2011 MLB Preview: 10 Pressing Questions Facing the Milwaukee Brewers This Season
The latter portion of the Brewers' 2010 season brought with it more than enough reasons to be concerned about baseball in Milwaukee.
A disappointing season from their two most essential assets, both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder certainly aren't pleased with their production from just a season ago.
Pitching? Let's just say things didn't quite go as planned.
Nevertheless, with as much setback as the 2010 season generated, there is a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for Milwaukee. And notable offseason acquisitions in Zack Grieke, Shaun Marcum and newly named manager Ron Roenicke have bestowed a much more positive feel on baseball in Milwaukee.
Next up? Hopefully a trip to the World Series.
Here are 10 questions that must be answered before the end of the regular season.
How Will Zack Greinke's Injury Affect Milwaukee's Productivity on the Mound?
According to credible sources across the nation, the Brewers' most notable offseason acquisition Zack Grienke reportedly fractured his rib this offseason while playing a pick-up basketball game. Word around the league suggests that Grienke should be out for at least the first week of the regular season, meaning he would miss his highly anticipated Opening Day debut for the Brewers against the Cincinnati Reds.
Though this probably won't affect Milwaukee's chance of reaching the postseason, the stress level in Milwaukee is currently at an all-time high.
Losing a talent like Grienke for any duration of time could prove detrimental to Milwaukee's playoff hopes, but manager Ron Roenicke is confident in Grienke's abilities over a six-month regular season.
Brewer fans will be disappointed to know they will be forced to wait a few more days until their famed offseason addition can effectively take the mound at Miller Park; however the feeling is that the Brewers will be poised for a playoff run come September.
Is Casey McGehee Truly the Future for the Brewers at Third Base?
Last season, the Brewers' breakout third baseman recorded a team-high 104 RBI, along with 23 home runs and a .285 batting average to boot.
Obviously the talent is there for McGehee, and it would certainly be in Milwaukee's best interest to continue showing McGehee a significant amount of playing time this season. But the question remains: is he truly the future for the Brewers at third base?
For the time being, the answer is a resounding "yes." And with newly named manager Ron Roenicke already impressed with what McGehee has to offer, there is certainly more than enough reason to believe Casey has third base bottled up for years to come based on both offensive and defensive production.
Nevertheless, there is always pressure on players to perform, and it's not out of the question to believe that someone like Mat Gamel could replace McGehee at third base if his offensive execution turns for the worse.
By the end of this season, we should have a clear prospectus on what is to come for the Brewers at third base.
Will a New Assortment of Coaching Make a Difference on the Field?
After just two seasons of pure disappointment and underachieving, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin took the initiative to relieve former manager Ken Macha of his coaching duties, setting up a major hiring in the offseason that eventually led to Ron Roenicke.
Roenicke, who was an assistant bench coach with the Angels for a number of seasons, has vowed to instill a more aggressive, yet simple game plan to a Milwaukee ballclub looking to make a deep postseason run the seasons to come.
With the plethora of young talent Milwaukee currently attains, Roenicke's experience and knowledge of the game should take the Brewers to the next level; however there will be much angst for Brewers fans across the nation as to how his presence will affect their production.
Along with Roenicke, the Brewers stepped up and signed a plethora of new coaches such as Jerry Kranitz (pitching coach), Jerry Narron (bench coach) and Garth Iorg (infield coach).
How will these new additions key in Milwaukee's journey to the World Series? We'll just have to wait and find out.
Just How Reliable Is John Axford?
When Trevor Hoffman successfully recorded his 600th career save last season, the mutual feeling in Milwaukee was that Hoffman was not likely to return this season—and that surmise was correct.
Hoffman provided the entire Milwakee bullpen with invaluable experience and opportunities to learn from example and will prove helpful in the Brewers' postseason run in 2011. However for Hoffman's replacement, John Axford, now is the time to show what he can really do when given an opportunity to succeed in a full-time closing role.
Last season, Axford recorded 24 saves and posted an impressive 2.48 ERA, along with 76 strikeouts in just 58.0 innings of work.
In 2011, we'll find out if Axford truly is the answer for Ron Roenicke's crew late in must-win ballgames.
Will Mat Gamel Receive His 15 Minutes of Fame?
Just one example of Milwaukee's array of young talent over the past few years, Mat Gamel looks to finally secure a starting position on Ron Roenicke's roster in 2011.
But the question is, where will he play?
Gamel has been naturally bred to play at third base his entire life, but with Casey McGehee already filling the day-to-day lineup spot, it will be extremely hard for Gamel to get his chances this season.
The only way Gamel can show Roenicke he is worth putting on the field consistently will be to perform at optimum level, and unfortunately for Gamel, that isn't likely to happen.
In Milwaukee's late-season run back in 2009, Gamel contributed to many of the Brewers' wins, officially putting him on the map of many fans across the country as a potential breakout star in the years to come. However, last season wasn't what Gamel had hoped for—furnishing just 15 total at-bats for Milwaukee.
If a starting job is in store for Gamel in the near future, he'll have to impress Milwaukee's surplus of new coaching.
Can Prince Fielder Recover from a Disappointing 2010 Campaign?
The icon of Milwaukee baseball over the past few seasons, Prince Fielder holds true to his powerful reputation as one of the National League's most dominating forces in the batter's box. But a 2010 season in which he recorded just 86 RBI has significantly lowered his notoriety around the major leagues.
Just three years removed from what can only be described as the most awe-inspiring seasons in Milwaukee's baseball history (50 HR, 119 RBI, .288 BA), Fielder obviously maintains all the talent the Brewers could possibly want in a first-baseman.
If history holds true, Fielder should be in for a monster 2011 season of epic proportions, hopefully in time for a Brewers' World Series run for the ages.
But what could determine it all will be how much production the Brewers receive out of whoever is to hit behind Fielder in the batting lineup. If Casey McGehee can also maintain his numbers from a season ago, Fielder will be able to produce to what he is capable of.
Will Chris Narveson Effectively Round out the Starting Rotation?
The acquisition of Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum to a depleated Brewers starting rotation will work wonders for Milwakee's playoff chances, and many of Milwaukee's tossers will benefit from their presence, as well.
Insert Chris Narveson.
Narveson, who filled the void of a weak Brewers staff towards the late stages of the 2010 season, has had noticeable troubles in the first innings of games in which he starts. However, after that, the possibilities are endless for Milwaukee's up-and-coming southpaw.
Even at 20 years of ago, Narveson has accumulated numbers that are fairly unimpressive to say the least.
A 2010 season in which he posted a 4.99 ERA with just 137 strikeouts in 167.2 innings of work is enough to place him at the bottom of Milwaukee's starting rotation heading into 2011.
With a seasoned starting rotation in front of him, can Narveson successfully complete a Brewers rotation on the rise in 2011?
Does Rickie Weeks Have Another Magical Season Up His Sleeve?
We always knew the talent was there; it was just a question of whether or not he could sustain himself for a complete 162-game season.
I am of course talking about Milwaukee's new elite second baseman Rickie Weeks, who managed one of the most impressive 2010 seasons of any second baseman in the National League last season. And just 83 RBI, 29 HR and 11 stolen bases later, he has vaulted himself into national prominence in just a season's worth of work.
Should Weeks duplicate his top-notch numbers from a season ago, the Brewers will have all but a complete lineup heading into the postseason.
What Is Ryan Braun's Status Compared to His Fellow MVP Competitors?
Ryan Braun is without question one of the most complete outfielders in the major leagues. Power hitting complemented by growing defensive abilities make for a perennial All-Star the National League, and Braun is no stranger to that fact.
But a lowly 2010 season (to his standards, at least) in which he registered just 103 RBI and 25 home runs makes for a highly anticipated commencement of the 2011 season.
If Braun can duplicate a season like that of his 2009 season, he'll be in the running for the NL MVP with the likes of Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzales and teammate Prince Fielder.
Nevertheless, success doesn't come easy, and Braun's hard work in the offseason will pay off over the course of the regular season.
Are the Brewers Serious World Series Contenders?
Just two seasons ago, Milwaukee received it's first taste of postseason baseball since 1982, and let's just say Brewers fans aren't quite yet satisfied.
Yes, succeeding to accomplish their first postseason victory in over two decades was as satisfying as could be, but with key offseason acquisitions in Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum have the Brewers projected to win the NL Central and much more.
So, naturally, the anxiety in Milwaukee is more than likely at an all-time high heading into the season.
Should the Brewers perform up to their capabilities, there is no doubt that a World Series appearance is in store. If they continue to underachieve, things could get ugly real fast.
Either way, the overwhelming consensus around the league is that the Brewers are indeed a force to be reckoned with in the National League.
Let's see if they'll do it.