The dreadful 2010 Milwaukee Brewers season, one that was full of disappointment, as well as a few surprises, will be long forgotten for the Milwaukee faithful.
The off-season signings that were supposed to enhance an already prosperous group, didn't. But with looming optimism and free-agent signings just waiting to happen, there is already great enthusiasm within this ever growing Milwaukee ball-club.
Its great to have confidence in your front office, but there also needs to be some initiative within the organization. Given the free-agent signings from last off-season, Doug Melvin and company should be able to fully evaluate the needs of the team -- which of course is pitching -- along with a few other areas that could use improvement.
For improvement to be attained, a few -- but essential things need to happen.
Pitching must improve.
Its fairly easy to see why the Brewers failed to contend for the NL Central this season -- and it isn't the hitting.
The Brewers were ranked 26th in the majors last season in the pitching category -- with a team ERA of 4.58. Brewers starters combined for a 5.09 ERA in April, and even with a sensational September, the Brewers entered the final days of the season with the National League's second-worst starters' ERA for the second consecutive season.
General Manager Doug Melvin has found himself in this familiar situation for the past two seasons, and unless something drastic is done, don't expect the starting rotation to improve through free agent signings.
Melvin says he does not expect to be active in free agency, because of prices being too high, and payouts being much too modest. Prospects Mark Rodgers and Jeremy Jeffers aren't quite ready to make the leap to the big leagues on opening day, so Melvin expects to be in on the trade market.
The trade market is shaping up to be a harsh one for Brewers fans, as franchise star Prince Fielder might be the victim of a major trade that could bring in some veteran arms.
Ryan Braun must stay healthy.
If the Brewers do in fact deal Fielder away for pitching, Ryan Braun's play must stay at an even-keel pace throughout the season. So much of the success around this ball club is dependent on Braun's play -- let's not forget this guy sent us to the playoffs against the Cubs with a walk-off home run a few years ago.
[.304 BA, 25 HR, 103 RBI, .501 SLG]
After roughly four years in the majors, Braun has already set a standard of excellence on the field -- averaging 32 HR, and 105 RBI per season.
Braun's consistency of dominating left-handed pitching is staggering, with a career OPS of 1.140 against lefties so far in his tenure with the Brewers.
With Casey McGehee's breakout season ending with a total of 104 RBI, Brewers fans get a sigh of relief -- with the possibility of a Prince Fielder trade looming more than ever in Milwaukee. McGehee would be a possible replacement for Fielder, should he be traded this off-season.
McGehee's presence and respect from other major league teams is invaluable. Without Prince behind Braun in the lineup, Braun may not receive as many good pitches as he has seen in previous years. But if McGehee continues his success, Braun will be just fine -- and so will the Brewers.
If Braun manages to stay healthy for the entire 2011 season, look for Braun to post career-best statistics in the regular season, and hopefully into the postseason.
Hire a manager who knows how to win.
Now, in Ken Macha's defense, we all know the guy wants to win ballgames—every major league manager does. But it just hasn't seemed like the right fit for Milwaukee the past two seasons.
The offense has been producing, as we all know, and the pitching has been less than impressive. But the difference is having that fire-up type of manager in the dugout to get the players going day in and day out. We all know that it is a long season, but wouldn't you rather have a manager who expects to win ballgames, than one who sits back and takes the loss quietly? Its your choice, Brewers fans.
Willie Randolph seems to be a likely candidate to succeed Macha, having managed the New York Mets deep into the playoffs with relative success in years past, only time will tell whether or not Randolph is to be the new manager.
When you look at teams like the Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, and Red Sox, for example, you can clearly see that they expect to make the playoffs every year. This mentality is exactly why they succeed more often than not and the Brewers need that kind of mentality from a manager if they want to win a World Series.
The Brewers have reached the postseason once since 1991 -- one of the worst tenures among major league ball clubs. For Milwaukee to return to the promise land, they must start playing with a purpose.
Designate a starting Center Fielder.
The last two months of the season were primarily dominated by the resurgence rookie outfielder Lorenzo Cain -- a "do-all" type of outfielder who is more than capable of filling in for injuries in the outfield.
With the role of Carlos Gomez still looming without any foreseeable direction, the Lorenzo Cain story might take a turn for the better this off-season. If a deal is put in place to trade away Prince Fielder for dominant pitching, Gomez might be a possible add-on to a major deal.
Cain may be the right fit given the circumstances in Milwaukee. Cain has proved that he can play the position as well, making a few eye-opening catches in his few games in the outfield toward the end of the season.
We all can agree that the 2004 draftee has a lot of potential, and that he most likely won't waste his chance at the major league level, after patiently waiting in the minors for several years.
For this young, talented group to succeed at the major league level, all the pieces of the puzzle need to come together. We all witnessed what this club was able to do in making the playoffs in 2008, and we need to get back into that high-expectation level if we want to win a World Series.
We all should be confident and optimistic this off-season as we look toward the 2011 season -- a season that should not disappoint.