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2013 Milwaukee Brewers Preview

March 28, 2013

Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers have great uniforms, a great ballpark, and a pretty average baseball team. Nick from the Brewers Bar took time out of his busy cheese-making sausage making beer drinking schedule to answer some of my questions about the northern-most team in the National League Central.

It looks like Corey Hart might be out for at least the first month of the season. Is it safe to say that the 2013 Brewers need a healthy team to compete in the division, or are there some young guys waiting in the wings?

Corey Hart will likely miss all of April and perhaps some of May, but veteran Alex Gonzalez is slated to play first base in his absence, the first time Gonzalez will play anything but shortstop in his major-league career. The Brewers have a top prospect at first base in Hunter Morris, but he had a bad spring and was sent to AAA Nashville to not only hone his game but to play everyday.

Morris put up big numbers in AA Huntsville in 2012 and could be in the majors later this year, depending on how things shake out. The Brewers need a healthy team to compete. Any major injuries would severely stress the thin line of depth at most positions.

I asked a Cardinals blogger a similar question since they also lost their power-hitting first baseman last year, but I imagine Brewers fans were split 50/50 on how they felt about Fielder signing with the Tigers. Now that the Brewers are a year removed from his departure, do you wish he had stayed in Milwaukee or are you glad he left?

Prince Fielder was a great guy to have around: he was the center and heartbeat of the team when he played in Milwaukee and it looked to be a tough proposition to replace his production in the lineup. Nevertheless, the Brewers did just fine without him, even eclipsing several offensive benchmarks in 2012 over 2011.

If I had my choice, Fielder would still be a Brewer, but the franchise proved it didn’t need Fielder, and with the signing of Aramis Ramirez, a third baseman, to bat cleanup, the Brewers have been able to take advantage of the vacancy at first base to rotate other players in that role.

Ryan Braun was cleared of any wrongdoing last season during his PED suspension investigation. Early this year his name popped up in another PED investigation. Is this a case of “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” or is this much ado about nothing?

It’s impossible to verify. There’s a lot of smoke and swirling rumors but very few hard facts. Of course, every Brewers fan hopes it’s much ado about nothing, but there are certainly a lot of crossed fingers in Wisconsin. Braun was the wunderkind for the Brewers and signed long term in Milwaukee. He was our guy, and still is. Certainly, all the PED stuff has damaged his reputation, but people in Milwaukee still support him, especially when there is such little real evidence amid all of the reports.

From an outsider’s perspective, John Axford seems to be the most polarizing player on the Brewers roster. How frustrating is he to watch and what do you expect to see out of him in 2013?

Axford was extremely frustrating in 2012 but the rest of the Brewers bullpen wasn’t much better. I think if he’s a polarizing Brewer it’s only because in 2011 he broke the franchise record for saves in a season (ending up with 46), pitched over 70 innings and had a 1.95 ERA, and then followed that with a very inconsistent-to-awful 2012. Axford’s a fan favorite due to his impressive ability and his great personality and style… he was the 2011 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year award winner, after all.

I expect the Ax Man to be better this season, more stable. He blew nine saves in 2012 after blowing only two in 2011. I think most fans see him reverting back to more traditional form in 2013. Axford stepped up big for the organization when they needed a closer and seemingly came out of nowhere to put up unbelievable numbers in the majors. Unless he falters badly, he has the support of the majority of Brewers fans.

I’m always impressed by the huge crowds the Brewers have attracted the last 5+ years. In fact, they outdrew the Reds — a team that won the division — by almost 500,000 fans last year. And they trailed the mighty Chicago Cubs — WHO SELL OUT EVERY SINGLE GAME — by a mere 50,000 fans. What is it about Miller Park that keeps people coming back for more?

Miller Park is a great place to see a ballgame. Frankly, it’s hard to resist mocking the Reds for their pitiful turnout, especially when they are a great team headed to the playoffs (like in 2012). I visited Great American Ballpark for the first time in 2012, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a great park, and tickets can be had at cheap/reasonable prices. I really don’t understand the apathy of baseball fans there in what is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) baseball towns in the U.S.

CHRIS SABO’S GOGGLES SIDE NOTE: I don’t understand it either.

In Milwaukee, the fan support has always been there, going back to the pre-major league days of the American Association Brewers. Fans were rabid about the Braves when they arrived from Boston; in 1953, the Braves finished 92-62 in their first season in Brew City and drew a then NL-record 1.8 million fans. The Brewers haven’t been very competitive for most of their existence, but Milwaukee is a phenomenal baseball town and when the team shows signs of actual competence, the fans are there in droves.

In addition, Miller Park has an incredible atmosphere to it with the massive tailgating scene and the wonderful traditions of Brewers baseball (the sausage race, lots of beer drinking, Bob Uecker, etc). The retractable roof guarantees a game will be played. I think the attendance and support Milwaukee’s team receives speaks volumes about how much people in Wisconsin care about baseball.

Hey, remember when the Houston Astros used to be in our division?

Yeah, I remember that…that was weird, wasn’t it? It is a bit crazy that the Astros, a NL team for 50 years, are now in the AL. I wrote a piece for The Brewers Bar in January in which I examined this historic move. The Astros become only the second team in MLB history to switch leagues (the Brewers were the first). In my opinion, Brewers fans are the only ones, as a result, who have a notion of what Astros fans are experiencing.

I feel bad for Astros fans, especially those who hate AL-style baseball. They often blame Bud Selig, and by extension the Brewers, for the fate of their franchise, but ultimately the franchise was just in a vulnerable position at a time when baseball was looking to move to a 15-15 league split. Personally, I think it will be fun to have interleague play occur more organically this year. Some of the interleague matchups and the timing of those matchups (especially on Opening Day) will be jarring, but I like that interleague play will not just be a clump of games that disrupts the flow of the season.

In total, I think most teams play only a few more total interleague games each than they did prior to 2013. For the Astros, it’s a whole new world. The team is in the midst of a major rebuild, which suits the franchise in this time of upheaval. At least they have those sweet new uniforms.

Your prediction for the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers?

Prior to signing Kyle Lohse, I had the Brewers at around .500. Most ‘experts’ and pundits see the team in third place in the NL Central, or worse. While the Brewers need some things to go their way, I think St. Louis is more vulnerable than a lot of people think.

The Reds are going to be a force and will probably win the division. It’s fine that the Brewers are back in their typical place: under the radar. But I think most fans of NL Central teams would agree with me in that the Brewers have the talent to do some damage in the division this year. They may falter, but the flip side is they could make some serious noise with their robust offense and an improved bullpen. The rotation is going to be where the team sinks or swims.

To all Reds fans: Good luck in 2013; it will be fun to share a baseball season once again with Cincinnati’s great fans and baseball traditions.

Thanks to Nick for representing the Brewers Bar. You can bookmark them at www.thebrewersbar.com and/or follow them on Twitter @TheBrewersBar. I hope to hear from them throughout the season. But not after.  I have no desire to talk to them after the season is over.

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