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Though the punditry labeled the 2011 Brewers one-year wonders, there’s reason to believe Milwaukee can contend for another NL Central crown next season.
Even if Prince Fielder leaves via free agency, the 2012 Brewers return every top performer from a pitching staff that ranked sixth in the NL in runs allowed. With Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks leading the offense, Milwaukee seems as well positioned as anybody in a tumultuous division.
Longer term, the key to keeping a stingy staff together is co-ace and 2013 free agent candidate Zack Greinke.
Hiding under 2011’s league-average ERA+, is an elite pitcher with improving peripherals. Greinke struck out a career and league-high 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, contributing to a stellar 4.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
If a .323 BABIP and 8.6 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio hadn’t inflated the more traditional metrics, Greinke’s contract demands might look more daunting. As it stands, Milwaukee could get a top-flight pitcher for a price befitting their small-market means.
With little help coming from the farm system, the Brewers need to retain as much big league pitching as possible. If they do, the Brewers have enough on offense to remain competitive.
If they don’t, Ryan Braun’s peak years evaporate in a talentless haze and Milwaukee drifts quickly to the division cellar.