Beloved Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker once said that “I lead the league in ‘go get ‘em next time’.” Milwaukee fans need to have that mentality after last season’s disappointing fourth-place finish The well-balanced lineup, that in 2012 had led the National League in runs, home runs, and stolen bases, capsized. Milwaukee’s starting pitchers had the worst E.R.A. in the division, making last season one to forget.
Yet there is reason for Brewers fans to be optimistic as spring training begins this Saturday, and not only because they can fantasize about the 81 degree temperatures at camp in Phoenix. Rather, the lineup seems a safe bet to resemble the 2012 juggernaut more than last season’s monstrosity. If third baseman Aramis Ramirez can stay healthy- admittedly no sure thing for the 35 year old- he would provide productive protection for Ryan Braun and the MVP candidate Carlos Gomez. Beyond the big names, the Brewers lineup has young players that have the potential to break out. Scooter Gennet was impressive in his audition last year, and will work to win the second base job away from the overpriced Rickie Weeks. Outfielder Khris Davis, 26 years old, showed such power towards the end of last season that Milwaukee felt comfortable trading away Norichika Aoki, thereby anointing Davis as the starting left-fielder. Despite a high strikeout rate, Davis is a sleeper candidate to be a slugging threat in the middle of the order.
Milwaukee’s pitching also figures to be better than it has been in recent years. The Brewers’ biggest offseason splash, the signing of free-agent SP Matt Garza, gives the club a solid compliment to Kyle Loshe at the front of the rotation. A key to Milwaukee’s rotation is whether last season’s underachievers- namely Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta- can rebound. Both are in their mid-20s and both are good ground ball pitchers. Further, advanced sabermetrics indicate that Gallardo’s and Peralta’s numbers last year were somewhat aberrational, making them both good bounce-back candidates. The Milwaukee bullpen quietly was third best in the National League, and Canadian Jim Henderson has solidified his hold on the closer’s job.
The Brewers are trapped in the National League’s lion’s den, the Central Division. While a division title may be a tall order, Milwaukee should expect to contend throughout the summer and to wipe away the taste of last year’s debacle.
By Ben Tannenbaum