Top Ten Keys for the Brewers to make the playoffs (or not)–Part II

The 2008 Milwaukee Brewers open their spring training camp this weekend facing a number of obstacles in their quest for the postseason. I previously identified what I thought who were the top five individual players that would make a difference in whether or not the Brewers make the playoffs or not…more importantly, here are the areas where the team or groups of players need to improve:
5. Re-tooled bullpen needs to be better than the ’07 ‘pen–Ned Yost & Co. will likely start the season with at least 7 relief pitchers in the bullpen…and 5 of them were not in the Brewers’ bullpen at the start of the 2007 campaign. Joining returning relievers Derrick Turnbow and Brian Shouse are Eric Gagne, Salomon Torres, and David Riske, along with one or two converted starters from Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, and Claudio Vargas…and even Seth McClung has a shot.
The bullpen took a lot of heat for the Brewers’ 2007 collapse, so GM Doug Melvin re-tooled it, hoping for better results…and also putting bullpen coach Bill Castro on the hot seat. Castro needs to quickly determine who has what, and when best to use it. Last year, the Brewers’ relief pitchers were 23-32, with a 4.15 ERA, good for 21st in the majors (and 12th in the NL)…but 3 of 4 NL playoff teams were better: the Cubs finished 7th with a 3.76 ERA; the Rockies 12th at 3.85, and Arizona was 13th at 3.95. While having a good bullpen is no guarantee of making the playoffs (the Padres were best in the majors with a 3.01 ERA last year), allowing fewer earned runs will always lead to more wins. Just for giggles, I checked to see if the Brewers’ pen might have been overworked–nope…they were in the middle of the pack, at 16th, in IP, with 511.33.
4. The defense needs to improve–The 2007 Brewers finished tied for 22nd in fielding percentage at .982, the same as the Royals, White Sox, and Nationals. They also finished tied for 6th in most errors committed with 109. The NL Champion Rockies were the best in the majors last year with just 68 errors, while the World Champion Boston Red Sox finished with the third fewest errors at 81. Division champion Chicago wound up with only 94 errors and a .984 fielding percentage. While errors in and of themselves don’t always determine the outcome of a game, over a 162 game season, the more errors a team has the more likely they are going to cost them a game or two. Hopefully, the move of Ryan Braun to the outfield and Bill Hall back to the infield, combined with the addition of Mike Cameron and Jason Kendall will decrease the number of errors for the ’08 Brewers.
3. The ’08 Brewers will need to find a way to hit RHP…especially late in the game–The 2007 Brewers finished 25th in the majors in BA versus RHP at .252, and tied for 26th in OBP at .316. With the right-handed hitting Mike Cameron replacing the left-handed hitting Geoff Jenkins in the line-up, the True Blue Brew Crew is likely to only have one left-handed hitter, Prince Fielder, in the everyday line-up. With a line-up of right-handed batters, Brewers’ hitters will need to find a way to get on base when facing a righty; and, as most relievers in the NL are righties, lefty hitters Craig Counsell, Gabe Gross, and Tony Gwynn, Jr. will see lots of time late in games to help improve in this area.
2. The ’08 Brewers need to do better when they have runners in scoring position
The Brewers hit just .261 with RISP in 2007, tied for 24th in the majors, and well behind the Cubs and Dodgers (tied for 8th with .278), the Mets (11th with .277) and Rockies (tied for 12th at .276). In fact, all 5 NL Central foes did better–the Cardinals hit .274, the Pirates batted .272, the Astros hit .267, and the Reds hit .263. The Crew finished 20th overall in runs scored with RISP at 559–a bit behind the Cubs’ 580 runs (note: these stats from ESPN.com may be a bit off, as I noticed that they are showing that the Brewers only played 159 games in 2007…so either that figure is off, or ESPN is missing a few games worth of data).
1. The #2-#5 starters need to have more quality starts–Last year’s #2-#5 starters–Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano, Claudio Vargas, and Dave Bush went 37-36, with a 4.98 ERA, and averaged just 5.7 IP per start. While 3 of the 4 starters had K/9′s above 6.5 (only Suppan did not), 3 of the 4 had WHIP’s of 1.50 or higher (only Bush did not, but his was still a 1.40). Making Yovani Gallardo a permanent member of the rotation could help, but only time will tell how Gallardo will fare over the course of a full season (Gallardo made 17 starts in ’07, going 9-4 with a 3.74 ERA filling in for Sheets). Carlos Villanueva will very likely join the rotation as the #4 starter, resulting in the need for Suppan to step up, as well as one other pitcher, to improve the back end of the rotation’s performance.
Well, these are the areas that I think Ned Yost and the staff need to focus on. Please let me know what you think.

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