Written by Benny Spicer
Published: 20 September 2007
The National League Central has been nothing but a roller coaster ride this season, leaving the managers and fan bases nauseous. What is normally an amusing race between the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals has been anything but this season, as the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers have invaded the division. The Cubs have been led by an expert pitching staff with the highly touted combination of Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, who lead the National League in combined wins with 31 victories. The Brewers, however, have struggled exceptionally through their pitching staff. A prime example is Chris Capuano, who used to be a quality pitcher. Capuano has struggled recently and was moved to the bullpen.
But if Milwaukee has such a weak pitching staff, how are they still locked into this race? The answer: talented young players and their ability to plate runs. Prince Fielder, who is a no-doubter for MVP, has carried the team on his back, hitting 46 home runs (a Brewers record) and knocking in 110. But the weight can’t all be placed on Fielder’s shoulders, and that’s why Ryan Braun and Corey Hart are such great players in this organization. Braun has been highly recommended to receive Rookie of the Year honors, and Hart has continued to amaze Brewers faithful with his uncanny knack of delivering clutch hits and making amazing catches in the outfield.
The Cubs haven’t been very efficient in the department of scoring runs. Chicago is normally a team that is always in contention for the league lead in home runs hit, but this year they are finding ways to deal without that power. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago’s key off season acquisition, has carried much of the slack during his first year in Chicago blue. Soriano didn’t post those impressive 40-40 numbers, but has produced when it’s been asked of him. If he hadn’t started so slow and didn’t get hurt twice, the Cubs would have this division locked up. But, he did get hurt, spending two stints of this season on the disabled list.
But how about the way these teams have responded in the market to fill key holes? The Chicago Cubs lost Michael Barrett, who was struggling offensively and chemistry wise, and failed to fill in that vital hole at the catcher position. Henry Blanco was injured, so they had to pick up Rob Bowen. Bowen didn’t live up to the expectations, so he was traded for Jason Kendall. Kendall hasn’t provided much of a spark offensively, but has fused the Cubs behind the plate. The Brewers had to fill someone’s shoes that no general manager would want to fill. Carlos Lee became an Astro, and replacement Geoff Jenkins was expected to turn heads in Wisconsin. And turn heads he did. Jenkins has belted 20 home runs and brought in 61 runs with the bat, and has played exceptionally well on the defensive side of the ball. Milwaukee really hasn’t been missing Lee’s powerful bat, though that power would be a nice combination alongside Prince Fielder.
If it weren’t for such an interesting month of June, Chicago would be dueling for the 5th place spot. The Cubs experienced a great month of June and an amazing month of July, where Carlos Zambrano shined tremendously. It all started with the brawl that took place in the Cubs dugout between Barrett and Zambrano, which led up to the trade. Since Barrett was traded, Zambrano erupted on the pitching mound, immediately climbing the ranks of everyone’s Cy Young list. But if it wasn’t for June and July, Zambrano would be a struggling mediocre arm that probably wouldn’t be a Cub after this season. The month of June helped Chicago out in so many ways.
Right about the time that Chicago got hot, Milwaukee was starting to cool off. Milwaukee was up by around 6 games when Chicago began to start winning, and the Cubs were ready to make a comeback. Milwaukee’s young ball club started to fall apart during this time period, and Ned Yost has done a nice job of piecing the puzzle back in place. Again, thank June and July if you are a Cubs fan, because if it wasn’t from the hot play and experience of the Cubs they’d be sitting at home come October.
So who wins the Central? As of right now, I’d have to go with Chicago. Their experience is just too much for these young Milwaukee Brewers, and if it weren’t for the injury bug St. Louis would be in the picture. I expect Chicago to make the playoffs by about 2 games, considering how Milwaukee closes out the season with Atlanta and San Diego and Chicago plays weaker NL Central teams.