The Milwaukee Brewers had a remarkable 2011 season. They won their division for the first time since they were in the American League in 1982 and advanced to the National League Championship Series, where they fell to the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
They had a 96-66 season, the best in franchise history. To finish things off, they had the National League MVP in Ryan Braun.
Well that season is long gone, and this spring starts a new season, one without the likes of NL All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder.
With as big of an offseason as there has been in a while, including two of the biggest power hitters in the major leagues leaving the NL Central in Fielder and Albert Pujols, the division is wide open.
The Brewers' pitching remains their driving force. They return every starter from a season ago in Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52 ERA), Zack Greinke (16-6, 3.83 ERA), Shaun Marcum (13-7, 3.54 ERA), Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.69 ERA) and Chris Narveson (11-8, 4.45 ERA).
Last season, the starting pitching was second in total wins, seventh in ERA, third in quality starts and fifth in strikeouts in the National League.
If those guys get the team to the eighth inning, the Brewers will be unbeatable. Setup man Francisco Rodriguez and closer John Axford return to a Brewers team that finished fifth in saves a season ago.
Even without Fielder, the Brewers have a legitimate shot at winning the division. Pitching wins games—just look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants.
Who will win the NL Central?
The Brewers have plenty of power to complement their pitching.
The team still has the MVP and decent power from the three to six spots in the lineup (Braun, Ramirez, Rickie Weeks, Mat Gamel). With Gamel moving to first base, no one knows how he will perform. Although he has struggled in his time in the big leagues the past couple of seasons, you never know—he could emerge like Weeks did.
If Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez can keep the energy up, and if Weeks has another All-Star year, there is no question that there is offensive talent on this team.
Finally, one of the bigger offseason moves that had to be made was to fix the defense. The Brewers were in the bottom half of the majors in errors and fielding percentage last year, so General Manager Doug Melvin made another good move by picking up Alex Gonzalez.
Without Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop, the Brewers have a chance.
With another year of solid pitching, the Brewers have a good chance to win the division. The only other team that has a chance would be the defending champs. They have an even stronger starting rotation with Adam Wainwright coming back. The only question for them is if they can stay healthy.
2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup
- Nyjer Morgan/Carlos Gomez—CF
- Corey Hart—RF
- Ryan Braun—LF
- Aramis Ramirez—3rd base
- Rickie Weeks—2nd base
- Mat Gamel—1st base
- Alex Gonzalez—shortstop
- Jonathon Lucroy—catcher