Opening Day Approaches
I'll be there on April 2nd when the Brewers face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. (So will Danny.) This season shows more promise than any season since former rookie of the year Pat Listach graced the diamond. They are the hot pick to win the central, they're starting pitching is excellent on paper (Sheets, Capuano, Suppan, Bush, Vargas, and then after Vargas sucks for awhile, Yovani Gallardo), and the offense should be much improved with an extra year for the young kids, the addition of Johnny Estrada, and healthy seasons from J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks.
Even if they suffer injuries (as all teams do) they are very deep on the bench. The bullpen is a bit of a question mark, but Turnbow appears to have righted the ship, and even if he doesn't he'll have a quick hook. Cordero should be fine in the closer role, Matt Wise is fine, and everyone else has a defined role.
The Brewers' biggest threat is the Cubs, who are trying to prove that no matter how stupid your management is, $300 million will still put you over the top. It truly became spring yesterday when Kerry Wood went on the DL, but for once the Cubs are prepared for life without Wood and Prior. Kind of.
They have Carlos Zambrano, perhaps the NL's best pitcher, and Jason Marquis, perhps the NL's best hitting pitcher. Of course once you take the bat out of his hand he's not actually very good as I believe he had the highest ERA of any starter in the NL last year. They spent a million-billion dollars on Ted Lilly, an unspectacular lefty.
After that it's Rich Hill and...
Wade Miller? Hmmmmm.
Offensively the Cubs should be much better. Gone is the vastly overrated Juan Pierre, replaced by the expensive but hugely talented Alfonso Soriano. It is hard to overstate just how big of an upgrade this is. Soriano, with a healthy Derrick Lee and Aramis Ramirez should give the Cubs some bang, but let's remember, they're still the Cubs.
Matt Murton is one of their most productive players, but they don't know it. He will likely platoon much of the year, whereas Jacque Jones, who could actually use a platoon (234/.261/.416 against lefties) we see most of the time in right. They overpayed in the offseason for some guy names Mark Derosa, and short stop is still a huge question mark.
Still, the Cubbies will probably be neck and neck with the Brewers all season, which should make for a nice rivalry. While it is hugely irritating that fans at Miller Park are usually split about 50/50 when the Cubs visit, it is also more fun to be in a stadium where both sides are cheered. You generally only get that during the NCAA tournament and English soccer matches, but a good Cubs/Brewers tilt will rival any of them. Wrigley, for all of its charm, is usually more about the party than the game no matter who is there (Possible exception: Cardinals), but at Miller park everyone is very interested in the antics on the field.
The Brewers play the Cubs during the first weekend series, and I'm almost looking forward to that game more.
I've got my brat recipe ready to go, I've got the day off of work, and I've got a bean-bag set adorned with the University of Wisconsin logo. I'm all set.
Here's to baseball.
(And as usual, I'll take the Polish in the sausage race.)
Here is my archaeological dig at Wrigley Field.
Here's an excerpt of the Baseball Prospectus Hope and Faith series on the Brewers.