This article was written by Danny McCormick of WiscoSotaSports.com
After making the playoffs for the first time since reaching the World Series in 1982, the 2008 Brewers raised the bar in Milwaukee. No longer will .500 seasons be met with at-a-boys and ticker-tape parades. Making the playoffs is not the goal, but rather a means for reaching the World Series, and bringing home a ring.
OK, so the 2009 version of the Brewers might not be the front-runners for the NL pennant. Still, there is no reason to lower expectations and settle for anything less than another playoff birth (and once you reach the playoffs, anything can happen). With that, let’s take a closer look at the 2009 Milwaukee Brewers.
Much has been said about the loss of co-aces CC Sabathia and oft-injured Ben Sheets, and rightfully so. Sheets—currently a free agent—was a fan favorite in Milwaukee during his eight seasons with the club, and left as one of (if not THE) most prolific starting pitchers in team history.
Sabathia on the other hand spent very little time in Milwaukee, while making perhaps the biggest impact of any Brewer—ever. In 17 starts for the Brewers CC went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, single-handedly carrying the Brewers and their slumping bats into the playoffs via the NL Wild Card.
The Brewers also “lost” former manager Ned Yost, firing him with 12 games left in the season in favor of interim manager Dale Sveum, and now new manager Ken Macha.
Yost deserves a lot of credit for helping the Brewers take the necessary steps back towards contention, first leading the team to a .500 season in 2005 (it’s first non-losing season in a long, long, time) then the hot start to the 2008 season that ultimately won the Brewers the NL Wild Card.
Still, his game management at times was very questionable, and GM Doug Melvin decided it was time for a change.
The biggest off-season acquisition won’t be found in the everyday lineup, but instead will be filling it out. Ken Macha comes to the Brewers after some time away from coaching. In his last season with the Oakland A’s in 2006, Macha led the club to a 93-69 record and the AL West division title.
In addition to Macha, the Brewers also bolstered their coaching staff with the signing of former Mets manager Willie Randolph. Randolph was a finalist for the Brewers’ coaching position, but will now serve as the team’s bench coach.
On the diamond, the Brewers most significant signing was the acquisition of free agent closer Trevor Hoffman. Though he will start the season on the 15-day DL, Hoffman should provide a reliable option at closer, filling the void left by the departure of Salomon Torres.
After years of filling the closer position with unheralded arms such as Dan Kolb and Derrick Turnbow, the Brewers made a splash last off-season when acquiring the once prolific closer, Eric Gagne. Obviously, the Brewers are hoping that the Trevor Hoffman Experiment proves to be a wiser investment.
In addition to Hoffman, the Brewers also signed starting pitcher Braden Looper. Last year for the St. Louis Cardinals Looper started 33 games, pitching a total of 199 innings. Looper went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA and will be Milwaukee’s number 4 or 5 starter this season.
Though not technically a new addition, the Brewers are also hopeful that their young ace Yovani Gallardo will be healthy for a full season. After missing most of last season with a knee injury, Gallardo surprised many by returning in time for the playoffs, pitching four solid innings in a 1-3 loss to the Phillies.
Gallardo will need to be a consistent, ace-quality performer for the Brewers if they are to have any hope of making a return trip to the post-season. Fortunately, if healthy, Gallardo has the talent and mental toughness to be considered one of the game’s truly elite starting pitchers.
Chicks Dig the Long Ball
By far the Brewers best asset is their big-bopping lineup. With the young core of J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Cory Hart leading the way, the Brewers combined to hit 198 home runs last season, good for third in the NL and fifth best in the majors.
The X Factor: Dave Bush (con beard)
If you haven’t seen him lately, Dave Bush is rocking a legitimately awesome beard. If that isn’t good for a few karma points, I don’t know what is. After starting last season 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA, Bush was sent down to Nashville.
Called back up to replace the injured Gallardo in the rotation, Bush went 7-3 with a 3.23 ERA over his last 18 outings (17 starts). Bush credits the change to a more aggressive approach on the mound, particularly attacking the inside half of the plate. If the new look Bush can put together a full season, the loss of CC could soon be a distant memory.
Voids in the Rotation
The losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets were huge. No question about that. I am, however, quick to point out that the Brewers were right in the thick of the playoff hunt before acquiring Sabathia, and losing him is not the end of the world.
True, without Sabathia the Brewers team-wide slump at the plate down the stretch would’ve knocked them out of the playoffs.
But a few more timely hits by the team’s best players (even a below-average performance out of Cory Hart would’ve been an improvement) and the Crew still would’ve made a push at the NL Wild Card—CC or no CC.
While nobody will replace the ridiculous innings thrown by CC down the stretch, a healthy Gallardo will hopefully make up for the loss of Sheets.
Here’s the Brewers projected rotation, with Jeff Suppan starting their season opener against San Francisco:
RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Manny Parra
RHP Braden Looper
RHP Dave Bush
RHP Trevor Hoffman (Closer once off DL)
RHP Carlos Villanueva (will close in Hoffman’s place)
RHP David Riske
RHP Seth McClung (first option as SP should a starter go down)
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Todd Coffey
RHP Jorge Julio
RHP Mark DiFelice
Here’s a look at the Brewers projected lineup. There is still no official word as to whether or not Macha will swap Hart and Hardy’s positions in the batting order, but for now let’s assume he will.
2B Rickie Weeks
RF Corey Hart
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
SS JJ Hardy
CF Mike Cameron
3B Bill Hall (potential for a platoon with Craig Counsell)
C Jason Kendall
P Jeff Suppan
IF Craig Counsell
IF Casey McGehee
C Mike Rivera
OF Brad Nelson
OF Chris Duffy
- Dave Bush will have a HUGE year for the Brewers, winning a Capuano-esque 15+ games
- Prince Fielder will lead the NL in home-runs with 49
- Yovani Gallardo will pitch a full season for the Crew, and place third in NL Cy Young voting
- Mike Cameron will strike out, a lot (not so Bold, just felt like saying that)
If you want a detailed explanation of my predictions, I don’t have one. What I will tell you is that the division is up for grabs with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers leading the way.
The Reds are on the cusp of a breakout season as well, and if young stars Joey Votto and Jay Bruce play anywhere near their potential, they can and will surprise some people. With that, here’s what the NL Central standings will look like come September:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
With a healthy Pujols (can you say Triple Crown?), a great manager, and the return of a healthy Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals are the team to beat this year.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
Pitching is a big question mark, but the Brewers bats should be enough to earn them another NL Wild Card
3. Chicago Cubs
Milton Bradley will provide a quality left handed bat in the lineup, as well as a lot of locker room headaches and potential on-field implosions. I hope that Wrigley Field explodes; I really do (with nobody inside, of course—except maybe Carlos Zambrano).
4. Cincinnati Reds
A man with larger cajones might have picked the Reds to take 3rd in the division, and I really am hoping they put those FIBs in their place. For now, an above .500 season will be a step in the right direction for Dusty Baker’s young squad.
5. Houston Astros
Look for the Astros to be among the first teams shopping their expensive talent before the all-star break. Carlos Lee and Roy Oswalt could make for nice mid-season acquisitions for teams battling for playoff births and not feeling the tough times of the economy as much as others (see New York Mets/ Yankees, Boston Red Sox).
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
At least they have the Steelers…
One Final Thought
Look for something more substantial regarding this topic as the appropriate time draws near, but I’m curious to see what the Brewers end up doing with SS Alcides Escobar. The club has made it clear that Escobar is the future at SS, but with the future looming, what will they do with J.J. Hardy?
Hardy continues to prove he is one of the best in the game, offensively and defensively. SS is one of the most important positions in the game, and I’d be shocked if the club decided Hardy was expendable.
More likely, he will be asked to switch positions, but as we’ve learned from players like Bill Hall, that is not always an easy transition and it takes time to adjust.
They may be waiting to see if Matt Gamel is capable of playing third base at the major league level, or to see if it is truly time to give up on Rickie Weeks at second base, before making Hardy switch positions. Only time will tell…
So there you have it. As always, feel free to comment on this page or shoot me an email. Otherwise, enjoy Opening Week and GO CREW!