5 pressing questions about the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers

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answered by Trenni Kusnierek.

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Can Ben Sheets stay healthy?

Ahhh, Ben Sheets. The Brewers ace who could also be considered the team’s wild card. Sheets is undoubtedly the glue that keeps the Crew together, but can the team keep him together? Sheets has a ‘Humpty Dumpty’ like list of injuries. The most serious of his ailments was the torn lateral muscle behind his right shoulder that ended his 2005 season and nagged him throughout ‘06. Last year Ben was hampered by a groin strain, blister, and hamstring pull. The bottom line, unless you are a soothsayer, no one can predict the health of Ben Sheets. We do know he can play with injury and play well. In 2004, Sheets was bothered by a bulging disc in his back, but managed to post a 2.70 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 34 games and 237 innings pitched. Here’s possibly the most important stat: it’s a contract year for Mr. Sheets, so although you can’t predict how he’ll feel, you know he has extra incentive to go the distance.

How can Bill Hall and Ryan Braun transition to playing new positions as smoothly as possible?

Practice, practice practice. It was painfully obvious last year that the reason Bill Hall slumped at the plate was because he was not completely comfortable in the field. Despite what a lot of players will tell you, the game of baseball is far more than “see the ball, hit the ball”. Baseball is the equivalent of the mental Olympics. If a player is busy thinking about the mistake he made in the field, he’s not concentrating on hitting while at the plate. The best way to remedy that is to feel confident and comfortable on defense and let the offense come. Bill Hall has played in the infield before, so I don’t think there will be a long transition period. I would expect that Hall returns to his 2006 form, or at least much closer to it than he was last year. As for Braun, I realize he struggled at third base even more than Hall did in center field and his plate performance didn’t suffer. I still don’t believe that de-bunks my theory. Braun is a different breed–and not in a bad way. I’ve heard people describe his performance last year as “playing with a chip on his shoulder.” Chip on his shoulder? For what? The fact he was highly touted at Miami and such an offensive powerhouse that the Brewers completely overlooked his defensive deficiencies just to get him in the line up? People, that’s not a chip, that’s confidence and that’s why Ryan Braun moving to left will also be an OK transition. He hated playing third base, but more than that, the kid hates not being the best. He was moved to the outfield because the Brewers didn’t see him as the answer at third. NOW he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, and that will be bad news for anyone with a uniform that doesn’t say Brewers on the front.

When googling the Brewers, the official site comes up first, with a few subheadings listed under the mlb.com entry. Another team, the Chicago Cubs are listed. What does this say about the rivalry with the Cubs? How do Wisconsinites feel when Cubbie Nation invades Miller Park for those games each year, turning the series into essentially “neutral site” contests?
When I was a kid watching the Brewers play in the AL, I hated the Chicago White Sox. The minute the Brewers moved to the NL, the hatred turned to the North-Siders. As a Milwaukee native, I can say without hesitation there has always been an inferiority complex between Brew Town and the Windy City. For as long as I can remember we’ve been the step child to Chicago’s sky scrapers, sports teams, and sophistication. Upon my return to the M–K-E, I have to admit, I’ve found a new attitude in my hometown. Unfortunately, that has not translated to Miller Park during the Cubs series. I was disappointed that so many times I would turn on the TV while living away and hear the roar of the crowd in favor of the Cubs, not the Brewers, in Miller Park. I think my fellow Wisconsinites feel frustration when there are more people root, root, rooting for the Cubbies, but I say to them–look in the mirror. Stop making a quick buck by selling your tickets on Ebay or conceding defeat. Snatch those tickets up, keep them in your possession, and take back Miller Park. If we don’t, we will have no one to blame but a bunch of Brewers fans.

Vegas has the Cubs as the favorite to win the NL this season, (and we all know what happens to the Cubs when they are favored to win) but seriously what must the Brewers do to usurp the Cubbies as division champs?

The same thing every team in the division, including the Cubs, have to do: maintain a solid rotation, consistent hitting, competent defense, and a bullpen that may bend, but never breaks under pressure. The most important thing for the Brewers this year is to learn how to win on the road. They were horrendous away from Miller Park last season, and in the end, those losses really came back to bite them. (Two blown saves in Cincinnati really stick out. Oh, and the home loss to the Phillies where they blew a huge lead.) The bottom line is this. I can tell by the question being posed, the questioner clearly favors the Cubs over the Brewers. I think now would be a good time to remind Cubs fans all over the world that they won the division late in the season and only by two games. Neither club, Cubs or Brewers, made huge moves over the off season. (I’m never sold on Japanese players until they play in real, MLB games.) The race will be neck and neck and should be exciting.

Is Prince Fielder truly ready to carry the load on his very wide shoulders?

Is Prince truly ready? Did you truly pose that question? Prince Fielder is the undisputed leader of the Brewers and he proved it last year. One only needs to look at an incident that took place on May 5th, 2007 in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. One day after Prince Fielder had a homer and four RBIs in Milwaukee’s 10-0 win over Pittsburgh, Pirates reliever Matt Capps buzzed Fielder late in the Saturday, May 6th game. I was at that game reporting on the Pirates side and I saw the reaction of the Brewers dugout. Every man stood up and started to make his way out on the field to defend Prince. Not one Pirate stood up in response. When you have the utmost respect for a friend or teammate, you will back him up regardless of the consequences. Prince has that and more with his teammates.

What should fans expect from new acquisitions Mike Cameron and Jason Kendall?

Leadership. Like I said in my spring preview article, it would be silly to think the Brewers acquired either of these players for their offensive skills. The Brewers need more hitters like I need another pair of designer jeans. In Cameron, you’ll get gold glove caliber defense and in Kendall you’ll get a hard working catcher who knows the nuances of the game like the back of his hand and an invaluable asset to the pitching staff. But at the end of the day, Milwaukee wanted to add a couple of guys who could be a presence in a very young club house for sharing insights on how to handle the pressure of being a contender. And it probably helps that Kendall may be able to share a few secrets on the Cubs after playing for Chicago last
season

Trenni Kusnierek is the sideline reporter and host for Milwaukee Brewers Baseball on FSN Wisconsin.

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  1. I saw Jason Kendall a lot in Pittsburgh and the losing was beating him down. Hopefully this will re dedicate himself to have a great season

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