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It's that time of year again.  I pointed out a couple of prediction articles on Thursday, but they keep coming in.  The best so far is David Pinto's at Baseball Musings, picking the Crew for third:

The Brewers, on the other hand, have lots of points where they can greatly improve. Lee, Clark and Jenkins formed the best outfield in the division in 2005, and with Fielder, Weeks and Hardy getting full playing time, the infield has the potential to be very good as well.

In the rotation, Sheets is starting the year on the DL, but it's expected to be a short trip. A healthy Sheets gives the Brewers a Cy Young candidate. A full year of Ohka and a maturing David Bush give the Brewers depth 1 through 5 in their starters. They have a ways to go to catch Houston and St. Louis, but you can imagine a scenario where most of the expected improvements brings them close to 90 wins. At that point, they're in the race.

Thank you David, for being sane and knowledgable. Not everyone is.

Clay Davenport at BP (sub req) ran his "postseason odds report" before the season even starts.  He's kinder to Milwaukee than even I would be, suggested a record of 84-78, only two games behind the Cardinals and one game behind the Cubs.  I really wonder how on earth he came up with only 86 for St Louis, but I'll take it.  His simulations give the Brewers a 20% shot at winning the division and 10% at the Wild Card.

Also at BP, all their writers make their predictions.  Generally they put the Brewers in 2nd.  Keith Woolner tries to curry favor with me by projecting the Crew to fall to the Red Sox in the World Series.  From your keyboard to God's ears, buddy.

While we're looking at the thoughts of supersmart statheads, let's turn to Tom Tippett and his Diamond Mind projections.  Tippett is the creator of Diamond Mind, and each year produces a projection disk.  The DM projections already took part in some simulations I wrote about a couple weeks ago, but Tippett gives his version a much more thorough going-over..  

Compared to ZiPS and PECOTA, the DM projections aren't friendly to the Brewers.  In SG's simulations, we get 80 wins.  In Tippett's, 79.  Here's why:

The pitching staff is projected to slip just a bit, from 6th to 8th in the league in runs allowed, partly because ace Ben Sheets is hurting and partly because we don't project Derrick Turnbow to match his outstanding 2005 season.

The offense is also projected to slip a little. Prince Fielder is a great hitting prospect, but it may take a little time before he can match or exceed the production they got from Lyle Overbay. At third base, Corey Koskie is projected to fall short of the combined output of Russ Branyan, Jeff Cirillo, and Wes Helms. And our projection system sees a small pullback for a few guys, such as Brady Clark and Bill Hall, who posted numbers in 2005 that were well above their established levels.

Fair enough, maybe.  I'll bet the pitching staff doesn't slip, and I think the improvement from Weeks and Hardy, plus the impact of a better bench, at least cancels out the downsides he mentions.  Tippett gives us a 2.5% chance at the division, 7.3% at the Wild Card.  Hey, Clay?  I pick you.

Marc Normandin's Brewers offense preview at Beyond the Boxscore doesn't quite fit in with the other projections I've listed above, but it's well worth a read.  He goes over the team, position by position, looking at last year's production and comparing to what we can expect this year.  He, like all sensible people, figures the Brewers for an improvement, and a non-trivial shot at the postseason.  Go read it!

One last thing: Check this out, but remember what day it is.  They got me, that's for sure.