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All five back in the rotation?

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Zack Greinke

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Zack Greinke throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, in Milwaukee.

The starting rotation was just as big of a reason as any for the success of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers (And the they were also a big reason the Brewers struggled in the 2011 playoffs).

It’s very possible the Brewers could bring back all five starters — Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson. And for good reason, they were pretty good last year.

They each made at least 28 starts, pitched at least 161.2 innings, won at least 11 games and four of the five had earned run averages under four (Only Narveson was above).

 They did what they were asked of and more. But that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily all return in place for the duration of the 2012 season.

Gallardo appears to be the most likely to be back, by far. He is signed through the 2014 season and is someone the Brewers are building around.

But what about the others?

Zack Greinke

The biggest move of the 2011 offseason for the Brewers netted them they 2009 American League Cy Young winner (and Yuniesky Betancourt) for a host of prospects. Greinke started the year on the disabled list after being hurt in a pickup basketball game.

After returning, Greinke went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA to go with 201 strikeouts and 45 walks. He was unbeatable at home (11-0, 3.13 ERA in 15 starts) and pretty average on the road (5-6, 4.70 ERA).

Greinke pitched well down the stretch for the Brewers, posting an ERA under 3.02 in each July, August and September. But he struggled in the playoffs going allowing 15 runs in three starts while going 1-1.

Good chance Greinke will be  back, the Brewers didn’t give all that up for a one-year rental. At the top of his game, Greinke is a dominant starter and he and Gallardo give the Brewers a formidable 1-2 combo. The Brewers may try to lock up Greinke long-term, as he is a free agent after the 2012 season.

From all reports, Greinke has been happy during his time in Milwaukee and in the past has been skittish on going to big markets, so this may work in Milwaukee’s favor. But if the Brewers fall out of the race early or come to the conclusion they can’t get a deal done with Greinke, he could be dealt.

Shaun Marcum

Arguably the Brewers most consistent starter for most of the season, Marcum faded away big time in the final few weeks of the season and was even worse in the playoffs.

Chalk it up to late-season fatigue or simply struggling down the stretch, but Marcum’s fall from grace was maddening to Brewers fans.

Marcum allowed 16 runs in a total of 9.2 innings between his three starts in the NLDS and NLCS.

The soft-tossing righty is arbitration eligible and looking at his body of work, figures to make a decent salary.

But he, like Greinke is a free agent next year. The Brewers could look to sign him long term, but also may realize that they don’t want to invest heavily into a pitcher who appeared to wear down at the end of the year and doesn’t really throw hard to begin with.

Marcum should be back, but a slow start to the season could make Milwaukee’s decision on what to do with Marcum a lot easier.

Randy Wolf

The veteran lefty is entering the last year of a three-year contract he signed before the 2010 season.

In many ways, Wolf has been what many people hoped Jeff Suppan would be. He’s been an innings eater (at least 212 in his first two years with Milwaukee), he hasn’t walked batters (dropped his BB/9 rate by over half a walk in 2011) and hasn’t missed starts.

He made $9.5 million this year and is slated to make more next year, so he could possibly be moved to a team desperate for an innings eater. But who that team is and what they’d offer in return remains to be seen. If Milwaukee went that route, plugging Marco Estrada into the rotation or bringing up one of their youngsters from the minors could happen, but each of those options doesn’t bring the stability that Wolf does.

If Wolf returns, Milwaukee has a good idea what they’ll get — an innings eater that won’t miss much time due to injury, throws strikes and is slightly above a .500 pitcher. Probably fully worth the money he’s paid, but it’s a price Milwaukee was willing to pay for stability.

Chris Narveson

Narveson logged 161.2 innings with an ERA in the mid 4’s. Not too bad for a fifth starter.

He’s shown signs being able to control games, but will lose his command at the drop of a hat.

Narveson is under team control and shouldn’t cost the Brewers too much. I don’t think he’d be a prime candidate to be traded, since I’m not sure other ballclubs would give out a lot for a No. 5 starter. But you never know.

Still, expect Narveson to be back in 2012 doing what he does — pitching decently (better than that when you consider he’s a No. 5 starter) and not costing too much.

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