Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, and Chris Carpenter. Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals. The second half of the season is riding on the arms of pitchers that have consistently been hurt. They have the three best records in the National League, and many feel that they will all battle for the entire season.
I see this as a two-horse race. As much as I respect Pujols, I can't see the Cardinals maintaining in the second half. They are relying on over-achieving Wellemeyer, oft-hurt Carpenter, along with Wainwright and Kyle Lohse to carry their pitching staff.
Wellemeyer and Wainwright have spent time on the DL this year, and Carpenter hasn't seen the mound yet. Lohse, while sporting a 3.35 ERA, has never finished a season with an ERA under 4.18.
Though St. Louis has a capable offense, it is not as strong as either the Cubs or Brewers. Their pitching staff is less durable than the others and not as deep as Chicago's. They have one of the best managers, and a pitching coach that gets the best out of his pitchers, but I don't believe they can hang with the big dogs in the second half.
The Cubs and Brewers have one-two punches comparable with the National League's best, Webb and Haren in Arizona. The Cubs, though, have baseball's best one-two-three punch. Zambrano, Dempster, and Harden are as strong as a the Cubs' 2003 arsenal of Prior, Wood, and Zambrano. Check that, they are stronger and, even with Harden, less injury prone.
The talk has been that Harden is not to be counted on to stay healthy. It was just a short time ago that the same was said in Wisconsin about a young man named Ben Sheets. Everyone has seemed to forgotten about his past that was full of DL stints. I think it is time that everyone be reminded.
There is a good chance that not only one, but numerous arms that are counted on in the NL Central for the second half of 2008 will be watching closely...from the disabled list. From Carpenter to Sheets to Harden, the DL may have the best rotation in all of baseball.
On the field, the Cubs will have the deepest and most productive in the National League Central.