Alright everyone, get your payroll jokes and your “Where’s your World Series Championship trophy?” jokes out of your system before you start reading.
Yes, since the Milwaukee Brewers came to be in 1969, they have not won a World Series and have won just a single pennant in that span. And, of course, living north of Chicago, we all know the Cubs are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
“Wrigley North” is a cute little joke for Cubbies fans who drive up to Miller Park to watch the Cubs play, even though they are jealous that we have a giant “TV” in center field that most 21st Century stadiums call a jumbo-tron.
But enough on that and the jokes that Brewers fans take when they talk to Cubs fans. My question is this: Are the Brewers quickly closing the gap on Chicago’s loveable losers?
The Cubs opened the 2009 season with the third-highest payroll in baseball, at $134,809,000, good for second in the National League behind the New York Mets. The Brewers, on the other hand, began the year with a payroll of $80,182,502, good for eighth in the National League and 16th in the majors.
So how much does $54,626,498 buy? Apparently not a whole lot. I went ahead and broke down each position from both teams to see where this $54 million is being spent.
Cubs: Geovany Soto, .188 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 0-5 SB, 4.84 CERA, $575,000
Brewers: Jason Kendall, .222 BA, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 4-17 SB, 4.19 CERA, $5,000,000
Geovany Soto is by far the better catcher than Jason Kendall and comes at a cheaper price. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has not done much at the plate this year and has failed to throw out a baserunner, but odds say that he will come around as the season progresses.
Behind the plate, Kendall gets the easy nod. Talked about as one of the best catchers to pitch for in the league, Kendall calls a great game and has really improved his defense. Still, based on the belief that Soto will turn things around, Soto holds a decided edge over Kendall.
*CERA = Catcher’s ERA
Cubs: Derek Lee, .194 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 0 E, 2.948 ZR, $13, 250,000
Brewers: Prince Fielder, .273 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 0 E, 2.957 ZR, $7,000,000
I know Cubs fans love their man Derek Lee, but the fact of the matter is Prince Fielder has overtaken him in line behind Albert Pujols for the next best first baseman in the Central.
Lee has been awful at the plate this year and, at 34 years of age, this might be a sign more than a slump. As for Fielder, he is finally putting some batting average to add to his early season RBI total. He ranks third in the National League in RBI’s and, surprisingly enough, has had better range than Lee in the field.
Fielder has trimmed some weight down and become much faster as well, and the results have shown.
*ZR = Zone Rating, (The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive “zone,” as measured by STATS, Inc., via ESPN.com)
Cubs: Mike Fontenot/Bobby Scales: .252 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 2 E, 4.16 RF, $430,000
Brewers: Rickie Weeks: .282, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 6 E, 4.77 RF, $2,450,000
A no-brainer here as Rickie Weeks has finally broken out this year for the Brew Crew. After five years of mediocre play, Weeks has finally defined himself at the plate thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum and Willie Randolph.
Fontenot has been cold as of late and Scales is more of a fill-in than anything else. One of the two will be optioned to Triple-A when Aramis Ramirez comes back, but either way Weeks is the easy choice here. His defense is still shaky at times, but he has made more great plays in the field and has covered a lot more ground then he did in the past.
*RF = Range Factor, ((PO + A) * 9 divided by innings)
Cubs: Ryan Theriot: .297 BA, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 4 E, 3,32 RF, $500,000
Brewers: J.J. Hardy: .224 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 3 E, 4.02 RF, $4,650,000
Theriot is probably having a career year right now, while Hardy is breaking out of an early season slump (to put it nicely). If Lou Piniella had a brain, Alfonso Soriano would be batting third and Theriot would be on base for him, rather than the other way around.
Theriot is a great slap hitter and while his defense is shaky and he doesn’t have a huge arm, it gets the job done. Hardy is batting .359 in the month of May after a .156 April and has started to turn things around. Both of these players are perfect for their lineups and I give this matchup a push due to Theriot’s numbers at the plate and Hardy’s performance in the field.
Cubs: Aramis Ramirez: .364 BA, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 E, 9.279 ZR, $16,650,000
Brewers: Bill Hall: .278 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 3 E, 8.0 ZR
While Bill Hall is having one of the best years of his career both in the field and at the plate, it’s hard to deny the best all around player on the Cubs the win here. Ramirez, on the DL currently, was playing great baseball for the Cubbies and was keeping them afloat in the NL Central.
The loss of his bat in the lineup has been huge, but hopefully they can regain it sooner rather than later. Willie Randolph has worked with Bill Hall in the field and it has really paid off for him.
Cubs: Alfonso Soriano, .271 BA, 11 HR, 23 RBI, 4 A, 13.862 ZR, $17,000,000
Brewers: Ryan Braun, .322, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 1 A, 14.228 ZR, $1,032,500
Sorry Cubs fans, Braun is becoming one of the best left fielders in the game and it has showed this year. It’s hardly a knock on Soriano who has had a great year thus far, but it’s hard to argue the numbers against Braun. Both are pretty good in the field, with Soriano having more assists and a better arm but Braun having better range getting to balls.
Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome, .340 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 2 A, 2.58 RF, $12,500,000
Brewers: Mike Cameron, .304 BA, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 2 A, 3.13 RF, $10,000,000
If I am going to give Geovany Soto the benefit of the doubt on improving, I have to do the opposite with Fukudome. We have all seen this story before: Fukudome comes out on a tear and hits everything in sight.
If Fukudome keeps this up, I will retract my statements but I just don’t see it happening. As for Cameron, he is having a career year at the plate and has played Gold Glove defense. Cameron takes Fukudome in every stat but batting average, but Cameron’s .303 average is pretty good. Advantage goes to Cameron here.
Cubs: Milton Bradley, .194 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 1 A, 14.594 ZR, $7,000,000
Brewers: Corey Hart, .264 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 0 A, 14.293 ZR, $3,250,000
Something that wasn’t put in the stats was the fact that Hart is sixth in the National League with 27 runs scored. Hart played 156 games last year and has only missed one game this year, due to rest.
Bradley has had a terrible start to the year and has already missed 14 games this year. While he is currently riding a seven game hitting streak, Hart has done just fine and is playing better than Bradley. Even if Bradley picks up his game, Hart will put up similar numbers.
Cubs: Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, $48,200,000
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Braden Looper, $22,340,000
Cubs: 16-8, 4.13 ERA, 188 SO, 73 BB, 1.29 WHIP
Brewers: 13-10, 4.24 ERA, 166 SO, 79 BB, 1.31 WHIP
There’s no question that the Cubs have the better starting rotation and it is the Cubs' best argument to why they are better than the Brewers.
Gallardo is pitching the best of the 10 starters mentioned above, but after that the Cubs probably take the next three or four starters before mentioning Dave Bush. The Brewers lead the league in quality starts, and by no means have the Brewers starters been bad, but rather that the Cubs live and die by their starters.
Cubs: Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol, David Patton, Angel Guzman, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg
Brewers: Mark DiFelice, Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, Mitch Stetter, Carlos Villanueva, Trevor Hoffman
Cubs: 4-6, 5.21 ERA, 97 SO, 67 BB, 1.58 WHIP
Brewers: 8-4, 3.87 ERA, 87 SO, 46 BB, 1.31 WHIP
As good as the Cubs starters are compared to the Brewers, the opposite can be said when it comes to relief pitching. Part of the reason the Brewers have been so good this year has been the work of the bullpen.
Mark DiFelice has been unhittable and Trevor Hoffman has eight saves on the year with a 0.00 ERA. On the other hand, the Cubs two main bullpen pitchers have been less than stellar. Carlos Marmol has a 4.24 ERA and has 17 walks in as many innings. Kevin Gregg, the team’s closer, has been average with a 3.86 ERA and just six saves.
What It All Means
As much smack talk as Cubs fans would like to talk about the Brewers and how they will never compete, the fact of the matter is that Doug Melvin has assembled a team that is full of young, talented, and experienced players that are ready for the long haul this year.
The Cubs have a shot to win the NL Central, just as the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers do. They are still one of the most talented teams and have one of the best rotation in the National League. But the Brewers are putting the pieces together and seem to have finally arrived, and if they can stay healthy, a Division Championship is not out of the question.