The Arizona Diamondbacks are the best team in the National League, thanks mostly to great starting pitching. I'm embarking on a journey to find out if the five best pitchers in the National League's Central division could stack up to the Arizona rotation.
1. Brandon Webb, 7-0, 2.49 ERA
The numbers speak for themselves. Webb has been lights out for three years, but aside from his Cy Young victory in 2006, has gone relatively unnoticed while playing in the desert. This guy would be SportsCenter's top story every night if he pitched for the Yankees, Cubs, or Red Sox.
2. Dan Haren, 4-1, 3.12 ERA
An ace in another spot in the rotation pitches just as sweet (or something like that).
A fine example of durability, Haren has pitched in over 200 innings for three straight seasons, from 2005 to 2007, all as an Oakland Athletic. He also struck out more than 150 batters in each of those seasons
3. Randy Johnson, 1-1, 4.79 ERA
While his numbers this season aren't great, the fact is, he's still Randy Johnson. You know, the one who won four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1999 to 2002, and five overall, earning the honor as a Seattle Mariner in 1995.
The one who had Jon Kruk ducking for cover in an All-Star game. The one who brought a World Series title to Phoenix. The one who threw a perfect game at age 40. The one who...I'm sure you get the point. He's Randy Johnson.
4. Micah Owings, 4-1, 4.42 ERA
Owings started the year 4-0 and allowed only seven runs in that stretch. He's come back down to earth in his last two starts, but he's still a good young pitcher that would be a third starter on many pitching staffs.
Did I mention he can hit, too? In two professional seasons, he has five home runs and a .358 batting average.
5. Max Scherzer, 0-1, 2.16 ERA
The sample size is small, but the numbers on the radar gun are huge. He flirts with triple digits and allowed no hits in 4.1 innings of relief of Edgar Gonzalez. He struck out seven Astros in his first Major League appearance.
Arizona is also waiting for Doug Davis to recover after surgery on a thyroid tumor. Davis is a crafty lefty who went 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA in two starts this season. His career record is 76-76, and will only add to this already deep starting rotation.
National League Central
1. Ben Sheets, Milwaukee Brewers, 4-0, 2.29 ERA
The ace of the Brewers staff, he's the only proven winner the Crew has left on its pitching staff. An Olympic gold medalist from 2000, Sheets is a bona fide strikeout, power pitcher. When he gets on the mound, that's it.
From 2005 to 2007, Sheets started an average of only 21 games per season. He has never had a win-loss record above .500, but Sheets' best seasons came when the Brewers were far less than respectable. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost five to one.
2. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, 4-1, 2.11 ERA
The emotional Zambrano has been one of the best and most durable pitchers in Major League Baseball. He has started 30 or more games and pitched over 200 innings in each of the last five seasons. His career ERA is 3.36.
3. Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros, 3-3, 5.57 ERA
Oswalt has had a rough start so far in 2008, but there is no questioning that he's one of the top five pitchers in the NL Central. He combines an exploding fastball with a rope-a-dope 70 mph curveball, and this combination led him to a 3.14 career ERA and a record of 115-57.
4. Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds, 1-4, 2.98 ERA
Don't let the record fool you; Harang could be the number one pitcher for any number of contenders.
His final win-loss record in the past two seasons has been above .500, despite the lack of talent on the rest of his team, particularly in the bullpen. He has 41 strikeouts so far this season, more than both Sheets and Zambrano.
5. Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs, 4-1, 2.72 ERA
The numbers right now are good, so I'm including him tentatively on this list. Just keep in mind that the nickname "Dumpster" didn't catch on amongst Cubs' fans for no reason.
Since 2004, he has had a fair share of struggles in the Cubs bullpen, but moved back into a starting role for 2008. He's gotten off to a good start, but it may only be a matter of time before he returns to Dempster form, which has been good for a 4.75 ERA over his career.
As the Diamondbacks are awaiting a starter's return, as is the NL Central. Chris Carpenter, 2005's Cy Young Award winner, is still rehabilitating after Tommy John surgery between the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Time will tell if he can return to form and help the NL Central's pitching staff compete with that of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- Diamondbacks' win-loss record: 17-5
- NL Central's win-loss record: 16-9
- Diamondbacks' ERA: 2.83
- NL Central's ERA: 3.13
While I realize that wins, losses, and ERA don't a full pitching analysis make, the numbers are compelling. I think if I had to win a five-game series for my life tomorrow, I'd take the Arizona rotation over the best of the NL Central.