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Dave’s Top Ten reasons why the Brewers COULD win the N.L. Central in ’07

As my evil twin brother, Stu, had mentioned, I am countering his post with my official “Top Ten” reasons why I think the Brewers could win the NL Central this year (or at least win the wild card)…in reverse order from least important to most important: 10. Brian Shouse will be on the roster for the entire season–having a situational left-handed reliever is critical in the late innings of tie or one-run games, and having Shouse available for the entire season (he didn’t join the Crew until May last year)…while only having appeared in 59 games for the Brewers last season, the mere availability of a lefty gives skipper Ned Yost more options for double switches, plus could cause opposing managers to overthink putting in a left-handed pinch-hitter in some situations…sure, not enough to add a dozen wins, but an additional piece that comes into play (Stu would want me to point out that even left-handed batters hit .309 off of Shouse while a Brewer last year…but I’d counter that he fanned 16 lefties versus only walking 6). 9. Vargas (or Bush) as the #5 starter–last year’s rotation became a mess with the injuries to Sheets and Ohka, but for most of the season, the fifth starter was usually a rookie called up from AAA that didn’t fare too well…barring injury, the #5 starter should be set for the season. In Vargas, the Brewers get someone that made 30 starts for the D-Backs last season, a total of 123 K’s to 52 BB’s, and with a 4.12 ERA outside of Chase Field (Stu would point out that the Cards tagged Vargas for 8 ER’s in 3 IP in his lone start against them, but I would counter that Vargas stymied the Pirates in two starts, allowing 4 ER in 12 IP). 8. Corey Hart playing everyday–earlier this week, skipper Ned Yost stated that he did not intend to platoon Hart, meaning Hart will start 145-160 games this season (barring injury), compared to only 87 games last season. Of course, this could go either way (meaning the extra playing time could drag down the output from outfielders…but with all the options available to Yost, this is unlikely). Also encouraging–in the 52 games, 189 AB’s after the All-Star break (and when he was starting), he cranked 9 HR’s…600 AB’s could mean a 27 HR season for Hart. 7. New Coaches–Jim Skaalen, the replacement for last year’s hitting coach Butch Wynegar, will provide a fresh, new look at every hitter’s stance, swing, and even bat selection…and, quite frankly, can only lead to improvement over last year’s anemic offense; and Chris Joyner, the new Strength and Conditioning Specialist, might help us avoid the rash of injuries seen in ’06. 6. Bench strength–having Tony Graffanino fill in for the questionable Corey Koskie, and having Craig Counsell available as a pinch-runner and then fill-in up the middle in late one-run games, increases our chances in winning close games; plus having last year’s starting catch Damian Miller back to catch relief pitchers and give starter Johnny Estrada a rest will be an upgrade over Chad Moeller…and having Gabe Gross available again gives the Brewers another steady pinch-hitting option/defensive replacement off the bench. 5. Bill Hall playing everyday–true, Hall almost played every game last year…but he started the season as a utility man without an everyday starting position…I can’t help but think that Hall coming into Maryvale knowing that he will be the everyday centerfielder provides him with a bit more certainty, a bit more focus, and a whole lot more confidence. Plus the stability of having his bat in a set position in the lineup everyday will help the entire offense and give everyone a better sense of direction. 4. Jeff Suppan–Suppan essentially replaces Doug Davis in the rotation, resulting in an upgrade of a 4.12 ERA vs. Davis’ 4.91 ERA, and 0.36 BB/IP for Suppan vs. Davis’ 0.50…while Suppan’s 5.36 ERA on the road last year was poor, it was still better than Davis’ 5.76. But the best reason for increased optimism comes in their post All-Star break stats–Suppan posted a 2.39 ERA in 15 starters after the break, while Davis’ was at 4.87. The added bonus–Suppan knows the Astros and Cubs…but will have to face Pujols this year. 3. The likelihood that Prince Fielder will improve–as a rookie, Fielder’s overall stats did not disappoint anyone–.271 BA, 28 HR’s, 81 RBI’s…and 7 SB’s! But fans will recall that he was erratic–first struggling against the Pirates in the opening series, but recovering to hit .344 in March/April; then dipping to .297 in May, followed by a 20-for-96 run, .208 BA in June, followed by a .303 July, and an August slide to .221, followed by a .239 mark in September/October. His .252 mark in Miller Park should go up in ’07, as could his BB/AB stats: pre-break, Fielder drew 27 BB’s in 328 AB’s; after the break, he drew 32 walks in just 241 AB’s…improving his OBP from .320 pre-break to .381 post break. If Fielder can just reduce the number and/or severity of his slumps, he could morph into a .290/35/100 hitter quite easily. 2. Johnny Estrada–Simply, the Brewers’ did not have a .300 hitter in ’06 (Jenkins and Fielder were the best at .271 among starters)…and Estrada hit over .300 versus both lefties and righties. Putting Estrada in as the #5 hitter will have a domino effect–not only will it mean that pitchers can’t pitch around the clean-up hitter (be it Hall or Fielder), but the Brewers #6 and #7 spots will improve–Jenkins’ .271 mark would have been a slight improvement over Koskie’s .261 mark last year, while Koskie’s .261 mark in the #7 spot is an upgrade over Miller’s .251 mark last season. Plus Estrada caught last year’s NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. 1. The return of Ben Sheets, Rickie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy–injuries to these 3 key players in ’06 were the top factor in the ’06 Brewers sliding to 75 wins from 81 the year before, and, if all three can stay healthy as well as the rest of the team, a division title is very possible. Sheets only made 17 starts in ’06–and managed to win 6 of those; J.J. only played in 35 games, while Weeks played in 95. Having Sheets’ for 30 starts should easily translate into 4-5 additional victories, while having college phenom Weeks’ expand his .279 BA, 19 SB’s and 8 HR’s in 95 games across 155 games will result in more runs and more wins. Well, folks, those are the top reasons that I am optimistic that the 2007 Brewers will return to the postseason…please feel free to add any or to fire away…thanks, David Hannes Copyright 2007