The news for the Brewers this off-season has been nothing but positive. Prince Fielder is still wearing a Milwaukee uniform. Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum have both been acquired to help anchor a staff that should transform this team into a bona fide contender.
The starting rotation is just about set, with Grienke, Marcum, Gallardo, Randy Wolf and most likely Chris Narveson rounding out the five. While the rotation seems set, the bullpen is quietly taking shape as well. Thus far, I like what I see.
Last year, the struggles of Trevor Hoffman were abundant. The future Hall-of-Famer had a disastrous first six weeks of the season, giving up 19 runs in 13 innings, blowing five saves and losing three games. When a closer implodes, it’s almost impossible for the team not to follow suit. You can’t give away that many games that early in the season and recover.
Out of nowhere came a lanky Canadian by the name of John Axford. When I spoke with John last spring, the goal was to get his reaction from that incredible Gold Medal Olympic Hockey Game that his countrymen won over the United States. To think that he would end up as the closer was the furthest thing from my mind. He had never closed at any point of his professional career. Really the only thing I knew about him was that he had a cup of coffee with the team in 2009, and that he was Canadian.
Given the opportunity, Axford excelled converting 24 of 27 save opportunities to the tune of a 2.48 ERA and an 8-2 record. He struck out 76 batters and gave up just one home run in 58 innings. Fans took to him and he took to the closer’s role. He’ll start the 2011 season as the anchor of the bullpen, but who will get the ball from the starters to Axford?
Working backwards, the Brewers signed 40-year old Takashi Saito to be the 8th-inning guy. The former closer was 2-3 with a very respectable 2.83 ERA in 56 innings last year in Atlanta. The Brewers would be thrilled for him to duplicate that in 2011.
The door is also wide open for young Zach Braddock. The 23-year old lefty will work in middle relief to start the season but will also be needed to get the tough lefty out late in games. As a rookie, Braddock posted an impressive 2.94 ERA and struck out 41 hitters in just 33.2 innings. If he can cut down on his walks, he’ll be a valuable commodity for the Brew Crew.
Sean Green (just signed by the team) and LaTroy Hawkins will both try to bounce back from injury-plagued 2010 seasons to provide more depth in the pen. If theyand the rest of the relievers can gobble up some innings to keep the starters fresh, the Brewers could be this year’s Reds. October baseball could be in the works.
I’d say that’s plenty positive.
About the Author
Written by Scott Johnston
Scott Johnston is a longtime Sports TV Producer/Writer from Los Angeles who now lives just outside of Boston. After a long career at KCAL-TV in L.A., where Scott covered such things as Kirk Gibson’s HR, Hank Gathers death, and Magic Johnson’s retirement, NBA ll-Star Game MVP performance and subsequent return to the NBA. His favorite team is the Oakland A’s and whomever happens to be playing the Yankees, USC or the Cowboys on that particular day. Scott left his staff position at KCAL and formed his own small production company in 1996 while continuing to freelance there and at other stations, including WTTG in DC for two years. His company, ProTVSports, started out covering one team during Spring Training in 1997 but now covers six of the Cactus League teams. He also covers tennis and golf events during the year and has had the privilege of covering 5 NBA Finals, including two of the last three. Scott loves all sports, but considers baseball to be his favorite. He loves politcs, reading, movies and his wife and two daughters—not in that order!