The Brewers come to town for a three game weekend series, and the Mets won’t see them again until September (makes you think they’re still in the American League).
Last year, the Brew Crew rode the bats of Prince Fielder and rookie Ryan Braun to an 83-79, second-place finish in the NL Central. Many believe the Brewers would have taken the division championship had ace pitcher Ben Sheets been healthy all year.
Aside from the exits of Johnny Estrada and Geoff Jenkins, the lineup looks fairly similar to the ’07 version, but the bullpen underwent a massive restructuring. No doubt Shea Stadium will warmly welcome former Met Guillermo Mota if he makes an appearance this weekend.
To get a Milwaukee fan’s perspective of the Brewers this year, I posed a few questions to Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall.
1. The Brewers spent most of their offseason overhauling the bullpen. How do you think they did?
I think they did a great job. Eric Gagne has been iffy at best so far, but hey, it’s a one-year deal. David Riske and Salomon Torres have looked to be worth the money, and Brian Shouse is a known quantity as a solid situational lefty. The biggest question mark appears to be Derrick Turnbow. I think just about every Brewers fan wants Turnbow to succeed again, but dude, he’s wearing us out.
2. Speaking of the ‘pen, I can’t have a Q&A without asking your opinion of Guillermo Mota, who wore out his welcome in New York. Do you see him as being a valuable contributor to the ’08 Brewers?
We’ll see. I was skeptical back when the trade happened, because we were swapping guys who probably would’ve been released or salary-dumped. It seemed like a particularly bad deal to me when we lost Wise as basically a follow-up to that deal. (I like Wise, possibly a little irrationally.) Mota looked outstanding in his first outing this year, not so great in his last one. It looks like Ned Yost is giving him the opportunity to step up and become the main set-up guy, but at the same time, we don’t need him to be anything more than the #4 guy in the pen.
3. What do you think is the key to the Brew Crew taking the NL Central in 2008? What team in the division do you see as being the toughest for Milwaukee to outperform?
The Cubs are the threat, especially as long as Fukudome plays like the MVP. Call me an optimist, but the key is simply not imploding. This is a deep team, and we don’t need 32 starts from Ben Sheets or a miraculous rookie year from Manny Parra to make it happen. If Gagne falters, there’s Riske. We’ve got at least six decent starters. Of course, an injury to Fielder or Braun would be a disaster, but short of that sort of thing, I think it’s the Brewers’ division for the taking.
4. Manny Parra was impressive in his abbreviated debut in ’07. Tell us about his repertoire and skillset.
He’s a strikeout pitcher with some occasional control problems. The big issue this year is his fragility. He spent a lot of time on the DL working his way up the ladder, and has never thrown more than about 140 innings in a season. It remains to be seen whether the Brewers will try to keep his IP total down this year, or if they figure he’s 25 and finally healthy, so he can cope. One interesting thing to watch tonight is that he is, at least somewhat, pitching for his job. Yovani Gallardo will be back soon, and either Parra, Villanueva, or Bush will be headed to the bullpen or the minors.
5. Who will be the biggest surprise on the ’08 Brewers?
It won’t surprise Brewers fans, but Carlos Villanueva is the guy who will make fans outside of Milwaukee pay more attention. If he makes it through the year in the rotation, he should give us 30 starts in the 4.00 – 4.50 range. He’s never going to win a Cy Young Award, but three years ago, he wasn’t even really showing up on prospect lists.
6. What do the Brewers have to do to take this weekend’s series from the Mets?
Different challenge every day. Tonight, we’ll see how the ’08 Crew does against a pitcher they haven’t seen before in Figueroa. Anecdotally, first-timers seemed to be a challenge for the Brewers in recent years. It’ll also be interesting to see how Parra fares against a Major League offense. Saturday, the pitcher’s duel, will be up to Ben Sheets, who has been stunning this year. It would be nice to see Prince Fielder get hot, but it’s a balanced offense, so on any given night, somebody is probably going to come through.
Thanks again to Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall. Jeff is one of the more astute writers in the baseball blogosphere, and I regularly enjoy reading his posts even though I’m not a Brewers fan. He also created Minor League Splits, co-created College Splits, and writes for The Hardball Times and Beyond the Boxscore, among others. Oh and if you’re contemplating graduate school, be sure to pick up his books The GMAT Math Bible and The GRE Math Bible.