Milwaukee Brewers: 10 Reasons Brew Crew Will Walk Away with NL Central in 2012
The Milwaukee Brewers won the NL Central division last season with a 96-66 record.
Ron Roenicke was named the Brewers' manager, his first managerial stint at the professional level, prior to the start of the 2011 season and guided Milwaukee to the franchise's winningest season ever.
Left fielder Ryan Braun, first baseman Prince Fielder and right fielder Corey Hart powered the offense for the Brew Crew, hitting 38, 33 and 26 home runs, respectively.
On the mound, Yovani Gallardo finished 17-10, and all five pitchers in the starting rotation finished with at least 10 wins.
Closer John Axford finished in a second-place tie for the league lead in saves with 46.
With the same starting rotation and much of last season's division winning team still intact, the Brewers have a chance at running away with the NL Central in 2012.
With accusations of performance-enhancing substance abuse surrounding the star outfielder this offseason, the MLB was ready to suspend Braun for at least the first half of the 2012 season.
However, after an appeal, the league revoked its suspension.
Braun has been the definition of consistent for the Brewers since his major league debut in 2007.
He's has hit 30 or more home runs in all but one of his seasons in the majors (he finished with 25 in 2010), has a .312 career batting average and has collected over 100 RBI annually after his rookie season (in which he had 97).
Braun won the NL MVP award in 2011, and there's no reason to think he won't continue his stellar play in 2012. He already has one home run on five hits this season.
Corey Hart is not a man one would want to meet in a dark alley. He's big (6'6", 235 lbs.), he's strong, and he's one mean-looking son of a gun.
Hart smacked 26 balls over the fence last season and started this season in a big way with three homers in a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Brewers absolutely need Hart to step up his hitting with the departure of first baseman Prince Fielder. The 30-year-old is off to a pretty good start, hitting .417 in the Brewers' first four games of the season.
Hart is definitely capable of 30-plus home runs if given enough starts this season.
Ron Roenicke got the nod over current Red Sox's manager Bobby Valentine and current Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin and became the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers before the start of the 2011 season.
His position with the Brewers is Roenicke's first managerial job in the big leagues after a seven-year career in the majors, a managing stint in the minor leagues and a coaching position with both MLB teams in the city of Los Angeles. He was part of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization for their 2002 World Series Championship victory.
Roenicke led the Brewers to the franchise's winningest season since establishing in 1969, and with his first season as a major league manager under his belt, Roenicke is ready to guide the Brewers to another successful season and division championship.
He has many of the same players as last season's division winning team and just needs to pull the right strings to make everything work on the field.
Selected to the MLB All-Star game last season, Weeks is a top-end all-around player for Milwaukee.
Weeks put up gaudy numbers in 2010 when he played in 159 games for the Brew Crew.
Despite a 2011 season shortened by an ankle injury, Weeks still finished with a .969 fielding percentage and only 15 errors in 115 games.
At bat, Weeks contributed 20 home runs, 49 RBI and a .269 average.
The 29-year-old second baseman will also be looked on to contribute more at the plate with the absence of Prince Fielder. He has three home runs in four games this season, including a two-homer effort against the Cubs last night.
If his early season performance is a sign of things to come, Weeks is poised to have an offensive breakout this season.
Gallardo finished 2011 with a 17-10 record and 3.52 ERA and earned the top spot in the Brewers' rotation for the 2012 season.
He gave up only 81 earned runs in 207.1 innings pitched and struck out 207 batters last season.
Gallardo got a rough start to the 2012 season when David Freese, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday all homered en route to an 11-5 Cardinals' victory. Gallardo stayed in for only 3.2 innings, giving up six runs before being relieved.
The 26-year-old still has some control issues to work on but is more than capable of leading the Brewers' pitching staff after he shakes off his poor start.
Axford finished 2011 with 46 saves, finishing in a second-place tie among league leaders.
He fits his job description well, consistently shutting down opponents and securing the victory for his team.
The Brewers will be in some close games this season, especially in their own division, and a clutch closer like Axford could be the difference between a crucial win or a loss.
Like Gallardo, Axford got off to a rocky start in 2012, giving up two runs in two-thirds of an inning but should be near the top of the saves leaders' list again at season's end.
He redeemed himself in a game against the Chicago Cubs last night, striking out two and giving up one hit in two-thirds of an inning to secure the victory for Milwaukee.
The Brewers hope Ramirez has finally found some consistency in his game and signed him this offseason.
The 33-year-old has certainly had his ups and downs in his major league career but has hit over 30 home runs in four seasons since his 1998 debut with Pittsburgh.
He hit 25 homers in 2010 and 26 last season, both with the Chicago Cubs, and looks to continue his this trend in Milwaukee this season.
He is a definite upgrade over the Brewers' 2011 third baseman, Casey McGehee, who hit only 13 home runs last season, and has the ability to help make up for the loss of Prince Fielder.
Ramirez has four RBI in four games so far this season, including two against the Cubs last night.
The Starting Rotation
The five pitchers in the Brewers' starting rotation all return from a successful 2011 season in which each hurler had at least 10 wins.
Zack Greinke lost only six games, and Sean Marcum led the way with a 3.40 ERA.
Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson fill out Milwaukee's starting five.
Greinke surrendered no runs in seven innings against the Cardinals this past weekend, while Marcum earned a win, giving up three runs on six hits.
The Brewers' rotation is pretty top-notch and more than capable of repeating or bettering a 96-win record in 2012.
Beating Up Bottomfeeders
The Brewers were a force to be reckoned with in the NL Central last season.
If the Brewers can continue winning against the NL Central's weaker teams and keeping pace with its stronger members, they certainly have a reasonable chance at winning the division.
The Cardinals proved they will be a tough team to beat, already handing the Brewers two losses in a three game series. However, the Brewers responded with a win against their NL Central division rival Chicago Cubs last night.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (more likely the Reds) might be a bit of a pain for the Brewers this season as both team's younger talent is maturing.
Still, the Brewers should be able to finish with a high winning percentage in the NL Central.
Perhaps this year's Brewers can start a new tradition in Milwaukee. The Brewers had a 26-year postseason drought, but have made it past the regular season twice since 2008.
The Brewers proved they can win last season, and much of the division-winning team is still intact.
If several players elevate their game to compensate for the loss of Fielder and the pitching staff has another successful season, there's no reason Milwaukee can't contend for, or even win, the NL Central in 2012.