Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day 2008

Technically, the baseball season opened in Japan last week (with a series between the Red Sox and As) and while there was also a game last night, today is really the opening day of the baseball season. The weather in Chicago isn't looking good for the Brewers and Cubs but should things clear up, they'll get rolling at 2:20 EDT.

Last season, if you recall, the Crew started out having one of the best records in baseball into May before proceeding to rip my heart out over the course of the summer. Despite the collapse, it was an important year for them: they had their first winning record since 1992 and went into September with a chance to make the post-season. With one of the younger, more exciting rosters in baseball, they enter this season as bona fide playoff contenders.

As I see it, their prospects depend almost entirely on their starting pitching. Sure, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and J.J. Hardy need to maintain their offensive production levels from last year, their defense could stand to get a little better, and there is a question how the back end of the bullpen will fair with the loss of Francisco Cordero and the perpetual adventures of Derrick Turnbow. But I think their problems last year were largely a result of the inability of their starters to go deep into games. If your starters only go six innings, that puts a lot of pressure on your bullpen, pressure that wears them down over the course of the year. And pressure on your bullpen means additional pressure on your offense which, even if they are outstanding, can't be expected to score 10 runs a game. By the same token, if the starters pitch well, and for seven-plus innings, the bullpen and offense are freed up a bit: they can win by playing well rather than having to be outstanding in order to stay in games.

So how is the Brewers' pitching? Hard to tell but apparently good enough to release Claudio Vargas with both Chris Capuano and Yovani Gallardo starting the season injured.

The anchors of the staff will be Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan. The key with Sheets is always his health. If he can pitch a complete season, he should win 20-plus games. If history is any indicator, Suppan will eat up innings and elevate his game in the last couple months of the season.

After that, it's all about the youth: Carlos Villanueva, Manny Parra, and Dave Bush will fill out the rotation until Gallardo gets healthy (probably a couple of weeks). My sense is that Bush will be the odd man out at that point but that probably depends on performance. Gallardo showed flashes of brilliance last year. If his young arm lasts a whole season, he's a star in the making. Parra is something of an unknown--he was spotty in his few major league appearances last season. Villanueva is a particular favorite of mine. He's got pretty good stuff and no fear about throwing any of his pitches anywhere in the count. I really like watching him pitch.

If some combination of these guys can step up, I think the Brewers will be playoff bound for the first time since 1982. As I write, the Cubs and Crew are underway. It's a long season, kids. Let's hope it's a good one.

1 comment:

JAK said...

Looks great so far! I vote for a rematch at PNC this summer, my treat.