Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 73 points (19th MLB, 11th NL)
Starting Rotation – 28 points (18th MLB, 13th NL)
Line-Up – 33 points (12th MLB, 7th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 12 points (28th MLB, 15th NL)
Offseason Additions – Mike Cameron, Eric Gagne, Jason Kendall, Guillermo Mota, David Riske, Saloman Torres
Offseason Subtractions – Francisco Cordero, Johnny Estrada, Geoff Jenkins, Scott Linebrink, Kevin Mench, Matt Wise
Biggest Strength– Young Power
The Brewers boasted the best pair of corner infielders in the majors last year with MVP-candidate Prince Fielder at 1st and Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun at 3rd. Fielder was the youngest player in MLB history to hit 50 HRs and is such a good hitter that it would not surprise me if he hits .300 this year while going for 50 again. Braun hit 34 HR in just 113 games for the Brewers. Had he played the whole season at that level, he would have tied Mike Schmidt and Contract-Year Adrian Beltre for the NL record for HR’s by a 3B, with 48. Both are young, Fielder is 23, and Braun is 24, and provide the Brewers with a really good middle of the line-up for years to come.
Biggest Weakness– Expectations
I love the Brewers. They are one of my favorite non-Philadelphia teams and I really really hope they do well this year. However, we see a team like them every year. They made strides last year, but faltered down the stretch and just missed the playoffs. This year, everyone expects a move forward and a playoff berth, but more often than not, these types of teams disappoint and sometimes even take a step back. Not everyone is going to play as well as they did last year, some players will get injured, some off-season losses (Francisco Cordero) will hurt more than you think, and players you think you can count on have off-years. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I think the Brewers will falter under the high expectations they have never had to deal with before.
Key Player in ’08– Ben Sheets
For the Brewers to prove me wrong (and as I said, I hope they do), they are going to need to get a lot out of their starting pitching. For the last 3 years, they key player on their team has been Ben Sheets. Following a dominant 2004, Sheets has missed an average of 10 starts to injury the next 3 years. When he has pitched, he’s been good, but unable to regain the dominant form he showed in 2004. He has looked OK in spring training, but it is much more important that he gives the Brewers 32 starts and 200+ innings than win a Cy Young (though that would certainly be nice).
Player to Keep an Eye On– Rickie Weeks
Weeks came up through the Brewers systems just as hyped (if not more-so) than Prince Fielder. However, despite some promising spurts, he has been relatively disappointing for the Brewers. He has the talent to hit .300 and be a 30/30 guy who drives in 90-100 runs. It’s hard to believe that his career batting average is .249. He’s only 25, and many are predicting a break-out year from him this year. If he can live up to even half of the hype he came up with, it will be a big plus for the Brewers offense.
Outlook/Prediction– 4th Place, NL Central. I know, I know, 4th place is a little harsh for this team. I think that teams 2-4 in the NL Central will finish very close to one another, so even though I have them in 4th, I would think they will end only a game or two behind 2nd. Many people think the Brewers can contend for the division this year and those people are not wrong by any means. If Ben Sheets gives them 200 innings, Yovani Gallardo recovers from his injury, Chris Capuano joins the world of the living, Ryan Braun doesn’t hit a sophomore slump, and Eric Gagne can off-set the departure of Francisco Cordero, it’s certainly possible. Personally, I think they take a very small step back this year, maybe make a couple moves in the offseason, and will look real good in 2009.