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Around The League: The Brewers Bar Q&A Part II

In the second installment of my Q&A with Jaymes Langrehr of The Brewers Bar we spoke about Ryan Braun’s shocking failed PED test, Prince Fielders future in Milwaukee, and of course everyones favorite ex-Nationals, Tony Plush aka Nyjer Morgan. In case you missed it, here is Part I.

TNB: What was the reaction from the Brewers fan base towards NL MVP Ryan Braun’s failed PED test?

The Brewers Bar: I think the first thing was shock (he’d be the last guy you would expect to use anything), then it was anger (either from those that have a moral objection to using PEDs, or those that were just upset he put the team in a bad situation). Thankfully, it appears like most of the fanbase is being rational about the situation and is willing to let the process play out before making any kind of judgment.

As time has gone on, I think a lot of the anger has turned to MLB for letting this leak out before an appeal was heard and to ESPN for their initial report that used the phrase “PED” even though nobody knows what the banned substance was. Even if he didn’t take a PED, though, his odds of avoiding a suspension don’t look good. The system is built to protect itself, and in the eyes of baseball, a positive test is a positive test, whether it’s for steroids or a prescription medication. Brewers fans know that better than most after Mike Cameron was suspended for 25 games in 2008 for taking migraine meds.

TNB: Assuming Prince Fielder will not be back, how does the team plan to address his huge contribution to the lineup?

The Brewers Bar: It’d be impossible to replace Fielder’s production with one player, so the Brewers have gone the route of trying to replace his value with several pieces. Losing Fielder’s bat will obviously hurt the most, but the recouped quite a bit of that value by signing Aramis Ramirez. It looks like Mat Gamel will get first crack at first base, and on paper you have to figure the combo of Ramirez and Gamel would at least be as good as last year’s 1B/3B combo of Fielder and Casey McGehee.

What they haven’t replaced in offensive value, they’ve tried to improve in defense. Fielder has gotten a bit better defensively since an atrocious year with the  glove in 2008, but was still below average. Gamel is athletic enough to be a decent defender at first (his defensive problems at third were always with footwork and throwing, not with getting to the baseball), Ramirez is okay at third but maybe a slight downgrade from McGehee, and Alex Gonzalez is lightyears ahead of where Yuniesky Betancourt was at short last year.

The Brewers will still be able to hit (once they get Braun back, the lineup could  go Weeks-Morgan-Braun-Ramirez-Hart-Gamel-Gonzalez-Lucroy), but it looks like more emphasis will be put on defense and pitching than on home runs.

TNB: Nationals fans have their own opinions about Nyjer Morgan, give us the perspective from the Brewers side of how he won you over.

The Brewers Bar: Milwaukee has a history of loving odd characters, going back to the early-80s teams that would openly drink and smoke in the dugout. He won Milwaukee over very early, and he seemed thrilled to be a part of a team that expected to win. Of course, hitting .300 probably helped some people accept him a bit more than they would have, but that’s the case with anyone.

Of course, he had a few run-ins last year, but for the most part it appeared that Ron Roenicke was able to reign him in more than previous managers. I think winning played a big part in him playing nice for much of the year, as did Roenicke putting him in situations to succeed. Morgan almost never faced left-handed pitching, and his steal attempts were kept under control as he was hitting ahead of Braun and Fielder — both of those went a long way in keeping him effective.

I personally loved his post-game interviews after a big game, but I can see how the act can wear a little thin after a couple years, especially if the “Tony Plush” persona persisted while the team was struggling. To his credit, he became “Tony Hush” for awhile in 2011 while he and the Brewers were scuffling, and he made it a policy to not talk to the media if he didn’t play that day.

TNB: Where would you rank the Brewers rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, and Shaun Marcum among the National League?

The Brewers Bar: I really think they’re being overlooked, despite being one of the better rotations in the league last season. Once Greinke shook the rust off from missing the first month or so of the season, he was just as good as expected (although he did give up a ton of home runs). Marcum was the team’s best pitcher for the first couple of months, but looked like he just ran out of gas by September, leading to a rough last month and postseason (don’t get Milwaukee talk radio started on the decision to start him in Game 6 of the NLCS). Yovani Gallardo is coming off his third straight 200-strikeout season (the only Brewers pitcher to ever accomplish that feat) and managed to cut down the walks last year. Randy Wolf is probably overpaid, but is a solid enough #4 starter in the NL. You could even throw in Chris Narveson, who has had a couple very solid seasons as a #5 guy.

The 1-2 punch of Gallardo and Greinke isn’t Halladay-Lee, but there won’t be many better. Overall, the Brewers’ rotation may not have the upside of the new-look Nats rotation, either, but the floor is probably higher. In the NL, I’d be tempted to slot the Brewers in the top 5, with Philly, Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Last year’s division title was just as much about the pitchiing as it was about Braun and Fielder.

TNB: What are the expectations for the NL Central Champs? Is another division title out of the question?

The Brewers Bar: It seems like a lot of national voices are counting the Brewers out already with Fielder gone and Braun most likely suspended, but there are a lot of returning pieces from last year’s 96-win team. Even if the Brewers are without Braun for the first 50 games of the season, it shouldn’t be a death sentence for their playoff hopes. The NL Central is probably going to be one of the most wide-open divisions in baseball, and if the Brewers can go 25-25 without Braun, they should still be within striking distance when he gets back. They’ll have the pitching to win low-scoring games if the offense struggles to start the year, and assuming the team doesn’t trade Francisco Rodriguez, leads after the 7th inning should be reasonably safe.

It would be unreasonable to expect 95+ wins again and a division title, but there’s no reason why they can’t be competitive again.