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Zack Greinke: 5 Reasons Milwaukee Brewers Ace Can Be NL Central Difference Maker

Jeffrey BeckmannCorrespondent IMay 4, 2011

Zack Greinke: 5 Reasons Milwaukee Brewers Ace Can Be NL Central Difference Maker

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 04:  Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 4, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    After a five-week stint on the DL to open the 2011 season, Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke made his long-anticipated debut with Milwaukee Wednesday night in Atlanta.

    The results left much to be desired:

    4 IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 6 K

    He was on a 90-pitch limit, but was pulled by Brewers' Manager Ron Roenicke after 86.

    Seeing as how it was his first start, and would be the equivalent to most pitchers' fourth spring game, I don't think it's anything to worry about.

    Greinke will find his groove and will help Milwaukee win plenty of ballgames along the way. 

    Suffice it to say, things are about to get interesting within the division.

    Here are five reasons Greinke is about to shake up the NL Central.

1. Prior to First Zack Greinke Pitch, the Milwaukee Brewers Were 13-16

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 04:  Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers converses with catcher Wil Nieves #33 against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 4, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    A stronger start to the season would make the addition of Greinke appear even better for the Brew Crew, but a 13-16 record looks great at this point.

    The Brewers faced a tough schedule over the first month of the season, including six games against the Cincinnati Reds, eight games against the Atlanta Braves and a series with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Getting through all of those games while the Brewers were missing arguably their best starter and still sitting close to .500 is a very manageable situation.

    Not to mention all-star outfielder Corey Hart has only been in the lineup for a few games at this point.

    The Brewers may not have made any noise over the first month of the season, but they definitely didn't shoot themselves in the foot, either.

    So long as they can stay healthy, Greinke and the Brewers will start winning plenty of games. 

    With the return of their ace, the Brewers rotation instantly goes from middle of the pack to one of the league's best.

2. Brewers Pitching Has Been Decent, but Yovani Gallardo Will Get Better

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: Pitcher Yovani Gallardo #49 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers to a Washington Nationals batter at Nationals Park on April 17, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Brewers made a huge splash this offseason by acquiring Greinke and fellow starter Shaun Marcum in separate trades. 

    Adding Greinke and Marcum to a rotation that included Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf would surely end up being one of the NL's best.

    Not yet. 

    After a hot start to the season, Brewers' pitching has fallen back to 8th in the NL with a 3.71 ERA. That number is leaps and bounds ahead of last season's 4.58 ERA, but not quite good enough to make a run into October.

    The big surprise thus far has been the poor start by Gallardo, who currently stands with a 6.10 ERA. Expect that number to be sub-4.00 by the end of the season.

    If Gallardo even remotely improves his numbers, the Brewer rotation should be formidable for the remainder of the season.

    Greinke may not put up his 2009 Cy Young numbers—2.16 ERA in 229.1 IP with 242 Ks—but a move to the senior circuit will definitely improve his mediocre numbers from last season.

    Even better, the Brewers' bullpen should get plenty of rest from this point on while having four proven starters who can go deep into games.

3. Brewers Have Potential to Pull Away from Weak NL Central

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    Before the conversation even begins, we can cross off the Pirates and Astros from being in contention for the NL Central Division crown.

    We can also eliminate the Cubs from contention this season. They have too many aging players with bloated contracts, and at this point there is no way they have the financial capabilities to pull in enough talent at the deadline to stay in the race.

    Everyone knew coming into the season that it would be a three-horse race between the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers. That is still how it stands today.

    The Cardinals are off to the best start of the three, but the fact that they were only able to build a three-game lead over the Brewers while Greinke was on the DL is a major concern for the redbirds.

    The Reds have a solid squad, but they appeared better than they actually were last season due to weak NL Central competition. With improvements made by many teams within the NL Central this past offseason while the Reds stood pat, Cincy will most likely fall out of the race before August.

    This leaves an overachieving Cardinals team and an underachieving Brewers squad to fight for the NL Central crown. In this case, I will go with youth. 

4. St. Louis Cardinals Will Not Be Atop NL Central Come September

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    HOUSTON - APRIL 26:  First baseman Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals singles to right field in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 26, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Let's be honest—the Cardinals are not going to be a great team this year.

    If they somehow come out on top of the NL Central this season, it will be because the Brewers and Reds lost the division, not because the Cardinals won it.

    Before the injury to Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals appeared to be a team with a chance to contend for the division. Now the Brewers are getting back an equivalent to Wainwright in Greinke, so the chances of the Cardinals sticking around into September at this point are slim to none.

    The Cardinals pitchers have pitched as good as they possibly could so far this season. Aside from Jake Westbrook, the Cards have gotten great production across the board.

    Unfortunately for them, Kyle Lohse and Kyle McClellan have pitched far beyond their means and will surely see a decline in production as the season wears on.

    Add to it the ridiculous numbers that Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday have put up so far, and this is a team that could drop to as far as fourth in the NL Central.

    Yes, the Cards still have Albert Pujols, and although his batting average is a little down to start the season, he's still on par with his career numbers for home runs and RBIs.

    In the end, Pujols will not be able to make up for the huge drop-off in production the Cardinals will soon see from Berkman and Holliday.  

5. The Brewers Will Give Greinke What Royals Never Could: Run Support

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 04:  Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers tries to warm up his right hand in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 4, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Coming from the Kansas City Royals to the Milwaukee Brewers will at least boost the run support received by Greinke over his short but stellar career.

    In 2010, the Royals averaged a mere 4.17 runs per game while the Brewers averaged 4.64 runs per game. One-half of a run per game is a huge difference over the course of a whole season.

    During Greinke's Cy Young run in 2009, the Royals put up a paltry 3.7 runs per game in his starts. The Brewers can put up four runs per game in their sleep.

    Heck, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun make up arguably the best one-two punch in all of baseball. The rest of the Brewers haven't even gotten hot yet.

    As long as Greinke is Greinke for the remainder of the season, the three-horse race has a chance to turn into a one-horse sprint to the finish.  

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