With the Bucs starting a series against the Brewers tonight, I talked to Tyler from the Brewers blog Right Field Bleachers. Thanks to Tyler, who also writes for Bugs & Cranks, for his insight. I answered some questions for RFB also, and I imagine those will be posted later today.
BUCS DUGOUT: The Brewers are a very good bet to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Are fans planting playoff tickets, or is there a lingering feeling that the Brewers will find a way to blow this?
RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS: I think fans believe a playoff berth is definitely possible, if not probable. But I know many (myself included) who aren't taking it for granted. The team has played well three of the last four seasons, but managed to implode late. Nedward Yost is ensured a winning August, which is a rare feat for him. Long story short, I think when a team is finally successful, you hear/read more people mentioning the playoffs, but I feel a slight lead in the Wild Card and a lot of baseball left to play make many apprehensive on the matter.
BUCS DUGOUT: Will Ryan Braun, who's had trouble with his back, play this series?
RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS: I think so. His back injury, which also kind of spills over into his ribs, looks to be a nagging thing that he'll have to deal with for the rest of the season. I think he's likely to at least start Friday or Saturday, and will leave if necessary. Luckily, Gabe Kapler has stepped in and played well throughout Braun's absence.
BUCS DUGOUT: Have you been happy with Rickie Weeks' improvement throughout the year? What does he need to do better?
RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS: In all honesty, I have not been happy with Rickie Weeks' season. Sure, it's better than every other season, but fans were essentially promised the Second Coming, and though it's not his fault he was over-hyped, he's disappointed both on the field and at the dish. He's improved his on-base percentage with walks and a fair number of HBPs, but he's a leadoff hitter who can't hit for average and a second baseman who can't complete a double play with any consistency. He's probably having his best season ever, but I'd venture a guess that most fans still aren't happy with his play.
BUCS DUGOUT: How does this year's team defense compared to last year's? How have the fortunes of Milwaukee's pitchers been affected?
RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS: I have no stat to back this up, but it seems the defense as a whole has been great this season. Mike Cameron is a vast upgrade from last season, and one thing about starting Craig Counsell so much is his solid glove. Braun is a much better fit in the outfield than at third, too. It's nice to look at the 2008 lineup and (excluding Weeks) not worry about balls being hit to anyone. Obviously, the pitching has benefited from this too. But Ben Sheets staying off the DL, Manny Parra's immediate impact and CC Sabathia being just unreal has something to do with the improved defense too.
BUCS DUGOUT: Given the likely losses of Sabathia and Sheets to free agency, how do you like the Brewers' chances next year?
RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS: You're right to say Sheets and Sabathia are probably going to sign elsewhere. A lot of fans and blogs mention the possibility of convincing them to stay for much less money because the organization and city have been so good to them, but I see it as improbable for Milwaukee to ink even one of these pitchers. Nobody in the lineup will leave next year, except maybe Cameron, who has a $10 million club option. The starting pitchers are the primary concern. Yovani Gallardo will come back to be the staff ace, Parra is a great young arm too, and Jeff Suppan is under contract for two more underwhelming seasons. I'd say the club lacks one solid starter, and has nothing immediate waiting in the wings. If they can make a deal (one of JJ Hardy or Weeks) for a solid hurler, I could see another good season for Milwaukee. But the NL Central is a strange beast. One day things are great, the next you're in fifth or sixth. In all, I think Milwaukee has gone all in for 2008 and will have less promise next season - but not by much.