1. The Brewers will come into the series with a record of 15-16. What has gone right and what has gone wrong in 2010?
This team is extremely inconsistent. It feels as though it's either go big, or don't go at all. This is a team that scored 26 runs this past weekend, but only scored one run in the four-game series last weekend. Clearly the Brewers have a lot of offensive power in their lineup, but sometimes it just doesn't show up. There hasn't been a long enough stretch of no scoring for anyone to seriously discuss is as an issue - a 17-run game makes you forget pretty quickly - but at some point the feast or famine offense is going to be an issue, I think.
Pitching is what has gone wrong. His most recent outing aside, Doug Davis has struggled. We had Jeff Suppan in the starting rotation. No one has been able to go deep into games. The bullpen is getting a lot of work which will likely be a problem near the end of the season. Right now we're very heavily relying on the Brewers to use the "we'll just score a lot of run so it doesn't matter how bad our pitching is" theory. That's only going to work for so long.
2. Braves fans know all about Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and how good they are at the plate, but who besides these 2 have contributed the most on offense?
Casey McGehee. He's the best player that no one has heard of. We claimed him off waivers from the Cubs after the 2008 season and that was a total steal. He got a chance to get on the field when some other guys struggled and basically continued to prove he belonged there. He led all rookies in RBI last season and should have been more talked about for ROY. He literally came out of nowhere.
No one knew if last season was a fluke or not, so we're super excited about him hitting .304/.385/.536 with 6 HR and 28 RBI. Adding him to the already potent 3-4 punch of Braun and Fielder has really opened up our lineup.
Also, he has a son, Mack, who is affected by cerebral palsy and he's damn adorable. Last year Mack threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a game and Casey got a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run in that same game.
My favorite Casey moment was a game last season where Casey made an error at third, dropping a really easy pop-up. He made up for it by hitting his first career grand slam in the same game. That's the kind of player Casey is.
3. Yovani Gallardo has been fantastic for the Brewers this year and will likely pitch Wednesday against the Braves. What makes him so good and where would you rank him among the NL's most elite pitchers?
I'm not sure if you can rank Yovani Gallardo as an elite NL pitcher yet. He has the talent but hasn't reached anything near his full potential.
The biggest knock on Gallardo right now is that he's getting high pitch counts early in games and seems to lack the killer instinct. He's a nibbler and it costs him and the team at times. He had a beautiful outing Friday, allowing just two runs and notching 10 K's, but was out of the game after five innings because he was over 100 pitches. In the other two games where he threw 10 or more strikeouts, he lasted five and seven innings. Until he can figure out how to lower his pitch totals, he's going to stay in the "potentially great" category.
What makes him good is that he makes batters miss. He's a strikeout pitcher and a command pitcher. He does not get flustered or show much emotion. His fastball is mid-90s and he's got a better than average curveball.
There's a security factor with Yovanni. The team is comfortable with him on the mound. He just signed a long-term deal, putting him at ease within the organization. Those two factors mean that team's are facing a pretty formidable foe every five days. He's not trying to pitch his way in to anything. He's doing his job and he makes the eight guys behind him confident enough to do there's.
I'd take the Brewers trio.
Though Hanson is clearly the better pitcher right now, I'm convinced we haven't seen all that Gallardo has to offer. Both Hanson and Gallardo are big talents and I think I'd call that one a draw.
Alcides is an above-average fielder and has great foot speed. He's young and makes some stupid throws, but that should settle down and I still think he is an upgrade from J. J. Hardy. He has shown some impatience at the plate and the Brewers would really like to see him settle down and become a true #2 hitter in the batting order. A healthy, productive top 5 of Weeks, Escobar, Braun, Fielder and McGehee would be potent and would include a lot of speed on the bases. While we have yet to see a full season from Alcides, we have no reason to believe he won't improve or that we should be worried about injuries. With Yunel, you've seen struggles and injuries and he's a talent who's true depth you haven't been able to see yet.
While everyone is high on Jason Heyward, I'd take Braun any day of the week and twice on Sunday. In fact, there are few players in the majors that I would take over Ryan Braun. He's as good as advertised and seems to have gotten better each year we've had him. Something changed with clubhouse philosophy and he's been given free reign to steal bases. He's 8-for-8 so far and it's really added another dimension to the offense. What you're getting with Braun, besides the obvious power at the plate, is a clubhouse presence. He doesn't screw around, he doesn't like to lose and he'll say what he's thinking. Last year he made a comment to a reporter about pitching and our GM responded to the media that Braun could become his deputy. The kid is cocky, but it's mostly controlled and funneled on to the field. You need a guy in the clubhouse like that.
5. What would be considered a successful season for the Brewers in 2010?
Realistically, this the Brewers do not have the pitching to be a contender. Though we know that, I think most folks will be disappointed if they're not even in the race come September. With Prince Fielder's free agency looming, there's been a feeling of "now or never" surrounding this team since about mid-season 2008. Fans aren't going to be happy to see all this young, farm-grown talent come together and not see a decent playoff run come out of it. Losing to the Phillies in four games isn't going to cut it for the general public. The Brewers reached 3 million in ticket sales the past two seasons, but likely won't get there this year. If the front office wants to continue to draw crowds, the team has to produce.
However, after some disaster starts and Trevor Hoffman's blown saves, expectations have gone down a bit. It's always a roller-coaster ride with this team - feast or famine. I'm not sure anyone knows what to expect every time they turn on the TV or show up to the park.
I think if the Brewers are within breathing room of the Wild Card as the season winds down, it will appease the fan base for another year.
A big thanks to Nicole for answering these questions. Be sure to check for my answers to her 5 questions over on brewcrewball.com