Mike's NL Central Spring Training Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Well baseball fans, the time is finally here! Pitchers and catchers have reported, the rest of the teams have been reporting throughout the week which of course signals the official start of Spring Training! Just as it has every year since the 1890's, spring ball offers fans the chance to see a rough draft of how their teams will play in the season to come. Up-and-comers get tons of hype, struggling veterans get critiqued and off-season acquisitions are examined under a microscope of scrutiny. I love the NFL, I love March Madness, and I love NCAA Bowl Season, but nothing compares to the start of spring training and, subsequently, MLB Opening Day. With my preview of the NL Central, I will provide key off-season moves, strongest and weakest areas of the team, and my prediction of where they'll stand when the World Series wraps up near the end of October.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers go into this season fresh off of their first NL Central title, first NLCS in team history and best finish since representing the AL in the 1982 World Series. To address the elephant in the room, the reversal of Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension has completely turned around the outlook for the 2012 season. Milwaukee fans can rejoice, as losing Fielder and Braun could have been a fatal blow to the Brew Crew this year. 

Key Offseason Moves:
Losing Prince Fielder came as no surprise to the organization or its fans. Top prospect Mat Gamel won't provide the same punch in the lineup that left with Fielder, but the limited time he spent in The Show was fairly promising. By moving him to first base, the Brewers addressed some of the fielding questions surrounding Gamel and have allowed him to focus on his hitting, one of the largest reason the scouts picked him in the first place.

Aramis Ramirez is a solid start at third and comes with a much more consistent bat than Casey McGhee. He produces a good amount of runs and is as big of a gain for the Brewers as he will be a loss for the Cubs. Milwaukee has it's best starter at third since Ryan Braun was still playing in the infield. On the same note, the Brewers were able to pick up a solid relief pitcher, Jose Veras, in trade for McGhee.

Resigning Carlos Gomez and Mr. Tony Plush (Nyjer Morgan to those of you who aren't Brewer fans) to one-year contracts will keep the great team dynamic Milwaukee showed last season rolling. The Brewers were one of the most fun teams to watch last season and with these moves we're assured another with Beast Mode and cream pies. 

While it's not really an offseason move, Ricky Weeks returning to health is a HUGE boost for the Brewers. Weeks has been on fire last few seasons but had freak injuries end each of the last two. If Ricky can come back 100%, the loss of Fielder won't be nearly as damaging. 

Again, not an offseason move, but Ryan Braun's suspension being overturned is possibly the biggest story of the MLB offseason. The reigning NL MVP is the first person to successfully appeal a suspension for suspected PED use and will get to play the entire season thanks to botched handling of his piss test, which only tested 20-1 testosterone levels in the first place because of his prescription medication for herpes. You just can't make this shit up. 

Biggest Strengths:
Honestly I think the Brewers are one of the most well-rounded teams in the league right now. Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf and Narveson provide a great rotation, K-Rod and the rest of the bullpen are solid and let's not forget one of the best closers in the game right now, John Axford, all pitch in to provide a VERY solid pitching corps in Milwaukee. The loss of Fielder's power will hurt them a bit, but adding Aramis Ramirez and getting Ricky Weeks back adds a lot of runs to that lineup over last year's Casey McGhee and Craig Counsell. 

Biggest Weaknesses:
The loss of Fielder will hurt, but lucky for the Brewers they've been one of the top offensive teams in the league for the past few years. Ultimately it is going to be consistency that will determine how well Milwaukee does this season. As long as they don't slump like they did for a time last year, they should be able to walk away with the NL Central title again this year. 

1st Place NL Central,
2nd consecutive NLCS Appearance

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