Where They Stand: Milwaukee Brewers | Sharapova's Thigh

Will 23-year-old Yovani Gallardo be able to handle being the ace of Milwaukee's staff!

Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the Milwaukee Brewers.

2008 Outcome: 90-72, 7.5 Games Behind The Cubs In The NL Central. Won The NL Wild Card and lost to the Phillies in the NLDS.

What They've Lost: SP CC Sabathia(Signed With Yankees), SP Ben Sheets(Free Agent), 2B Ray Durham(Free Agent), RP Salomon Torres(Retired), RP Brian Shouse(Signed With Rays), RP Eric Gagne(Released), 3B Russell Branyan(Signed With Mariners), OF Gabe Kapler(Signed With Rays), 3B Mike Lamb(Released), 3B Joe Dillion(Designated For Assignment), RP Derrick Turnbow(Signed With Rangers).

What They've Added: Signed RP Trevor Hoffman(1 Year, $6 Million), Signed SP Braden Looper(1 Year, $4.75 Million), Acquired RP Chase Wright(From Yankees), Signed RP R.J. Swindle(1 Year, 400K), Claimed P Nick Green Off Waivers(From Angels), Claimed RP Wes Littleton Off Waivers(From Red Sox), Claimed 3B Casey McGehee Off Waivers(From Cubs), Signed 1B Scott Thorman(Minor League Deal).

Needs: Starting pitching, another reliable reliever, a true leadoff hitter, everyday 3rd baseman, and a better on-base percentage.

The Talk: When the Brewers acquired CC Sabathia from the Indians last July, most believed he was a rental for three months, and that ended up being the case as he signed a 7-year deal worth $161 million with the Yankees this offseason. They also had to give up top prospect Matt LaPorta in the deal, but Sabathia ended up carrying the Brewers to their first playoff appearance since 1982, so you can't really argue with the decision-making. It's a major loss though.

They also lost veteran right-hander Ben Sheets, who is currently dealing with an elbow injury and that's certainly not a surprise. While he's a terrific pitcher, he's spent a ton of time on the disabled list in his career. That, along with the price tag it was figured he would require made the Brewers decide to move on. Currently he's still a free agent as there's not many teams lining up for a pitcher getting elbow surgery that likely won't be ready until after the All-Star break, if at all in the 2009 season.

It's going to be impossible to replace CC, but the Brewers believe 23-year-old Yovani Gallardo will be a fine replacement for Ben Sheets, and a star in time. The right-hander will be the staff's ace, and that's certainly a lot to ask of a 23-year-old, but he's very confident and seems up to the task. Remember, he started game one of the NLDS last September, throwing 4 innings with no earned runs against the Phillies who of course went on to win the World Series. What made that so incredible was that he tore his ACL on May 1st and everybody figured his season was over. Gallardo locates his 92-95 mph fastball very well and has a superb curveball.

After Gallardo, the Brewers have four solid, but certainly not great starting pitchers. They signed Braden Looper who had been a member of the rival Cardinals for the previous three seasons. He won 12 games each of the last two seasons, with an ERA of 4.94 in 2007 and 4.16 in 2008. He's been bothered by an oblique strain though this spring and gave up six runs in two innings last Thursday.

Dave Bush will provide similar overall results, likely winning 10 games and have an ERA in the 4's. However, he's pretty much an ace at home, and absolutely awful on the road. In his three seasons as a Brewer, he is 23-14, with a 3.75 ERA at home. Pretty darn good. On the road, not so much: 10-17, 5.57 ERA.

34-year-old Jeff Suppan is on the decline. His ERA has worsened each of the last three seasons, getting up to 4.96 in 2008. He allowed a whopping 30 home runs in 177.2 innings pitched in 2008, compared to 17 longballs in 2007 over 206.2 innings pitched. His 4.56 K/9 in 2008 was the worst of his career. He is an innings-eater though, and has won double-digit games in each of the last seven seasons. If he can do both again, the Brewers will be pleased.

The real wild card in the rotation is Manny Parra. He was one of the best starting pitchers in the National League in the first half of 2008, going 8-2 with a 3.78 ERA. In the second half though, he fell apart. He went 2-6 with a 5.32 ERA and allowed a batting average of .299, compared to .262 in the first half. He's just 26 and has great stuff, but nobody really knows what to expect out of him this year.

As for the bullpen, Eric Gagne was a monumental disappointment in 2008 and is no longer with the team. He started the season as the closer and was soon replaced by Salomon Torres, who had 28 saves and a 3.49 ERA. He chose to retire so the Brewers had to find another replacement at closer. They found one with quite a track record in Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman, 41, had an ERA of 3.77 and 30 saves in 2008. He can still get it done, even with a mid 80s fastball due to his devastating change up. However, he will start the season on the disabled list with a strained right oblique muscle. He'll be eligible to return after the fourth game of the season, but it's unknown if he'll be ready then. Carlos Villanueva will replace him for the time being.

Villanueva will be the primary setup man when Hoffman's back, and Seth McClung will likely be the 7th inning guy. He's always had a great arm but had no idea where his pitches were going until last year when he really improved his command of his 95 mph+ fastball in particular. He's also capable of starting, as he made 12 starts last season.

I was a bit surprised they didn't bring back left-hander Brian Shouse, but they like southpaw Mitch Stetter a lot. He held left-handed hitter to a .158 batting average and .561 OPS last season. Also in the pen will be veteran right-handers David Riske, Todd Coffey, and Jorge Julio.

The lineup is loaded with power, led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Braun is one of the best young hitters in baseball and had an unbelievable rookie season in 2007. However, his batting average that year was .324 and dropped to .285 in his sophomore campaign. His on-base percentage also dropped significantly, from .370 to .335. He still hit for a ton of power as shown by his 37 homers and had a great overall season, but the Brewers would like to see him being the terrific overall hitter he was in 2007. He really struggles laying off sliders out of the strike zone and National League pitchers fed him those last season.

Prince had a similar situation: solid 2008 season, but not nearly as good as his 2007 season. The 24-year-old hit 50 homers and had a 1.013 OPS in 2007, but then 34 homers with an .879 OPS in 2008. If they're going to compete in this division, he needs to be more like his 2007 self.

Corey Hart and JJ Hardy are both very solid young hitters themselves, and fall under the radar a bit with Braun and Fielder on the team. Both should be good for 20+ homers and 80+ RBI this season.

I think the loss of Ray Durham could be a pretty big deal. He's a solid switch-hitting leadoff hitter that will hit over .280 and get on base at a .360+ clip. With all of the power on this team, a leadoff hitter like that is going to score a ton of runs. Instead, Rickie Weeks will be the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter. He hit .234 in 2007 and .235 in 2008. He will take a walk though, so if he can improve on that batting average a bit they could be okay here. He's also incredibly talented as you'd expect out of the #2 overall player taken in a draft, and maybe he puts it all together soon.

36-year-old Mike Cameron will be the centerfielder it appears. There's been trade rumors, but the Brewers seem intent on keeping him as they're not fully confident in Tony Gwynn Jr. Cameron can still hit the longball, as he hit 25 of them in 444 at bats last season. He'll also strike out over 150 times and that's something the Brewers could do without.

Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: There's been rumors of Jake Peavy to the Brewers. That would knock out two birds with one stone, as it would give the Brewers a legitimate veteran ace and take the pressure of Yovani Gallardo, as well as prevent the team they're chasing in the Chciago Cubs to acquire him. It seems unlikely and the rumors have quickly been shot down, but it's something to keep in mind at least. It makes sense if they can afford it, which is very questionable as well.

General manager Doug Melvin recently said this:

"We're not talking trade with any team right now."
Link(Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

Young Player To Make 2009 Impact: Mat Gamel.

Gamel will start the season at Triple-A Nashville. He's very similar to Ryan Braun in that he's an outstanding hitter, but is a train wreck at third base and that will possibly cause him to move to the outfield. Just how bad is he at third base? He made 53 errors in 113 games in 2007, for an .828 fielding percentage. Last year he improved to "just" 30 errors in 126 games.

Like I said though, he can definitely hit. He batted .329, with 19 homers, 96 RBI, and a .932 OPS in 572 plate appearances last season at Double-A Huntsville.

It's hard to see where he fits in right now if he can't play third base. The Brewers are loaded at the other corner positions with Braun in left field, Hart in right field, and Fielder at first base. They'll find a way to get his bat into the lineup I think though, probably at some point this year.

2009 Outlook: The CC and Sheets losses are just huge. Although Gallardo is a great talent and is capable of special things, he's still just 23 years old and it's a lot to ask of him to be the guy in the rotation. The rest of the rotation is a question mark. The bullpen should be okay, assuming Hoffman doesn't miss more than the first week or so.

Offensively they'll at least be solid, but have the potential to be much better if Braun, Fielder, and Hart can be more like their 2007 selves. More walks and less strikeouts would be nice with this team, but if those three guys can put up their capable power production they're going to still score a lot of runs.

Baseball Prospectus predicts they win 84 games and finish in second place, 11 games behind the Cubs. I think that's an optimistic record really. This team might not win 84 without CC in the second half, and Sheets was terrific as well. I don't know, I just see this team as being .500 or so most likely because I can't assume all of those hitters revert to their 2007 form, and that Gallardo will pitch like an ace just yet.

Hottest Thigh Association: Meghan Coffey.

Yeah so guess what? I couldn't find a thigh! So I found a girl that has absolutely nothing to do with the Milwaukee Brewers to my knowledge, but she's hot and from Wisconsin dammit! Meghan Coffey... 2006 Miss Wisconsin and in the 2007 Miss America Pageant. Maybe she's a Brewers fan, but you don't really care do you? Just admire her thigh.

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