Back in March, all the talk of the National League Central revolved around the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers.
The season's first game pitted these two contenders against each other, with Ben Sheets and Carlos Zambrano dueling to a 0-0 tie that the bullpens had to break. Everything was set up for a season-long struggle for the pennant.
But an old Central stalwart decided that they had something to say about it too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are 21-12, 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs and four games ahead of the Brewers. The Beermakers are only a game above .500 at this point of the season.
And it isn't going to get any easier.
The difficulties start with the pitching.
Ben Sheets is the only Brewer starter to win a game since Manny Parra beat the San Francisco Giants on April 5. That's an entire month ago.
No. 2 starter, Yovani Gallardo, started three games before a freak ACL tear at Wrigley Field on May 1. Former 18-game winner Chris Capuano is also out with ligament damage in his pitching elbow.
The difficulties continue with the pitching.
Salomon Torres, Guillermo Mota, and David Riske have all pitched well this season, but the biggest free agent name the Brewers brought in—former Cy Young Award winner and Red Sox goat Eric Gagne—has blown five saves and has an ERA over six.
All these problems will test the mettle of the young Brewer lineup.
The diminished pitching will put pressure on the offense and defense. King Prince and Ryan Braun will do their parts with the bat, and the gloves will be better than last year with Braun moving to left field.
Thus, the men who have to step up are the men who start with the ball in their hand.
Sheets needs to stay healthy and pitch 200 innings this year. Jeff Suppan's record needs to be better than .500. Carlos Villanueva and Parra need to start pitching deep into ball games.
Dave Bush needs to be better than the ace of the Nashville Sounds staff. And Eric Gagne has to get back to 2004 when he was lights out.
If these things don't happen and don't happen quickly, this season might turn into the 2006 season when the Brewers were unable to live up to heightened expectations that came thanks to improved play the previous season.