Tuesday, July 8, 2008
A storm is brewin'
So here in the midwest, the past few days major trades have been all the rage. Essentially, the top two teams in the NL Central both bolstered their starting rotations. First, the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia. Then the Cubs traded for Rich Harden.
Before this Harden deal, when I looked at the Cubs as a team, the biggest weakness I saw (aside from the Billy Goat Curse and the Bartman Ghost) was the top of their starting rotation. Now, I'm not knocking Carlos Zambrano/Ted Lilly/Ryan Dempster. Those guys are nice starters for the regular season. But I'm talking about the playoffs. Last year in the playoffs both Zambrano and Lilly got outpitched by their Arizona counterparts, and that was that. Season over.
In the offseason Arizona added another ace in Dan Haren, so you have to figure if they make the playoffs again they'll be even tougher. As such, it's been hard for me to look at Zambrano/Lilly/Dempster and feel as though the Cubs were somehow a heavy favorite to make the World Series.
Granted, now that the Cubs have dealt for Harden, this changes things. Provided that they can stay healthy, the Cubs should have four quality starters for the playoffs. Furthermore, if Zambrano were to go down with an injury, I think the Cubs still have a shot at the championship if Harden/Lilly/Dempster can pitch well in October.
But where things really get interesting is with Milwaukee. A small market team, the deal they've made for Sabathia is essentially a "now or never" move. If I'm not mistaken, Prince Fielder, Sabathia, and Ben Sheets are all free agents at season's end--and Milwaukee would likely lose at least two of them.
The Brewers have an explosive offense, but a suspect bullpen. Regarding their starting rotation, with a healthy Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia leading the way, their 1-2 punch is as good as any in the majors. The unfortunate thing for the Brewers is that Yovani Gallardo is hurt. He might be back in September, but it's hard to say how he'll perform. If the Brewers have Sheets, Sabathia, and Gallardo going strong in October, they'll be tough to beat.
The way I see it, the Cubs are the deepest, most talented team in the majors. Their batting lineup top to bottom, starting rotation top to bottom, and bullpen top to bottom match up very well with anyone else out there. However, while that's all nice for a 162-game regular season, it's not really what carries the day in a Best-of-7 (or Best-of-5) playoff series. In the playoffs, the biggest factor is starting pitching. If you can send a guy to the mound who's going to throw 9 shutout innings, then you've got a great shot at winning.
Look at what Josh Beckett did for Boston last year (or for Florida in 2003). Another great example is what Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did for Arizona in 2001. Or how about Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, and Freddy Garcia for the White Sox in 2005?
On paper, both the Brewers and Cubs have enough starting pitching to win the World Series. Now it's all about going out and proving it.