Brewers Dream Big After Pitching Overhaul
The Brewers acquired Zack Greinke.
"Disbelief," is how Corey Hart described his reaction to the news. "Any time the Brewers outdo the big-market teams, you are always a little shocked."
Randy Wolf, who dropped from being the Brewers No. 2 starter to being the No. 4 starter when the club acquired Greinke and Shaun Marcum, said he was taken off guard -- in a good way -- when it happened.
"The discussion was whatever team loses out on Cliff Lee will try to get Zack Greinke," Wolf said, "so when the Phillies got Cliff Lee, I was wondering 'Who's going to get Greinke?' Then it was the Brewers, out of nowhere. I don't think anyone expected it. It was exciting."
The excitement of that day sparked an anticipation that has been building toward the day when the new Brewers begin the 2011 season, bringing with them the highest expectations since Robin Yount's playing days. This is a team that hasn't had any trouble scoring over the past few years, thanks to an offensive core of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Hart. To add to that, they have undergone the most significant starting pitching upgrade in the majors.
Greinke's talent is well-known, but Marcum may have been somewhat under-the-radar. The 29-year-old right-hander had a 3.39 ERA pitching for the Blue Jays last year. With Greinke, Marcum and the returning Yovanni Gallardo, the Brewers now boast a rotation that includes three of the 30 Opening Day starters from 2010. No other team has more than two.
"I think management and everyone else is going for it," Hart said. "We feel like this is our window and there's no reason not to focus on the next few years and try to do it now. We came in with the best team we've had in no telling how long."
On paper, the Brewers would seem to be one of the top two teams in the NL Central, along with the defending champion Reds. One of the most intriguing storylines to watch with the Brewers will be how Greinke handles his new role. This is a pitcher whose social anxiety disorder is well-chronicled. He's been a No.1 pitcher before, with the Royals, but he has never been a guy expected to lead a team into the playoffs.
That may be why first-year manager Ron Roenicke is already trying not to heap too much responsibility on Greinke's shoulders.
"I don't want to have people think this is our guy, this is going to be the leader of our staff," Roenicke said. "He is going to be one of the leaders of the staff. I don't think it's fair to put it on him, Hey we've got a four-game losing streak, you are the guy that has to stop it. I think it's a good thing to have other good pitchers with him, because they'll push each other."
In fact, Roenicke has not yet named an Opening Day starter. The Brewers played their first exhibition games on Monday, and Greinke did not start. He'll make his debut on Tuesday against the White Sox.
The other issue with Greinke is how he'll assimilate to a new clubhouse.
"He doesn't say much," veteran Mark Kotsay said, "but that's OK, because we've got enough other people in here who say enough."
Added Hart: "He's a quiet guy, but we have a lot of characters and personality in here. It's going to be hard not to be outgoing in this clubhouse."
When Greinke does talk, it is usually in biting one-liners or else short, direct, no-holds-barred honesty. He introduced himself to Wisconsin fans at a team event before the Super Bowl when he picked the Steelers over the Packers.
"It doesn't take long to know what he's about," Roenicke said. "He's totally open. He's not trying to be politically correct. He just says what's on his mind and states facts. I know that. There's no malice in it."
Roenicke admitted there will be some adjustment to learning how to handle the professional communication necessary between a manager and one of his pitchers. He said Greinke has already assured him that he'll be absolutely honest about how he feels.
Marcum, meanwhile, seems to be the exact opposite of Greinke in terms of personality. He is outgoing and talkative.
It's likely the Brewers will be happy to accept whatever Greinke or Marcum do in the clubhouse as long as they each pitch to the standard they've set throughout their careers. The Brewers' starters had a 4.65 ERA in 2010, second-worst in the league. That was actually an improvement from their league-worst 5.37 ERA in 2009.
"You know going in you don't have to score six or seven runs every night now," Hart said. "The last few years probably we put a little extra pressure on ourselves because every run is magnified. Now, you don't have to score six. You might be able to score three and still win a lot of ballgames."