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2013 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Mar 19, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Milwaukee Brew Crew.

The Big Question: Do the Brewers have enough pitching to contend for a playoff spot in 2013?

The offense isn’t a problem. Ryan Braun slugged a career-high 41 home runs and registered a National League-high .987 OPS in 154 games last season, finishing second only to Giants catcher Buster Posey in the MVP balloting. Aramis Ramirez exceeded even the loftiest of expectations in the first chapter of his three-year, $36 million free agent deal, leading the NL with 50 doubles and posting his best set of power numbers (27 homers, 105 RBI, .540 SLG) since 2008. Norichika Aoki was another good newcomer, hitting .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers and 30 stolen bases in 151 games as a rookie. Carlos Gomez took a big step forward and Rickie Weeks had a promising second half after initially stumbling out of the gate.

The Brewers produced the third-most runs in the major leagues last season — despite losing Prince Fielder to the Tigers over the winter — and the starting lineup looks plenty-stacked heading into the 2013 campaign.

But Milwaukee had a 4.22 staff ERA in 2012 — which ranked 22nd out of 30 — and didn’t make the kind of improvements this offseason that would justify a better finish in the National League Central standings.

Yovani Gallardo is rock solid and Marco Estrada has made significant strides over the past two seasons, but Michael Fiers is probably due for some regression and left-hander Chris Narveson owns a 4.67 career ERA and 1.37 career WHIP in over 394 major league frames. Wily Peralta looked great in his cup of coffee last year, but he had an underwhelming 4.66 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 146 2/3 innings at Triple-A Nashville before his call-up. And it’s not like this club has a crop of electric young starters on the way.

The Brewers boast a strong starting lineup that probably ranks third in the NL Central behind the Cardinals and Reds. Their rotation, however, sits dead last in the division. And it’s going to kill them yet again.

What Else Is Going On?

  • Help for the rotation is one call away in free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse, but the Brewers haven’t had much luck handing out multi-year deals to veteran starters (see: Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf) and would have to forfeit the 17th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft in order to add the 34-year-old Lohse. Giving up a first-round selection doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for an organization that lacks high-impact talent on the farm. Even if Lohse opens himself up to one-year offers, a marriage seems unlikely.
  • The Brewers’ bullpen also needs some upgrades. John Axford was a menace to opposing teams in 2010 and 2011, but he posted a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP across 75 appearances last season while blowing nine saves. And there are no dominant arms accompanying him. Jim Henderson, who finally made his major league debut last year at the age of 29, is penciled in right now as the primary setup man.
  • Corey Hart underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on January 25 and is not expected to be ready to play in major league games until mid-to-late May. The Brewers were hoping to start Mat Gamel at first base in Hart’s absence, but Gamel required surgery two weeks ago for a re-torn right ACL and has already been ruled out for the entire 2013 season. Which leaves Alex Gonzalez — that’s right, the veteran shortstop — as Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter at first.
  • There’s a lot to like about 23-year-old shortstop Jean Segura, who was the centerpiece in last summer’s trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels. Segura batted .304/.358/.413 with seven home runs and 37 steals in 102 games at the Double-A level in 2012 and has been hitting everything in sight this spring in the Cactus League. He shows good range defensively and has a strong, accurate throwing arm.

Prediction: Fourth place in the National League Central.

  1. brewcrewfan54 - Mar 19, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    I don’t like seeing a 4th place prediction but its up to the unproven rotation to prove people wrong.

    • Jonny 5 - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:25 PM

      Estrada has a big season in 2013 imo.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:36 AM

        I like your optimism and hope you’re right.

  2. cadillacjosh - Mar 19, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    This is a familiar story for The Brewers. Will the pitching be enough? For the past 7 or so years, the offense has been good to awesome. Its always been a question of if we’d have enough pitching to back it up. This year is a bit more fun, because its all young guys. There’s a sense of hope, that if a few of these guys do well enough, we could have a set rotation for some years. At the very least, its a lot more fun than seeing if Jeff Suppan or Braden Looper or Doug Davis will be serviceable enough.

    • mattj425 - Mar 19, 2013 at 7:26 PM

      Don’t leave Tomo Ohka off that “serviceable” list…

    • wiscotom - Mar 19, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      All those wasted years of Ben Sheets in his prime.

  3. blarry21 - Mar 19, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    It was the bullpen that killed us last year. Hopefully, the pitching can at least be average. They’ll still be in the Wild Card hunt because of their offense.

  4. wiscotom - Mar 19, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    Most of that ERA came from our horrific bullpen. If Doug’s mass relief pitcher signing experience goes well, the Brewers have a lot of potential. I think the Cardinals (if the injuries will hurt them or if they’ll stay a contender) will be key in determining the division this year.

    • wiscotom - Mar 19, 2013 at 8:53 PM

      Forgot to mention, it’s not as if the Brewers need to do THAT much better in the starting pitcher department. Marcum was constantly hurt, Randy Wolf flat out sucked all year, and most of the young guys (specifically Fiers) weren’t used to a full workload yet.

  5. proudlycanadian - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:40 PM

    I see no mention of the importsnt subjects. For example, what is the over/under on how many slide that guy in the outfield seats will make after home team homers? What is the over/under on races won by the kidnap victim?

  6. greej1938l - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:46 PM

    4th place…don’t see it. Atleast 3rd

    • ryfo18 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      A Cards homer wrote this, FWIW.

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