By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Apr 02, 2012 at 11:00 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

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.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.