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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H14

Remember when the Brewers were the darlings of the division at last year's all-star break, and Manager Ned Yost was clearing space on his mantle for that manager of the year award? Well, oops. What followed was the worst second-half finish in history (22-53) by a team that was above .500 at the break.

Is there reason to believe things can be different this season? Depends. The Brew Crew probably won't be as good as it was in the first half of 2004, or as bad as it was in the second half.

Looks can definitely be deceiving, especially in the case of Ben Sheets's 12-14 record last season. The Brewers managed just 19 runs in those 14 losses, and the Milwaukee ace finished third in the National League with a 2.70 ERA. (Allen Fredrickson -- Reuters)

_____ Breakdown _____
CF Dave Krynzel
2B Junior Spivey
RF Geoff Jenkins
LF Carlos Lee
1B Lyle Overbay
3B Wes Helms
C Damian Miller
SS J.J. Hardy
RHP Ben Sheets
LHP Doug Davis
RHP Wes Obermueller
LHP Chris Capuano
RHP Victor Santos
RHP Mike Adams

Best move: Trading for OF Carlos Lee from the Chicago White Sox.
Biggest loss: Giving up closer Danny Kolb to the Atlanta Braves for power-arm prospect Jose Capellan.
Top rival: Chicago Cubs.

___ Team Capsules ___
NL East
NL Central
NL West
1. Cubs
4. Mets
4. Reds
AL East
AL Central
AL West

There's not a team in baseball that wouldn't take Ben Sheets as a franchise cornerstone. Last year, the right-hander finished with a deceiving 12-14 record -- "deceiving" because his woeful offense scored only 19 runs in his 14 losses. His ERA of 2.70 was third in the league (ahead of Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, among others). Even if the Brewers had nothing else but him, they would have a shot at finishing .500.

But the fact is, the Brewers do have a little more. Lefty Doug Davis gives them a solid presence in the number two spot in the rotation, and the lineup looks a tad more credible with the addition of outfielder Carlos Lee this winter. They have more good players than they have had in years, and their farm system is on the verge of producing some serious big league talent.

The Brewers are an intriguing team, one that could snap the franchise's string of 12 straight losing seasons. Anything beyond that is going to take a minor miracle.

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