After a 2008 season that will be hard for fans to forget for many years, the 2009 Milwaukee Brewers have just as high expectations entering the season.
Much like 2008, no one outside of Milwaukee has very high hopes for this team. The losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets will no doubt have a huge effect on the Brewers, but people need to remember that this team was in contention before the Sabathia trade.
The Brewers had many great pitching performances last year, and pitching will again be the key to any success the team might have this year. The Brewers not only have an influx of talent in their rotation and bullpen, but Bill Castro will replace Mike Maddux as pitching coach.
Castro has served as the bullpen coach and should have a good handle on everyone that was on the staff last season.
A lot of people seem to be putting so much pressure on Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra to replace Sabathia and Sheets. They don't need to do this to have successful seasons. All they need to do is pitch up to their abilities.
If Gallardo can stay healthy physically and Parra can stay healthy mentally, each pitcher is capable of winning 15 games for the Brewers. Gallardo needs to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, and Parra must show that he has learned to bounce back from adversity and establish himself as a quality Major League pitcher.
Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Braden Looper all won double digits in 2008 and each should do they same in 2009. None of the three are top-level pitchers, but all are adequate enough to make their starts every turn in the rotation and produce 200 innings.
After a bullpen that was inconsistent in 2008, Doug Melvin looked to bring stability to that area by signing Trevor Hoffman over the off-season. Unfortunately, Hoffman will start the season on the disabled list; Carlos Villanueva will try his hand at the closer's role.
CV has good enough stuff to be a successful closer, but he lacks the experience and knowledge of a closer. Once Hoffman returns from the DL, he should establish himself as an above-average closer and be a lockdown option at the end of games for the Brewers.
Jason Kendall played great defense for the Crew last year, but he wore down at the plate due to having to catch every day. Mike Rivera will see more playing time this season, and he'll look to continue his play as a good back-up for the team.
More rest should enable Kendall to stay fresh all year and will hopefully be a blessing at the plate for him.
The Brewers have as much talent in their daily line-up as any team in baseball. They will strike out a lot, but their combination of power and speed will serve as a lethal combination for all pitching staffs in the National League.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun should continue to develop as two of the premiere young sluggers in all of baseball. Prince has contract stability and appears to be more happy and relaxed in his play this spring.
Although he re-aggravated a rib injury again this spring, Braun is healthy enough to play every day. 40 home runs for each player is not out of the question, and by the end of the season, the duo should be recognized as the best three-four combination in baseball.
Bill Hall and Rickie Weeks are currently thought of as liabilities both in the field and at the plate. Each player has something to prove this season if they wish to remain a starter for the Crew throughout the year.
Weeks has been getting a lot of attention from the coaching staff this spring, and if he can just slow down and react instead of thinking, he should experience his best season yet. Hall had laser eye surgery this winter and all of his teammates expect him to have a bounce back effort this year.
Corey Hart and JJ Hardy have each played in an All-Star game in their young careers. Hardy has become the more consistent player both defensively and hitting.
Hart had an awful second half of last season, but he seems to have figured things out so far this spring. Hardy has turned into one of the top shortstops in the game. Each player should hit more than 20 home runs at the plate and be solid in the field.
Ken Macha will be a huge change from Ned Yost. Macha isn't afraid to get in the face of his players and will bench a player who isn't performing at the level he expects.
This style may wear on the team over in a few years, but he should be able to get through to the players for at least this season and get optimal performance.
Can the Brewers repeat the success they had last year? Absolutely. The Cubs are still the class of the division but they have their own holes to worry about. The Cardinals and Astros both have good offenses, but each team has less pitching than the Brewers.
The Reds have very good young talent all over the field but may be one more season away from competing. The Pirates are still years away from becoming contenders as well.
The Brewers should remain in the hunt for the playoffs all year long. So will they make it back to the postseason for a second straight year? I believe they will. Last year was all about CC Sabathia and the pitching staff but this season the offense will carry this team to another Wild Card birth.
Expect all five starters to win double digit games. Gallardo and Parra will begin to live up to the hype and fans will see two top end pitchers come of age this year.
Ryan Braun will win the 2009 NL MVP award and will be mentioned as one of the best players in the game by the end of the season. Prince Fielder will continue his success as a slugger and belt at least 40 home runs, and he will be put in the same class as Ryan Howard as a premiere power hitter.
The Brewers have as much talent as any team in baseball. They have shown spurts of their greatness in each of the last two seasons but have had enough rough spots to make their fans sweat it out in September.
2009 will be the year this team establishes themselves as great from day one all the way through the end of the season.
The Milwaukee Brewers will shock the baseball world and win the 2009 World Series. After all, isn't dreaming big what spring is all about?