The National League Central is split by 4.5 games. The Chicago Cubs lead the way at 47-43, the Cincinnati Reds are sitting fifth just five games under .500 at 41-46.
Chicago and the Milwaukee Brewers will be less than thrilled with their standing at the midway point. They are a combined seven games above .500. For context, the Atlanta Braves are 54-37 and the Los Angeles Dodgers are 60-32. That pair have built a cushion ahead of their respective chasing packs, while the Cubs and Brewers are just a dodgy series or two away from fifth.
The ever-competitive Cardinals are sitting right on .500. They will be happy to still be in contention – they’re just two games behind the Cubs. The Pirates are half a game behind St Louis.
This division is historically close. There’s talent aplenty across all five teams, and offseason moves made something like this possible, but to be this close at the All-Star break is unprecedented.
It’s unlikely any of the teams sell when it’s this tight. Front offices are in a tricky position, balancing the chances of a postseason run in 2019 with getting value for future free agents.
Cincinnati acquired multiple players in their walk year. Other than Puig, Tanner Roark is the only one who presents a dilemma. The former Washington National is pitching superbly this season and could fetch a solid prospect or two if put up for trade later this month. Selling when just 4.5 games isn’t a great look for fans, but it might be the most sensible move for the organisation.
At the top of the division, the Cubs and Brewers could be met with their own predicaments. Both came into the year hoping, if not expecting, to make the postseason. Being buyers this month seemed guaranteed. With the pressure being kept on by the chasing pack, it’s harder to judge. Sending prospects away in July when you might not even be playing in October is obviously a greater risk – buying would be a no brainer if a postseason spot was more likely.
The Cardinals and Pirates, who would both be looking to add pitching, are left in limbo too. Neither are in a playoff spot as it stands, but it’s within touching distance and a trade could make all the difference. Do they make a move? Could the Cardinals flip Ozuna if they have a bad run?
Every divisional clash for these five teams is enormous. The significance of each game isn’t meant to be this great in July. With the trade deadline fast approaching, though, the post-All-Star break results could well have a massive bearing on the National League Central.
The front offices will likely wait right up until the final few days of July before deciding what to do. That’s if they do anything, of course.
It would be a lot of fun if all five teams go for it, whether that’s sticking with their current roster or making additions. All five front offices have huge decisions to make in the coming weeks, decisions that will not just alter the next few months, but could impact their franchise into the 2020s.