Posted 07/10/2008 at 12:15 PM
With the Cubs and Brewers making big moves last week the NL Central could be the focal point of baseball in the coming months in what could be a great playoff race. As of right now it appears the NL Central will likely earn the Wild Card spot so it could be a three team race for two spots although many of the other NL teams might have something to say about that.
By adding C.C. Sabathia the Brewers instantly emerge as legitimate playoff and World Series contenders after teetering on the brink of the playoffs the past few seasons. If Milwaukee can make it into the playoffs they will be a dangerous team as the 1-2 punch of Ben Sheets and Sabathia is as good as it gets, and also makes for a tough situation as they have a 1-2 with different styles and different pitching hands. The bullpen and the rest of the rotation is a concern still but Manny Parra has been excellent the last two months and with the powerful lineup Milwaukee has shown they can win high scoring games.
The Cubs will face a brutal schedule right after the All Star break and the Cubs also must be able to win on the road with a very challenging September schedule featuring mainly road games. Chicago is definitely still the favorite in this division and in the NL and adding Rich Harden could deliver a huge reward as when healthy he is an elite starter. Chicago’s lineup has delivered the most consistent results but they are a completely different team away from home. Chicago needs Carlos Zambrano to continue to deliver great results and they need to perform better against the key division rivals as the Cubs do not have a winning record against either the Brewers or the Cubs.
St. Louis is the team that most assume will be left out but the Cardinals have defied the experts all season long staying right in the mix. The Cardinals are the only of the three teams to post a winning record on the road and they have hit for a high average all season while striking out less than any other NL team. The big X-factor for St. Louis is the potential of the rotation in the second half of the season as several big-name arms could come back into the mix. Chris Carpenter is shooting to return by the end of the month and Adam Wainwright should also be back in the next few weeks. Mark Mulder and Matt Clement would be long shot wild cards that could also bolster the pitching staff. Although the Cardinals may be the least exciting team of the group they do feature the most feared hitter in the game and the lineup overall is much better than people think with Troy Glaus starting to heat up and Ryan Ludwick having a great season.