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NL Central in a nutshell

Katelyn Grabarek | Thursday, September 20, 2007

As the Major League Baseball season winds down and the divisional races heat up, there is one division that has baseball writers puzzled on who will take it.

On the one hand you have the young and very talented Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers were not the big spenders this off-season like the division rival Cubs, but instead chose to stick with home grown talent. Milwaukee fans have been hearing for years from the Brewers, much like the Cubs, that the talent will come soon enough. We just have to be patient.

The Cubs, who have not been to the World Series since 1945 and have not won it since 1908, are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since their heartbreak in 2003. The Cubs management went out and spent big time money on free agents and resigning players already within the organization. They spent $136 million on Alfonso Soriano for eight years in hopes of solidifying the lead-off spot.

Soriano has been a key trigger in the offense, but his home run production is down this year, and strikeouts have plagued his offensive numbers. Despite his numbers, Soriano has provided a great help to the offense in front of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

They also spent $44 million on lefthanded starter Ted Lilly. Many questioned general manager Jim Hendry’s motives for signing Lilly, never a big game pitcher having pitched in Toronto for most of his career. They also signed Jason Marquis, who was 14-16 with a high earned run average last season with the Cardinals. Couple these two off-season signings with the already very excitable Carlos Zambrano, and the Cubs rotation will be a force in a short playoff series.

Then there are the Brewers. The Brewers line-up card packs quite the punch, and their starting rotation is nothing to scoff at.

Long gone are the power-hitting players of Richie Sexson, now in Seattle, and Jeromy Burnitz. The Brewers have a few new power hitters. The names of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks probably do not strike fear in the minds of too many baseball fans quite yet, but soon these three will become household names.

Fielder has been lighting up scoreboards across the country this summer, blasting 46 home runs to lead the Brewers power surge. Braun has made a great showing with the former pushover Brewers.

The Brewers’ rotation is not full of big name pitchers, with the exception of Ben Sheets, and Jeff Suppan, an offseason acquisition from division rival Saint Louis. Sheets has always intimidated opposing hitters minds. With a knee buckling curveball and at times over powering fastball, he has quieted many a bat.

Overall, it seems to be the Cubs division to lose. While they were 8.5 games behind the Brewers as late as June 23, they have brought themselves back into the race, and the next two weeks both sets of fans will definitely be scoreboard watching. Beware world, the Cubs and Brewers are the teams of the future.