The only word to describe to 2011 Milwaukee Brewers season is euphoric as they won their first division title since 1982 and made it to the NLCS for the first time since that same year. Under first year manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers took the Central title by 6 games over St. Louis thanks to a big second half of the season.
The offseason then brought turmoil, as NL MVP Ryan Braun was revealed to have failed a drug test and was facing a possible 50-game suspension. That coupled with Prince Fielder’s departure in free agency led to an anxious and nerve-wracking end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.
[2012 MLB Preview Central]
The team is still one of the youngest in the major leagues, especially in the outfield where Corey Hart is the elder statesman, and the farm system is slowly recovering from being decimated by trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, among others.
The offseason so far has had a similar feel to 2011 as far as transactions go, getting some veteran help to provide stability, especially on the left side of the infield. With the 2012 season on the horizon, let’s get to our 3 Up and 3 Down.
Best Case Scenario for 2012
With Braun back, the Brewers have a very good chance at repeating as division champs, especially with a better lineup top to bottom than what was featured last season. The pitching staff should do their part, and could exceed if they stay injury-free like they did for most of last year. With all 5 starters back and a lineup as powerful as Milwaukee’s, look for another banner going up at Miller Park.
Most Important Brewers
Ryan Braun is the obvious choice as the reigning MVP, and he is incredibly important to this team with his skill set and leadership, but Corey Hart might be the most important player this season, especially if he’s hitting fifth. That spot in the order was dismal last season with Casey McGehee and Rickie Weeks splitting time there. And without the power of Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot, the 5 hitter becomes even more important for run production. As key as Hart and Braun are, it might be Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke who make the biggest difference in this division race. If they can perform up to their incredible potential, especially Greinke, then they can have almost 45 wins combined, which would easily propel the Brewers to the promised land.
Potential Breakout Players
Jonathan Lucroy has been solid in his 1 1/2 years in the majors, but this is the year that he could put it all together and become a star catcher in this league. With his good bat and steady glove, he is proving that the jump straight from AA in 2010 wasn’t a mistake. Look for a .270 average and 15 HR from Lucroy this year as well as an All-Star berth. As far as pitchers go, Brandon Kintzler is a player to look out for. The surprise player on the opening day roster was outstanding until injuring his forearm in May and missing the rest of the season. When healthy, he is a good bullpen arm who can give you extended innings or be a 7th inning guy.
Worst Case Scenario for 2012
Hands down the worst thing that could happen for this team is injuries, especially to the core group. Last year they were able to survive Greinke missing the first month, and later on losing Braun and Rickie Weeks for stretches, but without the bench strength of last year, losing any important player could be a disaster.
Biggest Area of Concern
While the 7th inning could be a concern, 1st Base is without a doubt the biggest problem area for Milwaukee. For 6 seasons, it was Prince Fielder and him alone playing every day. Now that he’s in Detroit, the position belongs to Mat Gamel and Corey Hart. Gamel hasn’t produced in sporadic appearances in the Major Leagues and has to prove this season that he’s more than a AAAA player, and Hart hasn’t played first base since A ball. If Gamel produces and Hart isn’t needed there, then it is a success, but we need to see it to believe it.
Who needs to bounce back from a rough 2011
With no real lefty in the bullpen besides him, Zach Braddock has to take over as the 6th-7th inning reliever and the lefty-specialist. He started out strong last year, but then just came apart at the seams, leading to a demotion and being shut down with various off-the-field ailments for most of the season. If this bullpen is going to succeed again, it needs that lefty. That really caused problems in the postseason.