Feb 12, 2012, 7:00 PM EDT
With Prince Fielder‘s departure assured, the last thing the 2011 NL Central champion Brewers needed was to lose Ryan Braun for a third of the season. It’s likely to happen, though, even if his appeal is still pending. The rotation should be strong enough to keep the Brewers in the race while Braun is out, but the offense seems certain to struggle in his absence.
The Brewers’ got 155 starts from their top five last year, and they’ll probably need something similar to happen if they’re going to win 90 games again. The seven starts that didn’t go to those guys went to Estrada, who figures to reprise his swing role after a very surprising showing last season (88 strikeouts in 92 2/3 IP). The Brewers have little in the way of depth behind them, but Peralta might prove ready after going 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in a 2011 season spend mostly in Double-A.
The bullpen wasn’t expected to include K-Rod again, but he accepted arbitration as a free agent, leaving the Brewers with an $8 million setup man. He and Axford should give the team an excellent one-two punch at the end of the games. The rest of the pen is pretty iffy, though I do like Kintzler. If the Brewers had their way, they would have spread K-Rod’s cash around to two or three veteran relievers.
RF Corey Hart – R
LF Nyjer Morgan – L
2B Rickie Weeks – R
3B Aramis Ramirez – R
1B Mat Gamel – L
C Jonathan LuCroy – R
CF Logan Schafer – L
SS Alex Gonzalez – R
So, there’s the Braun lineup and a Braun-free lineup. I’m basing the bench on the Braun-free lineup. If Braun is able to avoid his suspension, then Schafer figures to start off in Triple-A. Green would also be more likely to return to the minors if Braun can play. Otherwise, I think the Brewers will need his bat.
Schafer’s inclusion is a pure guess on my part. If Aoki impresses in spring training, then the Brewers figure to try him as a starter in Braun’s place. If not, then they’ll have to decide whether to think defense first with Gomez or try the rookie. Regardless, Gomez seems certain to play against lefties.
Gamel looks like the big key here. If he can provide a quality left-handed bat to slot behind Ramirez, it frees up manager Ron Roenicke to use Hart and Weeks at the top of the order. If Roenicke instead decides he needs a veteran presence behind Ramirez, then someone who doesn’t deserve to will hit high in the lineup. The Brewers are already treading dangerously up there, since it’s far from certain Morgan will be so good again.
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