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2 Milwaukee Brewers

April 03, 2006
April 03, 2006

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April 3, 2006

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2 Milwaukee Brewers

The first winning season in 14 years? If the pitching holds up

That the Brewershave made the improbable transformation from an organization stuck in financialdisarray and the NL Central basement to one that last season finished at .500for the first time in more than a decade is due primarily to two things: One,the young, relatively inexpensive minor league talent assembled by generalmanager Doug Melvin has come of age; two, the rotation tutored by pitchingcoach Mike Maddux has evolved into possibly the division's deepest. "I likewhat we've got going," manager Ned Yost says. "Some of the younger kidshave a year under their belts. A lot of the positions are already settled, andthat's a good thing. We're at the stage where we can compete for thedivision."

This is an article from the April 3, 2006 issue Original Layout

Making the leapfrom break-even baseball to contention will require breakout seasons from theraw but exhilarating trio of first baseman Prince Fielder, second basemanRickie Weeks and shortstop J.J. Hardy, but no group will have as much impact onMilwaukee's fortunes as its starting pitchers. They are a mostly anonymousgroup behind ace righthander Ben Sheets, but they include Doug Davis, whose 208strikeouts in 2005 were the most by any NL lefthander; lefty Chris Capuano, whoblossomed into an 18-game winner; and righthander Tomo Ohka, who was stolenfrom the Nationals last June for second baseman Junior Spivey. As a group theyranked second in the league with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

No player is morecritical to the Brewers' fortunes than the 25-year-old Sheets--in the secondyear of a four-year, $38.5 million contract--because of the huge percentage(some 20%) of the club's payroll he consumes and because he can potentiallydominate any game he starts. But Sheets missed five weeks last season with aninner-ear infection and didn't start after August because of a torn muscle inhis upper back. During a March 9 exhibition start he strained another backmuscle, and he'll open the season on the DL. The Brewers committed big dollarsto Sheets because, as in '04 when he struck out 264, he overwhelms with one ofthe best curveballs in the game. But they acknowledge that allocating such alarge chunk of their resources to one player is risky for a mid-marketfranchise. "He's a key player for us," Melvin says. "Our payroll iswhat it is. It means we have to continue to take chances on younger players inour system, take chances on waiver claims."

If Sheets isn'tfully healthy, the burden will be on Davis and Capuano. Davis, scooped up as aminor league free agent in 2003, reinvented his career under Maddux. Headjusted his arm slot to throw more consistently over the top rather thanslingshotting the pitch, added a cut fastball and began to aggressively pitchrighthanders away. "You usually want to establish inside," says Maddux,"but some guys, like Doug, have already established inside just by showingup. So if you get hitters cheating inside, the outside corner's a long way awayfor them. When Doug's on, you'll see a lot of takes, and when the next guysstart swinging away, they get cut off. That's where the high-strikeout gamescome from."

Capuano, obtainedin the December 2003 trade that sent Richie Sexson to Arizona, broke throughlast year, throwing a career-high 219 innings with a 3.99 ERA. Finally healthyafter undergoing Tommy John surgery in '02, and missing stretches of the '04season with hamstring and triceps injuries, Capuano showed a completefastball-slider-changeup palette (he's experimenting with a cutter this spring)and the devious move that allowed him to pick off a major-league-high 12 baserunners. "I still see him having success because he'll make the necessaryadjustments, he'll field his position, control the running game, swing thebat," Melvin says. "He helps himself in all aspects of the game, andthat gets him an extra inning or two, an extra win or two."

It's bold toclaim that the Brewers have the best rotation in the NL Central, but with RogerClemens's expected retirement from Houston and the chronic shoulder troublessuffered by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in Chicago, it's not far-fetched. IfSheets is healthy, Milwaukee could make a push for the postseason.

IN FACT
Last season the Brewers' staff ERA (3.97) was below 4.00 for the first timesince 1992, which was also the last year that the team finished with a winningrecord (92-70).

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

Corey Hart hasplayed five positions in the Brewers' system and had a strong 2005 season withTriple A Nashville (.308 average, .377 OBP, .536 slugging). He's also one ofthe faster 6'6" players in the game (31 steals in 113 games last year).Milwaukee should get Hart (right) five starts a week as their version of theAngels' Chone Figgins and let him push thirtysomethings Corey Koskie and BradyClark for time at third base and in centerfield, respectively. Unlike thoseveteran stopgaps, Hart, 24, is a big part of the Brewers' future, so it'simportant that he see a lot of playing time.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD81-81
third in NL Central

MANAGER
Ned Yost
fourth season with Milwaukee

BATTING ORDER
CF Clark
2B Weeks
RF Jenkins
LF Lee
1B Fielder
3B Koskie
C Miller
SS Hardy

 

BRADY CLARK
B-T R
PVR 168
BA .306
HR 13
RBI 53
SB 10

CARLOS LEE
B-T R
PVR 43
BA 265
HR .32
RBI 114
SB 13

J.J. HARDY
B-T R
PVR 199
BA .247
HR 9
RBI 50
SB 0

COREY KOSKIE [Newacquisition]
B-T L-R
PVR 155
BA .249
HR 11
RBI 36
SB 4

DAMIAN MILLER[New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 257
BA .273
HR 9
RBI 43
SB 0

PRINCE FIELDER(R)
B-T L-R
PVR 95
BA .288
HR 2
RBI 10
SB 0

RICKIE WEEKS
B-T R
PVR 47
BA .239
HR 13
RBI 42
SB 15

GEOFF JENKINS
B-T L-R
PVR 102
BA .292
HR 25
RBI 86
SB 0

BENCH

BILL HALL [Newacquisition]
B-T R
PVR 145
BA .291
HR 17
RBI 62
SB 18

COREY HART (R)
B-T R
PVR 299
BA .193
HR 2
RBI 7
SB 2

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROTATION

PITCHERPVRWLKWHIPERA
RH Ben Sheets241091411.073.33
LH Doug Davis8711112081.303.84
LH Chris Capuano3218121761.383.99
RH Tomo Ohka147119981.354.04
RH Dave Bush
[New acquisition]
131511751.254.49

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
BULLPEN

PITCHERPVRWLSVWHIPERA
RH Derrick Turnbow4071391.081.74
RH Matt Wise1764410.963.36
RH Dan Kolb30138115.931.86

Newacquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...

A 25-year-oldoutfielder acquired from Oakland in late '04, Nelson Cruz showed pop and speedwhile advancing from Double A Huntsville to Triple A Nashville last season.Cruz had 32 doubles and 27 home runs in 456 at bats and stole 19 bases. With anabove-average arm he projects as a rightfielder, and he could get a call-up byAugust if the Brewers are out of contention and opt to trade Carlos Lee, a freeagent at season's end.

PHOTOMIKE SIMONS/US PRESSWIRE GETTINGA GRIP
A healthy Capuano threw a career-high 219 innings last season and led themajors with 12 pickoffs.
TWO PHOTOSLARRY GOREN/ICON SMI (HART); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (CRUZ)ILLUSTRATION