Can Zack Greinke Contend for the NL Cy Young Award in 2011?

For 2009 American League Cy Young-award winner, Zack Greinke, trading spaces may just prove to be the best possible career decision he could’ve made.

As the Milwaukee Brewers report to Scottsdale, AZ for spring training, many players within Milwaukee‘s clubhouse have much to prove prior to the season.

Others, however, could be granted a hall pass for the time being.

I’m talking, of course, about Milwaukee’s most potent offseason acquisition in the past 20 seasons—Zack Grienke, the former AL Cy Young award winner of 2009.

In just his sixth season as a Major League tosser, Greinke was able to accomplish what most find it hard to dream. An unquestioned 16-8, 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeout 2009 season had Greinke atop the league’s most dominating and imposing pitchers list.

But could 2009 be a fluke? Most experts stray away from the notion that Milwaukee’s unequivocal superstar may in fact be a one-year-wonder.

In the five seasons leading up to his undisputed 2009 season (not including his 2006 season shortened by injury), Greinke averaged a 4.23 ERA and just 125 strikeouts per season—obviously not the most impressive statistics, to say the least. However there is something to be said about the lack of offensive production put on by the Royals over that five-year span.

Yet 2009 showed us all that an unexpected, seasoned veteran pitcher can turn the tables on even the most critical of doubters. Although reverting back to his previously forgotten demons last season couldn’t diminish our expectations of Greinke heading into this season, we certainly should take note of how ineffective he was in 2010.

Kansas City’s star pupil doubled his ERA (4.17) and saw his strikeouts (181) regress in stunning fashion from the year before.

So with all that being said, can the Brewers expect Greinke to become what he was in 2009? It’s a tough question to break down, but then again that’s the reason why we’re all so very intrigued heading into this season.

Now, with all do respect to the Royals, a crippled offense can’t possibly support a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber—but Milwaukee’s can. Whether it be Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee or Mat Gamel, the Brewers maintain one of the most powerful offensive lineups baseball has to offer.

And the old cliche that pitching wins championships? It’s true.

Until the Brewers were able to acquire CC Sabathia from the Indians toward the end of the 2008 season, Milwaukee’s pitching staff was as lacking as it has ever been.

Yes, I realize Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo were tossing out of their minds that season. However, until Sabathia arrived, the Brewers weren’t able to reach the next level beyond the regular season.

It’s a franchise-shifting opportunity when a team is able to lock up a talent of Greinke’s essence, and we should take note to the fact that Milwaukee could very well find themselves in the exact same position as they did in 2009 at the end of this season: in great position to make a postseason run toward the World Series.

But the difference-maker for the Brewers will be whether or not Milwaukee’s bullpen can secure tight games given up by Greinke. We’ve all seen just how abysmal Kansas City’s offensive production has been over the course of the last decade, but in Milwaukee things will be much different.

Expectations will be at an all-time high for Greinke this season—something that not even he himself can deny.

With great hitting comes great responsibility, and Greinke must be able to perform in the clutch.

As for fellow starting pitcher Shaun Marcum (who the Brewers also landed this offseason via trade), “I think it motivated everybody that much more to get to spring training and just let that fire out to get ready for when the season starts; and once we do that, I think things will take care of themselves.”

Positive feedback from newly acquired players is everything the Brewers could have hoped for heading into their 2011 season; a season in which unfamiliar names will be filling the most important shoes while maintaining some of the most reputable names in the business.

For Greinke, 2011 will become a statement year for not only himself, but for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Maybe we should put the NL Cy Young award debate to rest—for now. But make no mistake: Greinke will be in the discussion throughout the entirety of the season.

Let’s see if he can take the Brewers to the promised land.

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