The Milwaukee Brewers are off to a good start this season. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun solidify a scary Brew Crew offense as two of the premier players in the National League. When the team is healthy, the lineup is as deep as any team’s in the National League.
As of April 26, only 22 games into the season, Braun (22) and Fielder (20) lead the league in runs batted in and Braun is hitting close to .400. The Brewers have a serious history of injury, so the supporting cast around Fielder and Braun need to stay healthy in order for this team to be successful.
Outfielder Corey Hart had a break season with over 30 home runs last year has been out and has only just rejoined the team with a nagging oblique injury, and second baseman Rickie Weeks who also broke out with 29 homeruns last year was injured almost all of 2008. Already, Zack Greinke, the new ace pitcher acquired via trade with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, infamously broke a rib playing pick up basketball during Spring training and is set to return May 4.
It appears five-hole hitter and third baseman Casey McGehee strained his thumb in a game against the Reds and may be making a trip to the Disabled List. Unfortunately, the Brewers lack a significant amount of depth on their bench, so any more injuries could be crippling.
The Brewer’s starting pitching should not be ignored either. The team’s front office made serious efforts this offseason to upgrade what proved to be a disastrous aspect of the team in 2010 when they finished 14th out of 16 teams in team ERA. They traded for Control Pitcher Shaun Marcum and as mentioned before, former Cy Young award winner Greinke to support last year’s ace Yovani Gallardo. Greinke and Marcum are both moving from the American League to the National League, a league that is known for being easier on pitchers, so this should make last year’s good numbers even better.
So far, this has definitely been the case for Marcum, who has an ERA of 2.73 to go along with 27 strikeouts in 292/3 innings. However, Gallardo has struggled this year and aside from his complete game shut-out of the Atlanta Braves April 5, he has been hit hard, including a seven-run fiasco against the Washington Nationals. The Brewers relief Corps is key for the team.
Last year they had a very hard time holding onto late inning leads, and didn’t even have a set closer until the middle of the year after future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman lost the job early on. Rookie John Axford assumed the closer role mid season last year and provided solid relief but so far this year has been shaky with two blown saves and an ERA over six. The fate of the Brewers season could rest in the late inning performance of the bullpen.
It’s looking like the Brewers are going to finish high in a very winnable division. However, they will have to beat the defending division champs, the Cincinatti Reds, who also sport a dangerous line-up. The Brewers have the pitching edge and the talent to do it, but health is going to be key.
If the Brew Crew can stay healthy, they should win the division. But asking for good health all season may be like asking for good spring weather for the rest of the school year. It’s possible, but odds are it won’t happen.