Braves vs. Brewers Series Preview: The Competition Improves...

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 10: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers is congratulated by teammate Prince Fielder#28 after hitting a three run home run against the Colorado Rockies in the third inning of the spring training baseball game at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Braves will visit the Milwaukee Brewers (and their wonderful domed stadium) for a 4-game series that will kick off Monday afternoon.

Most had high hopes for the Brewers in 2011 and they're one of the better clubs in the National League, but they had a rough first weekend going 0-3 against the Reds. They'll probably be extra motivated to beat us all four times now after facing adversity in Cincinnati. Wonderful.

Instead of the typical preview, we'll be doing something a little different this time. I recently exchanged questions with the Brewers SB Nation blog Brew Crew Ball and lead blogger Kyle Lobner. Here are five questions he answered for us.

1. The Brewers are one of the more well-rounded clubs in the National League. How far do you see this team going as it's constructed now?

The Brewer organization is getting a fair amount of credit (and deservedly so) for turning starting pitching, which was the weakness of the 2010 team, into a strength for 2011. Acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum cost the Brewers a fair amount of young talent, but left them with one of the best starting rotations in franchise history, with all five pitchers under team control for two years or more.

With that said, this team still has some significant concerns. Depth, especially in the starting rotation, is something that could derail this team if things don't go well. Look at April, for example: With Zack Greinke out for a month the Brewers were left with no clear-cut candidate to make the three starts they'll need to fill before he returns. If any member of the rotation is out for a significant amount of time this team could have a very hard time filling the spot.

Defense is also an issue we'll probably discuss a lot. This team is pretty weak defensively all around the infield: Rickie Weeks, who has drawn his share of criticism in the past as well, is probably this team's best defensive infielder among regulars. In the outfield Carlos Gomez covers a lot of ground, but both regular corner outfielders (Ryan Braun and Corey Hart) are also somewhat below average in terms of range. With Corey Hart out, the outfield defense has actually gotten worse with Mark Kotsay out there.

2. Just like the Braves, the Brewers have a new manager in Ron Roenicke. Do you think he's the right man for the job, and how has he been perceived so far in Milwaukee?

When Ron Roenicke was hired to take over for Ken Macha, 2011 projected to be something of a rebuilding year for the Brewers. They hadn't acquired Greinke or Marcum yet, and looked like they were going to trade Prince Fielder and take a step back for a year while looking to the future. Obviously, that's not what happened, and now Roenicke has the interesting task of guiding a potential playoff team as a rookie manager.

The sample size is pretty small thus far but at this point I like Roenicke. He seems to be developing a pretty good rapport with his players, his interviews seem to demonstrate a pretty even keel and a good understanding of what's going on around him, and the fact that he came from a successful organization (the Angels) certainly doesn't hurt.

The things to keep an eye on with Roenicke are substitutions and aggressiveness. Roenicke's style with his bench is significantly different from Ken Macha's: On Saturday he pinch hit for his catcher, which was something Macha avoided like the plague. He's also coaching in the NL for the first time, so it'll be interesting to watch how he handles double switching, bunting, etc, and how he responds to successes or failures following those moves. He also wants to run a lot, and the Brewers have a team with a fair amount of speed.

The rest of our questions after the jump, along with pitching match-ups and more...

3. With a 4-game series, we'll get to see just about every one of each other's starting pitchers. We all know how great Gallardo is, but could you talk a little about the other three projected starters, Chris Narveson, Sergio Mitre, and Shaun Marcum?

Here's the Cliff's Notes version on each guy:

- Chris Narveson in entering his first full season as a member of a major league starting rotation. Scouts aren't typically impressed with his stuff and he may be near the top of his upside, but his career peripheral numbers (career FIP of 4.21, 7.8 K/9, 3.2 B/9) are pretty good and he'll probably be fine at the end of the rotation. Last year he struggled mightily in the first inning (29 ER in 28 starts), so if you're going to beat him the best time to do so is early.

- Sergio Mitre is listed as the probable starter for Tuesday, but he's not a lock to make that start. This is the first time the Brewers will need a fifth starter and it's possible they'll call up Marco Estrada to take the ball. Neither of these guys are exceptionally good pitchers, and the fact that they're in consideration for this spot is a sign of how little rotation depth the Brewers have.

- Shaun Marcum was very good last season for the Blue Jays and probably could have been a fair number of teams' Opening Day starter. There are two things to watch for with him: First, he has one of baseball's best changeups. Second, when he's on he's very accurate and throws a lot of strikes: He walked just two batters per nine in 2010, one of the best averages in baseball. Some shoulder soreness slowed him down this spring and it seemed to show in his first start on Saturday, when he was wild and hit around a bit by the Reds.

4. The Brew Crew have a solid bullpen, but not too many fans across the country know about them. Could you talk a little about your relief pitchers and how they're typically used?

Entering the season the hopes are pretty high for this bullpen, which was relatively solid even under tough conditions (consistently filling 4+ innings per night) in 2010. Here are the names you need to know:

- John Axford opened up the season with a tough blown save, allowing a three run walkoff home run. He throws hard and is occasionally wild, but he's very good when he can locate his breaking pitches.
- I'm guessing Braves fans are familiar with Takashi Saito. He'll likely work the eighth in close games, but probably not on back-to-back days.
- Kameron Loe seemed to get used in every Brewer game in 2010, and somehow his arm hasn't fallen off yet. He's tall and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground.
- Before John Axford took over the role, Zach Braddock had the "closer of the future" label. He throws very hard for a southpaw and held opposing lefties to a .151/.270/.170 line in 2010. The Brewers hope he'll eventually develop into a dominant reliever, not just a LOOGY.

5. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder form one of the more dynamic 3-4 duos in the entire league. Besides those two sluggers, could you tell us a little about your lineup?

The 2011 Brewer lineup projects to be an interesting case study in how far a team can go without much production below #5. With Rickie Weeks, Carlos Gomez (who will eventually be replaced by Corey Hart), Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee at the top of the lineup, the Brewers will get a fair number of runners on base and have a lot of power. Below that, though, they have Yuniesky Betancourt, the RF du jour and the catcher...and there's not much production coming from those spots.

Pitching Match-Ups:

Monday, 2:10 EST:

Brandon Beachy

#37 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-3

215

R

R

Sep 03, 1986

Chris Narveson

#38 / Pitcher / Milwaukee Brewers

6-3

205

L

L

Dec 20, 1981


Tuesday, 8:10 EST: (Hey look! A night game!)

Derek Lowe

#32 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-6

230

R

R

Jun 01, 1973

Yovani Gallardo

#49 / Pitcher / Milwaukee Brewers

6-2

210

R

R

Feb 27, 1986


Wednesday, 8:10 EST: (The Brewers starter is still TBD, but we'll go with Mitre.)

Mike Minor

#36 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-3

210

R

L

Dec 26, 1987

Sergio Mitre

#52 / Pitcher / Milwaukee Brewers

6-3

225

R

R

Feb 16, 1981

Thursday, 1:40 EST:

Tommy Hanson

#48 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-6

220

R

R

Aug 28, 1986

Shaun Marcum

#18 / Pitcher / Milwaukee Brewers

6-0

195

R

R

Dec 14, 1981


Prediction:

These are two of the more talented clubs in the National League. Fortunately for the Braves, we'll miss Zack Greinke in the rotation and Corey Hart won't be in the lineup. The Brewers didn't look real good in Cincinnati, but they're playing at home and Miller Park should be amped up for baseball to be back in Milwaukee. I see the Braves going 2-2 and returning home to Atlanta with a solid 4-3 record on their first road trip of the season.

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