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A Conversation About The Brewers With Al ...

... Al Bethke, that is, from the Brewers blog Al's Ramblings:

AY: What is the single most important key for the Brewers in 2007 if they are to contend for a playoff spot?

AB: I'd say the most important thing is that the youngsters; Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Corey Hart, and soon to be Ryan Braun, continue to develop offensively (and to a lesser extent, defensively). They could make this team a top 5 team offensively, or a bottom 5 team.

What do you feel will determine the Cubs' success, or lack thereof, in 2007?

AY: For me, it's the starting pitching. This team will score runs, with Derrek Lee back, and Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett all capable of pounding the ball. But if the starting pitching can't go deep into games, the bullpen will be overtaxed as it was last year, and that is always disastrous. Some Cubs fans didn't like the Lilly & Marquis signings. Granted, it's small sample size, but the first start this year for each one is a good sign.

Geoff Jenkins. Comeback, or will he just get hurt again?

AB: Geoff actually had a decent year in '06, but struggled versus LHP. He will be severely limited versus LHP, so I think he'll be fine. If both he and Kevin Mench match their career numbers against pitchers that throw with the opposite hand, they might outproduce all but a few LF's, as well as provide nice corner OF depth.

Speaking of OF's, I think Matt Murton is a fine young player, and I feel badly he's seemingly behind Jones and Floyd. Explain that to me.

AY: I don't see Murton as "behind" Jones -- Jones plays RF, and Murton LF. About Jones, he may be traded sometime this year so the Cubs can make room for Felix Pie.

Floyd can hit, no question about it. I don't like the DH, but I sometimes find myself wishing the NL had it, because Floyd would be perfect. He's still recovering from heel surgery, and is a statue in the outfield. Murton will get his playing time.

Of the Brewers' young players: Corey Hart, J. J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder -- who is going to become the biggest star, and why?

AB: I've been saying Weeks because he will hit and he plays a position few players hit much at. However, I think there's a good chance Ryan Braun will be better than all of them.

I was an advocate of the Crew signing Jason Marquis (only Suppan was higher on my list), but I thought he'd sign for one year at $3-4M, not the lucrative contract he ended up with. Do you agree he'll rebound, or do you have low expectations?

AY: I have had spirited debates on BCB about Marquis. I wanted him signed, and I agree, the three-year deal was over the top.

But I think he's figured out some of the things he did wrong last year. He had a good first start, he had a decent spring, and if he could replicate the year he had with the 2004 Cardinals -- a 100-win team that made the World Series, where he went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA -- we'll be very, very happy. Who is/are the Cub player or players that you most fear?

AB: I can't say I fear anyone, but I do respect the back of the bullpen, especially Howry and Eyre, who the Crew went after and were outbid for. Who's your favorite Brewers' player?

AY: I really like Corey Hart. I see he's been pretty much pencilled in as uour regular right fielder this year, but I know he can play other positions. At his age -- 24 -- I see him developing more power as he gets older, especially with his size. I wanted to see the Cubs try to pry him away from you guys. How do you feel about we Cubs fans coming up to Miller Park and "taking over" during most Cubs/Brewers series?

AB: I have no problem with it, it's usually about a 50/50 split. The Cubs have transplanted fans all over the country, and the location makes it perfect for many northern IL fans. WI actually has quite a few Cubs' fans, many older gents from the days before the Brewers. In fact, I silently thank them for their donation to the Crew's coffers.:) Heck, the Cubs/Cards games in StL are usually pretty evenly split, and the Brewers have a fraction of the tradition of the Cardinals.