Debate the NL Central with Jayson Stark
THE CASE FOR THE BREWERSThe Brewers didn't just make the most important pre-deadline trade of 2008. They made the first pre-deadline trade of 2008. And because they struck so fast, Sabathia figures to sneak in two starts for the Brewers before the All-Star break -- and four before the deadline hits. So as rentals go, an elite pitcher who makes 14 starts is likely to make a far bigger impact than a pitcher who makes 10. And don't let that 6-8 record fool you. C.C. is still as elite a hired-gun arm as anybody is going to deal for this year. Since May 9, he's 5-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 84 innings -- the most strikeouts and fourth-best ERA in baseball since that date. And adding a strikeout machine was a major development for a team like the Brewers that, while better with the leather than last year, can still have its defensive issues.
THE CASE FOR THE CUBSThe Cubs were the best team in the National League before this deal. And it won't be easy for a man who only goes out there every fifth day to change that. The Cubs are a deeper, more efficient and more consistent offensive team than Milwaukee, for one thing. They've scored nearly 70 more runs (475-406). They've outhit the Brewers by nearly 30 points (.283-.255) and have a much better on-base percentage (.359-.324). And the Cubs still have the better bullpen (3.65 ERA to Milwaukee's 4.07).
THE CASE FOR THE CARDINALSThe Cardinals have been defying the numbers and the experts all season. So it would be crazy to count them out. You wouldn't think this would be possible if you looked over the names in their lineup, but they've been a better offensive team than the Brewers in just about every category except home runs. The Cardinals also have committed the fewest errors in the league (46 -- or 10 fewer than either the Cubs or Brewers). And they figure to get both Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright back in the second half. So they won't be conceding anytime soon.
THE VERDICTThe Brewers may have leaped over the Cubs as The NL Team You'd Least Want to Face in October. But I'm still taking the Cubs as the favorites in this division. They're deeper. They're more versatile. They're less reliant on the home run to score. They have the better late-inning relief crew. And they undoubtedly have a trade or two in them themselves. So let's see what the Cubs do between now and the deadline, and maybe we can have this same debate on the first Monday in August. In the meantime, let's kick around the fate of the most intriguing division in baseball.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jayson Stark (1:01 PM)
OK, you NL Central fans. Debate Time has arrived. Make your case for the team to beat.
do you see the brewers trying to re-sign sabathia after the season?
Jayson Stark (1:03 PM)
This isn't really a subject for this debate. But let's get it out of the way anyhow. The Brewers don't expect to keep Sabathia. Never did. This is about going for it this year. Then they'll collect their two draft picks for CC and their two picks for Ben Sheets, and they'll have five of the top 35-45 picks in the draft next June.
Matt (Oshkosh, WI)
Of course, I'm a little bit bias towards my Milwaukee Brewers. But to be realistic, I still think the Cubs are the overall better team as of right now. However, that could change very quickly. Putting our bullpen aside, I think the major difference will come down to offense. The brewers are now 10 games over .500 and still half of our lineup is hitting under .270. It seems to me as if our bats are starting to wake up (example JJ Hardy) and if the rest of the team can get going (Prince Fielder especially) this is definately a team I would not want to be playing in the playoffs. All CC and the rest of our starting pitching needs to do is hold down the opposing runs to a decent number, and our offense can take care of the rest...
Jayson Stark (1:04 PM)
I agree with you that no one would want to play the Brewers in October -- but not because of their offense. Talked to several scouts about this in the last 24 hours, and their feeling is that this lineup is still one that can be pitched to. It's still too homer-dependent and too streaky. So to assume it's going to go on some kind of three-month tear now just isn't a safe assumption -- unless CC hits cleanup. And I know he'd be willing!
Adam Milwaukee, WI
I think that C.C. is exactly what the Brewers needed to make a big run at this division and beyond. Last year they finished two games out of the division with a hurt Ben Sheets in the second half. With this one-two punch i think they will be a very tough team to beat in the second half of the season and in october!!!
Jayson Stark (1:06 PM)
Ben Sheets is a big part of this in various ways. But one of the biggest is one you touched on -- i.e., health. One scout I talked to mentioned how badly the Brewers played last year after he went down. And given his health history, you wouldn't want to bet the lake house that he won't miss any turns the rest of this season. With Sabathia in the co-ace penthouse, there's no reason now for the ship to sink if Sheets gets hurt.
The Cubs not only boast all the aforementioned attributes, but almost all of them have been to one or numerous post-seasons. The Brewers are still largely the same young team that coughed up the division last year and started poorly this year. They are undeniably talented but I believed they were still a year away before the season started. Now that they've unloaded a few incredible talents they may very well need to win it all this year because it's all too likely that C.C. and Sheets will jump ship at years' end. 1.Cubs 2. Brewers 3.Cardinals
Jayson Stark (1:10 PM)
I agree with your rankings. And you make a good point. I took a quick look at their roster, and it looks as if almost none of their every-day players or starting pitchers -- just Mike Cameron, Jason Kendall and Jeff Suppan -- have made it to the postseason. But that can be overrated. It's clear this team is going for it, right here, right now. And this group may well get a sense that this is their last shot with this collection of players. You never know what kind of impact that will have.
Lets not forget about Manny Parra. He'll be going for his 8th win in a row later this week and in my opinion is fantastic for a 3rd or 4th starter.
Jayson Stark (1:13 PM)
You're right. If he's the No. 3 starter, at this point you'd take him, Sabathia and Sheets over Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. As someone said to me today, "this is going to force the Cubs to go get somebody." And they're looking for a 1-2 as we speak.
While the Brewers have added C.C., the Cubs have been winning a lot of games without Soriano, so his return to the lineup should have an equal impact to Sabathia's
Jayson Stark (1:14 PM)
An every-day player always has more impact than a starting pitcher. And you're seeing now how much the Cubs miss Soriano. They're 32-17 when he starts, only two over .500 (21-19) when he doesn't.
This may be a little off topic but how will the lose of the 4 prospects hurt the Brewers long term future? How will they help out Cleveland?
Jayson Stark (1:17 PM)
This is a little off-topic, but I guess it's relevant enough to throw in here. LaPorta is a legit middle-of-the-order bat who might have gotten a few cameo at-bats in September. But long-term, he's an impact player for the Indians. Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson really aren't, although most scouts like Bryson as a set-up man or mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter. Depends on the player to be named later. Taylor Green has some real upside, but it's not a sure thing yet that he's the guy.
We all know pitching wins in this league, so the question becomes, which CORE staff would you rather have? Sheets-CC-Parra-Suppan-Bush-Villanuueva-McClung-Riske-Gagne-Torres OR Zambrano-Dempster-Lily-Marshall-Gallagher-Marmol-Wood-Howry-Marquis-Cotts?
Jayson Stark (1:18 PM)
One to 10, I'll take the Cubs. One-to-three starters, I'll take the Brewers. End of the game, I'll take the Cubs. I see the Brewers making a bullpen move before the deadline, too. So I might not have the same answer four weeks from now. But for "core" staff, as of today, I'm going Cubs.
Aaron (Rochester, NY)
Yovani Gallardo has an outside chance of coming back in late August or September. A three-man run of Sheets-Sabathia-Parra is sick enough, but doesn't adding Gallardo to that mix all but guarantee a ridiculous run leading up to the playoffs?
Jayson Stark (1:21 PM)
First off, they can't possibly count on Gallardo to make it back. Second, there is no such thing as a "guarantee" in sports. You'd have thought Erik Bedard would have "guaranteed" that the Mariners had one of the best rotations in the AL, too. Hasn't worked out that way. But now that all that's out of the way, if Gallardo does come back, that would be the best 1-4 group in the league. I agree with that part of the premise.
Seth Chicago, IL
Let's say both the Cubs and Brewers get another guy they are targeting.....Harden with the Cubs and Fuentes with the Brewers. Who gets the nod then?
Jayson Stark (1:22 PM)
Harden is a bigger difference-maker than Fuentes, who hasn't pitched well lately. Of course, since they're the Cubs, they'd probably trade for him and he'd get hit with a line drive in his first inning at Wrigley. But my very hypothetical nod would go to the Cubs.
So far not one point about the Cardinals. Yes on paper there far behind, but they are the only team with the proven track record, proven manager, and the best player out of the three teams. Also they have some injured arms, who may come back and help down the stretch.
Jayson Stark (1:25 PM)
You're right about the fact that we need to get the Cardinals into the conversation. You're also right about the best player out of the three teams. But the "proven track record" wasn't with this group of guys, so I'm vetoing that argument. And Lou Piniella has managed many a big game, so Tony isn't the only proven manager, either. The key to that team is what they get out of Carpenter, Wainwright and possibly Mark Mulder the rest of the way -- and any deals they can make to upgrade that bullpen.
Jayson: Good debate today! Aren't the Brewers and Cubs going to both make the playoffs regardless, though? Who cares which is the division winner -- they both have better records than the others.
Jayson Stark (1:26 PM)
Very good chance the Central produces the wild card. One scout said to me today, "Who'd have thought the three best teams in the National League would all be in this division?"
Tim Columbia, SC
So how effective do you see CC being for the Brewers vs how he has performed for the Indians this year? About the same, worse, better?
Jayson Stark (1:27 PM)
At the risk of generalizing, pitchers who go from the AL to the NL tend to perform better than when they were in the NL. CC has been averaging more than a strikeout an inning for two months in the AL, and now he gets to face the bottom of those NL orders. So if form holds, I like his chances of being one of the most dominant pitchers in the league the rest of the way.
You talked about the health of Sheets. What about the fact Zambrano is just coming back from injury? If he has to miss a few more starts this season, would that be enough in your mind for the Brewers to win the central?
Jayson Stark (1:30 PM)
That could absolutely swing the balance of power. Zambrano is 5-0 versus the Central this year. The rest of that staff is 15-16.
Neil (Windsor CT)
Jayson, Love the book. How bout these team's closers? I dont trust any of them. Maybe Wood, if he can stay healthy but Torres/Gagne and Franklin/Izzy? Thoughts?
Jayson Stark (1:31 PM)
Good point. I'd take Wood over Torres or either Cardinal. And I'd take Wood./Marmol over any late-inning combo on the other two teams. Tough to even debate that, although I'm sure there's somebody out there who will try.
zach (merrillville, IN)
Jayson, with sabathia gone, do you see the cubs going after harden or someone more like a randy wolf? Sean Marshall will not be able to keep up.
Jayson Stark (1:32 PM)
I keep hearing the Cubs only want to make a deal if it's for a No. 1 or 2 starter. They have plenty of 3-4-5's. So Harden fits their profile more than Wolf does, although they do have legit interest in Wolf.
Tim, Washington DC
I thought this discussion was supposed to involve three teams. Lets not hand the Cubs and Brewers the Division and Wild Card just yet. How many starts by an effective Wainwright or Carpenter will it take to make the Cardinals a favorite for a playoff birth? How close do the Cards have to stay before they return in order to make the playoff push?
Jayson Stark (1:36 PM)
They have to keep pace, in my mind. They haven't been closer to the Cubs than 2 1/2 games in over a month. And the Brewers have made up six games on them in the standings since late May WITHOUT Sabathia. So they might need 20 starts from those two to hang in there, which is asking a lot.
John Boston, MA
Jayson, I saw the Brewers and Red Sox in the first inter league series this season. My impression was that the Brewers were a very poor defensive team and not fundamentally sound. Is it reasonable to asume that they are a legitimats contender even with CC ?
Jayson Stark (1:39 PM)
Beware of snapshot glances. You saw the Brewers at their worst, when the Red Sox were playing their best ball of the season. The Brewers are 29-15 since they left Boston, and they're playing much better baseball. They do have defensive issues, though -- on the right side of the infield and in left field in particular. But they're better than they were a year ago in center (Cameron), behind the plate (Kendall) and at third base when Bill Hall plays. That's why adding a strikeout pitcher like Sabathia has extra impact on a team like this: Minimizes the effect of sub-par defense on the days he pitches.
Rick (Nashville, TN)
I've heard that the Cubs haven't even been "kicking around" Burnett's name. To me this suggests he might be the move they make. Hendry tends to keep his moves off the radar and AJ would probably come cheap. What kind of impact could/would he have on this race?
Jayson Stark (1:41 PM)
I really don't get the sense he's high on their shopping list at all. The problem with Burnett is that you don't know if he's a rental or a guy you'd have for three years, because of that opt-out clause. If you trade for him and he pitches well, he opts out. If you trade for him and he doesn't pitch well, he says I'll stick around and collect my $24 million. That's such a tricky Catch-22 (or Catch-24), I'm hearing Toronto hasn't gotten many hits on him at all so far.
Dylan, Tampa FL
Jayson, is it really smart to give up a bat like LaPorta for 3 months of Sabathia. Sorry, but I don't think the Brewers even make the playoffs.
Jayson Stark (1:44 PM)
I give the Brewers credit. They haven't been to the postseason in 26 years. They're stocked with prospects. So they feel like they owe it to their fan base to take a shot. But if you haven't checked out my Rumblings and Grumblings column from last week, I point out how rare it is for any team to trade for a pitcher like this who leads them to a parade float. The only starter traded in midseason who has won a World Series game in the last 30 years is . . . (ta-taaaa) Jeff Weaver. How scary is that slice of trivia?
Brian Denver, CO
I know Rich Hill has been really strugling with his control in the rookie league but he did pitch well in his last start (4 IP, 1 H, 1 W, o ER). Do you see him making an impact this year and if he does how much of a difference maker can he be in the race?
Jayson Stark (1:45 PM)
Rich Hill is another X factor. He has had several stretches in his career where he seemed to lose the strike zone and then got his act back together. But the sense I get is that people who have seen him think his issues this time around are more serious. So stay tuned.
Greg (Columbia, MO)
Do you believe that the return of Mark Mulder will be any kind of impact for the Cardinals? If(and thats a big if) Mulder returns to something resembling his former self a rotation of Wainright, Mulder, Carpenter, Losche, Looper would look pretty good
Jayson Stark (1:47 PM)
There has been almost no resemblance between this Mark Mulder and the old Mark Mulder, so the jury is out. If all five of those guys pitched their best, you're right that the Cardinals might have the best rotation in the league, 1 to 5, at the end of the year. But that's too big an "if" right now.
Bryan, Milwaukee, WI
Didn't Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling basically take Arizona to win the World Series? Why can't Sheets and Sabathia do it for the Brewers? The Brewers have a better offense than Arizona did, but share one thing in common... the winner, Craig Counsell.
Jayson Stark (1:49 PM)
There's no doubt the Brewers are now a team built for October. The problem is, they're not going to be allowed to get a bye and go straight to October. They're going to have to earn this in July, August and September. If they do, look out.
As we have seen over the last decade, the best team doesn't always win in the playoffs. Do you think Sheets and CC can have a similar impact that Johnson and Schilling had with Arizona? Would that combo, along with Parra, be enough to overtake the Cubs in a 7 game series?
Jayson Stark (1:50 PM)
That would be the formula, all right. But you'd have to convince me that Sheets and Sabathia could carry a team through October all by themselves better than Johnson and Schilling did. You're talking about a 600-strikeout tag team in those two. These guys are tremendous -- but not as dominating as Johnson-Schilling.
Tim (Appleton, WI)
I think one of the main ways this trade is going to help the Brewers down the stretch is in the bullpen. C.C. can pitch late into every game, allowing the bullpen to rest for a night. This will help the entire bullpen improve. Also, McClung will possibly move back to the bullpen. This gives Yost the option of a 95-mph fastball in the late innings. I do not know if it was wise to give up LaPorta for just a little time with C.C., but it will result in a more successful bullpen.
Jayson Stark (1:53 PM)
You may be right. Did you know CC has made more starts of seven innings or more over the last two years (35) than any pitcher except Roy Halladay (36)? But just because McClung has pitched effectively out of the rotation lately doesn't mean it's safe to count on him in the bullpen. He's never thrown strikes consistently in relief, and he's sure had his chances.
Drew (Memphis, TN)
Assuming the Cubs add a 4 or 5 starter, they're still the clear favorite. With Chicago getting back Zambrano and Soriano, and St. Louis getting back Wainwright and Carpenter, I think the Brewers acquiring Sabathia is what they HAVE to do just to keep up with the other two teams. I doubt it's enough to catch the Cubs, though.
Jayson Stark (1:55 PM)
First off, as I said earlier, I think if the Cubs make a move, it will be for someone better than a 4-5 starter. But beyond that, I agree that the Brewers had to make this move. Without a major trade, I don't think they were good enough to any more than hang around. Now this is a team with a chance to not just get to October but play deep into October.
Johnny (LA, CA)
Jayson, bullpens have become almost a necessity in winning a title nowadays. Look at the last few world series winners to see. The Brewers bullpen is not just below average, it is borderline awful and that leads to too many losses to make up with good hitting and starting pitching. Thoughts?
Jayson Stark (1:56 PM)
This is one reason I'm still picking the Cubs. Big separation between the Cubs' bullpen and both Milwaukee and St. Louis.
Michael (Winston-Salem, NC)
Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball right now. I will not dispute this. However, the Cubs have *far* more depth in their lineup. Of the Cardinals' 3531 plate appearances this season, 1363 (38.6%) have been taken by a player with at least an .800 OPS. The Brewers' figure? 1722/3383, or 50.9%. The Cubs' figure? 2173/3669, or 59.2%. That speaks volumes, to me, about the Cubs' depth. (Before anyone tells me .800 is arbitrary, if I choose .700, then the numbers are Cardinals: 75.9%, Brewers: 74.7%, Cubs: 85.7%.)
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Great research, Michael! I also have no problem with using .800 as the cutoff. That, to me, is where you start separating very good hitters from good hitters. And remember, the team slugging percentages of the Cubs and Brewers are identical. So that's an indication of how much impact Cubs' hitters on-base skills have. Better at-bats up and down the lineup than either the Brewers' or Cardinals' hitters.
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Whoops. This hour flew by. We only have time for one more.
Dustin, La Crosse WI
Does anyone really think that the Brewers would actually make this big of a splash and NOT go after a prime bullpen arm to help seal victories? I am counting on a big arm at the back of the pen to stabalize things. Also, maybe add a true leadoff hitter. Then there will be no question about the best team in the Central.
Jayson Stark (2:02 PM)
I agree with you that they'll try to find that bullpen arm. And they're certainly not out of prospects. But the bullpen shopping list doesn't look especially dazzling at the moment. So you can't just assume they can add that last missing bullpen piece. If they do, get back to me, though, because CC changes the whole equation of this team and this division.
Jayson Stark (2:02 PM)
Thanks to everyone who participated. We blew past 1600 comments in an hour. So sorry to the 1550 I never got to. Maybe next week!
SportsNation on Facebook
THIS WEEK'S CHATS
- 11:00 AMNoleNation's David Hale
- 12:00 PMNFL with Dan Graziano
- 1:00 PMDallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor
- 1:00 PMSweetSpot's Schoenfield
- 1:00 PMCubs, Sox with Levine
- 2:00 PMGeauxTigerNation's Laney
- 2:00 PMNFL blogger Kevin Seifert
- 2:00 PMBoxing with Brian Campbell
- 2:00 PMNASCAR with Newton
- 3:00 PMFantasy's Stephania Bell
- 4:00 PMNFL with James Walker
- 4:00 PMHornsNation's Wilkerson
- 11:00 AMFantasy's Matthew Berry
- 12:00 PMPatriots with Mike Reiss
- 12:00 PMTideNation's Scarborough
- 12:00 PMWolverineNation's Rothstein
- 12:00 PMMLB Insider Keith Law
- 1:00 PMNFL blogger Mike Sando
- 1:00 PMGiants with Youngmisuk
- 2:00 PMNASCAR with Terry Blount
- 2:00 PMBuckeyeNation's Ward
- 2:00 PMSport Science's Brenkus
- 2:30 PMNFL with Bill Williamson
- 3:00 PMNFL with Paul Kuharsky
- 4:00 PMFootball Scientist KC Joyner