Milwaukee Brewers: Do They Have What It Takes To Win the NL Central?
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With the recent misfortune of the St. Louis Cardinals losing ace right-hander and 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, most of the "experts" are predicting a more open National League Central race for 2011.
Funny, but I don't remember the Cardinals taking the Central last year with Wainwright.
I do remember the Cincinnati Reds forging an improbable run to the Central crown and invading the National League playoffs for the first time in 15 years!
Whether or not the Reds can come together for such a nice season remains to be seen, and I would certainly not yet discount those Redbirds.
After all, they've got the best hitter in baseball, possibly the most dangerous 3-4-5 hitter combination in the league (should Lance Berkman return to form), a solid (if not spectacular) supporting cast in the field/lineup and they still do have an ace right-hander in Chris Carpenter.
In addition, they do have Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia. That's not a terrible 2-4 for the rotation. This team can do more than survive without Wainwright, they could still contend. I'm thinking they wind up in third place this year.
As far as the Chicago Cubs are concerned, in addition to being overrated and overpaid, they might the biggest bunch of inconsistent players (see also Soriano, Byrd, Pena, Ramirez, Zambrano, Soto, Fukudome, etc.) ever assembled on one team. Moreover, they simply do not have the pitching that carried them in past years. No better than a fourth-place finish, and if they're not careful, they could drop to fifth behind the Astros.
Who do you think will walk away with the NL Central this year?
What about last year's Central Division-champion Reds?
Did the run seem a bit fluky? Maybe.
But it is very possible that this is a tight-knit team that is just getting started. They have a nice amount of talent, a lineup that can be dangerous from the leadoff hitter straight though to the eighth and a seemingly good mix of veterans and up-and-comers.
With the Reds though, there just seem to be too many variables on the mound.
The one guy that can be counted on is Bronson Arroyo, who is at best, a good No. 3 guy. Edinson Volquez has shown in the past he can be a front-line pitcher, but he has also shown quite a bit of inconsistency and an extremely non-fundamental delivery that can, and most likely will, get him hurt again down the road. Cueto can be good, but Cueto can also be very bad, and Aroldis Chapman, though mega-talented, is still a question mark as to what his role will be.
Again, this is a close team, one whose players play for each other (a much underappreciated team characteristic), but I just do not see the pitching being a solid enough commodity for serious contention. I see a second-place finish for the Reds this year, but they could certainly repeat last year's run.
What about the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros? Yeah, I was just kidding. Is it not fair to lump them together? Well, in all fairness to the Astros, they'll probably win more than 70 games, which would be like winning the World Series for Pittsburgh.
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This leaves the Milwaukee Brewers. Do they have what it takes for a Central crown and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008?
I absolutely think they do. In the past, the Brewers had more of an offensive top-heavy squad that kind of put their pitching staffs together with a bunch of No. 3s and No. 4s. This is no longer the case, and if things go the way I think they will for this team, Bob Uecker will be having a blast this summer!
A bold move over the offseason brought a bona fide ace to the Brew Crew in 2009 AL Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke. Combine him with ever-improving lefty strikeout artist Yovani Gallardo and you've got one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Throw in competent major league starters Shawn Marcum and Randy Wolf, and you've got yourself a very nice top four in the rotation.
Now that the Brewers have some starting pitching to boast about, one can turn one's attention to the very strong lineup.
Three players flexed their muscles in breakout years last year, including 2B Rickie Weeks, 3B Casey McGehee and RF Corey Hart, adding some serious depth to a lineup that boasts mega sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. If this development continues, this team will have no problem whatsoever putting numbers on the scoreboard.
The only question mark going into the season (besides the universal "health" question mark) seems to be the Brewers 'pen. Last year, Zack Braddock and closer John Axford established themselves as strong relievers, and combined with newcomer Takashi Saito, and veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Manny Parra, they could string together a life raft big enough to keep the team afloat in the late innings. With that lineup and this nice crop of starting pitching, Brewers fans will have to hope for a few multi-run leads.
Bottom Line? If this team (like all teams) can keep its health, keep the breakout players headed in the right direction and get some decent years out of their relief pitchers, we could very easily see the Brew Crew back in the postseason.
Now, let's hear your thoughts!
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