Second Half Preview: NL Central

Chicago Cubs
What Went Right: For as terrible as Alfonso Soriano's contract is, he's actually playing pretty well, hitting 15 homers with a .792 OPS. Starlin Castro continues to be a solid shorstop, though he still has ugly plate discipline. Career minor leaguer Brian LaHair gave the team a good spark at first base for the first two and a half months of the year, and has now moved to the outfield and ceded first base to top prospect Anthony Rizzo, who is raking early on. On the mound, Ryan Dempster has pitched himself into a great position for the Cubs to deal him this month. Jeff Samardzija has also been impressive since moving out of the bullpen and into the rotation.

What Went Wrong: Matt Garza has been disappointing, and his value at the deadline is down. The Cubs' bullpen has largely been a disaster, led by the pathetic efforts of Carlos Marmol and Rafael Dolis, both of whom held the closer role this season. Geovany Soto has been an absolute disaster behind the plate, and is losing a lot of playing time to top prospect Steve Clevenger, who also isn't hitting well. Third baseman Ian Stewart hit like crap, and will miss the rest of the year after wrist surgery.

Best Case Scenario: The Cubs get max value when dealing off Dempster, Garza, Soto, and manage to purge Soriano's contract from the payroll, much to the delight of Cubs fans everywhere. The team gets a lot of great pieces for the future, and the rebuilding continues on.

Worst Case Scenario: Soriano is still a Cub after the season, and no one is willing to give up top prospects for the rest of the Cubs assets. Then, the team plays well enough to win 68 games, and not get the top overall pick in next year's draft.

Key Player: Matt Garza. Garza's sky-high homer rate is shredding his ERA and the rest of his peripherals, and he's looking a lot worse to teams that are looking to buy at the trade deadline. If Garza puts together three strong starts after the break, maybe the Cubs will be able to get a lot more value for him…you know, like the value we all expected them to get when initially talking about trading him.

Cincinnati Reds
What Went Right: Joey Votto hit like the best player in the history of the world in the first three months of thet year, and is a top-tier MVP candidate. Johnny Cueto continued with his FIP tricks, and had a 2.39 ERA in the first half. Aroldis Chapman showed no signs of control problems, and was one of the best closers in baseball. The rest of the Reds pitching staff has ranged from adequate to above average. The rest of the Reds offense has also been very good, including Jay Bruce slugging homers, Brandon Phillips continued to be a top-level second baseman, and rookies Zach Cozart and Todd Frazier holding strong on the left side of their infield.

What Went Wrong: Really, not much. The Reds are a top-heavy, but solid, club. Scott Rolen looks done, and their bench has been awful. I'm not sure if their rotation is good enough past Cueto to win a championship, though. Mat Latos has been nowhere near the ace that the Reds expected when they traded for him this winter.

Best Case Scenario: The Pirates collapse, the Cardinals continue to flat-line, and the Reds keep coasting along to take the division by default.

Worst Case Scenario: Cueto gets hurt, and the rest of the pitching staff falls around him. Votto is forced to carry the offense on his own, and he just can't.

Key Player: Jay Bruce. We all know how good Votto is, but who is the second best hitter on the team? Well, it's Bruce…and he has a .326 OBP. 1.3 fWAR just isn't going to cut it from him in the second half.

Houston Astros
What Went Right: Their middle infield combination of Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve has been completely awesome, and exceeding expectations. Carlos Lee has been excised from the team after a trade to the Marlins last week. Wandy Rodriguez has continued to be a great starter for them, and young statrters Lucas Harrell and Bud Noris have showed promise.

What Went Wrong: The bullpen has been a complete and utter disaster, led by overpaid closer Brett Myers. JA Happ has continued to stink since coming over in the Hunter Pence trade last summer. Young starter Jordan Lyles was pushed too quickly, and has struggled in the majors. The offense aside from Lowrie and Altuve has been pretty putrid.

Best Case Scenario: Houston's young starters take another step forward in the second half, they get good value as a return for their veterans at the break, and the rebuilding process continues to roll right along.

Worst Case Scenario: No one wants Myers. No one wants to give the Astros top prospects for Rodriguez. Lowrie and Altuve stop hitting, and the team absolutely tanks in the second half.

Key Player: Brett Myers. Much like how the key player for the Cubs is Matt Garza, Myers is the key player for the Astros based solely on what kind of return they can get for him. I don't think they'll get much of anything, but maybe he'll surprise everyone and pitch lights out over the next three weeks, and get the team a good prospect.

Milwaukee Brewers
What Went Right: Ryan Braun is still awesome. Aramis Ramirez is hitting like he's reborn. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit like a monster before breaking his hand. Norichika Aoki has been a revelation for the team on the bench. Zack Greinke is also still awesome. Michael Fiers has slotted nicely into the rotation, and has been impressive in seven starts.

What Went Wrong: Everyone has gotten hurt, including Lucroy, Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez, and Shaun Marcum. Rickie Weeks has been absolutely awful. Manny Parra has been the only reliever worth a damn, including slumping closer John Axford. Veteran starter Randy Wolf looks done. Nyjer Morgan and his BEAST MODE have fallen off the tracks.

Best Case Scenario: The team doesn't trade Greinke, and he dominates in the second half. Marcum comes back healthy and looks like a fantastic number two behind Greinke, and Weeks starts hitting like he's been capable of over his entire career. The Brewers make a run for a wild card spot to finish off the year.

Worst Case Scenario: Marcum can't be dealt because of his injuries, and Milwaukee decides to deal Greinke, but can't get a great package in return. Lucroy doesn't look like he did before the broken hand, and Braun is the only above average player on the team as Milwaukee falls to 90 losses.

Key Player: Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez is an interesting guy. The Brewers just signed him this past winter, and I don't think they'd have any intentions of trading him…but in a week third base trade market, what if a team comes in with a great offer to take Ramirez and his contract off of their hands? The Brewers would at least have to listen, right?

Pittsburgh Pirates
What Went Right: Andrew McCutchen rose to the level of the best player in baseball. James McDonald flipped a switch and tapped into his potentially elite potential. Pedro Alvarez has turned into a regular. Michael McKenry is looking like a pretty good 300 at bat per year catcher. Garrett Jones is blasting homers like it's no one's business. AJ Burnett has been reborn as a Pirate. Brad Lincoln is a nice shutdown reliever. 

What Went Wrong: Not a whole lot, really. Clint Barmes has been a disaster at short. Jose Tabata was so terrible that he got demoted to AAA. Rod Barajas looks about done behind the plate.

Best Case Scenario: The offensive hot streak that started in the last month or so continues after the break, and with Pittsburgh's improved pitching, the Pirates win the division and head to the playoffs for the first time in forever. 

Worst Case Scenario: Neil Huntington goes all-in at the deadline for a rental starter, and the Pirates don't make the playoffs, and a late slump knocks them under .500, much to the dismay of fans around the Steel City.

Key Player: Andrew McCutchen. Can he continue to carry the team in the second half? If so, the Pirates really might be able to make a playoff run this year. If McCutchen gets hurt or struggles, this house of cards could come falling down pretty quickly.

St Louis Cardinals
What Went Right: Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday have hit like they have when healthy for their careers, which is very well. Third baseman David Freese has also played well, and rode his World Series heroics to an All-Star berth. All five starters have outstanding peripherals, though Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia have ugly ERAs. 

What Went Wrong: The bullpen has been a pretty big disappointment outside of Mitchell Boggs. The Cardinals have essentially gotten nothing from Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Skip Schumaker at second base. The bench has had its struggles. Lance Berkman got hurt in April, and is just making his way back.

Best Case Scenario: The Cardinals' starters get their ERAs in-line with their peripherals, and the team storms their way to another postseason berth.

Worst Case Scenario: The Pirates and Reds don't go away, and St Louis just can't overtake either, and is forced to spend their fall at home.

Key Player: Adam Wainwright. His peripherals look fine in his return from Tommy John surgery, but the Cardinals' ace has a 4.56 ERA thanks to some awful luck. If that straights itself out, this team will look real legit.

Joe Lucia

About Joe Lucia

Joe is the managing editor of The Outside Corner and an associate editor at Awful Announcing. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is smack dab in the middle of some of the best (and worst) sports fans in the country.

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