Kyle Lobner of Brew Crew Ball was kind enough to answer some questions from me on the upcoming series against Milwaukee. Ol' Pete, feel free to answer them as well in the comments.
1) The Brewers were my personal pick to take the NL Central this season. After the trades for Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke, many people called this approach the "stars and scrubs" approach. What do you think this team's ceiling is and what are the chances that it reaches that potential?
KL: Because of the stars you mentioned and a handful of others, this Brewer team's ceiling is very high. With no injuries and minimal bad luck, we're probably talking about a team that could win 90+ games. But if things start to go wrong, it's also easy to envision things snowballing. The Brewers have done a nice job minimizing the damage while Zack Greinke and Corey Hart have been out this April, but I don't think anyone really wants to think about what could happen if they're forced to rely on the likes of Marco Estrada and Mark Kotsay all season.
Depth could be this team's issue all season: Guys like Kotsay, Erick Almonte and Wil Nieves are still on the roster, and might be among the worst players in baseball. The Brewers will be in trouble if they end up playing key roles.
2) That sweep by the Reds to open the season had to hurt, but it seems like the Brewers have been playing much more consistently lately. What's been the key to the team's success recently?
KL: I can't explain it, but the Reds have owned the Brewers in recent years. They've won 18 of the last 21 meetings between the two teams, including all three this season. The Cincinnati series was a perfect example of everything that can go wrong for this Brewer team: They had a game where John Axford couldn't convert a save, a game where the defense and some poor pitching led to an implosion, and a game where they were given an opportunity to come back but couldn't put together enough offense.
The Brewer lineup has been constructed to rely heavily on the top of the order. On most days, they'll have at least a couple of near-automatic outs (Carlos Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Mark Kotsay et al) in there, so if the likes of Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun aren't having a good day, there's not a lot of hope for this offense. Even when the big bats are connecting, the bottom of the order is producing enough outs to keep the team from putting up any really big games.
3) What's going on with Corey Hart? How has his absence affected the team?
KL: Hart's been out since the early days of spring training with an oblique strain, and he's still not quite ready to come back. He did start a rehab assignment in AAA this week, but he likely needs 10 days to two weeks to make up for the fact that he never really faced live pitching this spring.
Hart isn't the Brewers' best hitter, but his absence has left a gaping hole in the lineup. The Brewers have had a very hard time finding capable players to take his place either offensively or defensively, and the stability that will come with having him back will definitely be welcome.
4) With Carlos Gomez struggling after he returns to the starting lineup, and with Nyjer Morgan going crazy there when he was the starter, has there been any sort of movement for Morgan to take a bigger role? Or is Gomez' defense too good to keep on the bench?
KL: You hit the nail on the head with Gomez: His offense has been woeful at times this season, but his defense is good enough to give him some value. There's definitely a large portion of Brewer fans that think Nyjer Morgan should take over most of his playing time, but Morgan has been out for almost a week now with a deep thigh bruise so it hasn't become an issue.
Once Corey Hart and Morgan are both healthy, I think we'll see a really interesting debate emerge: There won't be much playing time to be had in left or right field, so the Brewers will have to decide how to split playing time in center between Gomez and Morgan.
5) What has the Yuniesky Betancourt Experience been like this season? Is his bad reputation around the stat community deserved?
KL: Betancourt is what he is, and a fair amount of his reputation is earned. His range is very limited defensively, and his arm is strong but wild. At the plate, his discipline is near zero...but he does seem to have the capacity to have a good at bat at times in a key situation.
The Brewers have almost nothing in terms of depth at the position in the organization, so Betancourt will be the man at short unless the front office makes a move to acquire his replacement.