The Milwaukee Brewers were that story last season. They were the team that nobody had making a run for the NL Central. And for about 5/6 of the season, it seemed like they were going to pull it off. They had a 9-17 September and were 31-47 over their last 78 games to finish with the 82-80 record they finished with. They were 51-33 at the end of June. Their record for the season was perhaps a little better than was anticipated coming into the year. Still, the team felt like a little bit of a disappointment by finishing the season the way they did.
I like the acquisition of Adam Lind (.321, 6, 40 in 96 games) from the Toronto Blue Jays. I think he will have a solid season in Milwaukee. They gave up RHP Marco Estrada (7-6, 4.36, 39 games, 18 starts) to get Lind. The Brewers then traded their top starting pitcher over the past six seasons, Yovani Gallardo, to the Texas Rangers for three prospects. Though the Brewers did not have a big offseason transaction-wise, this season will signal the changing of the guard in regards to the team’s starting rotation.
Going into this season, the Brewers will be led by RHPs Matt Garza (8-8, 3.64, 27 starts) and Kyle Lohse (13-9, 3.54, 31 starts). Wily Peralta (17-11, 3.53, 32 starts) improved a lot last season. Now, its easy to simply install RHPs Mike Fiers (6-5, 2.13, 13 games, 10 starts) and Jimmy Nelson (2-9, 4.93, 14 games, 12 starts) into the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. However, this will be the time for four of the better young pitchers in the Brewers organization to see what they can do. One of them is Nelson, who has been known as the best arm in the organization. RHP Johnny Hellweg missed the majority of the season last year and has a lot of promise. So does 2011 1st round draft pick Taylor Jungmann, who figures to make his big league debut in 2015. LHP Tyler Thornburg (3-1, 4.25, 27 games, 0 starts) has the compliment of pitches to make him a very good starting pitcher. He looked good in his seven MLB starts in 2013.
Lohse is a free agent after the season and there is a chance that Nelson, Jungmann, Thornburg and Hellweg can all be in the rotation in 2016. Of course, Garza is signed for another two seasons after this and Peralta and Fiers will be still in the mix. If the team gets the production out of these young pitchers, GM Doug Melvin will be able to explain why he dealt Gallardo and Estrada and may be able to move either Peralta or Fiers.
Reliever Francisco Rodriguez (5-5, 3.04, 44 saves, 69 games) is not officially gone, there is still a chance he returns to the Brewers. Reportedly, he is about to sign somewhere. As of now, the Brewers look ready to use Jonathan Broxton (4-3, 2.30, 7 saves, 62 games for Reds and Brewers) as their closer. Broxton’s arm strength has seemed to come back and he should be able to put up decent closer numbers in spite of his lower strikeout rate. LHP Zach Duke left to join the Chicago White Sox, leaving LHP Will Smith (1-3, 3.70, 78 games) as the team’s prime lefty specialist. Dontrelle Willis comes in on a minor league contract with the thought that maybe he can become the next Duke or Oliver Perez. They did however, sign LHP Neal Cotts (2-9, 4.32, 73 games) from the Rangers to a guaranteed deal. Cotts, who was great in 2013 after missing the prior 4 seasons, does have something to prove and will not be handed a job. RHPs Jimmy Henderson (coming off an injury), Jeremy Jeffress (1-1. 1.88, 29 games) and Brandon Kintzler (3-3, 3.24, 64) will provide the rest of the right handed relievers in the pen. Because of the potential depth in the rotation, Thornburg, Nelson and Fiers all can provide some depth in regards to late game relief.
The Brewers have had a lot of faith in their offensive players. There has been very little turnover over the past three seasons. C Jonathan Lucroy (.301, 13, 69) is likely to miss the start of the season, leaving backups Martin Maldonado (.234, 4, 16) and Juan Centeno (6-30, 2 RBI with the Mets) to get some action early in the season. However, Lucroy’s injury is not going to be that serious and the Brewers expect him back in the lineup before too long. It would be great for the team to get a full season out of RF Ryan Braun (.266, 19, 81 in 135 games). Braun’s absence seemed to coincide with the team’s struggles. 3B Aramis Ramirez (.285, 15, 66 in 133 games) re-signed with the Brewers after missing some time last year as well. CF Carlos Gomez (.284, 23, 73, 34 SB, 39 2B) is a tremendous all-around player and should, in my opinion, be the team’s number three hitter with Braun hitting behind him. The middle infield will consist of Jean Segura (.246, 5, 31, 20 SB) and Scooter Gennett (.289, 9 , 54). Segura is also completely healthy in spring training, something the Brewers will benefit from. Khris Davis (.244, 22, 69) is in LF.
The Brewers lineup I would go with is Gennett 2B, Lucroy C, Gomez CF, Braun RF, Ramirez 3B, Lind 1B, Davis LF, Segura SS. Gerardo Parra (.261, 9, 40 for D’Backs and Brewers) is the perfect 4th OF and can platoon with Davis if needed. Luis Sardinas comes over from the Rangers and at age 22 should play a utility infielder role. Elian Herrera and Logan Schafer are also looking to make the team with Maldonado and Centeno battling to stay on the team after Lucroy returns.
The Brewers will go as far as their starting pitching takes them. Braun and Lucroy being healthy are a distant second. The NL Central has certainly gotten more competitive and the Brewers are towards the bottom of being a sure thing. I still think they can win 81 games, finishing .500- 4th place in the NL Central. Vegas has their O/U at 78 1/2, so I am taking the over. The O/U seems to be pretty on, though. You can see how they will fare this season by finding Milwaukee Brewers tickets here.