Running down the rosters: Milwaukee Brewers

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With Prince Fielder’s departure assured, the last thing the 2011 NL Central champion Brewers needed was to lose Ryan Braun for a third of the season. It’s likely to happen, though, even if his appeal is still pending. The rotation should be strong enough to keep the Brewers in the race while Braun is out, but the offense seems certain to struggle in his absence.

Rotation
Yovani Gallardo – R
Zack Greinke – R
Shaun Marcum – R
Randy Wolf – L
Chris Narveson – L

Bullpen
John Axford – R
Francisco Rodriguez – R
Jose Veras – R
Kameron Loe – R
Manny Parra – L
Marco Estrada – R
Brandon Kintzler – R

SP next in line: Estrada, Wily Peralta (R), Amaury Rivas (R)
RP next in line: Mike McLendon (R), Frankie De La Cruz (R), Zach Braddock (L), Tim Dillard (R)

The Brewers’ got 155 starts from their top five last year, and they’ll probably need something similar to happen if they’re going to win 90 games again. The seven starts that didn’t go to those guys went to Estrada, who figures to reprise his swing role after a very surprising showing last season (88 strikeouts in 92 2/3 IP). The Brewers have little in the way of depth behind them, but Peralta might prove ready after going 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in a 2011 season spend mostly in Double-A.

The bullpen wasn’t expected to include K-Rod again, but he accepted arbitration as a free agent, leaving the Brewers with an $8 million setup man. He and Axford should give the team an excellent one-two punch at the end of the games. The rest of the pen is pretty iffy, though I do like Kintzler. If the Brewers had their way, they would have spread K-Rod’s cash around to two or three veteran relievers.

Lineup A
2B Rickie Weeks -R
CF Nyjer Morgan – L
LF Ryan Braun – R
3B Aramis Ramirez – R
RF Corey Hart – R
1B Mat Gamel – L
C Jonathan Lucroy – R
SS Alex Gonzalez – R

Lineup B
RF Corey Hart – R
LF Nyjer Morgan – L
2B Rickie Weeks – R
3B Aramis Ramirez – R
1B Mat Gamel – L
C Jonathan LuCroy – R
CF Logan Schafer – L
SS Alex Gonzalez – R

Bench
C George Kottaras – L
INF Taylor Green – L
INF Cesar Izturis – S
OF Carlos Gomez – R
OF Norichika Aoki – L

Next in line: C Martin Maldonado (R), 1B Travis Ishikawa (L), INF Brooks Conrad (R), INF Eric Farris (R), INF Zelous Wheeler (R), OF Corey Patterson (L), OF Caleb Gindl (L), OF Brock Kjeldgaard (R)

So, there’s the Braun lineup and a Braun-free lineup. I’m basing the bench on the Braun-free lineup. If Braun is able to avoid his suspension, then Schafer figures to start off in Triple-A. Green would also be more likely to return to the minors if Braun can play. Otherwise, I think the Brewers will need his bat.

Schafer’s inclusion is a pure guess on my part. If Aoki impresses in spring training, then the Brewers figure to try him as a starter in Braun’s place. If not, then they’ll have to decide whether to think defense first with Gomez or try the rookie. Regardless, Gomez seems certain to play against lefties.

Gamel looks like the big key here. If he can provide a quality left-handed bat to slot behind Ramirez, it frees up manager Ron Roenicke to use Hart and Weeks at the top of the order. If Roenicke instead decides he needs a veteran presence behind Ramirez, then someone who doesn’t deserve to will hit high in the lineup. The Brewers are already treading dangerously up there, since it’s far from certain Morgan will be so good again.

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.