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The battle really looks to be one between the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs but it’s hard to believe that the Cardinals really think that they are done.  So with the non-waiver deadline just a few days away what do we expect the contenders to do?

Why the Brewers are worried:  What just a couple of weeks ago seemed like a formidable lead in the division the Brew Crew thought that it might be smooth sailing the entire way.  That was before the Cubs heated up and went 12-5 (thus far) in July and closed the lead down to 3.5 games.  Now the Brewers are desperately trying to hang on.

Secondary reason:  The pitching has been very middle of the road. The team is young and tends to slump at times.  Injuries to key players including Rickie Weeks, Ben Sheets and Bill Hall have slowed down the team.

Why the Brewers shouldn’t Worry:
  No, forget that.  The Brewers should be worried, should be searching for lucky talismans and getting in a heck of a lot of batting practice.  That’s because they’ve got to rely on offense to carry them through.

What the Brewers SHOULD do at the trading deadline:  The Brewers need another pitcher, but just about every contender outside the NL west would like that.  The Brewers have ton of young talent they could trade if a good arm was available but the cost is going to be high. 

What the Brewers are likely to do:
  The Brewers, like everyone else, will talk to the non-contenders, especially teams like the Texas Rangers in the hopes of upgrading their starting staff.  If they are willing to pay the price there are arms out there, but unless they can add payroll and take on a contract, or they are willing to overpay in terms of talent, they will probably be limited to adding some middle relief, or possibly a late inning guy. 

Why the Cubs think they can win the Division: 
The Cubs are on a tear because the offense has finally woken up.  It’s taken half a season but finally the $330 million dollar team has shown up.   Derek Lee still hasn’t managed to find his power stroke but hitting .337 certainly takes the sting out of it.  But it’s the pitching lead by Carlos Zambrano which has kept them alive until now.  It’s a pitching staff which ranks 2nd in the National League.

A dose of reality:  The Cubs still have a mountain to climb, even if things look like they are all falling into place.  Kerry Wood could return fairly soon, the offense is cranking, but it doesn’t answer the big question.  Where were these Cubs the first half of the season?  And can they disappear just as quickly as they woke up?

The Milwaukee offense is the best in the division and unless the Brewers falter they’ll have to make hay with each chance they get.  A short slump by either team could end up tipping the scales.

What the Cubs SHOULD do at the trading deadline:  Well the Cubs do have some weaknesses but late inning help and possibly a closer are the team’s most immediate needs.  Enquiring after Gagne, Cordero, Joe Nathan or Brian Fuentes would make a lot of sense.

What are the Cubs likely to do:
  General manager Jim Hendry spent money in the offseason, and with the team actually winning, it makes sense for him to do so again. The Cubs are likely to pursue some relief pitching help, especially with the volatile Ryan Dempster closing.

Why the Cardinals think they can win the Division:  The Cardinals have to be on the verge of throwing in the towel, but it’s hard for any team which has been on the top of the heap for so long to just give it up.  Because of that the Cards are hoping that they can find some magic.  But dreadful pitching (15th in the NL) and awful hitting (11th in the NL) don’t make much of a combination. 

A dose of reality:  The Cardinals can fix this team with a single move - finding the Fountain of Youth.  But unless they have a magical formula to return health and vitality to Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Chris Carpenter any moves they make in the hopes of making the playoffs are moves of desperation

What the Cardinals SHOULD do at the trading deadline:
  Sell.  It’s time to empty the larder of aged veterans, clear some payroll and get ready to play in the free agent market or open the doors for a compete rebuilding around the cornerstone of Albert Pujols.

What are the Cardinals are likely to do:  The next few days are likely to tell the tale of the Cardinal season.  If the Cards can’t close the gap somewhat in the days before the trading deadline they may well be sellers.  Getting down to less than seven games could change all of that.

You can stick a fork into the rest of the division. This is a two horse race, maybe three if you believe the Cards can recover from their awful first half.  Prediction - the Cubs seem like the class of the division and I believe they will win the division by more than 5 games.