Tom Gannam/Associated Press
|St. Louis Cardinals
The Milwaukee Brewers have held at least a share of the NL Central lead since the fifth day of the season, but a rough 2-11 stretch to close out the first half cost them what little breathing room they had to begin with.
They are back on track now, going 8-6 so far in the second half, but they have their work cut out for them holding off both the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. A plus rotation and a solid lineup should be enough to keep the Brewers in the running for a playoff spot, and this should be an exciting three-way race the rest of the way.
The Pirates didn't do anything to upgrade at the deadline, but they should have right-hander Gerrit Cole back from a lat injury at some point in the near future. If Jeff Locke and Vance Worley can keep pitching at a high level, and Cole can provide them with a front-line arm down the stretch, the pitching has the potential to be a plus.
It's the Pirates offense that has been the biggest difference this season, though, as they lead all of baseball with a .332 team on-base percentage.
Then you have the Cardinals, who were as aggressive as anyone at the trade deadline. With a thin market for bats and questions about the health of Michael Wacha, the team went out and landed Justin Masterson and John Lackey to upgrade the rotation.
Manager Mike Matheny talked to Alex Halsted of MLB.com about the team's new arms:
We're excited to watch them. We've seen both of them (pitch) very good in the past. We've seen Masterson be one of those cannonball-style sinkerball pitchers who can get a lot of those ground balls for you and early outs. Lackey, he's no secret. We've watched him from the wrong side too many times and realize that this guy can be a big-game pitcher and has been. He is a top-shelf pitcher.
The Cardinals have been underperforming as a team all year, relative to expectations, but they could be primed for a big final two months.
A season full of significant injuries and underperforming stars has the Cincinnati Reds sitting around .500 and on the outside looking in. They are still a talented roster, and they have the pieces to be right back in contention next year, but 2014 appears to be a wash.
The Chicago Cubs will land in the cellar once again, but the final two months should be fun to watch, with more prospects expected to join the likes of Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks at the big league level. Slowly but surely, they are building toward something big on the North Side.