Update - 4:02 p.m.: The Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Atlanta Braves in their season opener, 2-0.
Update - 2:45 p.m.: The Milwaukee Brewers lead the Atlanta Braves in their season opener 2-0 at the top of the fourth inning.
It’s opening day for Major League Baseball, a time of optimism for baseball fans in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Brewers opened their season this afternoon just after 1 p.m. against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park.
This year, the Brewers have a reshuffled lineup, no every-day player at first or second base, a tough division, and disgraced star Ryan Braun back on the team after serving a 65-game suspension last year for performance-enhancing drug use.
I asked Joe Block, the radio voice of the Brewers, whether Braun can still be a team leader.
Joe Block: I think so. You know, he's apologized to his teammates and the fans, too. I think it's up to the fans individually to choose how they want to support him, and I think that's only fair. In terms of his teammates, they've forgiven him. And look, they're going to need him. The Brewers need Ryan Braun to play well in order to win enough games to make the post-season, and his teammates know that. So I think the mood right off the bat, from the time he reported in Arizona, was forgiveness and (a readiness) to move on.
Terry Bell: He's playing a new position now (right field) in order to make room for Khris Davis in left field, and the Brewers expect big things from him.
JB: Yeah, with Khris Davis, we saw in a short period of time last year, he led baseball in slugging percentage over the course of a month or so. And in that second half of last season, he hit very, very well. He can hit. And he's not just a power hitter – he's got a good eye at the plate. So not only do the Brewers improve by having him playing the bulk of the games in left field, but Ryan Braun to me (will be) a better right fielder – once he gets adjusted – than he was a left fielder, because he has good range in the field and he has a decent arm out there too, and those strengths better play to right field. So, I think the Brewers become a better team with those guys, and that's why they made those moves.
TB: Matt Garza joins the pitching rotation, which should be awfully solid.
JB: Yeah, I think so. The Brewers have five guys that every day, you think you've got a chance to win. And the way that this team is probably going to score some runs – remember they led the National League in runs scored two years ago – if they score a lot of runs, and they have at least just average pitching, they're going to be in really good shape this year.
TB: They're going to need run support, and there are question marks at first and second base. Do you think they have enough (hitting power in the lineup) to be productive?
JB: I do. You look back two years ago again, and the Brewers led the league in runs scored. And what did they have at first base? They had a whole hodgepodge of guys over there, and the same thing last year. So this year with Mark Reynolds, who has been an above- average first baseman over the last four years, and then you have a nice defensive compliment in Lyle Overbay at first base. And Rickie Weeks, (at second base) at least in spring training, he doesn't look like the Rickie Weeks that we've seen over the last couple of years. He's raised his hands up, he's changed his batting stance a little bit. I think he's making the adjustments later in his career he needs to make in order to become a better hitter. And Scooter Gennett in his cameo last year was really good. So I think the Brewers have more options on their bench, because of these platoon-type situations at first and second base, and the rest of that (batting) order is really scary. One through seven, one through eight – this is going to be a deep, deep order, and I'd be surprised if they're not among the league leaders in runs scored.
TB: Even if the Brewers make all the improvements they need to, they're in a tough division. St. Louis, Cincinnatti, Pittsburgh will all be there in September in all likelihood. What do the Brewers need to do to keep playing baseball in October?
JB: Be better than those teams! This is probably the toughest division, if not in the National League, then in all of baseball.