Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Milwaukee Brewers 2008 Preview: Ready For Prime Time Players

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Brewer fan, relax a bit. I know that the end result was kind of disappointing, but come on. Your team hadn't even been over .500 since 1992. Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Jim Gantner were all on that team. Your guys spent 121 days in first place and didn't lose the lead for good until September 18. They never quit, going 16-12 in the final month, which is not exactly Rockies hot but hardly a Mets fold either, and they gave you the thrills of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun at the plate and the chills of Braun in the field and Chris Capuano on the mound. And you've got the sausage races. Sounds like a pretty groovy summer to me. For 2008, the Brewers added a better defensive outfielder to the mix, signed a good but risky closer, and replaced one bad catcher with another.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The 2007 Brewers scored 801 runs, fifth in the NL. They got a little help from Miller Park, which slightly favored offense. They got even more help from Fielder and Braun, who each slugged better than .600. Ricky Weeks started slowly, had some minor injuries, fell into a terrible slump, got demoted, and then came back hotter than Chief Wiggum's Insanity Pepper Chili, with a .442 OBP and a .553 slugging average after August 1, including nine homers in September. Corey Hart slugged .539 and threw in 23 stolen bases just for kicks.

2B Ricky Weeks
3B Bill Hall
RF Corey Hart
1B Price Fielder
LF Ryan Braun
SS J. J. Hardy
CF Mike Cameron
C Jason Kendall or whoever replaces him by August

Best lineup in the league, with only the number eight hitter keeping it from being truly outstanding. Weeks, despite everything that happened last year, scored 87 runs in 118 games. Hall will hit better now that he's no longer doing OJT in center field. Everyone in the lineup is a 20 homer hitter or more other than Kendall, whose signing was completely inexplicable.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Brewers allowed 776 runs, about a league average number. Injuries once again curtailed staff ace Ben Sheets, the guy the Brewers need in order to compete with the big boys. Chris Capuano started 5-0 and after that was both bad and snakebitten; the Brewers were 0-22 in games in which Capuano appeared after May 7. David Bush had only a slightly better year than his presidential namesake, going 12-10 but posting a 5.12 ERA. Francisco Cordero saved 44 games, then left as a free agent. The problems in the rotation did lead to opportunity, which Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Villanueva, and Manny Parra took advantage of to position themselves for rotation spots in 2008.

SP Ben Sheets (on the odd days he can pitch)
SP Jeff Suppan
SP Yovani Gallardo
SP Carlos Villanueva
SP David Bush/Chris Capuano/Manny Parra

CL Eric Gagne
RP Derrick Turnbow
RP David Riske

When your number one starter is fragile, it's great to have depth, and the Brewers have that. If Gallardo pitched for Boston or either New York team, he'd be getting the same write ups as Joba Chamberlain or Clay Buchholz. My personal opinion is that he's better than the former and just a bit behind the latter. Suppan, Bush, and Capuano had checkered seasons in 2007, partly because of their own struggles and partly because of the defense behind them, which we'll discuss in a minute.

Witnesses for the defense

The Brewers were pretty bad defensively in 2007. That might be an understatement. They tied for fourth in most errors committed and were near the bottom in defensive efficiency. Start with Ryan Braun. The Hebrew Hammer fielded .895 at third base last year. No matter how good a hitter you are, that ain't cuttin' it. Hall was out of place in center, running bad routes to the ball and generally playing the position like a guy who had never played their before. Which, except for seven games in 2006, he hadn't. Weeks has a ways to go before he becomes a competent second baseman. Management tried to kill two birds with one stone by signing Mike Cameron to play center. When Cameron comes off his 25 day suspension for violating MLB's PED policy, Hall will move to third and Braun to left.

Farm aid

The Brewers system just turned out an entire infield, two outfielders, one of the best starting pitching prospects in the game, and several other good pitchers. Let's try not to be too disappointed if no impact player comes out of it this year. Luis Pena could be a nice addition to the bullpen later this year. As if having one Prince Fielder isn't enough, the Brewers will aggressively promote another one, 2007 first round pick Matt LaPorta. LaPorta is a first baseman whom the Brewers are trying to teach to play left; if they can, they are going to have some very tough choices to make in 2009.

Watch out for that tree!

Eric Gagne, 32, pitched only 15 1/3 innings total between 2005 and 2006. Last year he pitched very well in 33 1/3 innings for Texas, but not so well in 18 2/3 innings for Boston. The Brewers need 65 good innings out of him in 2008, or they are looking at another year of Derrick Turnbow closing games. Cameron has always been a favorite of mine; it hurts that he's now 35. Ben Sheets shouldn't be on this list at age 29, but he hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season since his brilliant 2004 season. Jason Kendall hit the tree at age 28 way back in 2001; for some reason teams continue to employ him. Catching is hard to find, but it's not this hard.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Brewers, more than any other team in the NL, have the potential to be scary good. The top six hitters in the lineup are young and dangerous. With good health and some luck they could score 900 runs. The pitching staff has talent and depth and could be one of the best in the game. But...there is downside, too. One or more of the young hitters could step backwards. Another injury plagued season by Sheets could start a domino effect among the remaining starters. Gagne could implode; the options behind him aren't great. The defense could continue to give away runs. Ned Yost might prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that while he did a good job helping mold this team, he's not capable of taking them further. I'm putting my money on the upside. It would greatly amuse me to watch Bud Selig having to hand the World Series trophy over to the team that his family once ran into the ground.

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