Our final live show with the Brewers are Spring Training. Today is interesting...as we sit down for a long one-on-one interview with Manager Craig Counsell. The Manager is entering his 4th season on the bench and was candid in talking about his evolution--and the team's earned expectations. The Brewers are coming off a season in which they won 86-games, and weren't eliminated from playoff contention until the season's next to last day. With the off-season additions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, expectations have changed.
The Brewers will enter the season's opening day, not as the favorites...but as contenders. The Brewers will still look up at the division favorite Chicago Cubs...and that's okay. The single biggest separator, will be the resume that accompanies the teams' respective starting rotations. The Cubs will lead with Lester, Quintana, Darvish, Hendricks and Chatwood. On paper and by reputation...that's better than Anderson, Davies, Chacin, ???, ???.
Still, I will not be surprised if the Brewers make a deal before the March 29th opener at San Diego. Again, the likely trade commodity for the crew, comes from the over-crowded outfield. Too many starters for positions--Ryan Braun, Yelich, Cain, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and Brett Phillips. It's almost certain that Phillips will open at AAA. So the biggest question all off-season has been...will the Brewers deal an OF (Santana) for a highly thought of starting pitcher. That question will hover for all of March and maybe beyond.
Ryan Braun's experiment at 1st base is still a work in progress...but even if successful...it just creates another playing time headache for the manager. Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar are already a very good R-L combination at 1st base. It's a problem--if Braun plays an significant time in the infield. It's why I still think a trade is more likely than not.
Without question, the Brewers greatest strength in 2017 was pitching. I believe that may flip a bit in 2018. The aforementioned outfield depth is considerable. Consider the offensive lineup as currently constructed: Yelich, Cain, Braun/Thames, Shaw, Santana, Villar/Sogard, Pina, Arcia. That is as potent an offense as the Brewers have fielded since the departure of Prince Fielder. All that being said, the Brewers and all of baseball will be driven by pitching. Without knowing what to expect in timing or production regarding the return of Jimmy Nelson...the Brewers starting pitching will be a question that can only be answered by playing.
This much we know--the Cubs are the favorite in the division.
We also know that being a favorite also makes you a target...and the Brewers will be targeting both the Cubs and the Cardinals as the teams to beat in the NL Central.
My final takeaway from from 4-days at Spring Training is simple...there is a lot to be excited about with the team getting ready to break camp. Expectations, Craig Counsell told us, are earned. The team will embrace those expectations. As to whether they can live up to them...? That's why they play the games, and games begin March 29th in San Diego.
Questions will be answered.