You can find your Milwaukee Brewers tickets for the 2011 season on SeatGeek.

Jim Reed is a moderator for Milwaukee Brewers blog, Brew Crew Ball.  You can follow Brew Crew Ball on Twitter @BrewCrewBall.

Milwaukee Brewers 2011 Season Preview

With six weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Brewers find themselves in an unusual position — contenders, if not favorites, to win the NL Central. This is pretty rarefied air for a team that hasn’t won a division since edging out Baltimore in 1982.

That the Brewers can score is nothing new: after all, they have finished in the top five in the NL for runs scored in three of the past four years. But now they have a starting rotation that is every bit as good as their offense. Will that be enough to transform a 77-win team to a 90+-win team?

KEY DEPARTURES: Trevor Hoffman (retired), Doug Davis, David Riske, Dave Bush, Jim Edmonds, Alcides Escobar, Gregg Zaun, Lorenzo Cain, head coach Ken Macha, plus the contracts for Jeff Suppan, Bill Hall and Braden Looper.  All told, that’s about $50 million coming off the books.

KEY ADDITIONS: Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Takashi Saito, coach Ron Roenicke.

OFFENSE: Last season, the offense was one of the best in the league, ranking 4th in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, and 2nd in total bases. Once again, the corners will be expected to do the heavy lifting: Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee in the infield, Ryan Braun and an eye-opening Corey Hart in the outfield.  Rickie Weeks, playing for a full season, was a mini-Braun in the lineup in terms of home runs, OBP and stolen bases.  Those five players combined for 140 home runs, and each had an OPS over .800.

The Brewers are not without offensive question marks, though. The team is still fairly weak up the middle: none of expected starters Jonathan Lucroy, Betancourt, and Carlos Gomez had an OPS of .700 in 2010.  Still, if Betancourt can repeat his numbers from last year, that would be a significant increase in production over Escobar, and make up for the expected downgrade in center from Cain to Gomez. Hart and Weeks put up career-best numbers in 2010, and some regression might be in store for 2011; at the same time, Fielder and Braun’s OPS were 50 points off their career averages.  All told, despite the many departures in the offseason, the offense is mostly unchanged.

PITCHING: Simply put, this could be the best rotation the franchise has ever seen. Zack Greinke, winner of the 2009 Cy Young, has a career 3.82 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo has a career line of 3.67 and 1.32. Shaun Marcum, 3.85/1.24, despite pitching in the AL East. Randy Wolf’s 2010 line of 4.17/1.39 is certainly passable for a #4 starter, though the Brewers hope that his numbers post-All Star Break, 3.71/1.26, are more indicative of what’s in store for 2011. Chris Narveson’s numbers after the break (3.89/1.17) also give the team hope for a 2011 breakout. The bullpen will feature a lot of the same names from 2010, including mustachioed closer John Axford.  Takashi Saito will replace retiring Trevor Hoffman; Hoffman’s 2.66 ERA after the All-Star Break will be missed, though his 8.33 ERA and five blown saves in the first half will not.

However, there are reasons to think the Brewers’ resurgence in pitching is overstated. Greinke’s 2010 ERA (4.17) and Gallardo’s 2010 WHIP (1.37) were the highest they’ve been in years. Marcum missed all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery. Despite finishing the season strong, both Wolf (4.56/1.50) and Narveson (6.02/1.57) struggled in the first half of 2010. Saito will be 40 on Opening Day.  Sub-3 ERAs from John Axford, Zack Braddock and Kameron Loe were a pleasant surprise but unlikely to repeat.

OUTLOOK: In acquiring Marcum and Greinke, the Brewers went all-in for 2011. They’ve traded five of their top prospects to land the two aces, utterly depleting the upper levels of their farm system (and making depth a major concern for 2011). In addition, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks become free agents after this season, and Prince is unlikely to re-sign with the team, putting the team’s prospects in 2012 and beyond in doubt. In trading away their best prospects and NOT trading Fielder in the offseason, the Brewers have on paper their best team in a generation. If nothing else, 2011 looks like a good year to be a Brewers fan.