What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
Looking at this picture has caused me great physical pain since October 16, 2011. This was my ticket for Game 7 of the 2011 NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukeee Brewers at Miller Park. I had the opportunity to buy a ticket to Game 6 but I figured if I was going to see the team that I used to make a three hour roundtrip to work for go down, it would be in an epic Game 7.
As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a time when looking at this ticket will cause me anything but physical pain, a dream dashed in an instant by one of the greatest players ever on one of the flukiest World Series champions ever. But that doesn’t mean the dream of a championship in the Cream City is dead in 2012.
The Brewers came so agonizingly close to realizing a dream that seemed so far away when I was working for the team from 2003 until 2006, with a mediocre team playing before crowds that were less than half of what they are today. Everything seemingly fell into place this season. The pitching, the offense, Tony Plush…all the pieces of the puzzle were there and then Pujols did what Pujols did, and suddenly…suddenly we woke up and realized we were in a job we hated, a marriage that had gone stale and the past few months were little more than a blissful escape from an otherwise dreary existence.
Ryan Braun was suspended for the first 50 games of 2012 due to a positive drug test. Prince Fielder went and signed for more money than God with the Tigers. The heart of the offense suddenly went from the MVP and the guy who could’ve been MVP to the aging Aramis Ramirez and the unproven Mat Gamel. Even if Braun does win his appeal — and there is some speculation that he might — it’s going to be hard to replace what Fielder brought to the ballpark every day, both in terms of excitement and in lineup protection.
So what’s it going to take for the Brewers to win it all this season and make people forget about the disappointing end to the Packers’ 2011 season? Because, let’s face it, the fact that the Brewers were front page news in Wisconsin sports in October with the Packers playing as well as they were is a bit of a minor upset. But the good news is, aside from the loss of Fielder, this team is in fairly good shape heading into 2012.
Shaun Marcum needs to forget the 2011 postseason ever happened. Marcum is not a bad pitcher, not with a lifetime record of 50-32, 3.77 ERA. But he was God Freaking Awful in the 2011 postseason, posting a line of 0-3, 14.90 ERA while allowing 16 ER in 9.2 innings spread over three starts. If the Brewers are going to do anything of consequence whatsoever in 2012, they’re going to need him to be the guy who posted a 1.16 WHIP in the regular season and not the guy who completely unraveled under the bright lights of the postseason.
Offensively, the team is going to need Ramirez to repeat his stellar 2011, in which he batted .306 with 26 HR and 93 RBI for a Cubs team that could charitably be described as “mediocre”. He’s not Fielder and he doesn’t necessarily have to be if Gamel lives up to the hype and Braun can shake off whatever cobwebs come with his 50-game suspension if his appeal proves to be unsuccessful. They’re also going to need to see improved defense from Nyjer Morgan and whoever winds up as the team’s starting shortstop.
The Brewers are fortunate enough to have one of the best bullpens in the entire league, something that may well make them the odds on favorite to repeat in the NL Central now that the Cardinals have replaced Pujols with an aging Carlos Beltran, the Reds are still trying to find their footing and everyone else seems to have…well given up for lack of a better term. Francisco Rodriguez is back for his first full season as the team’s ace 8th inning man, setting the table for closer John Axford, who has proven himself to be as reliable as just about anyone at the back end of games. Losing Takashi Saito will hurt, but then again this organization does have a habit of finding guys who turn out to be pleasant surprises and exceed expectations at the back end of the bullpen.
So could we see a World Series in Milwaukee this year? While my heart, as a former racing sausage, would love to say yes…it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen. Someone is going to have to fill the void left by Prince Fielder. The team still has a gaping hole at shortstop. Marcum has a lot to prove after a 2011 postseason that didn’t live up to anybody’s expectations. That being said, stranger things have in fact happened…