Friday, October 21, 2011

NL North Preview - Part I

MilwaukeeWhy Alex Gomez’s big bat may help the Brew Crew Bring It Home

After finishing the regular season with a franchise record 110 wins and their third straight division crown, Milwaukee’s playoff record was a surprising 2-3. The Brewers were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by a familiar foe, their division rival Expos.

The quick exit from the playoffs tarnished an otherwise stellar season for Milwaukee, especially catcher Alex Gomez. Gomez established career highs in almost every major offensive category, including Runs (115), Home Runs (52) and RBI (134) while hitting .326. His work at the plate earned him multiple honors in season three, including his third straight All-Star nod, an All-Star MVP, the Home Run Derby champion and a Silver Slugger. A World Series ring is about the only piece of hardware missing from his collection now. The question is, can he and the Brewers bring home the ring in Season 4?

Key Additions: None.

Key Departures:
1. Rich Harper – 36-year-old relief pitcher, 33.1 innings/1.50 whip – to the Texas Rangers.

The good news for the Brewers is that the team returns virtually intact to make another run at the title. Gomez will lead the team offense which finished first in the entire league in OBP (.366), SLG (.465) and Home Runs (257) and tied for second in AVG (.284). First baseman Jim Thomson and second baseman Steven Newfield blasted 40+ long balls as well, while third baseman Luther Becker earned yet another Silver Slugger. Carlos Ordaz hit .307/.407/.557 in his rookie season while chipping in an additional 25 Home Runs, and he should only improve upon those numbers this year. Top to bottom of the lineup, there was no major tinkering with the offense this offseason.

The bad news for opponents is that once again Milwaukee’s starting rotation returns almost virtually intact. The pitching staff lead the Major Leagues in WHIP (1.20) and allowed just 602 runs to cross the plate, finishing with a grossly inflated run differential of +293. While the staff is aging and the window on these playoff run opportunities are closing for some starters like Willie Diggins (age 35) and Jason Drew (age 36), no significant declines can be seen that should negatively impact the club. Set-up man Rich Harper had limited appearances out of the bullpen last year, pitching just 33.1 innings, so the effects on his departure should be minimal.

Defensively the Brewers are a slightly above average team, committing around the league average number of errors (89) while making 69 “great” defensive plays while limiting themselves to 32 “poor” ones. Their team defense will return unscathed.

dwb’s take: Milwaukee’s window of opportunity is still wide open. Gomez is in his prime, and the talent surrounding him on offense is still young. The club finds themselves in familiar territory come October. Expect them to claim their fourth consecutive division title and top 100 wins for the second time in two years.

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