The 2011 regular season is now officially underway, but have the Milwaukee Brewers already lost their offseason luster?
Could our expectations have been a bit too high?
The Milwaukee Brewers may have opened their 2011 season on the losing end of a three-game sweep against the Reds, but there are plenty of reasons to be convinced this club has a special season in store.
Zack Grienke’s status is a bit shady, the bullpen shows signs of strain early on and John Axford could have produced a better opening-day outing, but that’s why there are 162 games to an MLB season.
So before Brewers fans across the nation call for Armageddon, here are five takeaways from Milwaukee’s opening week.
Ryan Braun Stays Hot
Milwaukee’s star pupil began his 2011 season on a positive note—accounting for two home runs for the Brew Crew, as well as producing up to his abilities early on.
Coming into this season, Brewer fans’ uncertainty regarding the trade status of Prince Fielder nearly proved too much to handle. But if Braun continues to dominate the way he has been of late, there won’t be much difference whether Fielder is in Milwaukee or not.
Rickie Weeks Continues His Success
Coming into last season, Brewers fans weren’t sure if they would ever see Rickie Weeks in a Milwaukee uniform again, much less if he would be a key contributor in their successes.
Well, for all of his persisting doubters—doubt no more.
Weeks has worked his way up to the pinnacle of all National League second basemen and should be starting in the All-Star game in July.
Weeks’ stats through April 6th: 3 HR, 5 RBI, .286 BA, .810 SLG, 1.095 OPS.
Look for Weeks to dominate for the entirety of Milwaukee’s regular season and to become a staple in Ron Roenicke’s managerial style on the basepaths.
Shaun Marcum Struggles in First Outing
One of the foremost acquisitions of any team this offseason, the Brewers traded two prime prospects for Shaun Marcum’s services, hoping to receive first-class outings in return.
Not everything can go perfect, however.
Marcum was completely and totally dominated by Dusty Baker’s lineup in a 4-2 Brewers loss, and looked completely out of his comfort zone.
When asked about how his first start felt, Marcum simply replied, “It was awkward.”
Look for Marcum to administer 200-plus innings of work for the Brewers this season and to get things turned around as soon as possible.
Bullpen Has Their Work Cut out for Them
Though the Brewers managed to bolster their bullpen with the addition of Takashi Saito from Atlanta, they still have their work cut out for them as we’ve already witnessed a few unnerving occurrences.
On opening day, up-and-coming closer John Axford blew his first save opportunity of the season, as well as a few disappointing outings from reputable relievers such as Mitch Stetter, Sean Green, Brandon Kintzler and Saito.
If things aren’t able to get turned around as divisional play heats up, it won’t matter whether or not the Brewers acquire outstanding starting pitching this offseason.
Look for first-year pitching coach Rick Kranitz to put everything in perspective for Milwaukee’s relievers, and to transform Axford into one of the league’s foremost closers by the end of the season.
Yovani Gallardo Dominates
Just as I had stated some four months ago, Yovani Gallardo still is Milwaukee’s ace heading into this season, and he’s proved me right so far.
In his two starts this season, Gallardo has yielded a 1.20 ERA in 15.0 innings of work, putting atop all other National League starters in the ERA category. Additionally, Gallardo also managed to score the only run of his 1-0 shutout against the Braves, which can only mean he’s the Brewers undisputed MVP thus far.
If his successes continue well into this season, we could be talking about a potential Cy Young-type season for Milwaukee’s ace.