Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ projected starting lineup for the 2008 season is: 2B Rickie Weeks, SS J.J. Hardy, 1B Prince Fielder, OF Ryan Braun, OF Corey Hart, OF Mike Cameron, 3B Bill Hall and C Jason Kendall. In my opinion this is the most explosive lineup in the National League. While they don’t play in a ballpark that is a launching pad like say, Cincinnati or Colorado; Miller Park isn’t exactly Forbes Field either when it comes to holding fly balls.
The Brewers have two legitimate MVP candidates in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Fielder is coming off a 50 home run season and Braun was the Rookie of the Year. They’ll both continue to grow and explode in this league, catalyzing one another in the middle of the lineup. Weeks, Hardy, Cameron, and Billy Hall are all guys capable of 30 home runs. They should be near locks for 20 each. If Weeks can rebound from a poor year, the entire line up will benefit immensely.
Tony Gwynn Jr. and Craig Counsell are their most impressive players off the bench, which at this point in time isn’t an immense strength for them. Don’t forget about the ageless muscle-man Gabe Kapler’s comeback or the addition of Eric Munson.
Every few years in baseball, there’s a lineup good enough alone to get a team into the postseason; I believe this is one of those types of groups. There might not be a better lineup in all of baseball.
The Brewers have an inexperienced rotation that is somewhat a question mark. They’re in better shape than many teams, but they might not stack up to the elite rotations they’ll need to come across to win the pennant in the NL. I have my beliefs that if they’re looking great, they are a team who might look to GM Doug Melvin to pick up the best starting pitcher available at the July 31st deadline to give them a shot in the arm.
They have Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Yovani Gallardo. A lot of pressure is on Ben Sheets to have a Cy Young type of year. If Sheets can emerge as the true #1 that everyone has waited on his entire career, the sky could be the limit for this team. Capuano is an inning-eater and has a great out pitch in his power slider. Suppan’s experience is a plus, although his best days are behind him. Gallardo was solid last season as a youngster. Dave Bush just signed a long-term contract and has shown flashes of consistency if not brilliance. This starting rotation is going to beat some people and get the Brewers to the playoffs, but in a best of 5 or best of 7 game series, where will the wins come from? It is the bigger picture one must focus on with these Brewers. Just winning the division with this talent is not enough in my opinion.
The Brewers added troubled closer Eric Gagne after losing Francisco Cordero to Cincinnati. Truth be told, I think that the Brewers probably would have liked to hang onto Cordero. Gagne is not the Gagne of old, but he still collects saves and does a job in this role. He’ll have enough left to save 40 games. I don’t see him doing poorly enough to lose the job. If he falters, they have fire-balling Derek Turnbow; as good of a #2 option as a team could ask for. Turnbow has closing experience and an electric arm, but he’s shown he doesn’t have closer mentality. Brian Shouse and Randy Choate are very high end lefty specialists. Riske, Torres, Mota among others are keys in what looks like a solid bullpen.
Ned Yost is on the hot-seat, but at least he’s got a great team that can go to battle for him. I think this team believes in their manager. All-time he is 374-435 (.462) but he inherited a poor team when his tenure began. Last season he won 83 games but the team folded in the final months, as it was a team that should have probably won between 90 and 95 games. In my opinion Yost is all-in, he must get this team to the postseason or see the door. If he can take the next step, a step in which this team hasn’t taken since 1982; the rewards will be in abundance. Again, a critical and important year for Yost.
This team has some great character and some young, exciting talent. Potential only goes so far and often gets people in this business fired. I still like the group very much. I think they’ll play well together. This is a team who can come back from 8-run deficits not just because of firepower in the lineup but because I think they’re resilient. Many of these players came up through the Brewers system and have played together for a number of years. The chemistry will not be over-stated with this team and I see it as a catalyst rather than something that could hurt them. They have very defined roles within their stars and role players. This team has nearly as fine of a chemistry level as any team in the division, if not the National League.
This is a team Diamond Hoggers is very high on heading into the season. Because of how Braun played last season, and the expectations of other young players, the Brewers will probably be a sweetheart pick of many publications to win the NL-Central. They have question marks like most teams, but in a wide-open National League that was won by the Colorado Rockies last season, I think the sky is the limit. The door is wide open and the Brewers are going to kick it down in 2008. It won’t remain open forever, as these guys will get established and command more and more money. They must win now, and they will. Expect a lofty 96 wins for Milwaukee.