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A Few Clouds
Now Back to Baseball
Now that Ryan Braun's status is clear, the defending National League Central Champions can go back to focusing on baseball. Braun beat a historical case with the odds stacked against him and the Brewers and fans couldn't be happier to have their NL MVP for the whole 2012 season.
What do the Brewers do now?
Well, manager Ron Roenicke will be able to fill out his lineup card without having to be too creative in regards to the first five hitters in his batting order.
He will also be able to rely on a very deep outfield, which is now a strength instead of the weakness it would've been without Braun for the first 50 games.
What no one wanted to talk about, had Braun been suspended, was the Brewers giving other NL Central teams a 50 game head start. That's essentially what it would have been for the Reds and the Cardinals. The Brewers would have been the third best team in this division and Cincinnati and St. Louis would've battled it out for first place. But now, it'll certainly be a three team race and Milwaukee heads into spring training as possibly the team to beat in what will be an exciting division race.
I believe the Brewers will win the NL Central again this year. The Reds are certainly talented enough to take the crown away and the addition of SP Matt Latos will very much help that starting rotation.
The Cardinals lost the best hitter in baseball and arguably the best manager as well. Rookie manager Mike Matheny gets SP Adam Wainwright back and replaces Pujols' iron bat with Carlos Beltran's aging body. Losing LaRussa, Pujols and pitching coach Dave Duncan will be a very difficult challenge to overcome, but do not be fooled, the Cardinals will compete in 2012.
But the Cards and Reds do not have the best starting rotation in the Central, the Brewers do. Milwaukee's starting five is back with a full year under their belt together. Barring injury, this should be one of the best rotations in all of baseball.
Look for the front three, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to be even better this year. No team in this division has a front-line staff like this and add lefties Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson to the back end and you have one solid looking staff.
I haven't even mentioned that games will again be shortened to seven innings with Francisco Rodriguez setting up and Jon Axford closing out games for a full season. The only question mark in the bullpen will be the veteran leadership and quality relief appearances that Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins left behind. They'll need relief pitches to step up in a big way to fill those shoes.
The only question I have for this years team, now that Braun has been exonerated, is how well can they replace the offensive void left by the departure of Prince Fielder?
I feel the most important part of this team is the starting rotation, which was left intact. Fielder will be tough to replace, but if you look at the production collectively from the 4 through 7 spots in the lineup, I feel they can come close to replicating last years numbers.
Mat Gamel will get the everyday chance he needs to be successful. I've been a strong supporter of Gamel to play 1B and I think he will surprise a lot of people with the numbers he puts up this year. But in case he struggles the Brewers have the outfielders to be able to move Corey Hart to 1B if need be, however, I do not think this will be necessary.
Here is a potential lineup for the 2012 season:
1. Corey Hart RF
2. Nyger Morgan CF
3. Ryan Braun LF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Rickie Weeks 2B
6. Mat Gamel 1B
7. Alex Gonzalez SS
8. Jonathan Lucroy C
9. Starting Pitcher
This lineup has a lot of potential, but it doesn't need to overachieve because their pitching staff could carry this team to another division crown and right into the playoffs for a consecutive year.
And it doesn't hurt to get the NL MVP back on board for a full season either.