For fans and players alike, opening day has finally arrived and not a minute too soon. Another week of spring training and the boys at Brew Crew Ball would have burned through community projections for not only every single major and minor league Brewer, but also the beer vendors and racing sausages. Then again, who doesn’t want to know which beer vendors are above replacement level? But that’s neither here nor there.
But for Brewer fans, success is relative. Before 2008, they were praying for 81 wins and hoping Ned Yost really wasn’t as ridiculous as he sometimes appeared. Since 2008 they’ve raised their standards — anything less than the playoffs is a cruel slap in the face to newly fickle fans that’d boo their own mother if she kicked over their portable grill or game board for cornholin’.
The question fans have for you, Ken, is which year was the fluke: 2008 (Pre-Ken) or 2009 (Post-Ken)?
Your arrival in 2009 coincided with the loss of two aces (Sheets & Sabathia) and the implosion of our remaining cadre of pitchers. So many of your starting pitchers had their worst seasons ever in 2009 that your pitching coach, Bill Castro, was fired in mid-August. Replacing him this year is pitching “guru” Rick Peterson, a pitching coach with past success with the Athletics and Mets.
While his fresh pitching philosophy should help some, the real change lies in our new duo of old southpaws: Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. Both will help you forget last year’s disaster, but fans should probably keep their expectations in check considering the pitcher’s paradise Wolf enjoyed last year in Dodger Stadium and both pitcher’s ages. Their best years are probably just behind them, making Wolf’s three year, $29.75 million contract a little risky. Nevertheless, they’ll give you two extra arms in the rotation that aren’t named Suppan. Speaking of whom, Jeff’s stiff neck delayed the inevitable “hard decision” you’ll have to make when you either move him to the bullpen or, better yet, release him. We all know it’s coming, Ken.
For as scattered as the pitching has been over the past two years, the offense has been practically metronomical. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun will continue to make most of your days easier, but deciding who’s going to lead off and protect them in the batting order will probably continue to keep you up at night. New center fielder Carlos Gomez has to fill Mike Cameron’s shoes and appears perfectly suited to do so in the outfield. But what he does at the plate will be the real test — his lack of plate discipline and tendency to pop up has hampered him throughout his brief career. Plus, he’ll always be compared to who we traded in exchange for him: J.J. Hardy. Considering Carlos’ blistering spring training, there’s a decent chance we won’t miss J.J. as much as the local girls with low self-esteem.
Gomez also emphasizes a new facet of the Brewers’ offensive attack — speed. For whatever reason, Ken, you routinely forgot that the rule book does allow base stealing. Now that you’re projected to have Rickie Weeks, Alcides Escobar and the fleet-footed Gomez in your every day lineup, there’s no reason not to test the arms of opposing catchers (except for a lot of killjoy statistical research, but whatevs).
Not everything is roses in your starting lineup. Corey Hart, fresh off winning his arbitration hearing and a $4.8 million salary, looked completely lost in spring training, while journeyman Jim Edmonds worked his way into consideration for the starting job in right field. Who knows, by the time you read this Jim might be starting in right field against the Rockies. Just as Suppan has pitched his way out of a job, Corey is doing his best to become expendable.
In the infield, Casey McGehee still needs to prove he’s cut out to start 162 games at third base and Rickie Weeks’ wrists are hoping to avoid a third surgery in 4 years. Behind the plate, Gregg Zaun will bring a friendlier face to the Miller Park jumbotron than Jason Kendall, but his old age will likely require more performance out of backup catcher/Canadian, George Kottaras.
There’s a lot to be excited about, Ken, even if the sum of all the changes doesn’t feel like it leads to a drastically improved team. The starting pitching can’t get any worse, but the bullpen looks just as reliable as last year’s version, albeit with a little more gray hair between Trevor Hoffman and LaTroy Hawkins. And the offense will still be anchored by the franchise’s best power hitting duo since John Jaha and Greg Vaughn.
Success this season will probably hinge on the fate of our National League Central rivals. The Reds, Cubs and Cardinals are all likely competitors for the division crown, but each team is slowly moving in different directions — the Reds are becoming more competitive, while the Cubs’ are on the decline. Last year’s division champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, have maintained their edge over the rest of the division, which means it’ll most likely take a certain amount of luck for any team to catch them. If any team is deserving of catching a break or two, it’s yours, Ken. And for now there’s still 162 reasons to believe that’ll happen.
[feature page photo by mnapoleon]