Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare: St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros.
The 2011 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.
So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting to simply examine/invent why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2011. Of course, had I anticipated the 2010 success of many NL Central teams, coupled with various excellent off-season moves, I may not have tied myself to such a cantankerous exercise. Let’s just say, establishing that the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals are going to suck in 2011 is not an easy enterprise. But this is the life I have chosen, so live it I must.
We’ve already previewed the suckiness of the Cincinnati Reds, and, more mercifully, the suckiness of the Houston Astros. And now, back to another difficult preview: the Milwaukee Brewers. Hooray beer.
Baseline for Suckitude
The Brewers were 77-85 last year, 14 games out of first place in the NL Central, in third place behind the Reds and Cards. It was a second consecutive disappointing season for the Brewers (join the club) after the team finished three games better the year before, but failed to contend.
Last year, we had this to say:
This is a decent team on paper, and is surely among the better looking teams in the NL Central. But it is not a fundamentally different team than the one that finished under .500 last year. What reason is there to believe that the 2010 Brewers will climb out of pitching purgatory? Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins? I just can’t believe it.
I win. The 2010 Brewers ended up being a near carbon copy of the 2009 team: solid offense, good defense, abysmal pitching, headlined by one of the worst rotations in baseball.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: RHP Zack Greinke (trade with Royals), SS Yuniesky Betancourt (trade with Royals), RHP Shaun Marcum (trade with Blue Jays), C Wil Nieves (free agent), RHP Sean Green (free agent), RHP Takashi Saito (free agent), OF Jeremy Reed (minor league free agent), 1B/OF Mark Kotsay (free agent).
Happy Departures: CF Lorenzo Cain (traded to Royals), SS Alcides Escobar (traded to Royals), RHP Carlos Villanueva (traded to Blue Jays), RHP Trevor Hoffman (retired), RHP Todd Coffey (free agent, signed with Nationals), C Gregg Zaun (free agent, signed minor league deal with Padres), LHP Chris Capuano (free agent, signed with Mets), RHP Dave Bush (free agent, signed minor league deal with Rangers).
The Brewers did absolutely nothing to improve. What’s that? Fingers in my ears? You’re crazy. I’m in at least as far as my wrists.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
The Brewers’ blogoverse is understandably confident going into 2011, particularly after Adam Wainwright’s season ending elbow supernova. But after suffering an injury to their own ace – playing pick-up basketball no less – the fan base is notably rattled. A description, culminating in a litany of injury concerns, from Babes Love Baseball:
Greinke was quoted as saying:
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and people are always saying, ‘You’re going to get hurt.’ It finally caught up to me. I was hoping it was just bruised, but I guess its worse than that. So I guess I have to stop playing [basketball] now. I had a lot of fun while I was doing it, but it wasn’t worth it.”
Uh… you think?
With this news, it’s unclear who the Opening Day starter will be. Chances are it will be Yovani Gallardo, but manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t made a final decision yet. Other starters in the Brewers’ lineup are broken down battling minor injuries of their own these days – Manny Parra has had back problems, Amaury Rivas has an infected tooth, and Mark Rogers has some shoulder stiffness. Lookin’ good, Brew Crew, lookin’ real good.
Way to go, Zack. You just made the entire state of Wisconsin cry into their beer.
Pennant hopes are often as fragile as the bones upon which they’re built. Granted, Greinke’s injury isn’t considered serious, but take him out of the picture, and are the Brewers nearly as imposing as they are now?
Oh, and Corey Hart is hurt, too. Just sayin’.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
There’s no doubt that the Brewers set the rotation right this Winter. Adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to even the shittiest of situations is going to make for a decent, at worst, rotation. But the rotation was only half of the pitching problem in Milwaukee – the bullpen was nearly as bad, and guess what didn’t improve this Winter?
The bullpen sported a 4.48 ERA last year with a 1.413 WHIP – for comparison’s sake, the God-awful Pirates came in at 4.57 and 1.433, respectively. Sure, it wasn’t quite as bad as the rotation, but the two were nearly even, and combined for the 3rd worst pitching corps in the NL. The Brewers added Sean Green (yawn) and Takashi Saito (41 years old and due for a nosedive) to the bullpen mix, but neither is going to transform what was a profound weakness into any kind of strength. Closer John Axford was excellent last year, but came almost completely out of nowhere at age 27. Ditto for the only other effective reliever who saw significant innings, Kameron Loe (at age 28).
Bullpens are, by their very nature, fickle. The Brewers’ pen could ultimately be average or better this year, but, on paper, it doesn’t keep up with the front-end of the rotation.
And in the End
How many years does a team that looks good on paper have to underachieve before past becomes prologue?
Yes, the Brewers have an impressive offense – at least the front five. Ryan Braun, in particular, will get his (even if he looks like a goofy dweeb doing it). But can Corey Hart stay out of the ’80s long enough to put together another solid season? Casey McGehee proved he wasn’t a total one-year wonder last year, but does he really inspire confidence? Prince Fielder might step it up in a contract year, but there’s no doubt that his power evaporated last year. Still, I find myself stretching to argue that the offense is anything but a strength.
And, yes, there’s the front end of the revamped rotation. There are reasons to be very excited about throwing Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum out there 1-2-3. But what about 4 and 5? Randy Wolf is toast. And for a guy with documented anxiety issues, Greinke’s transition from Kansas City could be difficult. Sure, New York Milwaukee is not, but there’s quite a difference between pitching to keep your team out of the cellar, and pitching under the weight of division champion expectations.
The Brewers are a favorite in the Central, and for good reason. But to act as though they are a team without questions would be absurd. This is a team, for whatever reason, that has a penchant to underachieve. The same in 2011 wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
And hey, here’ a gratuitous picture of Prince Fielder (again).