In this inaugural year of the post- Fielder era there have been a rash of interesting storylines develop during the offseason. Between the Braun Debacle, Corey Hart’s knee, and Zack Greinke’s contract situation there is much more to Friday’s opening day at Miller Park than the Brewers taking on the rival Cardinals. Opening Day signals the beginning of the future for the entire Brewer organization.
With that in mind I present to all five of my readers my list of the five most important Brewers going forward.
•Ryan Braun: Now that the Prince of Beer City has jumped to Detroit, Braun will take his place atop Milwaukee’s throne. But as loved as he is in Brewer Nation he is hated just as much everywhere else. Nowhere will that be as evident as when the Brewers travel to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers.
As good as the Dodgers were on the field last season it was nullified by the financial mess that former owner Frank McCourt put them in. The two bright spots that Dodger fans were able to rally behind were the performances of NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp who finished behind Braun in MVP voting. In the minds of Dodger fans Braun stole the MVP from Kemp and did it while using a banned substance.
Whenever the Brewers are on the road this season Braun is sure to catch hell from all angles. The worst thing he can do is have a down year. We all know he is capable of denying everything vehemently with his words, but in order to be totally vindicated he needs to keep performing like an MVP and show the doubters that it’s all him.
Especially now that the Brewers gave him the big contract last season he needs to prove he is worth the money and continue to lead the team as they move forward.
•Rickie Weeks: When Weeks is on the field he is the most dangerous leadoff man in the game and an elite second baseman. His only problem is staying on the field. As effective as Weeks has been throughout his career, he has been hindered by injuries on multiple occasions.
The fact that Weeks says his ankle isn’t back to 100 percent isn’t as big of a deal as people think. After a major high ankle sprain like he suffered last season his ankle won’t ever be full go again. It’s not career threatening, it’s just the nature of that ligament. It’s going to get sore frequently and it will hurt down the road, but he will be able to play on it.
As long as Weeks can stay healthy he has proven to be a consistent producer and at this point there’s no reason to believe otherwise. He will also be looked to as a leader in the clubhouse. As one of the most tenured Brewers on the team he will be in the same position as Braun in terms of being a face of the franchise.
•Yovani Gallardo/Zack Greinke: Coming into last season baseball analysts much more intelligent than myself were ranking the Brewers starting rotation up there with the Phillies and Giants as one of the best in the entire league. As the anchors of the starting rotation Gallardo and Greinke will need to be on top of their games, especially now that all signs point to a dip in offensive output.
And with the effectiveness of veteran Shaun Marcum still in question it puts even more pressure on the duo to perform well.
As anyone who has read anything about Greinke knows, the Brewers 1.A. starter is not a public person whatsoever. That’s reaffirmed by the fact that he has been very tight lipped about his current contract situation. That leads me to believe he won’t let it affect his pitching. Of course I’ve been wrong before.
For the second straight season manager Ron Roenicke has given Gallardo the nod for Opening Day, and rightfully so. He has been nothing short of a stud for the Brewers since he was brought up to the big club and he deserves to be recognized as such.
•Aramis Ramirez: Based on the resume that the Brewers’ most high profile offseason acquisition has turned in, Ramirez is almost a lock to have a solid season at the plate and will make up for some of the drop in offense in the wake of Fielder’s departure. Ramirez also brings some veteran leadership to the club, lightening the burden for Braun and Weeks.
He will also do a fine job at third. With the addition of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, the left side of the infield looks to be wildly better than it was last season.
Maybe the best thing about having Ramirez at third is the idea that it might piss off a few Cubs fans. As our biggest division rival, at least from the standpoint of fans, any opportunity to rattle the cages on the North Side is a welcome one.
From what Ramirez has said so far with the organization he seems excited to play at Miller Park. In a post-signing interview Ramirez expressed his eagerness to be able to play in warm weather during the early Spring and late Fall nights. The transition from playing outside at Wrigley and inside at Miller will likely be an easy one for the new Brewer third baseman.
•Jonathan Lucroy: As Milwaukee’s unsung hero the last two seasons, Lucroy has quietly made a name for himself both among the fans and around the league. Not only is he probably the most underrated catcher in the league, he is also one of the most underrated players period.
He has solidified himself as the starting catcher in Milwaukee, only resting when Randy Wolf pitches due to his bond with backup George Kottaras. In just two seasons he has proven to be the best defensive catcher the Crew has had in quite a while.
He is also an extremely adept hitter. He does not put up great power numbers, but is quite capable of going yard. He hits for a decent average, is very skilled at hitting to the opposite field, and is a solid RBI producer in the back of the lineup.
Last week the Brewers rewarded Lucroy with a four-year extension to his contract, locking him up for what should be a competitive few years for Milwaukee.