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May 10, 2004

Prospectus Today

Something Brewing in Milwaukee

by Joe Sheehan

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This is my fourth year of having the Extra Innings satellite package. Over the years, I've developed something of a system that determines what my "main" games are in any given time slot. Usually, I'm watching the most interesting pitching or team matchup, or perhaps someone's debut or pursuit of a record. My default if there are no games of note is the Yankee game, and if they aren't playing at a particular time, I could end up focusing on almost any matchup.

Mind you, I do all of this with remote in hand and a scoreboard Web page reloading on my screen so that I can jump to rallies or key moments. It's sometimes hard to believe that a little over a decade ago I was a slave to "Baseball Tonight" and hoping that the New York Daily News had the West Coast box scores. This is really a golden age of sports fandom.

This year, I've been adjusting my personal decision tree. I've found myself watching the Brewers more and more, particularly the latter part of their games, after the 4 p.m. Pacific games come to a close. They're really growing on me. Scott Podsednik is the player people think Darin Erstad is, Ben Sheets is on the brink of a Greg Maddux circa '92 leap, two-way player Brooks Kieschnick, with an OPS nearly 10 times his ERA, is more fun than Jonah Keri on a Boone's Farm binge. Keith Ginter is one of my guys for '04, while the guy he's been starting for over the last week, Junior Spivey, is an underrated second baseman, kind of Ray Durham Lite. Two years ago, I flagged Doug Davis as the pitcher with the best chance to have Jamie Moyer's career, and I root for that every time he takes the mound. Hell, they've even resurrected Ben Grieve!

Win or lose, the Brewers have played some of the most entertaining games in the majors this year. Trailing Randy Johnson 3-2 on April 21, they put up an eight-run seventh inning and won 10-6. The next day, the Diamondbacks extracted revenge, but had to go 15 innings--on the Snakes' travel day!--to do so. Those weren't even the wildest back-to-back games they've played; a two-game series against the Reds was highlighted by a Chad Moeller cycle and a two-out, three-run rally in the ninth inning of the first game, and a comeback from a 9-0 deficit for a 10-9 win in the second. That game was one of three extra-inning contests they played in a six-day stretch--a run that turned me into, if not a Brewers fan, certainly an interested observer.

As much as I've enjoyed the run, I'm not pretending that, at 15-16, the Brewers have any chance to be a factor in a race this year. Their pitching is thin, especially the back end of the staff. Trying the fill the #4 and #5 slots in the rotation, especially in the absence of Chris Capuano, has been hard. Adrian Hernandez didn't give up a hit on Saturday and still couldn't qualify for the win, walking seven men in 4 1/3 innings. Wes Obermueller and Matt Kinney have a combined ERA of 7.90, which isn't far from their established level of performance. Other than Kieschnick and Luis Vizcaino, the bullpen is unimpressive. Closer Danny Kolb's 0.87 ERA is likely to rise, given his three strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.

But if 2004 won't be a big year, 2006 through 2009 could be. The Brewers have the game's best crop of position-player prospects, with the better part of a starting lineup climbing through the upper levels. Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy all ranked among BP's Top 50 prospects, while Brad Nelson, Corey Hart and David Krynzel have prospect pedigrees and lower upsides. The latter three could be used to help bring in pitching, which the Brew Crew lacks both in the majors and at the upper levels of the farm system.

I've mentioned that I attended the last relevant Brewers game, a 10-3 blowout at the hands of the A's that eliminated them from the 1992 AL East race on the next-to-last day of the season. Since then, the franchise hasn't sniffed a race, .500, or the respect of the game's fans. All of those things are on the horizon.

The next relevant Brewers game isn't that far off. In the meantime, they're playing some fun baseball again in Milwaukee, so once those big-market teams in the East close up shop, flip over and catch a few innings.

You won't be the only one watching.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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