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2014 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Mar 21, 2014, 5:52 PM EDT

ryan braun getty Getty Images

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 2014 season. Next up: The Milwaukee Brewers.

The Big Question: Can they bounce back?

The Brewers won only 74 games in 2013 after averaging 85 wins per season between 2007 and 2012. Last year’s squad had a combined rotation ERA of 4.20, which ranked 21st out of 30, and the offense produced a combined OPS of .708, which ranked 18th. The pitching problems were predictable, and Ryan Braun‘s 65-game PED suspension can shoulder some blame for the lacking run production.

But diagnosing a team’s issues and that team making the necessary fixes are two very different things.

Braun is back from suspension and destroying baseballs this spring in the Cactus League and the Brewers signed right-hander Matt Garza to a four-year, $50 million free agent contract in late January to help bring a dose of stability to the starting pitching group. Those two items alone make an improvement over last year’s dismal 74-88 record a fair expectation, but the National League Central now houses three upper-crust teams in the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates, and the Brewers are still lagging well behind those 2013 postseason participants. Bovada has Milwaukee’s over-under win total for the 2014 season set at 79.5. St. Louis leads the pack at 90.5 wins, Cincinnati is listed at 84.5 wins, and Pittsburgh stands just under the Reds at 83.5 wins. The Cubs, for those curious, are at the bottom of the division with an over-under win total of 69.5.

The Brewers do seem poised for a rebound, but not to a level that would push them back into division-title contention. The lineup is good but not great and the pitching staff is still short on dominant arms.

This is an organization deciding between Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds to start at first base.

What else is going on?

  • The Brewers struck gold — not an alternate jersey pun — when they landed shortstop prospect Jean Segura from the Angels in July 2012 as part of a three-player return package for starting pitcher Zack Greinke. Segura batted .294/.329/.423 with 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases in 146 games last season for Milwaukee while playing steady defense at the shortstop position. He was a 3.4 fWAR player in 2013 — ranking sixth in that category among major league shortstops — and he just turned 24 years old. Greinke, meanwhile, is pitching for the other Los Angeles baseball club.
  • Khris Davis was given a chance to claim regular outfield playing time last summer when Braun was suspended and absolutely rose to the occasion, posting a .949 OPS with 11 home runs and 27 RBI in 56 total games. He is now set to open the 2014 regular season as the Brewers’ starting left fielder — Braun is shifting to right — and will look to ride the momentum that he established at the end of 2013. The 26-year-old former seventh-round pick had a .288/.392/.506 batting line in 415 minor league games, so the thought is that last year’s power outburst wasn’t simply a case of small sample size theater.
  • Brewers closer Jim Henderson didn’t break into the bigs until age 29, but he quickly established himself as a highly-reliable high-leverage presence. He posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 61 appearances last season for Milwaukee while fanning 75 batters across 60 innings. The native of Alberta, Canada notched 28 saves. The Brewers should be able to turn most of their late leads into wins on the shoulders of Henderson and other steady relievers like Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith, and Brandon Kintzler.
  • The Brewers operate in the smallest market in Major League Baseball but still pack the house regularly at Miller Park. They sold more single-game tickets at this year’s annual Arctic Tailgate than they did last year despite a disappointing on-field showing in 2013 and a relatively inactive offseason. A unique pregame atmosphere should keep ‘em coming even if the 2014 product is buried in the division standings.

Prediction: A summer of mediocrity nets the Brewers 78 wins. Fourth place in the NL Central.

  1. unclemosesgreen - Mar 21, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco are battling it out for first base, eh?

    Paging Kendrys Morales …

    • tonyc920 - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:21 PM

      I don’t think so unclemoses. I think it turns into a platoon position with Lyle Overbay and Francisco.
      Both are lefty bats.
      Reynolds will be a utility guy and primary back up at 3rd unless they release Francisco which I doubt happens but there’s the possibility. Another possible scenario is trading Aramis Ramirez. Then Reynolds becomes the starter and Bianchi is the back up.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:28 PM

        I’m not saying Kendrys will happen, I’m saying that’s what they would do if they were serious about competing.

        As it stands, the 1B situation is grim.

      • tonyc920 - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:39 PM

        Doesn’t look so grim right now. Brewers 5-2
        Sweep the reigning World Champion Red Sox.

      • unclemosesgreen - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:45 PM

        Good for you. It will still take a miracle for this team to win 85 games this year.

      • tonyc920 - Apr 27, 2014 at 3:02 PM

        Care to recant on that remark ? 18-6 as of 4/27/14 noontime.

      • unclemosesgreen - Apr 27, 2014 at 4:08 PM

        Not at all. This hot start might be just the miracle they needed.

      • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2014 at 7:01 PM

        Yeah, I am predicting the Brewers to finish 2nd. But it would be much more likely if they had contributions from the first base position.

      • jerze2387 - Mar 21, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        I’ve always kinda liked Francisco. He’s not as terrible as it’d appear. The him and overbay platoon with Reynolds backing up Aramis, to me, is a pretty solid 4 deep rotation at the corners. Especially in that park with those power bats. Plus it provides good flexibility with Francisco and Reynolds having experience at both corners.

  2. wheels579 - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    First base production for Milwaukee is irrelevant. Their chances hinge on improvement from the starting rotation, namely Gallardo, Garza & Peralta. Third place should be up for grabs as Reds try to replace Choo & Chapman, especially if the Billy Hamilton lead off experiment doesn’t work.

  3. huskerguy - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    As always, I’m just excited for Brewers baseball! We may only win 78-82 games but those wins will mess with some playoff positions. Building for the future!

  4. barkleyblows - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    They can bounce back if D Bag Braun goes back on roids. I’m sure he will. Once a cheat always a cheat.

    • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2014 at 7:00 PM

      Dude:

    • gwhempel - Mar 22, 2014 at 4:07 AM

      Here’s the thing. We all root for a team that employs a PED cheat. It’s just a matter of whether or not they’ve been caught or outed. Let’s all be friends and be happy that the weather is getting nicer and we can discuss baseball rationally.

  5. jrs45 - Mar 21, 2014 at 7:06 PM

    It’s gonna be a rough 75 win season for the Brew Crew.

    • trevor123698 - May 16, 2014 at 12:06 AM

      good call buddy

  6. happytwinsfan - Mar 21, 2014 at 8:29 PM

    if my insane packer fan friends don’t have something to do this summer, i fear for my life.

    gooooooo breeeew creeew !!!

  7. fearthehoody - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    Goat Eyes Ryan Braun = Cheater

  8. florida76 - Mar 22, 2014 at 12:22 AM

    Difficult to fathom the Milwaukee Brewers are approaching a half century of existence with only one pennant, and no world titles to their credit. And the face of the franchise is Ryan Braun.

    Embarrassing.

  9. padraighansen - Mar 25, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Last year, the Brewers were planning on a 3-4-5 line-up with Braun, Ramirez, and Hart. Hart missed the entire season, Braun missed half, and Ramirez missed half. I’m not saying they’ll win the division, but it’s a near miracle that they won 74 games last year between the injuries and the suspension. My guess is Milwaukee is the “surprise” team of the division, and pulls out 89 wins.

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