Braun says 2012 team best he’s been on
There was the feisty 2008 bunch that finally broke through to win the National League wild card and end a 26-year playoff drought. The multi-faceted 2011 Brewers established a franchise record with 96 victories, won their first NL Central crown and came within two victories of the World Series.
Yet Braun took a look around the home clubhouse Thursday afternoon at Miller Park and made a pronouncement that some might consider surprising.
“My honest assessment of our team, I promise you this team right now is the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” Braun said after the Brewers worked out in preparation for their season opener today against St. Louis.
“We’re better right now than we were at any point last year. We are.”
Even without Prince Fielder, Braun was asked?
“There’s no doubt that there’s a challenge replacing Prince offensively, and you don’t do that with a single player,” said Braun. “I think, collectively, the combination of (Aramis) Ramirez, (Alex) Gonzalez and (Mat) Gamel is going to be better than what we had (at those spots) at any point last year. I really believe that.
“It’s a business. We all recognized that with Prince’s impending free agency it was only natural that if he got to that point, it was highly unlikely he was going to sign with us. The atmosphere in here is no different. The environment is no different.
“Obviously, our lineup is going to be a little different. We’ll have to get a little more creative and also be more aggressive offensively, but aside from that it has been no different at all.”
Braun then ticked off the reasons why he believes the 2012 edition of the Brewers might be the best club on which he has played, top to bottom, in terms of talent and health.
“I think our bullpen is stronger than it was last year,” said Braun. “We have a closer in the eighth inning all year instead of just two months. I think Jose Veras is as good a setup guy as there is in baseball and he’s pitching the seventh.
“I think having Zack Greinke healthy all year, when you have him an extra six weeks it’s like trading for an all-star caliber player. An extra six weeks of a dominant pitcher changes the dynamic of the team. And I really believe we’re going to be better defensively.”
Braun said some people forget how banged up the Brewers were at the start of the 2011 season, when they stumbled out of the gate and were at .500 after 46 games. Right fielder Corey Hart began the year on the DL with an oblique strain, catcher Jonathan Lucroy was out with a broken finger and Greinke didn’t pitch until early May because of a cracked rib.
At the start of this season, everyone the Brewers envisioned being on the team is healthy. Hart recovered quickly from minor knee surgery early in camp and had great at-bats in the final two exhibition games. Right-hander Shaun Marcum bounced back from an ailing shoulder and will open as the No. 4 starter on schedule.
“Just for the morale of the team, to start with everybody healthy is very encouraging,” Braun said. “We’re just excited because it’s very rare to have everybody healthy at the start of the season.
“You never know what’s going to happen over the course of a season but just having the opportunity for everyone to start healthy and start with a clean slate is very encouraging.”
Braun also is feeling good about himself after surviving his tumultuous drug-test saga over the winter and battling through a slow start in exhibition play before finally locking in at the plate over the final week or so.
“I remember saying last spring that I was a better baseball player than I had been in my life and I’m 100 percent positive I’m better now than I was then so I’m excited to get started,” he said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m guaranteed to have a better year, but I know that I’m better right now than I was last year at this time.”