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The NL Central has been one of the most surprising and competitive divisions in the Major Leagues this season. Surprisingly, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the leaders of the pack, but St. Louis, Cincinnati and Milwaukee all have very reasonable chances of taking the division.
Although all of these teams are playing very good baseball and are determined to make it back to the playoffs, there is only one team that seems as though they could be legitimate contenders in the National League.
Milwaukee Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin has put together a balanced team that seems to be one of the few serious contenders to take down the Philadelphia Phillies, who are of course the strong frontrunner to make the World Series.
Though the standings don’t reflect it at the moment, this roster undoubtedly has the talent and camaraderie to make a late summer push.The one thing this Brewers squad has that past one’s didn’t? A reliable rotation.In the playoffs, teams need their aces to go out there and shut down some of the most power packed lineups in the game. This rotation has a few guys that can do that.
The addition of former Royals ace Zack Greinke has made all the difference. Though his ERA is a bit high, sitting up over five this season, all of the rest of the numbers are there. With a low WHIP, high strikeout to walk ratio, and the ability to go deep into games, Greinke has finally snatched the opportunity to be a playoff ace. The post season experience is non-existent for him, but anyone with that good of stuff is bound to find some success.
In adding Greinke at the top of the rotation, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum are able to move to the two and three spots and face some easier competition on the mound. Both pitchers also have low WHIP’s, comparable to the Brewers ace, and have the ability to rack up strikeouts in key situations.
Even Randy Wolf, the veteran journeyman is having a pretty successful season and is able to give Milwaukee some good starts to keep the rest of the starters fresh on a week-to-week basis.
Although Trevor Hoffman, the all-time major league saves leader, is a indeed a tough arm to replace in the bullpen, John Axford has done an admirable job in following up the future hall of fame pitcher. He has quickly become one of the better closers in the National League, and possesses both a cannon for an arm and a curveball which will leave hitters spinning themselves into the ground late in games.
Up until recently this season, Milwaukee’s biggest problem was finding someone to bridge the cap from the starters to the young gun in the ninth. Now, after acquiring Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets, they’ve got that too.
“K-Rod” was not too long ago the most feared closer in the game. In 2008 he set the single season saves record for Anaheim with a whopping 62. After a few up and down years with the Mets, and a gigantic contract, he began to become somewhat of an unnecessary piece for New York, allowing them to move him. Though the Brewers were forced to pay a hefty contract and give up two future prospects, they made a great move for the present, and it could land them atop their division at the end of the year.
The funny thing about how good Milwaukee’s pitching is, is that it’s probably not even the best attribute of their team. For a National League lineup, the Brewers pack a serious punch.
Led by first baseman Prince Fielder, a perennial 40 home-run, 100 RBI guy (at least) and one of the best outfielders in the game, Ryan Braun, the middle of this lineup is sure to wreak havoc on any opposing pitcher.The team had always struggled to put solid role players around these two in the past few years, but as their young talent grows, as does their wins total.
Corey Hart, Nyjer Moragn, and first-time all star Rickie Weeks have provided sparks for Ron Roenicke’s ball-club that he probably didn’t even expect.The biggest problems for these Brewers is their struggles on the road early on in the season, and their uncanny ability to go on long streaks for both wins and losses. Fortunately, their manager has confidence that as the team gel’s and the season comes toward its end, these guys will figure it out.
“They expect to win every day,” Roenicke said, “and that’s really what I appreciate from them.”
That attitude creates the kind of team that makes it deep into the playoffs. Look for a late season win streak from Milwaukee and some serious contention in the National League.