Tomorrow is the Brewers’ first spring training game down in Maryvale. The team looks a bit different than last year, but overall, a lot of familiar faces are back. Still, the concensus from the national and regional prognosticators is that the Crew will be lucky–very, VERY lucky–to experience the sort of success and playoff run that they had last season.
But I’m not a sports writer or a broadcaster; I’m a baseball fan, so for people like me, spring is all about optimism, and seeing the silver lining around each CC Sabathia-shaped cloud. With that in mind, here are the Top Five (Perhaps Overly Optimistic) Reasons the Brewers Will Have a Great Season:
- Our young pitchers will each start at least 30 games and win 15 apiece. Yovanni Gallardo is going to come back healthy from his knee troubles in 2008, and it will be shown that he racked up enough bad luck last year to last for a while. Manny Parra will really come into his own in his second full season in the majors, no longer hampered by the nagging inconsistency that was troublesome at times in 2008. The young 1-2 combo in Milwaukee will draw comparisons to Ken Macha’s Oakland A’s teams that featured Tim Hudson and Barry Zito early in their careers. Speaking of which,
- A change in managerial demeanor will be reflected throughout the clubhouse. I was never a Ned Yost basher– he guided the team that was a laughable riff-raff at the open of 2003 and helped transform them into serious contenders in 2008. But you can’t deny that by the end, he was wound a bit too tight and the feeling seemed to be reflected in some of the players. Ken Macha will be more relaxed, and having two more members of his coaching staff with managerial experience will help, too.
- Trevor Hoffman will be a steady, if not spectacular, closer from day one, and the trickle-down will lead to clearly defined roles in the bullpen. The Brewers were scrambling to get all their pitchers into a groove in 2008 after Eric Gagne blew his first save on opening day, Carlos Villanueva’s struggles in the rotation led to McClung bouncing back and forth, and a variety of injuries meant guys had to shift around. This year, Hoffman will be the one and only closer, Villanueva will be where he belongs (in relief), and the rest of the group will be healthy enough to stay comfortable.
- Our big guns (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder) will continue their meteoric rise. Another year under their belts, both comfortable with multi-year contracts, Prince having taken care of himself a bit better in the off-season, our 3- and 4-hitters will each hit at or near .300, blast 30-40 homeruns, and knock in over 100.
- The “other guys” will see a reverse of fortunes, too. Bill Hall’s improved eyesight won’t quite return him to 2006 form, but he will hit for a respectable average from both sides and earn his every-day job back. Corey Hart will shake his post-all-star mental block and rediscover consistency. Jason Kendall will get some occasional rest from playing every day, and that will reflect itself in an improved offensive game. Rickie Weeks will benefit from the tutelage of bench coach Willie Randolph in the field, and hitting coach Dale Sveum at the plate as he becomes one of the top lead-off men in the National League.
So even though we don’t have CC or Ben Sheets, the world is not going to end. We’ve got an exciting and talented group of players ready for another season. It’s going to be a good 2009…