Sunday, March 23, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Milwaukee Brewers

A look back: The Brewers had the expectations last season, but weren't able to do anything with them, as they watched the Cubs pass them en route to the NL Central title. This time around, Milwaukee's pitching staff isn't nearly as hyped, which means the Brew Crew will either perform better with less expectations, or just isn't going to be that good. Whatever the situation, Milwaukee will only go as far as the rotation and Prince Fielder's bat can take them.

Positives on the field: The batting order is solid, if the top half can pick it up. Rickie Weeks has tremendous potential, and if he and J.J. Hardy produce at the top, the Brewers will score a lot of runs with Ryan Braun, Fielder and Corey Hart contributing. When Bill Hall, a player with a fair amount of power, hits seventh in a National League lineup, that's a pretty potent offense waiting to explode.

The pitching has the potential to be rock-solid as well, led by Ben Sheers and Yovani Gallardo at the top and followed by several other capable arms. Eric Gagne moves into the closer role vacated by Francisco Cordero, and Derrick Turnbow is proving effective as a setup man. If the Brewers stay healthy, the pitching could be a strength.

Negatives on the field: The Brewers never stay healthy. Sheets is now trailing only Mark Prior in career simulated victories. Gallardo and Chris Capuano are already hurt, damaging Milwaukee's chances of having a rotation that can land this club in the race. Chicago will score runs just as well as the Brewers and once their pitching is healthy, St. Louis will keep scores down. To beat the Cubs and Cardinals, Milwaukee needs its pitching to match its hitting.

There are also questions surrounding Weeks, Gagne and Fielder. Nobody questions Fielder's talent, but how will his off-season tantrum worthy of Drew Rosenhaus affect him? Gagne was strong for Texas as a closer, then became a gas can in Fenway Park, almost costing Boston a title. As for Weeks, when will he ever step up and prove his potential that has been discussed for so long?

Outlook: Milwaukee has enough pieces in place to contend, but like last year, probably not enough pieces to win. The Brewers will be a strong favorite if they could ever get everyone healthy at once, but that doesn't appear to be happening any time soon.

Projected finish: 3rd in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Chicago at Wrigley Field. Brewers home opener is April 4 against San Francisco at Miller Park

Spring base: Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix. The team plays its games in both Phoenix and Tucson.

Fan of the team?: Check out Brew Crew Ball, the Brewers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to Missouri and baseball heaven, also known as St. Louis and the 2006 World Champion Cardinals.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Eric Heatherly.

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