2 MILWAUKEE BREWERS

April 05, 2009

Who's Going ToPitch In?

The offense willagain put up crooked numbers, but the rotation took a monster hit

THERE WERE quitea few lean years in Milwaukee when the organization's most recognizable faceswere broadcaster Bob Uecker, the suds-plunging Bernie Brewer and, morerecently, the racing sausages. But that seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?Now the Brewers have "the nucleus," and everyone from Glendale toWaukesha to Hales Corners (and plenty of places outside the Wisconsin borders,really) knows who forms it: five young, homegrown position players who lastseason helped put the team in the playoffs for the first time since 1982, thesame year the three oldest of those players were born.

Ryan Braun,Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks are "five youngstuds that I'll stack up against anyone," says new bench coach WillieRandolph. Only the Dodgers have a collection of 27-and-under everyday playersthat comes close. Braun, the cool, lean Southern Californian, and Fielder, thehigh-strung, squat son of former big league slugger Cecil Fielder, form thebest twentysomething power-hitting duo in the game. "Those two guys couldhit 90 homers between them this year," says one rival general manager. Thatwouldn't be a reach, considering that Fielder has already hit 50 in a seasonand Braun has 71 bombs in his first two big league seasons—a total exceededonly by Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Mathews and Albert Pujols over thesame span.

The athleticWeeks—with whom Randolph, a former All-Star second baseman, worked closely thisyear—has yet to tap his potential, and the batting order still lists tooheavily to the right. (Fielder is the lone lefthanded threat.) But the lineupis not the issue. Milwaukee, whose 3.85 team ERA was the fourth-best in themajors in '08, lost a pair of starters to free agency in the off-season: BenSheets, the National League starter in last summer's All-Star Game, and CCSabathia, who carried the Brewers into the postseason after Sheets went downwith a torn flexor tendon. (It might sideline Sheets, who remains unsigned, forall of 2009.)

Milwaukee's newfront man is Yovani Gallardo, of whom Braun says, "If he's healthy, he's atleast as good as Sheets." Catcher Jason Kendall takes the discussion a stepfurther: "Barring injury, he's going to win the Cy Young."

Only 23, Gallardothrows a low-90s fastball with movement and an excellent curveball. The6'2", 220-pound righthander struck out nearly one batter per inning in astrong rookie season in 2007, and he appeared headed for an even better year in'08 (1.88 ERA in four starts) before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.Beyond that, as first-year manager Ken Macha rightfully notes, depth is a bigconcern. Free-agent addition Braden Looper, who made a successful conversionfrom the bullpen to the rotation with the Cardinals, was a cost-efficientsigning ($4.75 million), but he's a back-end starter, of which the Brewers havetoo many. The bullpen depth is similarly questionable, despite the addition ofalltime saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Still, youthfuloptimism pervades a clubhouse populated by the young stars plus respectedveterans such as Hoffman, Kendall, Looper, Mike Cameron and Craig Counsell.Braun allows that the Cubs are the NL Central and pennant favorites, but hebelieves the Brew Crew will be playing games in October again this year."That's our plan," he says. They just might have to get there likeMilwaukee's '82 division champs did, Harvey Wallbanger--style. "Score a lotof runs," says Hart. "Score as many runs as we can."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

With yet anotherdefensively challenged slugging prospect on the doorstep in 23-year-old MatGamel, it's time for Milwaukee to trade Prince Fielder (left). Gamel batted.329 with 61 extra-base hits at Double A last season, but like Ryan Braunbefore him, he needs to be moved off of third base. Fielder is a prodigiouspower hitter (112 homers over the past three seasons) whose overall value isdiminished by his lack of speed, contact rate (127 strikeouts per full season)and below-average work around first base. His perceived value will always behigher than his actual value, so the Brewers should dangle Fielder in a bid toupgrade their rotation significantly while plugging in Gamel at first basewithout losing much production. It's the one move they can make to quicklyclose the gap between them and the Cubs.

THE NUMBERS

LIE
557

Extra-base hitsthe Brewers had in 2008, the highest total in the National League. Yet the clubfinished seventh in the league in runs scored, a fact that can be explained byMilwaukee's pedestrian .325 on-base percentage. With Prince Fielder as theironly lefthanded-hitting regular, the Brewers were particularly vulnerableagainst righties, getting on base at a .317 clip—which ranked 27th in themajors.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager KenMacha

FIRST SEASON WITHBREWERS

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

RICKIE WEEKS     2B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 94 .234 14 46 19
J.J. HARDY     SS  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 73 .283 24 74 2
RYAN BRAUN     LF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 12 .285 37 106 14
PRINCE FIELDER     1B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 28 .276 34 102 3
COREY HART     RF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 40 .268 20 91 23
MIKE CAMERON     CF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 69 .243 25 70 17
BILL HALL     3B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 160 .225 15 55 5
JASON KENDALL     C  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 310 .246 2 49 8
BENCH
CRAIG COUNSELL     IF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 386 .226 1 14 3
BRAD NELSON (R)*     OF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 235 .286 18 78 13
MIKE RIVERA     C  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 341 .306 1 14 2

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

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Jeff Suppan 167 10 10 4.6 1.54 4.96
RH Yovani Gallardo 133 0 0 7.5 1.25 1.88
LH Manny Parra 153 10 8 8.0 1.54 4.39
RH Braden Looper [NEW ACQUISITION] 76 12 14 4.9 1.31 4.18
RH Dave Bush 112 9 10 5.3 1.14 4.16
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Trevor Hoffman [NEW ACQUISITION] 50 3 30 9.1 1.04 3.77
RH Carlos Villanueva 219 4 1 7.7 1.31 4.07
RH Seth McClung 237 6 0 7.4 1.41 4.02

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Triple A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI

Sept. 27, 1982

It's possible that Robin Yount, who is now the finestshortstop in baseball, won't be named the Most Valuable Player in the AmericanLeague, especially if Milwaukee fails to protect its Eastern Division lead(through Sunday, two games over the Baltimore Orioles), but in press boxesaround the league he's unquestionably the favorite. One argument in his behalfis repeated over and over: He's a shortstop who can hit. And, as Oscar Gamble,the New York Yankees outfielder, says, "He hits with power. It's amazingthat a shortstop can lead the league in slugging percentage." Shortstopsaren't expected to hit like that, particularly slick-fielding shortstops.
—ROBERT W. CREAMER

For free access to all Brewers stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOMIKE MCGINNIS/CAL SPORT MEDIAACE IN THE HOLE Gallardo has to bounce back from a knee injury and fill one of the gaps left by Sabathia and Sheets. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (FIELDER) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)