Published July 10, 2019

By William Whisler

The All-Star break is without a doubt one of the biggest benchmarks in Major League Baseball for determining a contender, a pretender or a team that is looking to mortgage the present to rebuild for the future.

The 2019 All-Star break is no different and with it comes a lot of information on how the second half might pan out.

Here’s a look at three of the big storylines at the break.

  1. The NL Central race is tight

The National League Central Division is not the best division in baseball this season, but it is by far the closest postseason race in the majors at the All-Star break. The Chicago Cubs sit in first place with a 47-43 record, while the Cincinnati Reds find themselves in the basement, just 4.5 games out of first.

The Reds, despite having the second-best run differential in the division, have struggled to win close games in 2019.

The Pirates sit in fourth place but have been red hot, winning six of their last 10, and 12 of their last 17 going into the break, including series wins against the Brewers and Cubs. The Pirates are also tied with the Reds for the most wins in the most wins by a Central team against opponents .500 or better in 2019 with 29.

Who will win the division?

The race mainly favors the Brewers with their elite offense and a consistent pitching rotation, but the Pirates’ chances should play out by the end of July, as the Bucs have big series matchups this month, including two against the Cardinals, one against the Cubs and a key home series against Pennsylvania rival Philadelphia in what could prove important in the NL Wild Card race.

  1. The starting pitching market is really weak

Teams hoping to make a move at the trade deadline to acquire a starting pitcher to make a postseason run may be disappointed in 2019, with few big-name arms hitting the open market this season.

At this point, 11 teams in the National League are sitting within 2.5 games of a postseason spot, making the National League the more competitive league down the stretch. Teams hoping to stay in contention will not be as willing to part with their pitching, leaving just a few big names out there for top contenders to swipe.

Top arms expecting to hit the market at the deadline this season include the Mets Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, the Indians Trevor Bauer and Blue Jays Marcus Stroman.

A report today by MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi indicated that the San Diego Padres are a frontrunner to acquire a starting pitcher and are attempting to pry either Wheeler or Syndergaard from New York. The Padres have the top minor league system in baseball and could move top prospects MacKenzie Gore or Luis Urias in a deal.

Syndergaard has a 2.93 ERA in four seasons, but a career-worst 4.68 ERA may water down a package the Mets receive for the hard-throwing righty. The Mets would have a lot of pressure to win the trade with Syndergaard having two years left of team control on his deal. A bad trade could rival a blunder like Pittsburgh’s after moving Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for Chris Archer last season.

Stroman is the best pitcher on the market this season with a 3.18 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 104.2 innings. Stroman has had a lot of success in his career and could help bolster the rotation of an NL contender. It is unlikely that the Blue Jays would move Stroman within the AL East to rivals Boston or New York. San Diego may end up winning the pitching market.

  1. Despite slow starts, the Nationals and Indians are teams to watch

It’s hard to think that the Washington Nationals were as bad as they were in the opening half of the 2019 season. With a dominant pitching staff and a great lineup — even without Bryce Harper — the Nationals struggled early to win games.

The Nationals are now a league-best 28-11 since May 24 and if the season ended today, they would host the Philadelphia Phillies in a one-game playoff, meaning Max Scherzer would have the chance to power Washington into the next round.

Scherzer is actually having a better season than he had a year ago when he became just the 17th pitcher to punchout 300 batters via the strikeout. Look out for the Nationals in the second half.

In the American League, the Indians have been exciting after a pedestrian start left them behind one of 2019’s biggest surprises in the Minnesota Twins.

Cleveland had an impressive June and has won 21 of its last 29 games dating back to June 4th, meaning that the Indians may not be ready to part with troubled starter Trevor Bauer who has just about overstayed his welcome, despite dominant stuff. Bauer has been a pariah despite owning a 3.61 ERA and an 8-6 record with 149 strikeouts in 132 innings.

If the playoffs began today, my picks would without a doubt include the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers have been the best team in baseball this year and have reached the World Series the last two seasons, while the Yankees are the strongest they’ve been in years. The Yankees are looking to win their first title in 10 years behind the best offense in baseball.