Milwaukee Brewers 2010 preview

Expectations have changed in Milwaukee. The Brewers finished 80-82 last season, a disappointment after making the playoffs in 2008. However, it was the Brewers’ third consecutive season with at least 80 wins (that hadn’t happened since 1987-89). With sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the middle of the lineup and burgeoning ace Yovani Gallardo in the rotation, expectations remain high for 2010. Beyond those three young stars, however, there are questions.

New Brewer Randy Wolf will be atop the rotation.
New Brewer Randy Wolf will be atop the rotation.

Three questions

1. Are the veteran lefthanders the solution for the rotation?
Massive upgrades were needed for a Milwaukee rotation that finished last in the majors with a 5.37 ERA in 2009. The Brewers aggressively pursued Randy Wolf and signed him to a three-year deal. Wolf was very efficient for the Dodgers last year, though his 3.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP resulted in only 11 wins. He fits in nicely with Gallardo, the rotation’s lone bright spot last year. Milwaukee also signed Doug Davis, a former Brewer who went 9-14 with a 4.12 ERA for Arizona last season. That trio is solid, though not overwhelming.

The three starters battling for the final two spots are big question marks. Manny Parra was an enigma last season. In five starts against the Cardinals, Parra had a 2.33 ERA. In his 22 starts against everyone else, he posted a 7.33 ERA. Jeff Suppan is in the final season of his four-year deal; the $12.5 million he will earn this season is a more compelling reason to keep him in the rotation than his 5.29 ERA from 2009. Dave Bush had a career 4.45 ERA heading into last season, then stumbled to a 6.38 ERA.

"We need to commit to be more effective pitching to the bottom of the strike zone," new pitching coach Rick Peterson said, detailing his plan for improvement.

2. Will Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez and Rickie Weeks bounce back?
If those three — who disappointed for different reasons last season — play to their abilities, the Brewers should have a very good offense. Even with down/injury-plagued seasons from Hart and Weeks, the Brewers managed to win 80 games with an awful rotation.

Gomez can impact the game with his speed, but getting on base has been his biggest problem — and the primary reason the Twins gave up on him. His on-base percentages by month last season: .250, .303, .286, .323, .295, .231. Gomez will hit toward the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup, which should relieve some of the pressure he might have felt leading off in Minnesota.

3. Is Milwaukee wasting the Braun-Fielder combo?
It isn’t as if the Brewers aren’t trying to win. General manager Doug Melvin has been aggressive when it comes to adding impact players — the trade for CC Sabathia and subsequent $100 million offer to retain him proved that — but the Brewers don’t enter 2010 as favorites to participate in the postseason. Braun is signed through 2015, but Fielder is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2011 season. Another disappointing season in 2010 won’t convince him to pass up free agency.

Projected lineup
1. SS Alcides Escobar: .298 AVG at Class AAA last season, .304 in MLB.
2. 2B Rickie Weeks: Staying healthy is priority No. 1.
3. LF Ryan Braun: Elite bat: 32 HRs, 114 RBIs in ’09.
4. 1B Prince Fielder: Career bests in ’09: 141 RBIs, 1.014 OPS.
5. 3B Casey McGehee: 16 HRs, .301 AVG in surprising ’09.
6. RF Corey Hart: New goggles could improve batting eye.
7. CF Carlos Gomez: .229 AVG, 14 SBs for Twins in ’09.
8. C Gregg Zaun: 1 season with more than 110 GP in 15-year career.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Randy Wolf: 3.23 ERA, career-high 34 starts for Dodgers in ’09.
2. RHP Yovani Gallardo: 3.73 ERA, 1.31 WHIP led rotation in ’09.
3. LHP Doug Davis: Also started NL-best 34 games last season.
4. RHP Jeff Suppan: 29 wins, 4.93 ERA in three seasons with Brewers.
5. LHP Manny Parra: 10 wins, 4.39 ERA in ’08; 11 wins, 6.36 ERA in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Trevor Hoffman: 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP as 41-year-old last season.

Grades

Offense: B. The 3-4 combo of Braun and Fielder matches up with any in baseball. But there are issues. Will Hart and Weeks bounce back? Can Casey McGehee repeat his ’09 production? Can Zaun handle an increased workload? Can Gomez boost his on-base percentage above .300?

Pitching: C. The staff is improved from last season, when Gallardo and Hoffman were the only things keeping it from an F. Parra has the ability to become a No. 2 or 3 starter; if he finds that type of consistency, it really would improve the rotation. Trevor Hoffman is solid, as always, in the ninth inning.

Bench: C. Jody Gerut can play all three outfield positions but is better as a regular than as a spot starter. Craig Counsell hit .285 in 130 games last season and had a .542 on-base percentage as a pinch hitter. Mat Gamel has a good bat but is a defensive liability at third.

Manager: B. In his previous four seasons as manager, all with the A’s, Ken Macha’s teams had finished at least 14 games above .500. Last season, the Brewers finished two games under .500, though it is hard to place blame on Macha for the demise of his rotation.

Sporting News prediction: The Brewers have the look and balance of a .500 squad again. That should result in another third-place finish in the NL Central — unless the young Reds overtake them.

Coming Thursday: Reds preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

Expectations have changed in Milwaukee. The Brewers finished 80-82 last season, a disappointment after making the playoffs in 2008. However, it was the Brewers’ third consecutive season with at least 80 wins (that hadn’t happened since 1987-89). With sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the middle of the lineup and burgeoning ace Yovani Gallardo in the rotation, expectations remain high for 2010. Beyond those three young stars, however, there are questions.

New Brewer Randy Wolf will be atop the rotation.
New Brewer Randy Wolf will be atop the rotation.

Three questions

1. Are the veteran lefthanders the solution for the rotation?
Massive upgrades were needed for a Milwaukee rotation that finished last in the majors with a 5.37 ERA in 2009. The Brewers aggressively pursued Randy Wolf and signed him to a three-year deal. Wolf was very efficient for the Dodgers last year, though his 3.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP resulted in only 11 wins. He fits in nicely with Gallardo, the rotation’s lone bright spot last year. Milwaukee also signed Doug Davis, a former Brewer who went 9-14 with a 4.12 ERA for Arizona last season. That trio is solid, though not overwhelming.

The three starters battling for the final two spots are big question marks. Manny Parra was an enigma last season. In five starts against the Cardinals, Parra had a 2.33 ERA. In his 22 starts against everyone else, he posted a 7.33 ERA. Jeff Suppan is in the final season of his four-year deal; the $12.5 million he will earn this season is a more compelling reason to keep him in the rotation than his 5.29 ERA from 2009. Dave Bush had a career 4.45 ERA heading into last season, then stumbled to a 6.38 ERA.

"We need to commit to be more effective pitching to the bottom of the strike zone," new pitching coach Rick Peterson said, detailing his plan for improvement.

2. Will Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez and Rickie Weeks bounce back?
If those three — who disappointed for different reasons last season — play to their abilities, the Brewers should have a very good offense. Even with down/injury-plagued seasons from Hart and Weeks, the Brewers managed to win 80 games with an awful rotation.

Gomez can impact the game with his speed, but getting on base has been his biggest problem — and the primary reason the Twins gave up on him. His on-base percentages by month last season: .250, .303, .286, .323, .295, .231. Gomez will hit toward the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup, which should relieve some of the pressure he might have felt leading off in Minnesota.

3. Is Milwaukee wasting the Braun-Fielder combo?
It isn’t as if the Brewers aren’t trying to win. General manager Doug Melvin has been aggressive when it comes to adding impact players — the trade for CC Sabathia and subsequent $100 million offer to retain him proved that — but the Brewers don’t enter 2010 as favorites to participate in the postseason. Braun is signed through 2015, but Fielder is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2011 season. Another disappointing season in 2010 won’t convince him to pass up free agency.

Projected lineup
1. SS Alcides Escobar: .298 AVG at Class AAA last season, .304 in MLB.
2. 2B Rickie Weeks: Staying healthy is priority No. 1.
3. LF Ryan Braun: Elite bat: 32 HRs, 114 RBIs in ’09.
4. 1B Prince Fielder: Career bests in ’09: 141 RBIs, 1.014 OPS.
5. 3B Casey McGehee: 16 HRs, .301 AVG in surprising ’09.
6. RF Corey Hart: New goggles could improve batting eye.
7. CF Carlos Gomez: .229 AVG, 14 SBs for Twins in ’09.
8. C Gregg Zaun: 1 season with more than 110 GP in 15-year career.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Randy Wolf: 3.23 ERA, career-high 34 starts for Dodgers in ’09.
2. RHP Yovani Gallardo: 3.73 ERA, 1.31 WHIP led rotation in ’09.
3. LHP Doug Davis: Also started NL-best 34 games last season.
4. RHP Jeff Suppan: 29 wins, 4.93 ERA in three seasons with Brewers.
5. LHP Manny Parra: 10 wins, 4.39 ERA in ’08; 11 wins, 6.36 ERA in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Trevor Hoffman: 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP as 41-year-old last season.

Grades

Offense: B. The 3-4 combo of Braun and Fielder matches up with any in baseball. But there are issues. Will Hart and Weeks bounce back? Can Casey McGehee repeat his ’09 production? Can Zaun handle an increased workload? Can Gomez boost his on-base percentage above .300?

Pitching: C. The staff is improved from last season, when Gallardo and Hoffman were the only things keeping it from an F. Parra has the ability to become a No. 2 or 3 starter; if he finds that type of consistency, it really would improve the rotation. Trevor Hoffman is solid, as always, in the ninth inning.

Bench: C. Jody Gerut can play all three outfield positions but is better as a regular than as a spot starter. Craig Counsell hit .285 in 130 games last season and had a .542 on-base percentage as a pinch hitter. Mat Gamel has a good bat but is a defensive liability at third.

Manager: B. In his previous four seasons as manager, all with the A’s, Ken Macha’s teams had finished at least 14 games above .500. Last season, the Brewers finished two games under .500, though it is hard to place blame on Macha for the demise of his rotation.

Sporting News prediction: The Brewers have the look and balance of a .500 squad again. That should result in another third-place finish in the NL Central — unless the young Reds overtake them.

Coming Thursday: Reds preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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