Cubs set for injury-plagued Brewers

Lohse

Former Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse joined Milwaukee in the offseason. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.

For years, it seemed like the Cubs and Brewers were constantly sparring for NL Central supremacy. But those days are over for the time being, with the Cubs trying to rebound from a 101-loss season and the Brewers perhaps dealing with a rebuilding year after a third-place finish in 2012. The offense, which carried the team last year, should still be solid, but the pitching staff is a big question mark—though the late-spring signing of former Cardinal Kyle Lohse should help.

The Brew Crew were already planning on breaking in a few youngsters in their rotation, signaling they probably wouldn’t be running with the Reds and Cardinals atop the division. But between losing slugger Corey Hart for the first two months of the season and having to do without Mat Gamel for the entire season, they’re dangerously short on depth in the lineup and counting on a pitching staff in transition.

3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 8th in NL
The heart of Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup looked tough, as would any that had sluggers Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez batting third and fourth. But it appears the Cubs might catch a bit of a break. The Brewers likely won’t get a 100 percent version of Braun as neck stiffness has kept the 2011 NL MVP out of action since April 3 and the North Siders will entirely duck Ramirez, who was recently placed on the DL with a knee sprain.

The injuries and lack of a strong bench will certainly take the Brewers’ 2012 league-leading offense down a peg in the early going, but skipper Ron Roenicke is one of the most active offensive tacticians around. He loves to get runners moving, bunt and slip in the occasional late-inning squeeze play to pressure opposing defenses. With young shortstop Jean Segura settling in, Roenicke might have a quartet of 30-steal players. In the absence of Hart’s power bat, it will be interesting to see if Milwaukee green-lights the running game even more aggressively. One key will be whether center fielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy retain last year’s power gains as they hit their prime, age-27 seasons. If they don’t, things will likely get a whole lot worse for this lineup in 2013.

6.5 Runs Allowed/Game — 13th in NL
Yovani Gallardo is a familiar face at the front end of the rotation, and Lohse (who is slated to pitch against the Cubs Wednesday) should be solid after a few career years in St. Louis. But after that, there’s a whole lot of wish-casting. Can Chris Narveson come back from a torn rotator cuff? Will top prospects Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers break through? Has the NL caught up to Mike Fiers, who did well his first time around the league last year before fading late? With that many question marks, a career utility pitcher like Marco Estrada is sure to come in handy.

The bullpen has experienced some turnover as well. The Brew Crew brought in veteran lefties Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny to set up John Axford. The hirsute closer will have to prove he’s back from a season in which he almost lost his job due to a rash of titanic home runs. But when Axford is on, his swing-and-miss stuff rates among the league’s best. The Brewers need him to be that pitcher again if they hope to contend.

—Christina Kahrl

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