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What is each NL Central club's biggest need?

@adamdberry
June 13, 2019

With the MLB Draft completed, the next major event looming for every front office in baseball is the Trade Deadline. By July 31, clubs must decide whether they’re in or out, contenders or pretenders, desperate to buy or eager to sell. Before they make any moves, though, teams must decide

With the MLB Draft completed, the next major event looming for every front office in baseball is the Trade Deadline. By July 31, clubs must decide whether they’re in or out, contenders or pretenders, desperate to buy or eager to sell.

Before they make any moves, though, teams must decide where they stand. That requires an analysis of the standings, of course, but also a long look in the mirror. What does each front office need to learn or establish in the next month before charting a course through the Trade Deadline?

Let’s take a look at one question facing each club in the National League Central.

BREWERS

The question: Are these starters capable of carrying them to the World Series?

The in-season return of Gio Gonzalez sparked a temporary turnaround for Brewers starters, but now Gonzalez is on the injured list alongside struggling Opening Day starter Jhoulys Chacin. Young pitchers Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta opened the year in the rotation, but have been unable to keep the ball in the ballpark. Jimmy Nelson’s return from shoulder surgery was inspiring, but he still has much to prove. Chase Anderson is prone to shortened starts.

That leaves Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies as the only two consistently reliable starting pitchers at manager Craig Counsell’s disposal. It also means GM David Stearns must decide whether to continue with a strength-in-numbers approach or consider parting with prospects to acquire more of a name-brand starter at the Deadline.

CARDINALS

The question: Can they adjust offensively?

Manager Mike Shildt has switched lineups, swapped players in and gone back to the original many times, but it's hardly helped the Cardinals get going offensively: They scored six runs total in three games at Wrigley Field last weekend. They put up three or fewer runs in 17 of their past 30 games entering Wednesday, and they went 12-18 during that stretch. Their strikeouts have increased, their walks have decreased, and when they put runners on base, they have too often failed to capitalize.

The Cardinals scored 146 runs from May 1 until Wednesday, even with a trio of double-digit outbursts during that time. That’s more than four American League teams, but only the Marlins (141) have scored fewer runs among NL teams. They’ll need to support their pitching staff in order to fight their way to the front of the division race.

CUBS

The question: Do they need more bullpen help after signing Craig Kimbrel?

The addition of Kimbrel will help Chicago bump its cast of bullpen arms back in a domino effect. So, Pedro Strop becomes the main eighth-inning arm, while the likes of Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brad Brach and Carl Edwards Jr. slot back to more matchup-based work in the sixth and seventh. The Cubs also have two lefties in the 'pen in Mike Montgomery and Kyle Ryan, plus wild card Tyler Chatwood, who has been used in all types of roles.

As Chicago explores its options leading up to the Trade Deadline, the priority for the bullpen will be to continue to cut down on the walks. If the Cubs could reel in an impact left-handed reliever, that could also help shore up the staff.

PIRATES

The question: Is getting healthy enough for them to get back in the race?

The Pirates lead the Majors in an unfortunate category: Individual placements on the injured list. The Bucs have put 23 players on the shelf with a total of 24 IL stints since Opening Day. Injuries have affected them in every area, first in the outfield, but more recently on the mound. The pitching staff, which was supposed to be the club’s greatest strength, has been decimated by various injuries -- and their depth has not been quite as Major League-ready as they’d hoped.

Their lineup, led by Josh Bell and Starling Marte, has been more productive over the last month or so. Their rotation should be better with Trevor Williams back in the fold. They still like late-inning relievers Felipe Vazquez, Kyle Crick and Francisco Liriano, and a healthy Keone Kela will improve that group. Will they get one more shot to contend, or should GM Neal Huntington look to strategically sell players while focusing on 2020 and beyond?

REDS

The question: Can they catch up before it gets too late?

The Reds have sat in last place most of this season, but they are far from out of the race and continue to linger on the fringe of the postseason picture by avoiding long losing streaks -- but also long winning streaks. At some point, Cincinnati will need to show it can catch fire and start riding a hot streak ahead of July 31.

If they’re still within sniffing distance, the front office could be tempted to try to add some offense. But if things go sideways, pending free agents like Yasiel Puig, David Hernandez and others could be trade chips. Don’t expect Cincinnati to just dump players before the Deadline for the sake of doing so, however; they held on to starter Matt Harvey last season even though they fell way out of contention.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.