Cards – division leader – I still believe the Cards could use 1 more starting pitcher but doubt that anything will happen along those lines between now and Friday. I expect we’ll see what Holliday’s addition does to the lineup and give Wellemeyer another couple of weeks to sort himself out. If those things don’t work, we can always look through the waiver wire to see who slips through. One thing I know is that Tony will not allow 20% of the remainder of our starts to be turned over to Mitch Boggs or Blake Hawksworth, no matter how well they’re pitching at Memphis. It’ll be Wellemeyer or some other vet. To this point, Wellemeyer has been basically a replacement level pitcher so it’s likely that any starter we could trade for would be worth no more than 1 win. Still, Holliday’s trade proves that we’re all-in and that win could ultimately be the difference.
Cubs – 0.5 GB – It scares the hell out of me that the Cubs, who’ve been savaged by injuries this season, are just half a game back. Yes, I realize that Dempster and Lilly have recently gone on the DL and we just added Holliday but the Cubs were the odds-on favorite to win the division before the season started and are an extremely talented, if aging quickly, team. I can’t imagine the Cubs NOT making a trade for a starter prior to Friday’s deadline. Additionally, it appears as though Dempster’s ready to return from the DL, as he’s set to make Tuesday’s start against the Astros.
The Cubs have struggled somewhat at the plate this season but that’s at least partly attributable to injuries to Ramirez, Lee, Bradley, Soto and Soriano. This team is, by far, the Cards’ scariest competitor. They’ve got to stay close, get everyone healthy, and make a September run.
Astros – 1.5 GB – That the Astros are just a game and a half out of first tells us that the NL Central isn’t exactly the best division in baseball. Matthew Carruth over at fangraphs recently explained how the Astros were the luckiest team in baseball to this point. Unfortunately for them, that good fortune seems to have hit a snag as Fat Elvis recently went on the DL when he injured his calf when he heard that Carlos Lee got an extra package of Twinkies from the team’s vending machine. The problem is that the Astros had little depth to begin with and their offense isn’t exactly the best in the NL anyway.
Somewhat surprisingly, their pitching has been respectable as it’s built around 2 solid starters and some vets in their mid-50s. This team has had trouble at 2B, 3B, and C all season and Michael Bourn has played over his head to this point. They’re going to need a hitter – probably someone who can play 1B now and 3B (if possible) when Berkman returns from the D.L. If they wait 2 weeks w/o making a move, they could be 4-5 games out and in 4th place rather easily and then it’s probably game over for them. I’d suggest someone like Chad Tracy from the D-backs or Scott Rolen. They could then have Geoff Blum play 1st for the next couple of weeks. They’re not trading for Rolen, however, unless the Jays agree to eat a lot of next year’s salary. Kevin Kouzmanoff’s another option and they could try and bring back either Aubrey Huff or Ty Wigginton from the Orioles.
Brewers – 2.5 games back – How is this team still alive? Their pitching has been the worst in the NL so far this season. There has been some talk of them being in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes but I don’t see that they have the horses to compete w/ the Phils, Angels, or Red Sox. Still, if they’re going to stay in it they’re going to have to have some pitching. Their bullpen’s been great but, outside of Yovani Gallardo, their starters have been atrocious. I could see them making a run at Cliff Lee but I think it’s more likely they acquire someone like Jarrod Washburn or, if he’s healthy, Erik Bedard. If I were them, I’d try and acquire a back end guy like Doug Davis or Washburn and see if they can hang in there long enough to add another starter, if necessary, next month. They’ve already added Felipe Lopez to help them out at 2B but they’re not going anywhere w/o at least 1 more starter.
It’s interesting that Justin Inaz has the Brewers as the division’s top team in his most recent power ratings, albeit by just one one-thousandth of a point over the Cards. Of course, this happened before the Holliday trade but I’d take our starters over theirs any day of the week. The Cubs aren’t far behind.
Our own vivaelpujols recently posted his Playoff Odds over at BtB and he has the Cards as having a 56% chance of making the playoffs. The Cubs sit at 40% and the Brewers are at 14%. That sounds about right to me, though my hunch would have the Cubs and Cards a little closer together. Interestingly, BP also has the Cards as having a 56% chance of making the playoffs though they have the Cubs at just 30%.
It’s not quite a 2 team race, but in my mind, the Brewers and Astros have the biggest ground to make up if they’re going to stay alive. One has to like the Brewers’ offense but they’re not going anywhere w/o some pretty substantial improvement in their starting pitching. Likewise, the Astros need a pretty big change to stay alive. The Cubs, on the other hand, need to stay afloat and get healthy. I think they could use a starter to help them do just that but this is a team that is very dangerous. They’ve been supreme underachievers to this point and could gain that half game fairly easily.