Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Midseason Report Card: NL Central

Ha. Had you fooled twice! Not only is it not mid-season, it's Cleveland that Jesus hates! Whoa. I'm embarrassed to have included exclamation points in consecutive sentences. Oh, well. Wilier things have happened in this House.

Anyway, it's practically mid-season for the NFL, so we're par for the course in Tokyo, or something. Today's focus is the NL Central, and our guest is actually not a guest at all; he lives in this House, and his name is Cecil. He was kind enough to take time out of his daily grind to sit down, and tell us how it be in baseball. Somehow -- must be the genius that he is -- he was able to come up with really good answers to my really awful questions. Pick up on what he's puttin' down, after the jump, and if you dig it, the other editions of this feature are as such:

NL West, AL East, AL Central, AL West

Bankmeister: Let's work our way from the bottom up. Shall we? Okay. Good. The Pittsburgh Pirates. What. The fuck. I'm beginning to consider this team the Arizona Cardinals of Major League Baseball. It seems that every season, folks are thinking the Pirates have gotten it together, and are ready to play some better baseball. Not the case. Right now they sit at 60-84, a cool 26 games out of first, and nestled deep in the basement. Do you pay any attention to this team? Is there any reason to?

Cecil: Me? I barely even recognize Pittsburgh as an American city. Does it exist? Those big sandwiches with the fries in 'em, that's all fake, right?

So, no. I keep up with the Pirates only as far as checking Nate McLouth's stats in the box score. I drafted him in our fantasy league in like the 413th round this year, as you'll recall.

Which is kinda sad, at least in the context of baseball history. I mean, these are the flippin' Pittsburgh Pirates. Roberto Clemente, the 1960 World Series, Honus Wagner. It's a franchise with history flowing over its belt. 1979, We Are Family, Willie Stargell. These are iconic bits of American sporting life. Almost as much as their crazy-ass old round caps with the lines on 'em. Jesus, those things were hideous.

They also had Kent Tekulve, whose delivery I used to attempt to imitate in the backyard. Turns out the submarine isn't for everyone.

B: True indeed. Although, being the homer that I am, I always pretended that Tekulve ripped of Dan Quisenberry. Along the same vein as you expressed, the Pirates are to me, a team of the past, a team well-remembered from my youth, but seldom thought of in today's game. I'm sure there are Pittsburgh fans that would have me slain, but it's the truth.

The Reds, however, are a different animal, if only by species, but different nonetheless. They seem to occasionally wrap their hands around some talent, and the organization appears to be run fairly well, now that a certain she-devil has passed. Yet, they can't seem to get all the gears to run simultaneously. Their record right now isn't much better than Pittsburgh's, but I certainly take them more seriously. Your thoughts on the not-all-that-big-anymore Red Machine?

C: Speaking of Quis, I found a button with his likeness on it in a Seattle thrift shop. Keep meaning to give it to you -- I'll bring it out for the game.

The Reds are different, absolutely -- but it's hard to judge by the numbers, as you say. They always have talent, they always have the fans, they have more history than any other franchise in baseball--they are the oldest extant, even more so than my ancient Cubs -- but in recent years, something's definitely been missing....

Maybe starting pitching? I mean, without really doing any research or thinking about it too hard, that seems to be the Reds' bugbear. They have Edinson Volquez now, and he's pretty good, but before that...Joaquin Andujar? Seriously, I just can't think of one. I know they play in a matchbox, and they like sluggers and 10-9 games, but at some point you need pitching, right? All the Adam Dunns and Junior Griffeys in the world can't change that.

But their success when we were kids, plus that of the relatively recent past -- they did win a Series in 1990, after all -- kinda pushes them farther up the list than Pittsburgh, even if neither franchise has really done anything recently.

B: For sure. Johnny Cueto looked like he was going to have a monster season early on, but then he plummeted to the likes of sub-mediocrity. Flippin' Bronson Arroyo has managed to net 14 wins and upwards of 150 fans, but his E.R.A. stays in the high fours. Then there's Aaron Harang, who loaded bushels of Ks into his stats last year, but hasn't been much worth mentioning since. The rest of their guys aren't even household names, including former Rock and Royal Jeremy Affeldt.

But alas, there's another red team to discuss, and that of course is none other than the ass-pounding Cardinales de St. Louis. I can't stand that franchise, and I imagine you feel the same. Perhaps this is our commonest baseball ground?

C: Eh, fuck the Cardinals.

I mean -- this is a year when, finally, I can kinda sit back and just forget they even exist. And you know what? That flippin' rules.

From photogray lens-wearing La Russa to Pujols to their red-clad, huge-gutted fanbase, I can say without reservation that I absolutely despise that team. Seriously, how many Series have they won? I'm too lazy (not to mention behind the 8-ball at work) to look it up, but it's a lot. And then, '06, when they squeeze into the playoffs with a record barely-over-.500 record and win it again? Christ. It makes my teeth hurt just talking about it. One of my co-workers is a Cards fan and magnaminously suggested that hey, maybe they lose that one -- "because we already have so many."

Die. Die. Die die die die die. And I don't mean the German usage.

Ah, but now, they have a fairly mediocre squad (even though they have a winning record) and former assholio grande Jim Edmonds is now playing for the good guys. They've been ravaged by injuries and Rick Ankiel joins Troy Glaus in shooting up a neckful of horse semen during the 7th inning stretch. This is what I like to call a good season. Sit tight and suffer, O still-proud owners of McGwire jerseys.

B: I'll cheers to that. And I'll even add in the Charlton Heston voice quoting "Cop Killer" to enhance my hatred for them. But since it is one of those seasons, let's move on. The Milwaukee Brewers. What, in God's name, has happened to this club since their mid-season run of excellent baseball that took off before and flourished after they acquired his Sabathianess? It's almost like they're trying to lose. Can they even save face and cling to that slimming shot at a wildcard?

Er, update...apparently Ned Yost has been fired.

C: Ah, nice call on Moses. I had forgotten all about that...

The Brew Crew. At one point this season I was legitimately worried that they'd catch us -- after all, they added one of the best pitchers in the game, their lineup is studded with quality bats and they have kids in giant sausage costumes racing around the diamond during the 7th inning stretch. That's a tough combo, there.

And all just disintegrated. They couldn't have picked a worse time to have a losing streak -- as if there is ever a good time -- than they just did, because that was practically the only time all season that Chicago's division lead was vulnerable. But lo, they squandered their one chance, and now it's fire Ned Yost time.

They just don't have the pitching depth they need. And they aren't going to be able to keep Sabathia. Even with all the talent on that squad, I see them taking a dip next year. Way to waste your shot, Milwaukee.

B: True to it all. Hate to see a wasted shot for that club.

Finally, your Cubs. Their pitching has been great most all year, and their hitting, while spotty, has obviously managed to get the job done. There've obviously been plenty of reasons to support the speculation behind possible tankage, but now, in mid-September, they've cranked it up a teense, have won five in a row, and extended their division lead to nine games. Clearly, there's no way the Brewers could catch them now, so we'll go ahead and give them the division.

How do you see their post-season realistically shaking out?

C: It all depends on Zambrano and Harden -- simplistic, yes, but those two guys are their best starters and both have had health issues, Zambrano this year and Harden, well, always.

Assuming we can keep all of our fingers and toes crossed for another month or so, and Mr. Glass can maintain as he has been, I like their chances versus basically anybody. Of the potential playoff teams -- Mets, Phillies, Dodgers, Milwaukee or maybe Houston -- the only team that freaks me out is the Phillies, because of their sticks and that teensy bandbox they play in.

Soriano has really developed into a drink-stirrin' straw, Soto looks like a 10-year vet, D. Lee is a stud and they have quality role players throughout the order who come through in the clutch.

Man...I don't wanna jinx anything, but that's the chemistry of championship baseball: excellent pitching, an offense that isn't overly reliant on one or two guys and depth in the bullpen.

B: Got it. So, venture out on a limb and give me your NL playoff predictions up to, and including the Series.

C: NL East: Philadephia

NL Central: Chicago Cubs

NL West: LA Dodgers (Hi, Humberto!)

Wild Card: New York Mets. Let's just assume they don't turn into a folding card table again this year, although they might very well.

National League Division Series:

Cubs v. Mets, Cubs in 4 games.

Dodgers v. Phillies, Dodgers in 5.

National League Championship Series:

Cubs v. Dodgers, Cubs in 6.

World Series:

Cubs v. LA Angels (I just can't buy the Bay Rays. Sorry.), Cubs in 7 in a classic fall classic. The curse is lifted, the country erupts, Harry Caray rises from the dead and shows up on Blanche's doorstep to utter a "HOLY COW!"

B: And there you have it. Of our panelists who've made predictions, all three have included Los Anaheim in the Series. Two have included Halo victories, and now, one for the Gipper. Tune in just before the Cubs and Angels square off for our NL East installment. Yes, indeedy.


old no. 7 said...

Bringin' back Kent Tekulve--that's classic. Check out this t-shirt design:

And speaking of t-shirts, my wife's grandfather wears one depicting Charlton Heston holding the musket aloft and saying "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands." You know, from the NRA convention in Denver right after Columbine. Super classy. I love that shirt.

Cecil said...

That was a fine, fine moment for both Heston and the NRA.

As I recall, he was basically going veggie by that point. Prop him up and give him a gun!