An Arms Race…In the NL Central?

Yes, that’s right, not the AL East, but the NL Central is trade central for the big name, big money players this year. The times, they are a changing. Milwaukee grabs CC Sabathia, a day later the Cubs grab injury-riddled Rich Harden. Who wins out?

Well, both teams. Each squad improved with the trade. Sabathia and Harden are both ace-quality starters – when healthy at least. Put Sabathia, who has pitched lights out after a slow start, next to Ben Sheets to form arguably the best 1-2 in the NL. With apologies to Webb and Harden in Arizona, Zambrano-Harden is right there as a top starter combo. THe good news for Milwaukee and Chicago, the NL West is pathetic, and the NL East has only been one notch above pathetic. In other words, the wild-card is wide open for the taking.

Chicago arguably has the better team. The defending champs added Giovani Soto in the off-season, and successfully converted Kerry Wood to closer, before the Harden acquisition. The Brewers are probably not as strong in the bullpen, and not as deep in the lineup, top to bottom. However, the way Sheets and Sabathia have pitched over the past two months, they are liable to ring off a combined 15-20 consecutive wins between them. Seven or eight a piece, without losing a decision, not at all out of the realm. I still give the Cubs the edge in the division because they have the better team 1 through 25, and the better manager.

St. Louis is a great story that Milwaukee will end in the second half. No way the Cards can keep this up with that collection of players. They are not expected to make any moves. the Brewers should sail by them in the Central, and battle the Cubs head to head down the stretch with the loser earning the Wild Card.

Even if Sabathia leaves after the season, the trade makes perfect sense. They last made the playoffs in 1982, they have a healthy Ben Sheets pitching up to potential, are right in the race following a season where they came up just short. Milwaukee is at one of those go for it now or forever hold your peace positions, and they are going for it. The fans love it, and show it by packing in Miller Park. After last year’s collapse, with Sabathia on board, they must make the playoffs this year. Ned Yost’s job hangs in the balance.

If Harden stays healthy, the move works for both Chicago and Oakland. For once, I’d like to see Oakland hold on to one big name player. Try to be good with more than just arbitration players and retread veterans. Try, just once. If he’s on, Harden is as good as it gets. For everyone that believes in fate (all you Cubs fans), the powers that be owe the Cubs in the rising star pitching department. The injury gods haunted Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for years, perhaps they will now look over Rich Harden’s health to make-up for all the lost promise of Wood and Prior.

For Cub fans, it’s all about fate at this point, 100 years after the last title. At this point, go for Harden, it can’t get any worse than 100 years.

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