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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Brewers camp report: Likes, dislikes

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After aquiring K-Rod last season, the Brewers didn't lose a single lead after the seventh inning. (US Presswire)  
After aquiring K-Rod last season, the Brewers didn't lose a single lead after the seventh inning. (US Presswire)  

PHOENIX -- What I like, and don't like, about the Brewers:

Likes:

 Well, duh, first thing you absolutely have to love about the Brewers is that, whether you agree or disagree with the arbiter's decision, Ryan Braun is not sitting out the first 50 games. The Brewers would have been seriously playing from behind if they had no Prince Fielder or Braun for the first 50 games of the season. "It feels like a win, and we haven't played a game yet," GM Doug Melvin says. "I'm glad we stayed patient and didn't sign a big-name free agent. He'd have no place to play. We talked with Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, DH-types who might have filled in for 50 games in left field." By the way, en route to 96 wins, the Brewers started 27-23 last season. "I looked that up when we were looking at losing Braun for the first 50 games last year," the GM says.

 A rotation that helped power the Brewers to a franchise-record 96 wins in 2011 returns intact. Brewers starters ranked sixth in the NL with a 3.78 ERA, and they combined for a 73-43 record -- and that was without Zack Greinke for the month of April. Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson will give the Brewers a real chance to repeat as NL Central champs this summer.

Milwaukee Brewers
Scott Miller
Brewers look to little known Mat Game to take Prince's spot at first base. Camp report >>
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 Francisco Rodriguez's failure to get a lucrative closer's contract on the free-agent market is Milwaukee's gain. K-Rod reported to camp happy and ready to resume set-up duties to closer John Axford, and with that, the Brewers are as tough as anybody in the game in the eighth and ninth innings. They did not lose a game in which they were leading in the seventh inning or later last season after acquiring K-Rod from the Mets. Axford may have difficulty repeating his stellar season last year -- he converted 46 of 47 save opportunities -- but even if he blows a couple of more saves than in '11, manager Ron Roenicke should be able to rest easy.

 They're not going to replace Fielder, the idea of signing Aramis Ramirez to play third while breaking in Mat Gamel at first is a sound one. Ramirez had 26 homers and 83 RBI for the Cubs last season, and Gamel's power numbers in the minors were up -- a career-high 28 homers and 96 RBI at Triple-A Nashville. Gamel almost certainly isn't going to post production numbers that high, but the Brewers like him. And if Gamel slips, the underrated Corey Hart is taking ground balls at first base this spring, just in case. ...

 In owner Mark Attanasio, Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers have as good a management team as there is in the game. Because of the product they've put on the field, Milwaukee, the majors' smallest market, has drawn three million fans in three of the past four seasons. Utterly impressive. Look for Attanasio to grant Melvin and, in turn, Roenicke contract extensions this spring -- both are entering their final year. The sooner he locks them up, the better. "I'd like to stay here," Melvin says. "I hope we can get together on something." Count on it.

Dislikes:

 Where have you gone, Prince Fielder? Wait, don't answer that Motor City. Milwaukee will miss him, there's no getting around it. Not that the Brewers still can't win this year -- and that was Melvin's message to the team as they started spring training as he looked around the room and pointed out the All-Stars, players who have played in the postseason, a Cy Young winner (Greinke) and an MVP (Braun). But it will be harder without Fielder.

 The Brewers went all-in to win in 2011, keeping Fielder and acquiring Greinke and Marcum. More power to them for swinging for the fences while they could, but you wonder if the farm system will slow for a spell in the near future after the Brewers dealt several prospects away, including highly touted Brett Lawrie (Toronto) and Alicides Escobar (Kansas City). This isn't to second-guess Melvin and Co., because when you have a chance to win, you've got to take it. It's just the reality they're living with.

 Braun is going to have every ounce of his confidence, resiliency and patience tested this season following his successful appeal of the 50-game suspension for failing a performance-enhancing drug test. If he starts slowly, some people are going to say it's because he isnt' juiced. If he start quickly, some folks will say it's because he's juicing. Even though he had his suspension overturned, fans on the road will target him this summer. This might be one of the most difficult encore seasons ever for a man who won an MVP award (at least, this side of Barry Bonds in the early 2000s).

 The Brewers do not get enough credit for what they've done over the past handful of seasons. This is one terrific organization. Do you realize that only three teams in the majors have produced at least three All-Stars in each of the six seasons? The Yankees, the Red Sox and, yes, the Brewers.

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