Wednesday night, opposite Tim Hudson in the second game of a doubleheader, Zack Greinke is going to make his official debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. After missing the first month of the season with a rib injury sustained while playing basketball, Greinke's back, and in plenty of time to give the Brewers a lift.
Before the injury, Greinke was to be the Brewers' starter on Opening Day. The ex-Royals ace was brought over during the offseason at the cost of losing four young players and adding one Yuniesky Betancourt, and the Brewers had dreams of combining Greinke with Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum in the rotation to form one of the National League's best top threes. They saw what the Giants and Phillies were able to do in 2010 and decided to give it a try for themselves, and now, on May 4, they've finally got all the arms in place.
But a funny thing has happened over the first month of the season. The Brewers thought that, with Greinke, Gallardo and Marcum, they could feature a fearsome three-headed monster. Now, though, there's reason to believe the monster might have more heads than Mount Rushmore.
Of the four, Gallardo's actually been the worst to date, but this is a guy who was among the NL's best pitchers over the previous two seasons, and recently he's looked a lot more like himself. Marcum has had no trouble at all adjusting to life in the Senior Circuit. And then at the end, Randy Wolf has bounced back in a big way from a down 2010, and Chris Narveson looks like he's blossoming into the rare finesse pitcher capable of missing a ton of bats. Among starting pitchers so far, Marcum has the lowest contact rate against in baseball, at 68%. Narveson's second, at 70%.
And it's worth noting that the pitcher Greinke will replace in the rotation - Marco Estrada - has 16 strikeouts and five walks over 19 innings in three starts. He's been no slouch himself. He's actually been quite good.
This is a group of five starters that, based on early indications, could be a strength from front to back. And that's without Greinke. Now it gets to add a guy who posted a 3.32 ERA over the previous four seasons in the American League, with excellent command and nearly a strikeout an inning. I don't want to say it's unfair, just because the Phillies kind of broke the whole system, but it does feel almost unnecessary. The Brewers' five April starters might've been good enough to pitch the team into the playoffs. Now they get the 2009 AL Cy Young, too, just for kicks.
What the Brewers thought could be a terrifying Cerberus now looks like it might be a terrifying mega-Cerberus that never gives the opposing lineup a break. If Gallardo continues rounding into form, and if Wolf and Narveson can sustain their early gains, this rotation's going to go five-deep in solid strikeout arms, as few rotations do. In an exceedingly winnable NL Central, it's hard not to feel like the Brewers are in a great position to strike.