Now, I’ve never considered myself a pessimist by any means. However, the Milwaukee Brewers put forth a dismal effort last season.
The 2010 season, let it be known, yielded as many question marks about the future of the franchise as positive associations. Yes, it was that kind of a year for the Brewers.
Embarrassing pitching, disappointing offensive production and questionable coaching gave way to repetitive criticism on a day-to-day basis throughout the early stages of Milwaukee’s offseason.
However, things have taken a turn for the better, as I’m sure you’re aware of.
One of the most notable offseason transactions involved former AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, and it has put the Brew Crew atop a majority of preseason rankings—and deservedly so.
So as spring training draws nearer by the hour, let’s take a look at 10 reasons why the Brewers could be looking down at the rest of the National League come November.
Pitching Is Now Complete
It’s clear that Milwaukee’s combined 4.58 team ERA last season has made Brewers fans rather apprehensive about their chances to contend in 2011, and rightfully so.
However, Doug Melvin and Milwaukee’s front office took charge this offseason in trading for two of the league’s most well-known pitchers in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
With two reliable starters already at work in Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf, Milwaukee’s starting rotation has received comparisons to some of the league’s most dominant pitching staffs.
Granted, the Brewers’ young up-and-coming talent was the main reason why Milwaukee was able to seal up the two. But Milwaukee’s vigorous offseason moves will pay off in what hopefully becomes a postseason run towards a World Series berth.
Milwaukee slugged its way to 182 home runs last season, good enough to be second-best in the National League in that department.
While Prince Fielder endured what essentially amounted to his worst season as a major league player, he still managed 32 blasts.
As for the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup?
Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee and Rickie Weeks all yielded at least 23 home runs between them, officially making the Brew Crew the most diverse power-hitting lineup in the National League.
We’ve seen this lineup tear apart opposing pitching in the past, and we’re likely to see it again this season.
However, the key will be whether or not they can rake upthose numbers on a consistent basis.
The managerial style and approach former Brewers manager Ken Macha put forth was none too attractive in the eyes of Milwaukee’s faithful—especially with the Brewers’ struggles on the mound.
In response, Macha was let go only to bring in a much more confident and straightforward manager in Ron Roenicke and a slew of new positional coaches such as Jerry Narron (bench coach) and Rick Kranitz (pitching coach).
The coaching additions will bring a much more stable, unambiguous approach to a young ball club desperately in need of it.
After Trevor Hoffman finally secured his 600th career save to the enjoyment of Brewers fans, Milwaukee subsequently named its closer of the future.
His name? John Axford.
Last season alone, Axford led the Brewers with 24 saves and a 2.48 ERA as part of an inferior Milwaukee bullpen. This season, Axford hopes to do the same, except this time with a legitimate setup man in Takashi Saito.
Just how good is Axford? In 2010, his impressive 2.48 ERA ranked eighth-best amongst designated closers with 24 saves or more. If Saito and fellow reliever LaTroy Hawkins can give Axford a majority of capable closing situations, he could be another golden nugget for the Brewers on the mound.
Since their 2006 World Series championship, Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals have failed to live up to their potential (with the exception of their 2009 season). Although the same could be said for the Brewers, expectations are much more elevated for the Cardinals.
As for the rest of the division?
Pittsburgh remains in rebuild mode, still struggling to find its identity. Houston lacks the talent and aggressiveness to make serious personnel moves, and Chicago is just plain Chicago.
With all due respect towards the Cardinals, the premier NL Central powerhouses now lie in two of the most unexpected cities in the division: Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
A changing of the guard seems imminent, and we should all be in for a real treat when the Brewers and Reds duke it out for the right to play in the postseason.
Prince Fielder-Ryan Braun combo
Undoubtedly one of the league’s most powerful one-two punches, both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder look to recover from what was a disappointing 2010 season just a year ago.
Since Braun entered the league in May of 2007, the two have combined for 320 HR, 885 RBI, 1366 H and have a total OPS of .919—dominating enough to be at or near the top of all one-two combinations in the entire major leagues.
But with Fielder’s current contract due to expire at the end of this season, questions pertaining to his loyalty to the Brewers have since spurred dramatically.
Nevertheless, at the rate the two are performing on a year-to-year basis, comparisons will only begin to arise about the two’s place amongst the greatest offensive duos in baseball history.
This season, the two look to propel Milwaukee back to the playoffs. I’d say their chances are pretty good.
Role players galore
If Corey Hart’s role within Milwaukee’s offense wasn’t evident before last season, it certainly is now.
The Brewers outfielder started for the National League in right field in the All-Star Game last season amid a personal-best season in which he batted .283 and managed 31 HR and 102 HR.
If not for nagging injuries, Hart’s 2010 season could have potentially become one we’ve not seen from a Brewers outfielder in quite some time.
Nevertheless, with talented, consistent contributions from a plethora of role players both offensively and defensively (i.e. Craig Counsell, Carlos Gomez, Casey McGehee, Rickie Weeks, Mat Gamel), the Brewers have one of the most well-rounded ball clubs in the majors.
With their current superstar additions, running the table into the playoffs suddenly becomes a realistic notion.
As the winner of the 2009 AL Cy Young Award, Zack Greinke is entitled to a certain amount of prestige—especially coming into a brand-new city and atmospheresuch as that of Milwaukee.
Let it be known that in his historic ’09 season, Greinke posted a 2.16 ERA with 242 strikeouts and a 16-8 record on one of the most abysmal franchises known to mankind. In fact, the Royals scored just 686 runs—disastrous enough to be 23rd-worst in the entire league.
On the other side of things, the Brewers scored 785 runs with over 2,340 total bases in 2010 (both of which are top 10 material in the majors).
With run support comes victories—and the Brewers have just that.
So when Greinke takes the mound Opening Day against the Cincinnati Reds, expect him to put Milwaukee in fantastic position to start the season off right.
After Milwaukee’s 2008 magical regular season in which 90 victories was made possible, the Brewers faithful showed their colors on a consistent basis.
With colossal offseason additions to a lacking starting rotation, the Brew Crew will have a fanbase behind them all season long.
The Brewers failed to fill seats in the late stages of their abysmal 2010 season. However, come playoff time, that won’t be the case.
It’s all coming together…
If there’s ever been a more perfect time for the Brewers to make a World Series appearance than this season, I’d love to hear about it.
Doug Melvin and Milwaukee’s front office have put forth a concerted effort towards making that ever elusive postseason run, and this year could (and will) be the most sensible time to accomplish that.
Now, we’ve seen this before. In fact, we saw this just two seasons ago, when Milwaukee made the impossible possible by acquiring CC Sabathia as a rental player towards the end of the 2008 regular season.
Though the acquisition did in fact play a major role in Milwaukee’s postseason resurgence, Brewers fans saw an unfortunate following season under the direction of Ken Macha.
Still, securing a former Cy Young Award winner never hurt anybody.
A season full of redemption, the Brewers will be putting the pedal to the metal in 2011—hopefully for a chance to prove to the league why they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with in seasons to come.