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Blog Entry

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

Posted on: February 23, 2012 7:10 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 11:34 am
By Matt Snyder

Every baseball fan has surely heard by now, considering our 24-hour Twitterverse of a news cycle, that Brewers' left fielder Ryan Braun won his appeal and will not face a 50-game suspension. There's plenty of discussion to be had on the matter from many different angles, but in this particular entry we'll focus on the 2012 NL Central race.

Had Braun been suspended, the Brewers could probably have been counted out in the NL Central. Replacing Prince Fielder and 50 games of Ryan Braun with Aramis Ramirez wasn't gonna cut it for a team that was largely dependent upon offense last season, en route to the Central division title. Replacing Fielder's production with some Ramirez and hoping for improvements in several other areas? Well, that actually sounds doable.

Then you look around the Central. On paper, we can count out the Pirates, Cubs and Astros. Obviously games aren't won on paper, otherwise the Diamondbacks would have finished last in the NL West as most expected last season. It's just that this is all we have to go on right now, and the Pirates, Cubs and Astros appear very overmatched by the Cardinals, Reds and now Brewers (again).

And right now, the Brewers have just as good a shot as any of the three. They went 96-66 last year and lost a major piece, for sure, in Fielder. But they did sign Ramirez to fill a gaping hole at third base. He can hit cleanup to protect Braun. There are other areas that can improve as well. All-Star second baseman Rickie Weeks only played 118 games last season, while Corey Hart was held to 130. If those guys can stay on the field a bit more, there's an offensive uptick. Alex Gonzalez represents a strong upgrade at shortstop over Yuniesky Betancourt (really, who wouldn't?).

Pitching-wise, the Brewers have the ability to be better as well. Improvements should be expected from Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in their second Milwaukee season. Yovani Gallardo has become a legitimate ace. The eighth and ninth innings should be dominant, with John Axford now having established himself as a lock-down closer and Francisco Rodriguez along for the full season as the eighth-inning guy.

Braun wins appeal
If the Brewers are looking outside and hoping for the optimistic spin, it's possible. Let's try it:

• The Cardinals lost the presence of Albert Pujols from the lineup. Can Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman stay healthy while also fighting off age regression? Speaking of age, how much longer does Chris Carpenter hold up? And Adam Wainwright is coming off Tommy John surgery.

• The Reds are stronger, for sure, but they're hardly a cinch to be a great team. You could make the argument there are question marks at catcher, shortstop, third base, center field and left field. Mat Latos was a good get, but how does he deal with a hitters' park instead of spacious Petco Park as his home field?

Obviously, we could spin things in favor of the Cardinals or Reds in a similar exercise, but it's the Brewers day with the Braun announcement.

The bottom line is I'm not sure who I'll be predicting in the NL Central, but it's between the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers. A few hours ago, it was just the Cardinals and Reds in the mix. In the time it takes to snap your fingers, the Brewers were thrust into the mix. Braun is that important.

We now wait for the actual games to see if everything plays out as expected, because what the "paper" says means nothing. Still, one cannot dispute that the Brewers already have their first big victory of the 2012 season.

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Since: Mar 9, 2007
Posted on: February 24, 2012 9:27 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

This should be the Reds division. Two years ago they looked like a very solid, young roster that could make a habit out of winning the NL Central. I hate the Mat Latos deal, I think they gave up way too much, but with Pujols and Fielder leaving for the AL, it leaves this race wide open. Joey Votto is now the elite 1B in all the NL, and their lineup is pretty far and away the best in the NL Central, and maybe in the entire NL.

Since: Sep 30, 2010
Posted on: February 24, 2012 9:06 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

The key for the Cardinal's offense is staying healthy.  Freese, Furcal, Holliday, Beltran and Berkman have all missed time in recent seasons due to injury.  As far as the pitching being better, I'd take each of the Brewers pitchers over their Cardinal counterpart.  Gallardo/Greinke over Carpenter/Wainwright, Marcum over Garcia, Wolf over Lohse, Narveson over Westbrook.  And Axford/KRod is far superior to Motte/Salas.

Since: Jan 11, 2007
Posted on: February 24, 2012 8:51 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

 I am shocked to see that the Cardinals are in the discussion for the division, they will be fortunate to be playing for the WC.... It comes down to Red/Brewers for the division. Cards need CY young years from Carpenter and Wainwright and an MVP year from Hoilliday or Berkman to even have a chance for the division. You may think im nuts, but lets talk in August, September and we will see who is the fool....

Since: Feb 24, 2012
Posted on: February 24, 2012 8:19 am
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Dec 23, 2010
Posted on: February 24, 2012 3:24 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

I am still sticking with my Prediction of Cardinals 1st..Brewers 2nd..Reds 3rd.......The Cards have just as good Pitching as Brewers...Better hitting and I'll take our Bull Pen over theirs. We lost Pujols and they lost Fielder. That is a wash. Just wish season was starting next week. 

Since: Dec 29, 2011
Posted on: February 24, 2012 2:40 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

It'll be interesting to see how well Braun deals with the incessant taunting from the stadium crowds. You know it's coming.

Since: Sep 30, 2010
Posted on: February 24, 2012 2:35 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

"Largely dependent on offense last season."

I guess being fifth in baseball in quality starts and seventh in team ERA means the pitching gets no credit in the Brewers success.

Since: Jun 27, 2010
Posted on: February 24, 2012 12:10 am

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

The upgrade at SS  is definitely on the defensive side of things, in fact, McGehee and Fielder also were butchers in the field, the Brewer defense should be greatly improved and Aoki provides great defense in the OF, maybe as a defensive replacement.

This team is the best team in the National League IMO.

Since: Apr 7, 2010
Posted on: February 23, 2012 8:16 pm

Brewers back in NL Central mix ... on paper

I don't know about Alex Gonzalez being a 'strong' upgrade over Betancourt.  It's more of a lateral move but I will agree most Brewer fans are happy to see Yuniesky hit the road.  Gamel is the wild card this season.  Time to turn those minor league numbers into major league numbers.

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