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Brewers Rare "Trendy Pick" That Could Get Job Done

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Predictions

Generally, when all prognosticators in a major sports league agree on who is going to be a "sleeper" or "breakout" team you can nearly guarantee that said team is going to fall on its face in the most gruesome and disastrous way possible. Then every one conveniently forgets that they were pimping Trendy Team back at the start of the season.

The Philadelphia Phillies have had a stone cold lock on the Trendy Team title for the past six years - though they still haven't made the playoffs since the Curse of the Wild Thing was bestowed upon them. Every year a bunch of idiots start pimping the Phils as their "sleeper" team in the East and every year they implode somewhere in mid-June. It's like clockwork.

But now there's a new sheriff in town and a new group of overachievers looking to steal the mantle of Sleeper Team That Isn't A Sleeper Because Everyone Is All Over Their Jocks. That would be the Milwaukee Brewers.

That's right, the same team whose marquee moments over the past 20 years were Randall Simon treating some girl in a sausage costume like a piņata, hosting an All-Star Game that ended in a tie, and the Tom Trebelhorn Era. That's it. That's the Brewers list of notable contributions to the Baseball World since 1997. I mean, they left the American League in 1998 and no one noticed until August of 2002. Now we're supposed to believe that they're going to win the National League Central?

"Why would what somebody thinks we're going to do make me feel good, even for one second?" Brewers skipper Net Yost said in a report on MLB.com. "It's totally senseless. It doesn't even really matter what I think we're going to do. All that matters is what we do."

What Milwaukee hasn't done is neither have a winning season since Dan Quayle left office (1992) nor make a trip to the playoffs since "Thriller" became the best selling album of all time (1982). Needless to say, there's been a lot of boozing done by Bernie Brewer and Co. while waiting for the team to get good.

But despite a history of atrocities that rival fanny packs and The Electric Slide, the Brewers have reason to believe that they actually have a shot at rocking October this season with bats instead of beers. With arguably the best rotation in the division, some young players entering their prime and a few veterans with winning experience, this team should at least be competitive. And in the NL Central that's all it takes. After all, the Cardinals managed to parlay an 83-win season into a division title and eventual World Series crown.

The Brew Crew has averaged only 69.2 wins per season over the past six years and they've failed to produce a betting profit in three of the past five seasons, so a sudden 90-win year seems like a stretch. But there have been significant signs of progress, like an 81-81 mark in 2005 and a 41-34 start to 2004. Last year they took a step back (75-87), but that can be attributed to a horrific string of injuries that necessitated starting guys like Tony Graffanino and Dana Eveland on a day-to-day basis.

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The Brewers have started the 2007 season 2-1, rocking the Dodgers on Opening Day behind a complete game by Ben Sheets before scoring a comeback victory in Game 2. They also stared down L.A. ace Jason Schmidt on Wednesday before falling by just a run. In those games the Brewers looked focused and energized, riding the emotion of a hopeful hometown crowd.

But hopes and dreams don't pay the bills or win you games. As Craig Counsell pointed out in published reports, "You try to win every game and you try hard every day, but you have to have good players to win in this league. Over 162 games, you can't fake it."

Milwaukee does have some good players, including ultra-athletic Bill Hall and power hitting Prince Fielder. Throw in a blooming double play combo (Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy), an underrated catcher (Johnny Estrada), and some solid role players (Geoff Jenkins, Corey Koskie, Counsell, Damien Miller) and on paper this is a team that can play with anybody.

Their rotation is solid from top to bottom, bolstered by the addition of Jeff Suppan (never thought I'd be typing that sentence). Sheets is a legit ace and Chris Capuano just puts up numbers. Francisco Cordero can close games and in Mike Maddux the Brewers have one of the elite pitching coaches in the game. But the trouble is that Maddux can't magically make Milwaukee's middle relief serviceable. Even with some serious beer goggles, a staff that's relying on Elmer Dessens and 38-year old Brian Shouse doesn't look playoff-caliber.

The X-factors for this team are A) the health of everyone involved, especially Sheets, B) Geoff Jenkins and C) Derrick Turnbow. Jenkins is making too much money in a cash-strapped organization to be a platoon player, and he could be trade bait for General Manager Doug Melvin. Turnbow was a revelation in 2005 and revolting in 2006. If he can settle in as a shut down setup man in front of Cordero I think the Brewers have the moxie to win a lot of one-run games.

As far as a betting strategy goes, I think you have to get on the Brewers early because they have been strong in April over the past three years. However, if they get off to the start that everyone thinks they might then you're going to have to go against them later in the month or early in May. June has been one of their best months over the past three years, and one of the few that they've posted a winning record in.

When it comes to wagering on their pitching staff, I think you're going to get solid value on Ben Sheets because he's going to be matched up with other more high-profile aces. But you have to monitor his pitch counts and his health. I'm betting solidly against Jeff Suppan, who is still a bit overrated following his tremendous 2006 postseason. Capuano will always have value, particularly against teams that don't hit lefties that well, and Dave Bush is a "bet against" in first half of the year (5-13 career mark) and "bet on" in the second half (17-13).

The NL Central is like ACC football, Big 10 basketball, the NFC West, and the NBA's Southeast Division. All of them are always going to be consistently among the one or two worst leagues/divisions in their respective sports. As a result, goofy teams can sometimes manage to peak their heads out and steal a postseason spotlight. I do think the Brewers fit the bill this season but I wouldn't go throwing large chunks of my bankroll on them - especially if they get off to a fast start. I think you need to look for underdog value, with and against them, and pick your spots.

I will be monitoring the Brewers all season, and hope to write weekly columns or dedicate weekly spots on Doc's Sports Podcast to their progress. Be sure to keep an eye out for both mediums as we track how things work out for this year's Trendy Team.

Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at robert@docsports.com or check out his Insider Page here.

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