- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THERE WERE quite a few lean years in Milwaukee when the organization's most recognizable faces were broadcaster Bob Uecker, the suds-plunging Bernie Brewer and, more recently, the racing sausages. But that seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Now the Brewers have "the nucleus," and everyone from Glendale to Waukesha to Hales Corners (and plenty of places outside the Wisconsin borders, really) knows who forms it: five young, homegrown position players who last season helped put the team in the playoffs for the first time since 1982, the same year the three oldest of those players were born.
Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks are "five young studs that I'll stack up against anyone," says new bench coach Willie Randolph. Only the Dodgers have a collection of 27-and-under everyday players that comes close. Braun, the cool, lean Southern Californian, and Fielder, the high-strung, squat son of former big league slugger Cecil Fielder, form the best twentysomething power-hitting duo in the game. "Those two guys could hit 90 homers between them this year," says one rival general manager. That wouldn't be a reach, considering that Fielder has already hit 50 in a season and Braun has 71 bombs in his first two big league seasons—a total exceeded only by Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Mathews and Albert Pujols over the same span.
The athletic Weeks—with whom Randolph, a former All-Star second baseman, worked closely this year—has yet to tap his potential, and the batting order still lists too heavily to the right. (Fielder is the lone lefthanded threat.) But the lineup is not the issue. Milwaukee, whose 3.85 team ERA was the fourth-best in the majors in '08, lost a pair of starters to free agency in the off-season: Ben Sheets, the National League starter in last summer's All-Star Game, and CC Sabathia, who carried the Brewers into the postseason after Sheets went down with a torn flexor tendon. (It might sideline Sheets, who remains unsigned, for all of 2009.)
Milwaukee's new front man is Yovani Gallardo, of whom Braun says, "If he's healthy, he's at least as good as Sheets." Catcher Jason Kendall takes the discussion a step further: "Barring injury, he's going to win the Cy Young."
Only 23, Gallardo throws a low-90s fastball with movement and an excellent curveball. The 6'2", 220-pound righthander struck out nearly one batter per inning in a strong rookie season in 2007, and he appeared headed for an even better year in '08 (1.88 ERA in four starts) before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. Beyond that, as first-year manager Ken Macha rightfully notes, depth is a big concern. Free-agent addition Braden Looper, who made a successful conversion from the bullpen to the rotation with the Cardinals, was a cost-efficient signing ($4.75 million), but he's a back-end starter, of which the Brewers have too many. The bullpen depth is similarly questionable, despite the addition of alltime saves leader Trevor Hoffman.
Still, youthful optimism pervades a clubhouse populated by the young stars plus respected veterans such as Hoffman, Kendall, Looper, Mike Cameron and Craig Counsell. Braun allows that the Cubs are the NL Central and pennant favorites, but he believes the Brew Crew will be playing games in October again this year. "That's our plan," he says. They just might have to get there like Milwaukee's '82 division champs did, Harvey Wallbanger--style. "Score a lot of runs," says Hart. "Score as many runs as we can."
Manager Ken Macha
FIRST SEASON WITH BREWERS
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]