Hello Brewershomeplate readers! It’s been a long time since the unfortunate end to Milwaukee’s Postseason appearance, but with Spring Training fast approaching, it is time to provide a little insight into what I believe the Brew Crew will look like this year.
First and foremost…NEXT TO NOTHING HAS CHANGED! Every starter 1-8 in the lineup (although the order will probably be shifted) was a Brewer starter in 2008. Although this is great for team chemistry that is many times lacking in today’s free agent era, the offense…well…it plainly and simply was mediocre at best last season. Pitching carried the team through the season and into the playoffs, though the offense probably got a little more of the limelight what with Ryan Braun’s legendary home runs and such. Conversely, the bench will be very different in ’09. Gabe Kapler (Tampa Bay Rays), Russell Branyan (Seattle Mariners), and probably Ray Durham either have parted ways with Milwaukee or are going to. This is not good news, as those players managed to provide key sparks to the team when it needed it the most. Notably, Branyan’s ability to hit a home run any time he strode to the plate, or Kapler’s hard-nosed defense and offensive saavy. Durham managed to keep the struggling Rickie Weeks motivated at 2nd base and came up with quite an impressive highlight reel himself in the waning months of the 2008 campaign. The bench this year will still feature the ever-dependable vet, Craig Counsell as well as late-season acquisition Mike Lamb, who will probably be a platoon starter with Bill Hall at 3rd base this year. Several wild cards to make the bench are Trot Nixon (the ex-Boston Red Sox outfielder), Tony Gwynn Jr., Casey McGehee, a 3rd baseman plucked off waivers in the off season, and perhaps Matt Gamel, the highly touted 3rd base prospect. Mike Rivera will again be Jason Kendall’s backup at catcher. So look for the offense to be slightly more productive in ’09, considering the chemistry and new hitting coach, Dale Sveum, who should relate to the players a lot more effectively than the departed Jim Skaalen did.
This is where things could get messy. The two greatest starting pitchers perhaps ever to don a Brewers uniform are leaving. CC Sabathia is a New York Yankee, and Ben Sheets is being courted by the Texas Rangers, and although he hasn’t signed with anyone (there is talk of elbow surgery in his future), he has made it clear being a Brewer is not interesting to him any longer. That throws the young Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra likely to the top of the starting 5. Dave Bush should be number 3, with Jeff Suppan behind him at 4. The 5th spot in the rotation is a little more confusing, as Seth McClung could be a possible answer here, but his flashes of late-inning brilliance may place him in the bull pen. Carlos Villanueva will be the set up man or long reliever, as he never really settled into a groove as a starter. The new member to the pen is Trevor Hoffman, a much safer and predictable new closer than Eric Gagne was, because his best seasons were brought about by his pin-point control and wicked changeup (which he hasn’t lost by the way), not steroids. Guillermo Mota, Salomon Torres, and Brian Shouse are gone as well as Gagne, and that could create a void Trevor Hoffman, Jorge Julio, and Mitch Stetter may or may not be able to succesfully fill. Julio has been unraveling his past couple years, and Stetter is quite young (albeit he certainly has talent). Hoffman is certainly aging, but is definitely serviceable (unfortunately, his mid 80s fastball is a little more hittable than Torres’ low 90s sinkers were) So the pen should be about as good if not slightly better than in 2008. The starting rotation will almost certainly not produce another 90 win season, BUT, there is enough talent there for new pitching coach Bill Castro to perhaps mold into a legitimate Wild Card contending staff.
Dale Sveum is still a member of the Milwaukee coaching staff, but not in a manegerial role. He is the hitting coach and Ken Macha, the ex-manager of the Oakland Athletics, is taking the big chair. Willie Randolph, the ex-New York Met’s manager, will be the bench coach. Needless to say Macha should do a better job making the tough decisions than Ned Yost did, and Willie Randolph will probably be a little harder on the players than Robin Yount or Dale Sveum before him were, which could certainly be what the younger players need to keep themselves motivated. Mike Maddux, the wizard of resurrecting pitchers plucked off the scrap heap’s careers is now a Ranger coach, and long-time bullpen coach Bill Castro probably will not do quite as good a job as Maddux did. But he knows his players and their tendencies well, and that is a very good sign. All in all, the coaching staff is miles and miles ahead of where it was at this point last year.
My Projected Lineup by Position:
1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: J.J. Hardy
3B: Bill Hall/Mike Lamb/Casey McGehee
C: Jason Kendall
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Mike Cameron
RF: Corey Hart
My Projected Season Numbers
Final record: 87-75
Standings: 2nd place, NL Central, NL Wild Card runner up