There are certain fanbases you just have to feel sorry for if you're a close observer of Major League Baseball. They don't ask for my sympathy and I don't give it because it's requested. It's just the way it is. The poor souls who support clubs like the Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kansas City Royals just demand a certain amount of hushed admiration for they are baseball's true Faithful.
And then there are those brave bodies who root on the Milwaukee Brewers.
You could make an argument that the National League has been the distinctly inferior of the two MLB halves since the New York Yankees rose to prominence in 1996. Certainly since they started steamrolling clubs in 1998. Interestingly enough, 1998 was also the first year Milwaukee switched (was switched) to the Senior Circuit.
Since the move, the Brew Crew has finished fifth, fifth, third, fourth, sixth, sixth, sixth, third, fourth, second, second, and that last time they were the proud owner of the 2008 NL Wild Card. Their American League days weren't any brighter—the AL version hadn't made the playoffs since 1982.
Last year saw the Brewers' management stumble onto a young core of offensive talent with just enough pitching i.e. Ben Sheets to have a legitimate shot at the postseason. Milwaukee just needed one more genuine arm in the rotation and—to the credit of the powers-that-be—the club grabbed C.C. Sabathia. Of course, it was no secret that this was a first/last hurrah.
There was never any sincere intent to retain the services of the big hefty, I mean lefty. That was cool.
What isn't cool is that nobody mentioned that part of the deal was letting Sheets walk as well. Nobody mentioned that part of the deal was getting...uh, nobody to replace the two aces.
The offense is still there, but look at the rest of the roster and it barely merits discussion:
Projected starting lineup
First base—Prince Fielder
Second base—Rickie Weeks
Third base—Bill Hall
Left field—Ryan Braun
Center field—Mike Cameron
Right field—Corey Hart
Hall is already playing to reputation with what sounds like a serious ankle injury so Mike Lamb or Craig Counsell figures to take reps at the hot corner for the time being. Wunderkind Matt Gamel might sneak into the picture although there doesn't seem to be any reason to rush any more offense to the Show.
Ace—Yovani Gallardo (R)
Second spot—Dave Bush (R)
Third spot—Jeff Suppan (R)
Fourth spot—Braden Looper (R)
Fifth spot—Manny Parra (L)
Um...I'm gonna hold off making the substance of my comments for down below, but I'll just say that's a terrifying rotation and not for good reasons. Looper's already got something biting in his oblique and that's b-b-b-b-bad news for a pitcher so the Brewers will have to dig deeper into a pretty bare cupboard for another starter.
Some sites show lefty Chris Capuana on the roster. Others show Seth McClung. I even spotted Chase Wright. Let's just move on.
Closer—Trevor Hoffman (R)
Set-up—Eric Gagne (R)
Set-up—Jorge Julio (R)
Set-up—David Riske (R)
Set-up—Carlos Villenueva (R)
See what I mean?
Brewer fans have been long suffering and got a little relief last year, a little glimpse of life outside the cave. But now it's back to the chains and shadow puppets for what looks to be eternity.
Sure the offense is amazing, but I'm not gonna sing its praises because that lets the Milwaukee Brewers management off the hook. I have to believe this was their plan all along—yank Sabathia aboard for a desperate run at the World Series and, if it works, wonderful. If not, the suits could hide behind the young bats while the other half of the team headed for greener pastures.
Honestly, look at that pitching staff. And not just the starting rotation—although that's enough to make anyone sick.
So the answer to the aces' exits was Braden Looper? C'mon, really? Braden freakin' Looper to compensate for C.C. and Sheets?
Furthermore, Yovani Gallardo is a young stud with one of the brightest futures in all of baseball. And I'll gladly sign off on anyone called El Chupacabra. But he has 21 total starts in his career and 17 of 'em came in 2007—he missed all of 2008 with a brutal knee injury, he's 23, and you're forcing him into the ace's role.
Dave Bush is a fantastic pitcher. At home. On some days. Jeff Suppan is just good enough to consistently get a job and then make people wonder how he continues to get a job.
Manny Parra? I'd say he'll be around for at least another year or two before he's never heard from again. And until Looper heals up well enough to inflict his unique brand of torture on the home crowd, I have no idea where Milwaukee's gonna look.
Seth McClung cannot be a serious option.
With a starting five like that, it might not matter much that the bullpen is like the Night of the Living Dead Closer. Trevor Hoffman was amazing in San Diego, but his best days are well behind him and his stuff is not suited for the band boxes in the NL Central nor the potent offenses that inhabit those "parks."
Eric Gagne just makes me shake my head. That guy is to pitchers on juice what Barry Bonds was to hitters and yet he just skates. Whatever, he's been a thunderous disaster ever since being dumped from the primary closer's role a couple teams back and I see no reason for a sudden resurrection.
Jorge Julio once closed for somebody right? David Riske was actually a good arm as recently as 2007 so maybe last year's campaign was just a blip and he'll revert to his effective ways.
That would be one arrow in the quiver.
No doubt about it—Milwaukee will put up a lot of runs. Prince Fielder will bomb away and J.J. Hardy will join in the fun. Mike Cameron may strikeout a billion times, but he'll do his share of damage to opposing pitcher as well. Sooner or later, Rickie Weeks WILL become a faster, less powerful version of Brandon Phillips. Corey Hart is one of those neo-physical freaks who can motor despite being built like a linebacker.
Ryan Braun might be the best of the whole bunch. And that's just great.
You don't win 90 games blowing the barn doors off the hinges. The season's too damn long for that. Even the best offenses must win some games despite only scoring three or four runs.
Right now, the Milwaukee Brewers don't have the arms for that. Not even close. As far as I can tell, it's El Chupacabra and pray for rain. And it's a damn shame because those fans deserve better than such nonsense.
Because this could just be the most potent cellar-dweller in recent memory.