The Milwaukee Brewers came into 2010 with high expectations, but they missed the playoffs for a second straight season after winning the N.L. Wild Card in 2008. They finished 77-85, finishing third place in the N.L. Central. The Cincinnati Reds finished 14 games ahead of the Brewers.
Although they finished eight games under .500, the Brewers offense was the bright spot for the team in 2010. Milwaukee had a team batting average of .262 (3rd overall in the N.L.), scored 750 runs (4th overall in the N.L.), and hit 182 Home Runs (2nd overall in the N.L.).
What doomed Milwaukee to a 77-85 finish was their pitching. As a team, the Brewers finished with a 4.58 ERA. That ranked 13th in the National League. Outside of Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers struggled to find consistent starting pitching. With the 2011 season on the horizon, let’s take a look at three areas of strength and three areas of potential difficulty for the Brewers.
Best Case Scenario: The Brewers have the talent to win the N.L. Central. The offense has produced, as shown by their team numbers in 2010, and are led by two of the best young offensive players in the National League, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. They shored up their biggest weakness by signing Shaun Marcum and trading for Zack Greinke. Avoiding injuries, this team can win 90-93 games.
Most Valuable Players: We already talked about the potent Brewer offense. The two guys most valuable to this productive offense are Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. For the first time in his four year career, Braun finished the season under 30 home runs. Despite falling down in that category, his power numbers were still eye-popping for 2010 (.304-25 HR-103 RBI). His teammate at 1B, Prince Fielder, joined Braun with great power numbers (.261-32 HR-83 RBI). Fielder in his career has won the N.L. Home Run crown in 2007 with 50, and he was the N.L. RBI leader in 2009 with 141. They have also both avoided injuries over their career establishing the best power-hitting duo in the National League.
Break Out Player: For the Brewers to jump back into the playoffs, the starting rotation will have to perform better. At the end of the rotation, they will be counting on Chris Narveson. Narveson showed his potential down the stretch in 2010 posting a 3.65 ERA and holding opponents to a .227 average in his last twelve starts. A lot of pressure will be taken off Chris being behind a rotation of duel aces Gallardo and Greinke along with veterans Randy Wolf and Marcum. He can benefit from moving down in the rotation, and he could be one of the best No. 5 starters if he can keep his momentum going from 2010.
Worst Case Scenario: Marcum and Greinke should automatically strengthen a rotation that under performed in 2010, but they are both switching leagues. There could be an adjustment period, and that would be costly to the Brewers. It looks to be a three-team race in the Central between the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. I can’t see this team falling any further down than third in the N.L. Central, but that would be the worst case scenario considering the commitment made to improve the team in the off season.
Biggest Area of Concern: We know the Brewers are going to score runs, so it would have to be pitching. On paper, the starting rotation is one of the best in the National League. The biggest concern, then, would have to be the bullpen. John Axford comes into the season as the closer, but he only has one year of major league experience under his belt. If Axford should stumble, the only Brewers with closing experience are 41 year old Takashi Saito or 38 year old LaTroy Hawkins, medically restricted to start Spring Training.
Brewer needing to rebound in 2011: Randy Wolf. The Brewers added two new starting pitchers, but Wolf maintained his spot in the rotation. Wolf finished 2010 with a 13-12 record, tying a career high for losses in a season. On the plus side, he threw 215.2 innings posting a 4.17 ERA, under the team average, and struck out 142 batters. After some injury plagued seasons in the middle of his career, Wolf has now thrown over 190 innings in the last three seasons. With an improvement in his numbers, Wolf can help the Brewers compete for a N.L. Central title.
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