What a long, exhausting wait to the start of the season. This afternoon the Milwaukee Brewers will take to the field in Cincinnati to take on the NL Central champs. The weather is supposed to cooperate too, with temps between 45-49 degrees and only a 10% chance of precipitation. LET'S PLAY BALL!
The Crew will have Yovani Gallardo make his 3rd straight Opening Day start. With the latest news that Zack Greinke may be out for 3 (maybe 4) starts now, Gallardo is the man in charge. I had him penned as the Opening Day starter even when Greinke was set to debut last month in Arizona (albeit, I did start to think he would be OD starter). This is Gallardo's team, not the other way around.
I think we all knew that Greinke wouldn't miss the predicted 2 starts. In fact, I can see him missing 4 starts and still being limited in innings in the first half of May. The biggest challenge for Milwaukee is to finish April with a winning record. If they can do that, some how, they will position themselves to "adapt and overcome" for the rest of the season. Think about it, you lose your (arguably) best ACE and your All Star RF'er in Corey Hart; not to mention that Hawkins & Para are starting out on the DL. You win the month of April, you can put your most challenging times behind you of the season (fingers crossed).
Mark Kotsay is Milwaukee's starting Rightfielder to begin the season. He will make his 11th Opening Day start and only his 6th career start in RF.
SI.com's Eric Mack has Gallardo as his NL CY Young sleeper pick. I like this idea, not just because he's a Brewer either. Look at how much weight the young hurler carried on his shoulders last season. My god, the only good thing in the starting rotation was the fact that Gallardo was able to pitch once every 5th game. The other 4 pitchers were garbage, aside from Randy Wolf in the latter part of the season (when shit didn't matter anyways, yea).
Most publications have the Brewers winning 85-90 games, but not having enough to make it as the Wild Card. A few writers have them coined to win the NL Central, but many more have the Cardinals taking it. I personally feel that the Cubs will be a lot better than what they're being credited for. Carlos Zambrano is going to have a bounce back year and Garza could be a nice addition. Regardless, it's obvious that Milwaukee is not getting the respect from the critics around the country....should they? I'm happy with them flying under the radar. All the stars have to align this season. If they don't make it to the playoffs and even to the NLCS, this year will be a failure. All the pieces are there to make a run....although their defense is their most questionable part. The centerfield is horrid, with Rickie Weeks being the only (semi-decent) bright spot in the middle of the field.
The key to Milwaukee's post season quest?
1. Health: it sounds generic, but it's already a problem for the Crew. With Greinke and Hart out, not to mention 2-3 relievers...it's hard not to think about it.
2. Defense: Bentacourt is horrible at SS and I wouldn't be surprised if JJ Hardy somehow finds his way back to Milwaukee. If Baltimore finds themselves in familiar territory (the cellar), I could see him becoming expendable by the trade deadline. Say what you want about him, but it's obvious that he was a better fit at SS then Alcides and our current wiz.
3. Coaching: Hopefully Roenicke will play some small ball this season and allow some freedom on the base paths. I remember preaching about it last season with all the blazers that Milwaukee had in their lineup.
Braun can easily get 25-30 steals, Gomez 20, Hart 20, and Morgan 25. Those numbers can easily add-up and help Prince Fielder's at-bats.
Blast from the past (pictured above)...Milwaukee opened their 1970 campaign at County Stadium with a 12-0 loss to the Angels. Hopefully the Crew will fare better today. Interesting story in the Journal Sentinel about that day...
So from everyone here at TeamWisconsin (me), hoist your pint (or coffee) and let's all hope for a 92 win season and a division title!
Update: Nice story on Erick Almonte (IF) of the Brewers; today is his first time making the roster for Opening Day. He started with the Yankees back in 1996 and was called up to replace Derek Jeter in 2003 for the 2nd game of the season.