A Simple Kind of Fan. Playing 20 Questions for the Playoffs – 3.15.11
The exhibition season is killing me. Every year I get swept up in the over emphasis on Spring Training stats and I forget that for every Casey McGehee, there are ten Brad Nelsons and Chris Duffys. As a result, I am going to mix it up this week before I start my preview and prediction editions. This week we will attempt to ascertain where the Brewers are going to end up at the end of the season through a game of 20 questions, Brewer style.
1. Is he eating a plant, animal, or mineral? The bad news is that, in all likelihood, this will be the last season for Prince in Milwaukee. It has been a great run. Fielder is unquestionably the emotional center of the team and will be missed for his leadership and durability in 2012. The good news is that he is in a contract year and wants to cash in with a superior season. Plus, Prince has a history of producing in odd numbered years, with ’07 and ’09 being his best seasons. Couple these two factors together and he is due to have a tremendous offensive season.
2. Do they have enough starting pitching? No. Nobody ever has enough starting pitching. Heck, last year the Phillies didn’t even have enough to beat the Giants. As a result, they added Cliff Lee just to make sure they don’t come up short again this season. Make no mistake, the Brewers starting five is formidable and as good as any team not to make the playoffs last season. In my opinion, it is the best staff in the division. However, depth after the starting five is where the problems begin. The Crew is three weeks in and has already been exposed with injuries to Greinke, Parra, and Rogers. Regardless, I will still take razor thin depth versus ample mediocrity any day of the week.
3. Is the defense really going to matter? I dedicated an entire blog to the defense and how it will affect the Brewers this season. It is going to be bad at 5 positions (1B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF), and only average at 2 more (C, 2B). Carlos Gomez in CF represents the sum of the starting Brewers with plus defense. I think better pitching ultimately means less line drives and hence, less runs given up overall by the defense. Ask the Detroit Tigers about defense in the playoffs. Several years ago they blew a World Series with shoddy defense against the hated Cardinals. Defense matters and it will be exposed in critical situations if it is not stressed and improved this season.
4. Is this Greinke guy the real deal? Yes he is. He had an epic 2009 season and won the CY Young, as a Royal! He has all of the tools to be great again. What makes Greinke so difficult to hit is that he throws a plus fastball, plus curve ball, and plus slider in the same repeatable motion. It is very difficult to tell, as a hitter, what is coming. Add an improving change up and he is lights out. I believe having him eat 200+ quality innings will cure much of what ailed the Brewers pitching staff last season.
5. Will working with Svuem finally allow Gomez to ‘get it’? We all hope so. Just like Macha, Roenicke is going to give Gomez a shot hitting second in the lineup. Probably just like last year, Gomez will fail to get on base consistently and will not draw enough walks to stick. Much of Gomez’s improvement must be done mentally. While he can still be a factor because of his defense, an improved offensive season from Gomez is critical to the playoff ambitions of the Brewers.
6. Is this the year for Braun? Ryan Braun has obviously been very consistent in his time with the Brewers. He has been both durable and dependable. Last year he slumped a bit with the home runs, but still slugged over .500, and once again had over 100 runs and RBIs. I believe he can be better and I think he believes he can be better too. If new manager Ron Roenicke truly wants to dust off the running game, look no further than Braun as a player that can have a 30-30 season and be in the hunt for the MVP award.
7. Will Shaun Marcum remind people why he was acquired? Most folks in Milwaukee were pleased to have gotten Marcum straight up for Brett Lawrie. Shaun competed in the very difficult AL East and did quite well last season. It seems to reason that a switch the National League, with no DH, should help his overall numbers. However, Marcum has never pitched 200 innings in a season. Moreover, he is about to play a season in homer happy Miller Park as a fly ball pitcher with a below average fastball. Keep in mind that the poor defense Milwaukee fields will hurt a pitcher like Marcum as well. The Brewers would be wise to monitor him as the season wears on, in hopes of keeping him fresh for critical games down the stretch.
8. Yo finally gets to be Yo? Finally. The off-season pitching additions will probably benefit no player more than Yovani Gallardo. For the first time in his career, he doesn’t have to do too much. He doesn’t have to carry the team, and he doesn’t have to shoulder the burden each time (it seemed thanks to #4 and #5 starters) of snapping a 2 game losing streak. Hopefully, becoming more efficient on the mound is something he can learn from Zach Greinke. I expect Gallardo to have a big year and perhaps even be hitting higher than 8th in the order at some point this season.
9. Is Corey Hart a prime candidate for regression this year? I have made several statements about how Corey Hart should be moved down in the order. One primary reason is that hitting second negates Corey’s ability to steal bases with Braun and Fielder behind him. Another reason is that it is going to be very difficult to repeat the success Corey had in 2010, in part because Hart has never put together consecutive big seasons. I can’t seem to forget how lost Hart was at the end of ’08 and always fear that Bizarro Corey Hart will somehow make a return appearance before that contract is over.
10. Is Ron Roenicke really going to emphasize the running game on a team that finished 2nd in home runs in the National League? Hearing Doug Melvin speak at an event this winter, I think when Roenicke says running game, he means being more aggressive in all aspects of baserunning. Not only stolen bases, but also taking extra bases while the ball is in play. Melvin specifically talked about being better as a team going first to third. Both Roenicke and I believe that good things happen when pressure is applied to the defense. I am excited to see this brand of baseball for my hometown team and you should be too.
11. How strong are Rickie’s wrists? Last year, Rickie put it all together and had a terrific season. His rare combination of power and speed makes him unique amongst National League second basemen. Both bionic wrists have been surgically perfected and hopefully this means he will continue to play injury free in 2011. While Rickie doesn’t fit the description of a classic coaster, it is worth noting that he just got paid and will be due some sort of regression from his career year and resulting PHAT contract.
12. Is too much audacious stache a bad thing? When I was growing up, I was a fan of closers. For years, Dan Plesac was my favorite Brewer. I loved closers up until the dark day of May 13, 2006. After that Turnbow meltdown, I can never forget how fast it can be over for pitchers that struggle with command. John Axford successfully harnessed his past control issues and cemented his status as closer and cult hero. Hopefully, The Ax man has been working hard on maintaining a consistent arm slot and not reading about how awesome he is on Facebook and Twitter. (OK, I will admit that he’s my FB friend and I follow him on Twitter too.)
13. The preceding paragraph got you worried? Don’t be. Many people forget that Kameron Loe used to be a starter. However, he is so critical to the success of the bullpen that he simply cannot be used as a starter, even now when the Brewers need one. If Axford falters, he is there to help. If our elderly set up men falter because they can’t go back to back days, he is there too. He will look to continue to get ground balls 60% of the time and use his huge 6’8”-ish frame to create nice downward leverage. Loe will be a major key to how good the Brewer bullpen is in 2011.
14. How are these guys going to be able to stay up past 8 when dinner is at 4? LaTroy Hawkins (38) and Takashi Saito (41) are a little long in the tooth and both are quite fragile. It is unlikely until September that either of our elderly set up men would be wheeled out in back to back games. As a result, youngster Zach Braddock will again have a prominent role many nights due to who CAN’T pitch versus who can. Braddock will be in many high leverage situations this season. His ability to consistently throw strikes will have decided impact on the team’s postseason chances.
15. Is it Yuni Watch time yet? Yuni has continued to tear up Cactus league pitching with the bat. Through Monday, he is hitting .407/.448/.593. But for the first time, his defense has shown signs of weakness. He made a couple of errors in a game last Thursday, and as a result, his defense drew some harsh comments here, and here, from the Brewers beat writers. I cannot wait for the season to start and find out if Yuni can produce in the six spot of the lineup.
16. Is Casey McGehee going to continue to regress? In 2009, McGehee has a slash line of .301/.360/.499. In 2010, he was down across the board with a line of .285/.337/.464. Does this signify a trend? McGehee surprised many doubters last year with 23 taters and over 100 RBIs, with ample opportunities to drive in runs behind Prince. Casey must continue to produce offensively to make an impact because he is below average defensively, with very little range. McGehee could get that contract extension he covets if he continues to produce in 2011.
17. Is this Lucroy kid going to develop into something? I think so. It is an immense undertaking to be a rookie catcher in the majors. As Doug Melvin told me, Lucroy was a little burned out. He had to know signals for each starter, reliever, defensive situation, and hitting assignment. I truly believe Jonathan will be better because this mental aspect of the game will be easier this year. He should have some improvement in both throwing runners out (31% last year) and hitting the ball (.253/.300/.329 last year) in 2011.
18. Can Dickerson do what Carlos Gomez cannot? What separates Gomez is his superior defense and tremendous range. However, Dickerson also is no slouch with the glove. Last year he had a 3.0 UZR in 45 games, which actually worked out to a 21.9 UZR/150. Those are better defensive metrics than Gomez had in 2010. In a little over 500 career plate appearances, he has a .267/.356/.403. slash line. If he can cut down on the strikeouts and continue to get on base at a .350 clip, he could be the starter by the end of the year in center field. Personally, he is my sleeper pick as an impact player for the Brewers in 2011 should any injury arise, or if Gomez predictably falters.
19. If Betancourt is so bad defensively, who is going to be involved in the nightly double switch? I believe Counsell will finish a high percentage of Brewer games at SS this season. It just makes sense, when pinch hitting for the pitcher, to bring him in for the double switch to solidify the defense. Speaking of pinch hitting, I couldn’t be less excited about seeing the gritty Mark Kotsay getting quality at bats late in games, when Brewer legend Russell Branyan was available.
20. Can the Brewers actually win the division? They indeed can. They need to remain healthy in key positions to have any chance. They will also need consistency from the bullpen, in addition to needing improvements from the overall defense. Ron Roenicke believes some of this defensive improvement will come from better positioning. He had better be right. If healthy, this Brewer team is better than Cincinnati and St. Louis. Am I predicting a division title? Be sure to check in over the next two weeks to find out.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
March 31st. The Brewers open the regular season on the road versus the division champs.
April 8-10. Cubs v. Brewers, Act One.
Shameless Self Promotion
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