Key Additions—Zach Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Takashi Saito
Key Losses—Alcides Escobar, Trevor Hoffman
Lineup—The Brewers basically stood pat on offense, but that is not a bad thing. They were able to resign Corey Hart, who is a good protective bat behind their 2 big sluggers, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Fielder is entering a contract year, and I expect him to put up huge numbers. Same goes for Braun, who is one of the better hitters and the league and can be expected to help carry this lineup. Rickie Weeks had a breakout year last year, and should continue to blossom into an all-star caliber 2B. He sets the table at the leadoff spot. They also have 3B Casey McGehee, who proved as a rookie he could drive in runs. I am a little concerned that they will be very light hitting at CF in Chris Gomez, SS with Yuniesky Betancourt, and C with Jonathan Lucroy, but think they have plenty of punch to make up for it with the rest of the lineup. I would say outside of the Reds, this lineup is as good as any other in the division, if not better.
Rotation—When you add a front line starter in Greinke and a #3 starter in Marcum, and you were not all that bad last year, you know you have a chance at something special. Greinke has been criticized for some of his time in Kansas City, but the fact is he played in the AL for a team that was going nowhere. Moving him to an NL team, and putting him on a team that has a chance to contend, I expect a big year out of him. Having Greinke will only help Yovanni Gallardo, who I think will continue to make strides as a pitcher. I know the Brewers were scared when Marcum left a game earlier in the spring, but things look to be less serious than first thought, and I expect him if healthy to have a solid year now that he is out of the AL East. The back end of this rotation features Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson. Wolf is a solid veteran and should have a average year, but as with most teams their are questions marks at the 5th spot. But in the end, this is arguably the best rotation in this division, and gives them plenty of fire power. I am not sure if it is as deep as the Reds, but with the 3 guys at the tops, you could definitely argue they have a stronger of the rotation.
Bullpen—When you break down the lineups and rotation, I think that the Brewers on right on par with last year’s division champion, the Cincinnati Reds. But I think this division could very well be decided by the bullpens, and I am afraid that this is where the Brewers will fail. John Axford did a great job taking over for Hoffman last year as a rookie, but you are always concerned with a sophomore slump. If he can avoid that he has guys who can go late into games and get the ball, and he will tally quite a few saves. Outside of Axford, their is just not much depth or big arms in this pen, and I think that they will struggle quite a bit. If the Brewers remain in contention, I think this is one area that they will look to address with a trade.
Impact Rookie—Mark Rogers, RHP. Milwaukee has the league’s worst farm system and it’s by design. Fielder, Braun, Weeks and Gallardo are all home grown and they dealt their best remaining prospects to obtain their solid staff now. Rogers is the best of what’s left. Not a top 100 prospect in my book but the 2004 first round pick could fill in for Greinke in the short term but even if he gets that gig, he’ll return to AAA Nashville upon Greinke’s return.
Outlook—I hear a lot of people say that the Brewers are all-in on this season, but I don’t think that at all. Their first 4 starters are all signed through 2012, so with that staff I expect them to be able to contend even if they lose Fielder next year. But this year with Fielder, this team has a chance to do something special. They will be fighting for the division and the playoffs right to the very end. This is a team no one will want to see in the playoffs with that front end starting pitching, but first things first is getting there. I am not sure the bullpen has enough to win the division, but time will tell. But if you are a Brewers fan, you should be antsy for the season to start.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent
NL Central Preview: