*From Protect the Plate
After failing to post a winning record in 14 seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers have put together back-to-back seasons above .500. The team won the Wild Card after tallying 90 victories last season, making its first postseason appearance since 1982.
Their playoff stay was short lived, however, as the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies bounced them out of the first round after just four games. Milwaukee lost its two ace pitchers, but hopes a slugging lineup can lift the team to its third-straight winning season.
NO ACES IN THE DECK
The Brewers made a huge statement to the baseball world on July 7, trading for 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia. Coupled with Ben Sheets, the massive lefty gave Milwaukee one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball.
Though he made just 17 starts with the Brew Crew, Sabathia was fifth in Cy Young voting after going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Sheets had a career-high 13 wins, a 3.09 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Both pitchers departed, with Sabathia signing with the Yankees and Sheets still a free agent staring down elbow surgery.
The Brewers ranked fifth in the majors with 198 home runs, and boast three players who rank amongst the best sluggers at their positions. First baseman Prince Fielder became the youngest player to hit 50 home runs in a season in 2007, and hit 34 more homers last year.
Only Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez have more home runs since the start of the 2007 season. Ryan Braun smashed 37 long balls last year, and is one of only two players to hit 30 home runs in his first two seasons. J.J. Hardy hit 24 big flys in '08, which was more than any other second baseman not named Hanley Ramirez.
KING OF CLOSERS
The Brewers' big offseason addition was closer Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader. The 41-year-old is coming off a bit of an off year, totaling 30 saves while posting a 3.77 ERA.
He had saved 40 or more games in each of the previous four seasons, and boasts a 2.78 career ERA. One of the challenges Hoffman will face with his new team will be moving from the spacious Petco Park to the much smaller Miller Park.
The veteran gave up eight home runs in 45-1/3 innings pitched last year.
READY TO STEP UP?
Milwaukee will look to Yovani Gallardo to pick up the slack in the rotation. The 23-year-old right-hander made just four starts last season after going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA as a rookie in 2007.
He pitched well in his limited action last year, posting a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings, and became the first pitcher to start a postseason game after going 0-0 in the regular season. The Phillies scored three runs, none of them earned, in the seven innings Gallardo pitched in the 3-1 Game One loss.
The Brewers are also hoping 26-year-old lefty Manny Parra can step up after he went 10-8 with a 4.39 ERA last season.
BATTLE FOR THIRD BASE
Bill Hall enters the year as the everyday third baseman, but Mike Lamb is expected to challenge for at-bats. Both veterans may be supplanted by midseason, however, as prospect Mat Gamel is on the fast track to Milwaukee.
The 23-year-old has a .306 average and .865 OPS in four minor league seasons, but has played just five games in Triple-A and could use some more seasoning.
Corey Hart had his second-straight 20-20 season, hitting 20 homers and stealing 23 bases. Dave Bush pitched like an ace in August (4-0, 2.12 ERA), helping boost his numbers after an abysmal first two months.
New addition Braden Looper has back-to-back 12-win seasons and posted a 4.16 ERA with the Cardinals last year. Jeff Suppan had an off year (4.96 ERA), but won 10 games for the sixth-straight season.
Jason Kendall caught a career-high and franchise record 149 games last year.