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If the Brewers are to celebrate again in 2012 Shaun Marcum, middle, needs to stay healthy. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

The key to the Brewers' season? Shaun Marcum


Opening Day couldn't have come soon enough for Milwaukee Brewers fans, and why not?

This team is missing one fairly large piece from a 96-win, National League Central Division championship team, but there is plenty returning to expect another run at the division crown.

There are other concerns to be had when examining the lineup, but all could be put to rest by one man who has no impact on it: Shaun Marcum.

No doubt does he possess the gifts to win 18 to 20 games. Yet here is a 30-year-old pitcher who missed all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery, spent time on the disabled list in 2010 with an elbow strain and experienced shoulder soreness this spring – perhaps an indicator as to why he struggled at the end of 2011.

On the other hand, it seems he is entering his prime.

He's had two straight years of 20 quality starts and 30 or more overall. He continues to strike batters out at a high rate and frankly, doesn't allow many runs.

Was the dip in production in the playoffs due to the fact he pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career? Or was it a re-occurrence of long-standing arm issues?

This season may well come down to which Shaun Marcum the Brewers get.

Is it the 200-inning, 35-start workhorse who strikes out eight batters per nine innings with the 3.30 ERA?

That guy may not win 18 games in the regular season due to lackluster hitting, but that guy will win you playoff games.

Or does the shoulder – then the elbow – flare up again, requiring skipped starts or a DL stint?

That guy leaves you wondering what might have been.

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