10. Casey McGehee, 3B
Batting behind Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010, posting a .285 batting average along with 23 long balls and a whopping 104 runs batted in. However he’s struggled mightily out of the gate in 2011, hitting a paltry .234 with only 4 homers and 24 RBI. He’s also been a liability at third, routinely kicking the ball around and forcing manager Ron Roenicke to give him several “days off.” Hopefully he’ll find his swing again; but perhaps he’s not the long-term solution at third base that he seemed to be last season. Mat Gamel anyone?
9. John Axford, RP
The Axe Man gets the job done. Milwaukee always seems to find a closer out of nowhere (i.e. Kolb and Turnbow), but Axford looks like a long-term solution. Last year, as a rookie, Axford went 8-2, posting a 2.48 ERA and closing the door on 24 of his 27 save opportunities. He also struck out an impressive 76 batters in only 58 innings. After struggling early this season, the Axe Man has settled back down, converting 16 of 18 saves (including 13 straight) with a 3.29 ERA while fanning 36 hitters in 27.1 innings. Having stability at the back end of the bullpen can do wonders for a baseball club, and Axford provides that for the Brewers.
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C
Finally, it looks like the Brewers have found a catcher. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2007, Lucroy is one of the best young backstops in the league. He handles the pitching staff very well for his age (24) and has shown excellent pop in his bat – hitting .291 with 6 homers and 27 RBI so far in 2011. Ryan Braun has even gone as far as to say Lucroy should be an All-Star this year. With continued improvement, Lucroy could become one of the best catchers in the game, period.
7. Shaun Marcum, SP
In 2007, Shaun Marcum began to show flashes of his dominating stuff – going 12-6 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.245 WHIP in the AL East, commonly known as the toughest division in baseball. He improved on those numbers the following year, posting a 9-7 record with a solid 3.39 ERA and 1.163 WHIP before his season was cut short as he underwent Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2009, Marcum came back strong in 2010, going 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA and a tidy 1.147 WHIP. Marcum made the switch from AL to NL after the Brewers departed with their top prospect, Brett Lawrie, in order to acquire his services. So far he’s pitched like a Cy Young candidate for Milwaukee, posting a 6-2 record with a sparkling 2.78 ERA and an even more impressive 1.017 WHIP. Marcum is a true professional who toes the rubber every fifth day and gives the Crew a chance to win each time. He’ll be a key cog in Milwaukee’s rotation this year and next, and should be handed the ball should the Brewers make the postseason.
6. Corey Hart, RF
The 6’6″ Hart is still one of the best kept secrets around the majors. Hart is a vintage five-tool ballplayer and is a class act as well. The two time All-Star smacked 31 homers to go along with 102 RBI and a .283 batting average in 2010. The Brewers wisely locked him up through the 2013 season, and he’ll become even more valuable to the team should Prince Fielder leave the club to explore his options as a free agent. He bats productively out of the 2 and 5 spots in the lineup, and has even had success leading off. He can steal bags, hit for power and average, has a cannon out in right field, and also sports some of the coolest tattoos in the Bigs. He’s a fan favorite in Milwaukee who should continue to be a monster run producer for the Brewers, giving them the best tandem of corner outfielders in the majors.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a number of candidates who could come away with a National League Silver Slugger Award at season’s end. Let’s take a closer look.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee’s cornerstone left fielder, should have no trouble winning his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger. The Hebrew Hammer has already smacked 12 home runs (tied for 2nd in the NL) and picked up 37 RBI (5th in NL), along with a steady .307 batting average. Braunie also leads the entire National League in total bases with 109.
Brewers all-star first baseman Prince Fielder is off to a torrid start as well, having collected 11 homers (tied for 3rd in the NL) to go along with an NL leading 41 RBI. His 102 total bases lead all NL first baseman and are good for 4th overall in the league. Prince won the award in 2007, the year he lead the NL in home runs while becoming the youngest player to ever hit 50 long balls in a season. That year Fielder also came finished 2nd in NL slugging percentage, trailing only Braun. Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols has won the Silver Slugger for NL first baseman the past 3 seasons; however his down year, Fielder is in prime position to snatch up the honor in 2011.
Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks sits tied for 5th in the NL with 101 total bases. Among NL second baseman, Weeks has scored the most runs (36), is tied for the most hits (58) and doubles (12), and is 1st with 9 homers. His 19 RBI are good for a 5th place tie. Rickie is also hitting at a career high .286 average. Dan Uggla, the 2010 recipient of the Silver Slugger for NL second baseman, is batting a paltry .183. With only 6 fewer at bats than Weeks, Uggla has 22 less hits and 35 fewer total bases (along with less home runs, RBI, runs, doubles, triples and walks). Chase Utley, the winner of the award from 2006-09, just returned from the disabled list this past week and has collected only 18 at-bats.
Yovani Gallardo, last years winner at NL pitcher, is off to another good start. Yo has 5 hits in 27 at-bats, with 1 HR and 3 RBI. However, Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano (who took home the award in ’06, ’08 and ’09) is currently leading the race for the Silver Slugger, batting .375 (9 for 24) with 1 HR and 4 RBI. His 14 total bases lead all major league pitchers, and are 6 more than any other hurler.
Emerging star Jonathan Lucroy leads all eligible major league catchers with a .328 batting average. Among NL backstops, Lucroy is tied for 2nd in both home runs (5) and RBI (23). But be on the lookout for Atlanta catcher Brian McCann (the NL winner 4 of the last 5 years, including the last 3 in a row), who leads NL catchers in RBI with 25 and is hitting a solid .281 with 4 long balls.
For the second straight year the Brew Crew could have multiple Silver Slugger Award winners. I’d count on two or three.