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NL Central: Milwaukee's Brittle Brew
Is it all unraveling? If you're a Brew Crew fan, that's probably the question you're asking right now. A few weeks ago, I was in Milwaukee working on a story for the magazine on Prince Fielder, and the ball club was hotter than Al Gore's worst nightmare. The offense was the highest scoring in the majors, the bullpen was invincible.
Standing in the Brewers clubhouse, though, you were kind of waiting for Jack Nicholson to stumble in and bellow, "Is this is as good as it gets?" It was obvious to anyone with a Brewers schedule magnet that the Beer City Boys would cool off. After a month of beating up on NL softies, an East Coast swing through New York and Philly awaited them, followed by a sojourn out west.
The Brewers are 4-8 since their trip to Gotham began. J.J. Hardy is starting to resemble something closer to human. Derrick Turnbow has looked more like the miserable 2006 version of himself of late. On Tuesday night, Fabergé-fragile Ben Sheets left the game early. And it's not a good thing when your fans say you're starting to look "like the Crew of old."
Is it all unraveling? Bottom line is this: Are the Brewers the best team in the National League? No. The Mets and Braves are better. Even the Cubs have a better run differential, as do the Padres. Milwaukee, however, is good enough to win 85 games (maybe 88 or 89), which still means they could win the NL Central, and win it comfortably. With the team stumbling, you have to wonder if the organization has revised its thinking on prospects Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo and their arrival in The Show.
Around the Division
Labels: NL Central
posted by SI.com | View comments |
The answer to your question is yes and no.
The Brewers arguably have one of the NL's best rotation 1 through 5. So far no major injuries have forced them to miss a start. If good health continue Sheets, Suppan, Capuano and company should do just fine.
The problem is offense. Baseball is a game of rythmn ... you need to get into a good one, doing so requires getting enough consistent reps to get there. Six OF's doesn't cut it. Additionally the 3B platoon with Graffanino and Counsel is scary offensively (not in a good way).
If I were the GM I'd (1) Bring up phenom 3B Braun and push Graf and Counsel into utility roles. (2) Trade an OF (probably Jenkins or Mench) for bullpen depth.
It's fun to think of such a long time cellar dwellar rising up, but the Brew Crew is just not going to win 85 games; they'll continue to slide for a while.
The Astros, believe it or not, will win this division. Right now they're getting killed, but that's standard fare when they play out West. I think Mike Scott was their ace the last time they had a winning road trip out West. I really think that's right.
After this swing out there, they'll have Jennings back; if he's healthy, Houston wins the division, Oswalt is again the best starter in the Nat'l league only to finish 63rd in the voting behind all but a few left fielders.
of course it will look like the Brewers have played weaker opponents then the rest of the NL Central, they have the best record in the division and the only one above .500. Obviously that will help the other teams strength of schedule a lot but it will not help the Brewers.
I'm sick of hearing about the Cubs run differential... Marquis is pitching out of his mind (and ability), Hill is slowing down, and Lilly won't keep it up all year. Zambrano can be dominant, yes; however, he still walked 115 batters last year, and has continued to unravel. When their starting pitchers return to the form they've historically shown, their run differential will balance out.
Have the Brewers stumbled a bit as of late? Of course. They've also faced better teams and better pitching than they have to contend with in their own division. Despite their losing ways over the last week and a half nobody else in the NL Central has really closed the gap on them. When the unbalanced schedule comes around to divisional play late in the season they're going to pound the Cubs, Astros, Pirates, Reds, and Cards again. They may not get out of the first round, but they're going to make the post season.
The Brewers are struggling a bit as of late, but they are not falling apart. Its a long season, and this sort of thing is expected when a team full of young talent goes from playing a weak April/early May schedule, getting a national spotlight put on them, then hitting the road for New York, Philly, L.A, and San Diego. Keep in mind they ran into Philly when Philly just happened to hit a short hot streak, and Turnbow had a couple bad nights following extended rest. If Turnbow hadn't sat so long between outings 2 of those losses would have likely been Brewer wins.
I agree they need to do something about the outfield platoon and bring up Ryan Braun so he can get some time to get comfortable in the show. I say trade Mench, start Mr. Brewer (Jenkins) in left, start Tony Gwynn Jr in right and move Corey Hart to a utility outfielder.
Even through this skid they've been in as of late they still hold a comfortable lead in the division, and once the spotlight starts to fade a little they'll get back to dominating they're division. The national hype coming this early in the season will benefit these guys in the long run, because come playoff time it will be nothing new.
I'm sick of hearing about the "weak" NL central. Albeit with a rough regular season record the World Champions came out of that division last year and that team did dominate baseball early last season before getting marred by injuries, in case you forgot. Other things forgotten is how before last year this division spent two years being won by a Best-record-in-baseball 100 game winner and produced the wild card team with the best second half record in baseball that faced each other in the NLCS and took turns representing the NL in the WOrld series the last three years. The Astros will suprise when Jennings is back. The Cardinals are not likely to take the division looking as miserable on all fronts as they do, but don't give up on the world champs yet. The hitting is finally starting to wake up the converted relievers Looper and Thompson are suprising most especially Looper, also they get two aces at the trade deadline without having to give anyone up and they are both better than the Yankees saving grace Roger Clemens currently is, so if you buy into the nothing-exists-west-of-the-Hudson-River idea of the media and think the yankees still can be the best thing since sliced bread because they've been recently good for a while and they're bringing in an ace, then you have to think the cardinals already have the NL central, despite looking pathetic in fifth.
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