With proven bats like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, a vastly improved pitching staff and an enthusiastic new manager, the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers were predicted by many to be the National League Central Division champs. But with a quarter of the season gone, whether the team can meet those expectations is open to question. Actually, several of them:
How good is Zack Greinke? A pickup-basketball injury during spring training led to the 2009 Cy Young winner pitching just 15 innings over three games so far, with inconclusive results. On Sunday, he retired the first 12 Pittsburgh batters he faced and hit a home run before giving up five runs in the fifth and getting the hook.
Can anyone take the pressure off Fielder and Braun? Rickie Weeks is hitting .301 but leads the team in strikeouts with 41, far too many for a leadoff hitter. Casey McGehee is hitting a reliable .268, but has only three home runs, light for the fifth spot in the lineup. With a .227 batting average, Yuniesky Betancourt is one of the weakest-hitting shortstops in baseball. And Carlos Gomez, while dazzling in centerfield, often can't get on base.
When can fans expect results? Milwaukee welcomes Colorado, Washington and San Francisco to Miller Park over the next 10 days. All-star right-fielder Corey Hart has shaken some rust off after missing the first month of the season with an injury. The top four starters - Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo - are set to pitch the first four games. How the team does here will say a lot about whether it deserves to be in the playoffs.