Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

NL Central: Who's buying, who's selling?

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

With the season past its halfway point and the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, clubs are taking a hard and honest look at what they've become and where they're likely headed.

Much of that started to be defined during the season's second quarter, which ushered in some separation in the National League Central. Team identities have formed. Needs have crystallized. Stars have emerged.

With the season past its halfway point and the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, clubs are taking a hard and honest look at what they've become and where they're likely headed.

Much of that started to be defined during the season's second quarter, which ushered in some separation in the National League Central. Team identities have formed. Needs have crystallized. Stars have emerged.

Just as we did after the first quarter of this 162-game marathon, MLB.com is taking a deeper look at what we learned over the past 40 games and how that sets each of the five NL Central clubs up for the weeks ahead.

BREWERS
What we've learned

If Milwaukee learned anything over the second quarter, it was that its success over the previous year was no fluke. It spent all but one day leading the division and reached 50 wins before anyone else in the NL. But after leading by as many as 4 1/2 games at the end of May, the Brewers have felt the Cubs creeping closer.

While Milwaukee continues to flaunt one of baseball's best bullpens, it has been susceptible to hot-or-cold offense. In the season's second quarter, the Brewers scored six or more runs 14 times, going 13-1 in those games. Conversely, they were held to one run or fewer 10 times.

Video: MIL@CIN: Thames crushes go-ahead 3-run HR in the 7th

What they'll be hoping to accomplish in the trade market
A string of lean years following their last division title has been building toward this season. So look for the Brewers to approach the upcoming Trade Deadline with an all-in mentality. That likely means pursuing a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, the one piece Milwaukee didn't add over the offseason. Pulling off a deal for Baltimore's Manny Machado would be a coup -- but also unlikely. Still, the Brewers would benefit from fortifying their middle infield.

Stock watch
Buyers. With the chance for their first division crown since 2011, the Brewers have reason to be bold in adding pieces to their club. The need for starting pitching could make them a match with the Mets, who have a pair of elite starters -- Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard -- to dangle. Furthermore, Milwaukee has the prospect pieces available to make a big move before the Trade Deadline.

CARDINALS
What we've learned

The Cardinals played below .500 during a second quarter that raised more questions than it provided answers. Injuries were an issue, yes. But inconsistency and underperformance has left the club still grasping for an identity and clear path forward this year.

The Cards' needs seem plentiful, which is the conundrum they face as they determine how to approach the coming Trade Deadline. The rotation depth has thinned with injuries to Alex Reyes and Michael Wacha, and bullpen roles remain ever-changing. On the position players side, St. Louis has players who can hit but can't field, others who can field but can't hit, and not enough who have done both consistently well.

What they'll be hoping to accomplish in the trade market
As such, the Cardinals could go in various directions with their roster. They remain on the fringe of contention in the NL Central and still in the NL Wild Card mix. If the Cards feel like a move or two will push them into October, they won't be afraid to add. But they also have to be realistic in their evaluations after failing to make the postseason with much the same look in 2016 and '17.

Video: STL@ARI: Molina and Gyorko crush back-to-back HRs

Stock watch
In between. Don't be surprised if the Cardinals act as both buyers and sellers this month. If they buy, look for them to pursue players who will be under club control beyond this year. And like they did in 2013, the Cards may consider shaking up the Major League roster to deliver the message that the status quo isn't good enough.

CUBS
What we've learned

After a sluggish start, the Cubs have distinguished themselves as one of the more complete teams in the league. The Cubs closed in on the Brewers by posting a 23-17 record in the second quarter, and they reached the second half as the NL's only club to rank in the top three in both runs scored and ERA. In essence, they are (mostly) who we thought they'd be.

The Cubs' steady play -- they've had only one losing streak longer than three games this year -- suggests that they already have the core pieces necessary for another deep October run. There are lingering questions about the health of Yu Darvish, who hasn't appeared in a game since May 20. But the job Mike Montgomery has done in his place doesn't make it imperative that Chicago go out and add another starter.

Video: LAD@CHC: Montgomery tosses 6 innings of 1-run ball

What they'll be hoping to accomplish in the trade market
It could be that the Cubs approach this Trade Deadline not with the intent to shake things up, but rather to reinforce. They have acquired veteran bench players midseason each of the last three years, and another such move could offer a boost.

Stock watch
Buyers. There's no question the Cubs remain all-in as a contender. Could it be that they make the boldest move of all this month by pursuing Machado? It's not out of the realm of possibilities. The challenge Chicago will face in any Trade Deadline transaction, though, will be meeting asking costs. This is a club that has emptied its prospect pool in recent years, so it's unlikely the Cubs would have the pieces to make substantial moves without subtracting from the big league roster.

PIRATES
What we've learned

The Bucs were the division's biggest surprise early, racing out to a 24-17 record to lead the NL Central at the quarter mark. But a club that had the NL's second-highest-scoring lineup then was the second-worst team in the league over the 40 games that followed. Pittsburgh has faded into fourth place in the division and fallen below .500.

The stretch has exposed a series of deficiencies and inconsistencies the club continues to battle. The Pirates still seek reliable relief ahead of closer Felipe Vazquez, and will continue running in place if they aren't able to receive more consistent production from core players in their lineup. Their rotation has been both vulnerable and volatile.

Video: PIT@SD: Vazquez fans Galvis to pick up the save

What they'll be hoping to accomplish in the trade market
In recent years, the Bucs have shown a willingness to enhance a contending team by adding pieces at the Trade Deadline. But unless the Pirates begin the second half with some sort of spirited run that helps them etch into their division deficit, it's unlikely they will be making any moves solely for the present season.

Stock watch
In between. Assuming Pittsburgh's place in the standings doesn't shift significantly this month, it is likely to unload players nearing free agency. Jordy Mercer, David Freese, Josh Harrison and Corey Dickerson could be among those on the move. The Pirates may soften the blow of such departures by seeking out short- and long-term acquisitions like they did in 2016 (Ivan Nova, Vazquez) and '17 (Oneil Cruz).

REDS
What we've learned

A dismal start doomed any chance the Reds had of maintaining postseason aspirations into the summer. However, as this most recent quarter of the season revealed, they're also not as bad as they looked in those early weeks.

Credit interim manager Jim Riggleman with helping turn around a team that was 14-27 through the season's first 41 games. From May 8 to July 4, Cincinnati was six games above .500 -- better than both St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Riggleman has fostered a culture where attention to detail is key, and that's benefited a group that made too many self-inflicted mistakes early.

What they'll be hoping to accomplish in the trade market
With the offense ranking fifth in the NL in runs scored, the Reds still need more dependable pitching to position the team for a strong second half. What's also yet to be determined is how different the roster may look as Cincinnati pursues a strong finish. The Reds will be open for business at the Trade Deadline with the objective of accumulating young, controllable talent.

Video: MIL@CIN: Harvey tosses 5 2/3 scoreless innings, K's 6

Stock watch
Sellers. The Reds could be quite busy this month as they entertain dealing several players. Matt Harvey's renaissance could make him attractive to a contending team, and Billy Hamilton may no longer have a long-term place in Cincinnati. His time with the Reds may soon be up. Cost-effective contributors like Adam Duvall and Raisel Iglesias could also be available for the right return.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.