Ryan Braun

Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun is greeted in the dugout after scoring on a single by Aramis Ramirez in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Phoenix. The Angels won 6-3. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

After reaching the World Series in 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers went 28 seasons without winning a division title.

That dubious streak didn't end until last year, when Milwaukee won 96 games and the National League Central Division crown.

The hard part, of course, it making sure there isn't another 28-year title drought in Milwaukee, a task made more difficult during the offseason when free agent slugger Prince Fielder struck it rich in the American League and NL MVP Ryan Braun tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

With that in mind, here are 28 things that must go right for the Brewers to avoid starting another title-free streak in 2012. Not all of them will happen certainly, but if enough do, the Brewers could outlast Cincinnati and World Series champion St. Louis in what should be a three-team race for the NL Central title.

1: Even though he beat the PED rap on appeal, Braun must maintain his composure in the face of constant razzing from fans in foreign ballparks.

2: The defense on the left side of the infield, so costly in the NL Championship Series loss to St. Louis, must improve with veteran free agents Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez replacing Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee at shortstop and third base, respectively.

3: Outfielder Nyjer Morgan, whose eccentric behavior can rub people the wrong way, must remain the positive clubhouse influence he was last season.

4: Morgan and Carlos Gomez must make the center-field platoon as productive as it was a year ago.

5: Japanese import Norichika Aoki must show he can hit big league pitching well enough to fill in at the corner outfield spots and start if, say, right fielder Corey Hart moves to first base.

6: The starting rotation must remain as reliable as it was last year, when the top five pitchers had double-digit win totals and made 155 of a possible 162 starts.

7: Yovani Gallardo must take the final step and become a dominant starter who can contend for the Cy Young Award.

8: Starter Zack Greinke must pitch like he's in a contract year, whether or not he signs an extension.

9: Starter Shaun Marcum must put his playoff struggles behind him and regain the consistency he had during a 13-7 regular season.

10: Relief pitchers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford must remain the best eighth- and ninth-inning combination in the NL.

11: Trade acquisition Jose Veras must take over the seventh-inning role that La Troy Hawkins, Takashi Saito and Kameron Loe held down so ably late last season.

12: Manny Parra must give the Brewers the capable left-handed reliever they lacked most of last season.

13: Braun must remain patient at the plate despite not seeing as many good pitches without the protection afforded by Fielder.

14: New first baseman Mat Gamel must overcome his past immaturity, ignore the pressure of filling Fielder's shoes and hit in the majors like he did in the minors.

15: Hitting in Fielder's clean-up spot, Ramirez, who turns 34 in June, must maintain the 26-homer, 97-RBI pace of his last four full seasons.

16: Together, Ramirez and Gamel must at least match the 51 home runs and 187 RBIs produced by Fielder and McGehee in 2011.

17: Hart must regain his ability to hit in the fifth spot after succumbing to the pressure of batting behind the often-walked Fielder.

18: That all-righty heart of the batting order — Braun, Ramirez and Hart — must hit right-handers well because Fielder won't be there to provide balance.

19: Rickie Weeks must show he's fully recovered from his ankle injury and can once again be a deadly package of power and speed in the leadoff spot.

20: Jonathan Lucroy must take another step forward offensively and defensively, and he can begin by learning to catch headstrong starter Randy Wolf.

21: At age 35, Gonzalez must change his approach at the plate and make more contact, something he was able to do during spring training.

22: Someone in the organization — Cesar Izturis? Brooks Conrad? Taylor Green? — must provide backup coverage for second, third and shortstop like Craig Counsell did in the past.

23: The Brewers must step up the running game and start manufacturing runs, especially now that they don't have to worry about taking the bat out of Fielder's hands.

24: With all hands on deck, the Brewers must turn their good health into a faster start than they had in 2011, when Greinke, Hart and Lucroy started the season on the disabled list and they lost 23 of their first 44 games.

25: Manager Ron Roenicke must continue to push the right buttons, especially now that Fielder, the Pied Piper of the clubhouse, is playing in Detroit.

26: First-year hitting coach Johnny Narron must build on Dale Sveum's success by providing hitters with a new voice and some new ideas.

27: General manager Doug Melvin must work some magic with a key in-season pickup or two, much like he did last year with Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston Jr.

28: Braun must not put undue pressure on himself trying to prove that last year's MVP season was his doing and not a product of chemistry.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

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