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Brewers vs. Braves Q & A

This guy...
This guy...

This week, I got an email from Kyle Lobner, a contributor for "Brew Crew Ball," about trading questions for one another prior to this weekend's home opener against the Brewers. I took full advantage of the opportunity. Many thanks to Kyle for being a good sport here. His responses go as follows:

Q: Ryan Braun tested positive for steroids and got off on a BS technicality. How does this make you feel?

A: I guess I'll have to address the issues with this question in order. To the bullet points!

Braun never tested positive for steroids. He allegedly tested positive for "elevated levels of testosterone."

He didn't "get off on a BS technicality," he was exonerated by an arbitrator based on the fact that his sample was processed ineffectively. Issues with the chain of custody of his sample may or may not have compromised the integrity of his test results.

Meanwhile, this entire process was supposed to be confidential but was dragged into the spotlight by someone who violated privacy laws when leaking the information and reporters that were all too eager to run with illegally obtained information.

If nothing else, at least this entire situation brought some of the more ridiculous elements of the testing program to light. If you can't ship a urine sample on a Saturday, for example, you probably shouldn't be collecting it on a Saturday at all. And if for some reason you have to wait a day to ship a sample you should keep it refrigerated and secure, not take it home and leave it sit on your desk for the weekend. As the Braun situation has demonstrated here, there's a lot at stake. The least baseball can do is be certain they're right in their accusations before a player gets his reputation ruined.

Q: Early on during the Braun ordeal, there were rumors that his positive test was a result of herpes medication. From a PR standpoint, do you think it would have been better for him to have blamed it on herpes, or do you, much like me, find venereal diseases to be taboo? Would any other STDs have been a more acceptable excuse?

A: I see no reason to dignify this with a response.

Q: There is no avoiding the fact that the Brewer's offense will be far less potent this year. Literally, the juices flowing through Ryan Braun will be much less potent during the 2012 campaign without performance enhancers. How will the Brew Crew overcome this obstacle?

A: Your trolling aside, there's a strong chance the reports of the Brewer offensive demise are greatly exaggerated. Losing Prince Fielder will obviously hurt, but this is a Brewer team that won 96 games last year with very minimal offensive output at shortstop and third base, and didn't really have an effective right fielder until the end of May (Corey Hart missed most of April and was rushed back in early May, but wasn't productive until the end of the month).

The falloff from Prince Fielder to Mat Gamel at first base is significant, of course, but at least some of that difference should be covered by upgrades at third (Aramis Ramirez) and short (Alex Gonzalez improves the defense, if not the offense) and a full season of Corey Hart.

(I ask real questions after the jump...)

Q: But in all seriousness, aside from consistency out of new Brewer, Aramis Ramirez, what/who do you see as the key for the Brewers to return to the playoffs without Prince Fielder?

A: Health. The Brewers only used six starting pitchers in all of 2011, and were the only team in baseball to use that few. There are depth issues and irreplaceable parts all over this roster, and it wouldn't take more than a key injury or two to really alter this team's path to contention.

Barring that, though, this team is pretty clearly built to win.

Q: Along the same lines, although I know very little about him, I think of a player like Mat Gamel as the "Replacement" in the Wins Above Replacement statistic. What do you expect out of him this season? Do you think he could be successful in an everyday role for the Brewers?

A: Gamel is a former Baseball America top 100 prospect who stagnated a bit at the top of the minors, partly due to a lack of opportunity and partly to a couple of ill-timed injuries and issues. He certainly has the potential to be much more than a replacement player, and was one of the Brewers' best hitters this spring. He's not Prince Fielder and in all likelihood he never will be, but Gamel has a significant chance to be an average or above-average offensive player at first base. That's not easy to do.

Q: The Cubs, Astros, and Pirates will all likely be garbage this season. How do you see the NL Central shaking down?

A: I really think the Brewers have as good a chance as anyone to win this division. The Reds are a trendy pick (again), but I'm not sure they're that much better on paper than the team that finished below .500 last season. The Cardinals got hot at the right time to win the World Series last year but were still a second place team during the regular season in 2011 and are relying very heavily on a lot of aging guys with lengthy injury histories (see Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter).

I think on paper this Brewer team is roughly as good as they were last year at this time. Even if they fall a few games behind that pace, I think 90 wins or maybe even a little less will be enough to win the Central.

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