The NL Central division is not only the only six-team division in baseball, but it is also the only division in baseball that has four teams contending for the postseason at the trade deadline.
The fourth team in contention has a record below .500, and the first-place team would rank no higher than third in any other division besides the AL Central.
In other words, it is likely that only one team from the NL Central will secure a playoff spot, as the Atlanta Braves seem to be a favorite for the National League Wild Card.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not won their division in 19 years, and the Milwaukee Brewers, are tied for first place. However, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds are not far behind.
Some teams have already made trades to bolster their chances at coming out on top. This ranking will predict which NL Central contender will come out as the most dangerous team after the July 31st trade deadline.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently tied for first place with Milwaukee. The team has not been a relevant contender for almost two decades and has finished sixth out of six in the NL Central for the past four years in a row.
After losing 105 games in 2010, the Pirates are in first place after more than half of the season. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was named to the 2011 All-Star team, along with a pitching staff that has kept them in contention, have given Pirates' fans hope.
Most will bet against Pittsburgh to win the division this year, despite a miraculous first-half performance. The Pirates have already signed right–handed reliever Jason Grilli. However, if the team wants to be taken more seriously, the should target a big bat to pick up their offense, which is 23rd in the majors in runs scored.
Houston Astros' Hunter Pence would certainly be a good option, as would Carlos Beltran. However, Houston will not bargain their All-Star for a cheap price, and it does not appear that the Pirates are willing to give up any top prospects.
If the Pirates can't pick up any offensive help, or at least solidify their bullpen, before the trade deadline, they will likely slip back down the rankings to a place more familiar to them in the division.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been hurt with the injuries of players like Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in 2011. However, they remain serious contenders at the trade deadline.
Center fielder Colby Rasmus has been a hot name for trade bait of late, but it does not appear that the Cardinals are interested in letting him go.
While the Cardinals have several areas of need, they would be smart to make a move that would bring help to the pitching staff in St. Louis.
The Cincinnati Reds are currently in fourth place in the NL Central but have been in contention since April and are only four games out of first.
Adding a starting pitcher seems to be their primary objective, and they just may have the pieces to bring a name like Ubaldo Jimenez or James Shields to Cincinnati.
The team has power in their lineup's solid 3-4 punch, with All-Stars Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. However, Reds GM Walt Jocketty has confirmed that the team is keeping their options open and is looking to "upgrade any area."
If the Reds can make a splash at the trade deadline, they will surpass other contenders and come out a much more serious threat.
The Brewers are currently the first-place team in the NL Central. With a lineup consisting of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun, and a pitching staff lead by Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, they are already a popular favorite to to win the division.
They have already made a big move by acquiring the all-time single season saves record holder, Francisco Rodriguez, from the Mets. However, it does not appear that they are done trading yet.
Although they do not have the minor league trading bait necessary to bring certain big names to Milwaukee, the Brewers seem to be in need of help on the left side of the infield. It has been rumored that they are interested in the Dodgers' Jamey Carroll and Astros' second basemen Clint Barmes.
In what could be Prince Fielder's last year in Milwaukee, as he is a free agent in 2012, the Brewers will certainly try to bring together as many pieces as possible to make a run at the 2011 World Series. If they can make other minor improvements, this is the team that is most likely to win it all in the NL Central division.