, but doesn’t always get used in the best situations.
St. Louis needs bullpen help ASAP. Oh is the closer despite a 4.80 FIP and 1.71 HR/9 ratio. He shouldn’t be near the ninth inning. Finding a late-game reliever is critical to returning to the postseason. The problem is, bullpen help is quickly becoming the most common need of many contenders. There will be much competition to fix the relief corps.
Cincinnati Reds: selling
Obviously, the Reds won’t be buyers at the trade deadline. At 40-56 entering play on Friday, they’re the only team in the N.L. Central over four games out of first place (10.5). Making the playoffs isn’t the goal.
Instead, Cincinnati will focus on selling its assets to improve its farm system. The Reds only have three players in MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list.
Those players include Zack Cozart and Drew Storen, who are both free agents after this season. General manager Dick Williams has said he is willing to move both and other players that are not a part of the long-term plan.
“If the interest is there and they make us fair offers, those players would be a lot easier to move,” Williams told cincinnati.com. “We’d save a little money, we’d get prospects back, we’d open up some playing time for some of our young guys, and that would probably be a win-win all the way around. But there’s no guarantee that teams are going to come and make offers for your players.”
Cozart, is the most likely to attract interest. His .316 average, .351 BABIP, and 144 wRC+ are all career-highs. The shortstop’s best chances at getting traded are if a contender loses its starting shortstop or is lacking proven talent there (ding, ding! Cardinals).
Photo by Joy Frank-Collins