As the season began there were many predictions about the NL Central. Many of the so- called experts gave the crown to the Cardinals, out of respect. Others said the Brewers would take home the hardware and a few said the Cubs and the Astros. But they would always preface such predictions with, “This division is wide open, many teams if not all will compete in the weak NL Central.” We are now two weeks into May and this division is starting to take shape and there already appears to be a team to beat. A team that is reminding me a lot of the 2006 Detroit Tigers, great pitching, a ton of pop in their bat and most importantly a rock solid bullpen….but this bullpen can throw to first and third. The team to beat is the Milwaukee Brewers. And the same questions come up as they did with the Tigers, do they have the staying power? Do they have the talent and experience to take the six-month journey and win the NL Central crown? After getting beat two out of three at home against Pittsburgh and getting roughed up by the Phillies, I do not know if there is a team that can catch em’, unfortunately, The week that was in the NL Central is going to focus on the team to beat in the NL Central, the Brew Crew, Cheese Heads, Homegrown Heroes, America’s Team, Buds Bunch, and the team with a seven game lead over our beloved Cubbies. The Brewers are a small market team with large market ideas. Granted they have a payroll of 68 million, which is far from small but they cannot compete with the big boys. They cannot compete when it comes to signing the big name free agent, but as we are finding out they can compete on the field and that’s all that matters. The Brewers are a third baseman away from have a complete homegrown infield. And from what I am hearing Ryan Braun, the Brewers top prospect, who happens to play third base might be at the hot corner very soon. Braun is with the Brewers minor league affiliate Nashville Sounds (Triple-A), after 95 trips to the plate Braun is hitting .358 with 8 long balls and 17 RBI’s. This kid seems to be the real deal and as of right now Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell are hitting .231 and .224 respectively. The Brewers have said they do not want to rush Braun, but they may not have a choice and this could be very bad news for the rest of the central. He will be on the big league roster at some point this season. Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy and Prince Fielder complete the rest of the young infield. Weeks and Fielder are 24 and the powerful and early MVP candidate Hardy is the baby at 23. I can only imagine what a young group of guys with such a strong bond can do for a clubhouse atmosphere. The Cubs have no idea what that feels like….that is something money cannot buy.
The Brewers have also been very smart when it comes to trades and off-season acquisitions. Last year they traded Carlos Lee and in return got one of the best closers in the game in Francisco Cordero. As of today Cordero has 15 saves and a 0.54 ERA. Do you think Brewer fans get nervous when he gets the call? They did at one time when Derrick Turnbow was the closer. With the arrival of Cordero, Turnbow has become the perfect set up man. Could it be the Brewers are more patient to let a plan come to form? Make smart trades and think ahead as opposed to the immediate need? Last year we traded one of our top pitching prospects, Ricky Nolasco for Juan Pierre, knowing full well he would not be resigned. Man would I love JP’s defense and speed in the two-hole but he was rented and talent was wasted. I’m not bitter….I swear.
The Brew Crew got rid of a Cub Killer last year when they traded Carlos Lee, but they still have Chris Capuano. Capuano has emerged as the staff ace, this year he is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA. They are also getting what they paid for when they signed Jeff Suppan. Not only did they receive a talented right-hander, but a seasoned veteran with a (gulp) World Series ring. Finally Ben Sheets, he is off to a rough start after the Opening Day gem but he is only going to get better after some injury plagued seasons. I think they could use one more quality starter, but then again couldn’t everybody? (Note: the Brewers prized pitching prospect Yovani Gallardo is 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 14 walks in 42 2/3 innings this season with Nashville and many think he will make his Major League debut before the All-Star break) I mean even the Red Sox have Julian Tavarez in their rotation. Do you remember that guy, what a piece of work?
I am not a Brewer fan and never will be, but I like to feel out the competition. And this is our boulder in the road, besides our own bullpen. If the Brewers keep this up we are in some trouble. I am positive we can take the Brewers, we always can beat the best team in the division, ala the Cards of old, but it’s the bad teams that give us the problems. Losing two out of three against the Pirates at home….is not going to cut it. The Cubs are talented and have the team to win, they just need to play smart and consistent. Neil always tells me, don’t look at the standings, not yet. This team has to learn how to win in bunches and often. And if we don’t, we are in some serious trouble. Have you ever been run over by a wheel of cheese? I’m just guessing but I bet it hurts and it will take a full winter to heal.
Until Next Time….GO CUBBIES!!!!