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Opinion

Brewers can hope to continue last year’s trend

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March 13, 2008

  I recently took a look at an old column of mine on my laptop. Normally, this is a haunting occurrence, as I usually see my column where I predicted the Vikings were going to run all over the Green Bay Packers last November. (NOTE: The Packers won 34-0, but now that Favre is gone you have nothing to look forward to.)

  However, I saw a column where I had correctly predicted something. The column talked about the Brewers young nucleus and how they were going to develop into contenders soon, after wallowing in mediocrity for 25 years. Well, the Brewers still haven’t made the playoffs since then, but they’re considered by some to be a favorite in the week National League Central division.

  Last season the Brewers got off to a red-hot 24-10 start. The Brewers were led by shortstop J.J. Hardy, who suddenly learned how to hit home runs. This was intriguing. Not only did the Brewers play teams that were under .500 teams at home, but they also had a third baseman named Ryan Braun in the minors because he couldn’t play defense. The Brewers started to slowly fade away and would eventually give up the division to the Chicago Cubs. However, there are signs that point to this year as being the year that the Brewers finally get back to the postseason.

  The main reason is that the Brewers put Braun in their lineup. Braun was called up in late May by the Brewers after Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell could not play a solid third base. Braun lit the world on fire the rest of the season as he went out and cranked 34 home runs in just 113 games. Braun is the type of player that teams dream of having. A franchise cornerstone that can hit for power, average (Braun hit .324) and has adequate speed (15 stolen bases). The only problem with Braun is his defense. Braun committed 26 errors last season at third base. The Brewers think they have solved this problem by putting him in left field.

  However, when you put someone else in the outfield, someone has to play third. Enter Bill Hall. Hall has the nickname of “Do It All” because of his ability to play anywhere on the field. The Brewers may have over-utilized that last season when they put Hall in center field. Hall struggled as center is one of the most important positions on the field. Hall had trouble judging the ball off the bat and made a couple bad defensive plays because of it. This started to wear on Hall’s mind as he had a falloff offensively. In 2006, Hall hit .275 with 35 home runs and 85 runs batted in. Last season Hall hit .254 with 14 home runs, 63 runs batted in. Perhaps a return to the infield may spark Hall to the numbers he put up in 2006.

  Finally, the main weakness of the 2007 Brewers, the bullpen, was addressed in the off season. The Brewers did lose all-star closer Francisco Cordero to the Cincinnati Reds, but they picked up Eric Gagne, who may benefit from a change in scenery after he failed miserably as a setup pitcher in Boston late last year. The Brewers also picked up several relievers including Guillermo Mota and Solomon Torres. As long as Derrick “Where’s the nearest White Castle?” Turnbow doesn’t blow too many leads, the bullpen should be better this season.

This season’s Brewers team reminds me a lot of the 2002 Minnesota Twins. While this may make some hardcore Wisconsinites puke, consider what happened to the 2001 Minnesota Twins. 

  The Twins were downright horrible in the 1990s with the exception of 1991 and 1992, and had missed the playoffs the last 10 years before the 2001 season. The Twins soared to a 15-3 start and were the darlings of the national media for most of the season as they held on to the American League Central division before succumbing to the Cleveland Indians. The next year, the Twins won the division by 15 games and went to the ALCS, where they lost to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

  To recap, the Brewers started 24-10 last year and held onto their division for most of the season before the Cubs caught them. Could Harvey’s Wallbangers be revisited in 2008? Time will tell, but history is on their side.

Chris Schad is a student at UW-River Falls.