Sunday, October 5, 2008

Central Division Blues

"That's life,
That's what all the people say.
You're riding high in April,
Shot down in May..."

Well, Frank Sinatra almost had it right - it took till October for the Central Division to get shot down by the rest of the NL. The Cubs and Brewers can join Pittsburgh in the "wait till next year" rut.

Chicago couldn't exorcise the Billy Goat curse, and the Dodgers under Joe Torre swept them in the NLDS. Never was the old adage "good pitching will stop good hitting" more evident in a series.

Starters Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda combined to limit the Cubs to three runs in 19 innings, a 1.42 ERA, and the Dodgers outscored them, 20-6, in the three games. LA held the top of the Chicago order to 2-24 (.083), and the big guns simply had no one to bring home.

And Ned Colletti has a Cheshire Cat grin that's impossible to erase today.

As for the Brew Crew, the way that they and the Mets stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled down the stretch must have made baseball wonder if there was any point to inviting a wild-card to the party, at least in the NL.

The Phils showed their muscle and used the long ball to oust Milwaukee today and take the NLDS three games to one.

For the Brewers, it was a bitter if not totally unexpected pill to swallow. And with CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets ready to hit the market, their window as a playoff caliber club may be shut for at least the short-term future.

Now the two hottest teams in the NL will play for all the marbles, starting in Philadelphia on Thursday.

What's it mean for next year's Central Division race? Well, the Cubs are almost certain to join the FA lottery and open the purse strings to find a partner for the Big Z. The Brewers will have to retool. It's time for them to shop Prince Fielder for the player haul he should bring in for Milwaukee.

Houston and Cincy have new life, although the Cubs still seem too talented to catch in the standings. The Pirates? Same ol', same ol'. Wait till next year. They have it down to a science.

And if you want to use the playoff teams as a measuring stick, the Pirates were 10-42 against the clubs that made it, a .192 winning percentage. They were 4-14 against the Cubs, 1-14 against the Brewers, 2-5 against LA, 2-4 against the Phils, 0-3 against the White Sox, and 1-2 against the Rays. (The Bucs were 3-4 against the Mets, driving a stake in their playoff heart, hehe).

Against the hoi polloi of baseball, Pittsburgh actually had a winning 57-53 record. So the Bucs can hang with the crowd. They just get hammered when they step out of class.

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