The Baseball Notebook

March 11, 2010 2:00 PM

Milwaukee Brewers Preview

The last three years have seen the Brewers step into baseball’s broad middle class. They’ve been competitive all three seasons, and made a run into the playoffs in 2008. The principle credit for this—besides four months of C.C. Sabathia, who came of age in Milwaukee down the stretch in ’08 before cashing that in to go the Big Apple—has been the offensive performance of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The first baseman and the left fielder post MVP numbers at the plate and are a feared combo at the heart of this offense. Last season they got some unexpected help from third baseman Casey McGehee, who burst onto the scene last year with a .360 OBP and .499 slugging percentage. If he shows it was no fluke, Braun and Fielder will have much needed help.

Because the rest of the offense is problematic. Rickie Weeks is a threat to get on base, but he’s not great in even the best of times. And injury problems, like the broken wrist that cost him most of last season have been persistent enough that one must assume they will happen. Corey Hart in rightfield used to be a very strong hitter, but has been slipping the past couple years. Carlos Gomez, newly acquired from Minnesota to play center has great speed, but is rarely on base to utilize it. Slumps from the stars are going to be devastating in Brew Town.

The pitching staff moved forward last year without Sabathia, and without the oft-injured Ben Sheets. The ace is Yovani Gallardo who had a nice year (13-12, 185, 3.73), but it’s more the year of a good #3 starter and not the ace of a team who aspires to make the playoffs. Milwaukee went out and signed Randy Wolf away from the Dodgers, but Wolf has had injury problems of his own and is more likely to imitate Jeff Suppan, another Milwaukee free agent pitcher who’s been mostly a disappointment. Any hopes beyond this rest on the recovery of Chris Capuano from Tommy John surgery.

If the staff can be patched together, and the offense can get a few runs, leads will be in good hands. Not only is the incomparable Trevor Hoffman closing games out, but LaTroy Hawkins and Todd Coffey comprise a respectable setup team. The recovery of Dave Bush and Manny Parra, who were each serviceable before completing coming apart in ’09, would be very helpful to both the rotation and the pen.

Milwaukee still looks like a middle-class team that could make a playoff run if there’s again no great team in the Central or the wild-card picture. But that depends on doing the little things well. On the plus side, new catcher Gregg Zaun, nephew of former Oriole World Series hero Rick Dempsey (1983 Series MVP), is a good handler of pitchers. On the negative side, the middle defense of Weeks, shortstop Alcides Escobar and Gomez grade out far poorer on range numbers than their ability would suggest. Fixing problems like these could spell the difference between a winning year and a losing year, or a winning year and a playoff year.

Up Next: Texas Rangers tomorrow
Final NL Central Picks & Preview: March 30

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