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The NL Central after the trade deadline

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Who got stronger? Who got weaker? How did the Cubs fare?

The Cubs biggest trade deadline addition: Cole Hamels
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of activity at the trade deadline and the NL Central had a few surprises, let’s take a look at the moves for each team, whether or not they met their needs and their outlook now that the dust has settled a bit from the deals.

Overview

The NL Central race has seen the Brewers and Cubs at the top of the division for most of the season. At times the Cardinals and Pirates have made small runs at the front runners, but none of those have really been sustained. As of this writing the standings look like this:

NL Central Standings

Team Win Loss GB Pct L10
Team Win Loss GB Pct L10
Cubs 65 47 .580 5-5
Brewers 65 50 1.5 .565 6-4
Cardinals 58 55 7.5 .513 6-4
Pirates 57 56 8.5 .504 4-6
Reds 49 64 16.5 .434 4-6
Standings as of 8/7 MLB

As you’ll see from the depth charts of each team, the Cubs and Brewers both entered the deadline needing pitching. The Cardinals and Pirates entered the deadline needing to decide whether they were buyers or sellers. The Reds were looking for ways to improve for the future.

Cubs

In the offseason the Cubs’ new look rotation was touted as maybe the best ever, and frankly it hasn’t lived up to expectations. There are a lot of potential reasons for that (injuries and control issues spring to mind) but the good news is that despite having their rotation under perform, the Cubs still own the best record in the National League. At the trading deadline they focused on pitching. Again.

Cubs post trade deadline depth chart
MLB

The big addition is Cole Hamels to the rotation, but the pick-ups of Jesse Chavez and Brandon Kintzler to bring some extra innings to the bullpen could be just as important. After all, if your starters are struggling, one place to make up for that is the pen.

The Cubs needed arms and they went out and got them. They are hoping that’s enough to stave off a run by the Brewers and that every single pitcher who is under performing their career numbers has a resurgence ahead of them down the stretch. Plus it looks like Drew Smyly, Yu Darvish, and Brandon Morrow might be making their return just in time for September, along with a little known third baseman who won an MVP in his sophomore year.

There really is no where for this rotation to go but up. Their pitching has been near the bottom of the division all year. It’s kind of miraculous that their bats have not only kept them in the hunt, but atop the division.

NL Central Pitching Stats

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Brewers 1029 8.76 3.57 1.11 .275 75.2% 42.7% 12.8% 3.77 4.13 4.11 11.5
Cardinals 1017 8.23 3.5 0.9 .290 72.7% 44.8% 10.7% 3.86 3.95 4.19 10.9
Pirates 1004.2 8.23 3.28 1.07 .301 72.3% 43.4% 11.7% 4.21 4.11 4.25 8.7
Cubs 1017.2 8.07 4.13 1.04 .280 76.4% 45.4% 12.5% 3.79 4.37 4.39 6.4
Reds 1011 7.58 3.45 1.46 .297 72.0% 43.7% 15.7% 4.75 4.83 4.42 2.8
Selected team pitching stats as of 8/7 Fangraphs

Brewers

If you’re looking at the depth chart it looks like the Brewers needed pitching as much as the Cubs, I mean look at the injury list alone:

Brewers Depth Chart
MLB

But take a look at the pitching stats for the division that I posted above. Pitching has been the Brewers strength this year, despite all odds. In fact, when you look at similar data for selected offensive stats, it makes more sense that the Brewers went after some offense at the deadline:

NL Central Batting Stats

Team HR R SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR WAR
Team HR R SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR WAR
Cubs 121 560 49 9.6% 21.1% .160 .320 .267 .345 .426 .332 106 9.9 23.6
Reds 117 520 53 9.6% 21.2% .144 .308 .257 .336 .401 .322 98 1.6 16.0
Brewers 144 504 88 8.5% 24.1% .165 .299 .246 .315 .411 .314 93 8.2 15.9
Cardinals 138 502 45 8.7% 21.8% .153 .293 .249 .321 .402 .314 96 6.6 15.5
Pirates 117 503 50 8.0% 20.2% .160 .296 .254 .319 .413 .316 97 -4.0 12.8
Selected batting stats as of 8/7 Fangraphs

They are chasing a Cubs team that is an offensive juggernaut, so while I’m sure the Brewers would have loved to add a starter to their injury depleted rotation they went another route.

First they added Joakim Soria from the White Sox to bolster their already exceptional bullpen. Soria was the White Sox closer and adds another great arm to their pen.

Second, they went after some offensive upgrades with Mike Moustakas at third and Jonathan Schoop at second. Now they find themselves with a problem similar to one the Cubs have had in recent years, specifically, how does everyone play on a regular basis?

It will be interesting to see if the Brewers can take a page out of the Cubs book in terms of positional flexibility (I’m looking at you, Travis Shaw, second baseman). It will be interesting to see if their starting rotation can hold up in September.

Pirates

The Pirates were surprise buyers at the deadline. They went on a bit of a run in July and decided to make one of the biggest moves by any team, acquiring Chris Archer for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow. They also decided to upgrade their pen a bit, adding former Rangers closer Keone Kela.

Pirates depth chart
MLB

They then promptly dropped four of their five games since the deadline. This dropped them back to fourth place and 8½ games behind the Cubs (although they are only 5½ games back in the Wild Card).

The Pirates have been a streaky team and it it doesn’t look like that changed much at the deadline. It is worth noting that both Kela and Archer are long-term deals, so even if they don’t pan out this year the Pirates have set themselves up to be more competitive in the future.

Cardinals

The Cardinals were sort of sellers, and sort of buyers. It basically looked more like a housecleaning operation than an attempt to make a playoff run in 2018. I mean, take a look at this depth chart, the bullpen in particular is almost entirely different than it was a month ago:

Cardinals depth chart
MLB

They basically DFA’d or traded most of their bullpen that started the season, and added Chasen Shreve from the Yankees.

By far the biggest move they made was trading Tommy Pham to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league talent. Pham was one of the NL’s most talented hitters in 2017 but there had been issues between him and the Cardinals front office.

I’m always wary of counting the Cardinals out, but this looks like a team retooling for 2019, not one that is trying to make a run in 2018.

Reds

The Reds mostly held pat and stuck with a lineup that is growing into a much better team than a few years ago. After starting the season with one of the worst records ever they’ve righted the ship under Jim Riggleman and while it’s unlikely they’ll finish the season over .500, they aren’t going to challenge the Orioles, Royals or White Sox for the worst record in MLB.

Reds depth chart
MLB

They did trade long-term left fielder Adam Duvall to the Braves for a promising young outfielder named Preston Tucker.

Maybe the most interesting move here was one the Reds didn’t make, as they decided to hold onto Matt Harvey after picking him up off waivers from the Mets earlier this year.

The Reds after the deadline look a lot like the Reds before the deadline.

Takeaways

In looking at the NL Central I’m struck with how competitive it is relative to some other divisions. While the Cubs and Brewers are clearly at the top of the division and made the moves you’d expect contenders to make, both teams are struggling to put distance between each other. And while this looks like the two team division race most of us anticipated at the start of the season, the rest of the division is far from throwing in the towel on 2018. The Pirates and Cardinals are probably playing for next year, but could get hot and make some noise in September. The Reds are playing for the future, but far from being the whipping boy they’ve been in year’s past.

The last 50 games of the regular season are going to be a wild ride, and the moves at the deadline definitely made it wilder.