The NL Central has exceeded our expectations. Mostly because of the Cardinals. What they have accomplished is truly incredible. The top two teams have improved themselves by upgrading the front end of the rotation. Onto the synopses…
Chicago Cubs: OPS+ 112. ERA+ 115. It is difficult to argue against the Cubs being the best team in the NL after their recent acquisition of the fragile Rich Harden. But if Harden’s fragility disappears for three months or so, they are in prime position to pounce on the inferior National League. That being said, I don’t feel that they are so far and above a few other teams in the NL that they are locks to appear in the World Series. Ryan Dempster has been a huge surprise this season moving into the rotation. Zambrano is having another good year. And with an average Ted Lilly, and a few other average arms, they should be set. As soon as Soriano returns, then their offense will be set too. Enough with the Brian Roberts talks, Mark Derosa is sufficient enough. But then again the “Friendly Confines” have been pretty friendly to him. So, trading away the rest of the farm to acquire Roberts may not be a bad idea.
St Louis Cardinals: OPS+ 113. ERA+ 100. I do not expect the Cardinals to hang around. Finish with a +.500 winning percentage? Yes. But only by a few games. But then again, in the NL, I guess that would mean they will be hanging around in the Wild Card race. Give credit to everyone involved in this organization though, they are not the laughingstock many of us thought they would be. And Albert Pujols, may or may not be my midseason MVP, it is close, but he is still as good as anyone in the game. But the run differential in St Louis is far from convincing me that they are truly a good team. More an above average than anything.
Milwaukee Brewers: OPS+ 106. ERA+ 106. Grabbing one of the best pitchers in baseball, and combining him with one of the best pitchers in baseball, gives the Brewers arguably the best 1-2 punch…in baseball. Sabathia has really taken off in the past few months and is right back to where he was last season. Keith Law even feels that Sabathia, right now, is pitching better than he ever has. And Ben Sheets’ talent was realized in the All Star game. Not many casual fans think of him as being one of the best pitchers in the game, but he is…when healthy. Healthy has “Ben” Sheets’ only issue. As we all know, Bill Hall, and Rickie Weeks especially, are not playing up to their talent level. If they do so, we may be able to expect a seven game NLCS between the Cubs and Brewers. And by the way, the Brewers +21 RD is nothing special, but after getting CC, it should improve.
Cincinnati Reds: OPS+ 96. ERA+ 100. Many, myself included, thought the Reds could make a run this season. But at this point they become sellers in my opinion. Even with Edinson Volquez pitching better than anyone could have ever expected, they have a pretty cruddy run differential of -51. They should trade Adam Dunn. And if possible they should trade Griffey. The future is where it’s at in Cincy. The Cueto’s, The Votto’s, The Bruce’s, The Volquez’s, and possibly even The Bailey’s. They are what this team should rely on. Even Harang is only 30. So he potentially has many positive seasons left. This team needs to build for 2009 and beyond. Oh, and possibly find another manager. I know the sabermetric minds dislike Dusty, and the other minds seem to like him, but I don’t think he is a bad manager. Just not necessarily a “Win-Later” manager.
Houston Astros: OPS+ 97. ERA+ 91. If Ed Wade is not the worst GM in baseball, then it is close. There is one pitcher under the age of 30 in his starting rotation, and he is 29. There are three starting position players under the age of 30. This team is no man’s land. Some good players; Berkman, Lee, Oswalt, Tejada somewhat. But they aren’t going to win now. Their run differential isn’t good. They cannot make a move to help them compete this year, and their farm is almost non-existent. So…revamp the system and start over. Well, unless of course they are going to fork over a total of $60 million a year for the next five seasons for the rights to Sabathia, Sheets, and Tex. And that isn’t going to happen.
Pittsburgh Pirates: OPS+ 101. ERA+ 80. Run Differential is -73. They are once again one of the worst teams in baseball. Yet, Jason Bay is back on track. Xavier Nady is having a career year. Nate Mclouth is performing better than expected. But Gorzellany and Snell have been absolutely putrid, pathetic, terrible. Maybe a new pitching coach is required in the Steel city, because these pitchers have digressed at a ridiculous rate…when they are supposed to be getting better.
The Central is top heavy, definitely. And the Cubs and the Brewers are serious contenders this season. But the Cubs are still a step ahead of their division rival. However, CC and Sheets is an almost unhittable combination if one were to cross them in the postseason. That is if Sheets does well his first time there, and if CC can do well this time around.