No division in baseball will be as hotly contested between as many teams as the NL Central will be over the final two months of the season. Three teams enter the unofficial second half of the season within four games of the first-place Brewers. Milwaukee currently has a one-game lead over St. Louis, a 1 1/2-game advantage over Cincinnati and a 3 1/2-game lead on Pittsburgh. The NL Central crown will be decided on the field, as Major League Baseball purposely makes the schedule division-heavy late in the year for this very reason. The Brewers will play 35 of their final 66 games against division foes, including 10 against the Cardinals and Cubs and nine against the Reds. Milwaukee went 22-19 against the NL Central in the first half -- 10-3 against Pittsburgh -- but will likely need a better mark than that to win the division.
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Will Jimmy Nelson grab hold of the fifth starter spot?
In the midst of their first extended funk of the season, the Brewers made the decision to shift Marco Estrada and his major-league worst 27 home runs allowed to the bullpen to clear a spot in the rotation for Jimmy Nelson. Milwaukee's top pitching prospect, Nelson was dominating Triple-A and was clearly ready for a crack at the big leagues. While Nelson's start against St. Louis last Saturday didn't go well, the Brewers are going to give the 25-year-old an extended chance to stay in the big-league rotation this season. Be it Nelson, Estrada or even Mike Fiers, the Brewers are going to need somebody to step up and be reliable as the team's fifth starter in a pennant race.
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What can the Brewers expect from Jean Segura?
It's hard to imagine what Jean Segura is going through in his personal life right now after the death of his 9-month-old son Janniel. The emotional pain of losing a child is unfathomable, but everyone handles situations like this differently. Segura is only 24 years old himself and wears his emotions on his sleeves. It's impossible to know what Segura is going to be able to provide on the field in the second half, leaving the Brewers in a tough spot. Segura is by far the best option the Brewers have at shortstop, regardless of his offensive struggles this year. Nobody is trading quality shortstops at the deadline either, so Milwaukee is going to need something out Segura in order to make the postseason.
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Where do the Brewers improve at the trade deadline?
With under two weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Brewers are in position to potentially add pieces to the roster. The trade market has been heavily impacted by the addition of a second wild-card team, as more teams feel they are in the race come July 31. General manager Doug Melvin says he won't force any trades and won't make a deal just to make a deal, but this regime along with owner Mark Attanasio has never been afraid to look to make a splash. The Brewers certainly could add an arm to the bullpen -- rehabbing Jim Henderson is also on his way back -- or even look to improve their bench by acquiring a super utility man ala Jerry Hairston Jr. in 2011. Another position to potentially watch is first base, but it is unlikely a significant upgrade will be available to Melvin.
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Can the Brewers stay healthy?
It seems obvious, but the Brewers, like most teams, don't have the depth to overcome any kind of significant injury to key players. Specifically, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun have to stay on the field, something that was hit or miss in the first half. Despite being 36 years old, Ramirez has held up fine other than the hamstring injury he suffered in May that caused him to miss 22 games. Be it the thumb, back or oblique, Braun has been hampered by nagging injuries all season long. The Brewers need their starting right fielder to not only play most of the second half, but they also need him to produce at a high level. The Reds and Cardinals recently suffered significant injuries to key players which will test their depth moving forward.