As Major League Baseball celebrates its fourth "Opening Day" in the last two weeks, hope springs eternal --well except for Cubs fans. I'd like to thank Major League Baseball for taking all of the "special-ness" out of Opening Day this year. You had the two official "opening" games in Japan two weeks ago--but those were on at 3:00 in morning here in the US so nobody really paid attention. Then St Louis and Miami played that one game "opener" Wednesday night. And then the "Official Opening Day" games were played at the same time as the opening round of the Masters--forcing sports fans to either switch back and forth all afternoon. Whatever happened to opening on that first Monday in April--so we get baseball all afternoon and the NCAA Championship Game at night? That was a great day!
I find it interesting that the national sports media think the loss of Prince Fielder in free agency will cripple the Brewers this year--yet the loss of Albert Pujols will apparently have no effect on St Louis--as they are the consensus pick to win the National League East this year. The loss of Chris Carpenter for the start of the season apparently won't effect St Louis either. I think the Redbirds will have a much more difficult time scoring runs than the Brew Crew will this season. If you take the production Fielder provided and combine it with the total lack of production the team got from its multitude of third basemen last season--adding Aramis Ramirez at the hot corner and replacing Fielder with Mat Gamel should even things out. St Louis did nothing to replace Pujols' bat or glove.
Speaking of gloves, the Brewer infield should actually catch the ball more often this year. It all starts with Alex Gonzalez at shortstop--who will provide the first solid defense at that position since.......Wow, the Brewers have had some really crappy-fielding shortstops over the years. Of course, with Yuniesky Bettencourt gone, who is going to be the Brewers whipping boy this year? Mat Gamel at frist base will be a defensive upgrade from Fielder as well. Bill Schroeder won't be using the "well at least Prince kept it in front of him" line nearly as much this year.
The key to the Brewers season will once again be their pitching staff. Outside of Zach Greinke's basketball injury at the start of the season, and an occassional tight shoulder or sore elbow, the Brewers rotation was healthy and productive all of last year. Can a franchise that has had every good pitcher it has ever had get seriously hurt avoid the injury bug a second year in a row? Cross your fingers. And which Shawn Marcum will show up this year? The one that battled every game and kept the Crew in it? Or the one that got absolutely bombed in all of his post-season starts? And will K-Rod continue to be happy in the setup role? He has 10-million reasons to be happy--but that's not always the case with him. And will John Axford be the next Rollie Fingers--or the next Derrick Turnbow--great one season, can't throw a strike the rest of his career?
My prediction is that the pitching staff does stay healthy, the defense catches the ball more often than last year and the team avoids their prolonged slumps often enough to win 89-games this season. And that should be enough to edge the Cincinnati Reds by one game for the National League Central title.