In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad. Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.
96-66, first in the NL Central, lost in six games to St. Louis in the NLCS
If you go by regular season marks, Milwaukee was the best team in the National League Central last season. The final bulge of six games over St. Louis could have been much larger had the Cards not come on strong, especially taking a number of games from the Brewers down the stretch.
However, the team with an outstanding home record wasn't able to parlay that into a World Series berth, even when they had home field advantage in the NLCS. A tumultuous offseason, punctuated by the loss of Prince Fielder and the surprising gain of Ryan Braun, puts the Brewers back where they were when October started--a team with a chance to do damage.
To talk about our frenemies from the north, I turned to a couple of Milwaukee bloggers that I'm well acquainted with and one that's making his debut on this space on the Internet. First off, Jim Breen was writing at Bernie's Crew and you may remember him sitting down with me during the NLCS. Due to changes at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jim and company moved over to Disciples Of Uecker, which as you will see is turning into the super-blog of Brewer thought. Jim can be found at JP_Breen on Twitter.
Jaymes Langrehr has done different projects with me as well, most recently doing a Q&A during the NLCS. It must have been an offseason of discontent in Brewer land, because Jaymes also passed over the reins at his current locale, The Brewers Bar, and joined up with the crew at Disciples of Uecker. Told you it was a super blog. Jaymes is on Twitter at jaymesl.
The rookie in this group is Lou Olsen, who writes over at Reviewing The Brew on the FanSided network. You can also find Lou at louciferolsen on the Twitters.
Join us after the jump for possibly the only Cardinal-related look at the Brewers that has nothing to do with a crazed, Twitter-obsessed outfielder. It's hard to do than you think.
C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?
DUJi: The Brewers' offseason was better than many people realize. It was largely marred by the inevitable departure of Prince Fielder, but the organization did the best they could with the money and resources available. Doug Melvin was adamant about not trading away the farm system once again this winter. That left the free agent market, where Milwaukee picked up the best defensive shortstop available -- which will be a huge upgrade from Betancourt -- and brought in a veteran power bat in the twilight of his career in Aramis Ramirez.
The pitching remains strong and highly underrated. Greinke and Gallardo were two of only twelve starting pitchers in the entire league to be above-average in strikeouts and ground ball percentage, while also being better than average in walks. Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford at the back-end of the bullpen effectively shortens the majority of games to a seven-inning affair, as well.
Milwaukee will not likely win as many games as they did in 2011. That doesn't mean they didn't do the best they could with the options available, though, and that is largely overlooked.
DUJa: It was definitely eventful, for reasons no one could have expected before December 10. In terms of on-field additions and subtractions, it will obviously hurt not having Prince Fielder in the lineup, while also losing Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins from the bullpen. It would be impossible to totally replace all of that lost production -- just like the Cardinals couldn't totally replace Albert Pujols' production -- but I think the Brewers did a good job of patching holes where they could to the point where the total offensive production of the lineup may drop a bit, but it won't be as drastic of a drop as some people seem to be expecting.
Aramis Ramirez should replace some of the pop in the lineup, Mat Gamel has some of his own, and Alex Gonzalez has a touch more power than Yuniesky Betancourt did last year, with the added benefit of historically being a good defender. As bad as Gamel was defensively at third base, he has a bit more athleticism than Fielder had at first. He'll only get better with more reps there.
RTB: I think that they did an ok job. Felt like they were handcuffed quite a bit by the return of Francisco Rodriguez. It seemed like they were close to bringing back LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito until K-Rod accpeted hi arbitration. Loved the Aramais Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez signings. They will both provide some much needed defensive stability. If I had to grade this off-season: B-
C70: Zack Greinke had a solid first year in Milwaukee. Do you think he improves now that he's had a year of experience in the NL?
DUJi: Greinke was a bit underwhelming in 2011. It wasn't due to a lack of experience, though. It was much more due to both poor luck and shaky command (at times) within the zone. His slow curve needs to go. His fastball needs to be on the corners more often, and he needs to utilize his changeup more often. Still, he was rather unlucky last year with the BABIP, the highest HR/FB percentage since 2006, and a low LOB%.
A full season of a healthy and effective Zack Greinke will do wonders for the Brewers this season.
DUJa: If you're inclined to focus on ERA, Greinke's first year in Milwaukee doesn't seem all that special, and there are actually quite a few Brewers fans who were disappointed with him last season. Greinke was the victim of a bit of bad luck last year -- his home run-to-flyball rate (13.6%) was the highest full-season mark of his career, and the highest since he was a 20-year-old rookie. The strikeout numbers could only be described as insane. He struck out 10.54 batters per 9 innings pitched, notching 201 strikeouts in just 171.2 innings.
Where Greinke ran into trouble was when he got runners on base, specifically with guys in scoring position -- opponents hit .285/.365/.518 against him with RISP. I personally loved Greinke in his first year with the Brewers, but that is an area with room for improvement. He likely won't ever duplicate the numbers he had in his Cy Young season, but that was a career year and it would be unfair to expect him to produce like that again.
RTB: No doubt that Greinke improves. Last season he just did not seem comfortable, a fact that i have attributed to lack luster defense at 3B and SS. Those problems have been corrected, so I think we will see a more confident Zack Greinke. I think he will be a front-runner for the Cy Young this season.
C70: Will the offense be as good as it was last year, given the swap of Prince Fielder for Aramis Ramirez?
DUJi: Probably not. Aramis Ramirez will pick up some of the slack, but it will be up to role players such as Mat Gamel and Jonathan Lucroy to really make up for the departure of Fielder. The Brewers do not need Aramis Ramirez to be anything other than what he has been for the past half decade.
DUJa: I touched on this a bit before, but I think it's reasonable to expect a small dropoff. I do think the doom and gloom about the lineup sans-Fielder from people overlooking the Brewers is a bit much, though. Like you said, Ramirez basically steps in for Fielder's bat. Nobody is going to fully replace Fielder's production -- if you look at WAR, the only player who could have done that for the Brewers was Pujols, and that was never happening. So instead the Brewers tried to patch things up here and there. Ramirez's bat is a step down from Fielder's, but Alex Gonzalez should be a small upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt, and even the most conservative projections for Mat Gamel have him performing better than Casey McGehee did last year.
That alone should have the Brewers close to where they were offensively last year while also improving the D. Then you have guys like Jonathan Lucroy, who continues to improve offensively. If they can get anything offensively out of Carlos Gomez, he becomes a much more valuable player. I don't expect Ryan Braun to repeat what he did last season, not because he's "off the PEDs now," but because it's incredibly hard for any non-Pujols player to put up back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons. Overall, it should still be a talented group. For the first time in awhile, they probably won't be among the NL leaders in home runs, but it should be a relatively balanced lineup when healthy.
RTB: I think that the offensive production as a whole, will probably decrease. However, the defensive upgrade may be enough to keep the Brewers competitive in low scoring games. Ramirez is not Fielder and we as fans can not expect him to be.
C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?
DUJi: Milwaukee is fortunate to be pretty well stocked at every position. The easy answer is Mat Gamel, as he has made quite an impression in camp thus far and will have the everyday duties at first base, but Michael Fiers will be the first man up from Nashville if the Brewers need help in the rotation. Despite only throwing 88-90 MPH, he features one of the best changeups in the organization and throws his curveball and cutter for strikes on any count. He could have an impact this year ... but is probably nothing more than a #4 or #5 starter in the long term.
Wily Peralta is an obvious choice, too, but the organization will likely keep him in Nashville for the majority of the season, saving his service time and preparing him for a rotation spot in 2013.
DUJa: Like last year, the farm system is still looking a little barren when it comes to impact prospects. I don't still consider Gamel a prospect, so we'll leave him out of this. Taylor Green had a very good season in AAA last year, and had a decent run as a bench player to end the year, even ending up on the postseason roster. Logan Schafer has impressed the decision makers so far this spring, but the Brewers' outfield is so crowded, it's hard to see him getting time in the majors this year without an injury (if Corey Hart is unable to go to start the year, he may break camp with the big league club, though).
The guy with the best chance to make an impact, though, is Wily Peralta. He's always been a pitcher scouts have loved from a stuff standpoint, but he never seemed to pull everything together until last season. He made it up to AAA last season as a 22-year-old and had five very good starts. He should start the year there again, but if there's an injury or two to the Brewers' rotation, he could get the call and do very well. The Brewers were very lucky when it came to rotation health last season, only using 6 starting pitchers the entire year. That's not something I expect to happen every year, so the Brewers are fortunate that Peralta is just about big-league-ready this year.
RTB: Probably, it will most likely come from the bullpen though. I like Micahel Fiers and Daniel Meadows as young guys who could jump from Triple-A to the big leagues this season. Both would be bullpen arms. I do not see a position propsect making any real impact, unless there is an injury situation.
C70: Where will the team finish in the division and what are you most excited about in 2012?
DUJi: Right now, I believe the Milwaukee Brewers will finish in 2nd-place to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers have a chance to win the division again if they can get unexpected production from Gamel, Lucroy, or Gonzalez, but I like the Cardinals' rotation and bullpen too much to not consider them the favorites. The Reds are certainly an exciting team and could certainly contend. Their rotation scares me, however, as I still believe they are lacking a true ace and could have issues near the back end.
I am most excited to see what the Brewers do with Zack Greinke this spring. The Brewers could lose three starting pitchers following the 2012 season, which would obviously be detrimental to their success going forward. Greinke has expressed an interest in staying with the Brewers' organization, and Doug Melvin has said that he will speak to the right-hander about a potential contract extension.
I'm fascinated to see how the process goes and if he will sign a contract without an agent this spring. If he does, that's phenomenal news for the Brewers and once again lengthens this potential winning window they have developed, especially with Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, and Jed Bradley coming up through the system.
DUJa: I'm happy Gamel is finally getting a real chance to show what he can do at the big league level. He's had a handful of at-bats in multiple seasons, but it's really hard for a young hitter to do well with sporadic playing time. Doug Melvin has made it a point to say this offseason that he intends to give Gamel every opportunity, because he's hit at every level, and he doesn't want to see Gamel start hitting in the majors with a different team because the Brewers gave up. I'm interested to see how Rickie Weeks' ankle holds up after that gruesome injury last year. I can't wait to see Alex Gonzalez play defense. I still love the starting rotation and think it's one of the more underrated groups in the NL. And I'm interested to see what the Brewers do with K-Rod as the trade deadline approaches if they're somehow out of contention.
I still think the team can make a push at repeating as division champions, considering how wide open the Central looks to be again this year. The additional wildcard this season may help their postseason odds, too, but I honestly see the two wildcards coming out of the East and West. Right now, I would probably put the Cardinals first (I liked the Beltran signing, if not only because Berkman-Holliday-Beltran is scary to me), Brewers second and Reds third. Even with the Mat Latos trade, I don't know if the Reds have the pitching to keep up. I have the Pirates, Cubs, and Astros rounding out the division, with the latter two possibly fighting for "Top Pick in the 2013 Draft" status.
RTB: I think the Brewers still win the division in 2012. Their pitching staff is really strong and they have the best Set-up/Closer duo in all of baseball. So, contrary to popular belief, the 2012 edition is going to be a pitching team. The thing I am most excited about in 2012...well, there are two: 1) no more Pujols 2) watching K-Rod and Axford pitch together again.
My thanks to Jim, Jaymes and Lou for bringing us the scoop on what very well may turn out to be the Cardinals' biggest rival again this season. There's little down the NL Central will be competitive yet again!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball