As I stated in the opening, the Brewers downfall in 2014 was primarily triggered by a lack of depth. When their big names had to play through injuries because there were no suitable replacements, they dropped like an anvil on Wile E. Coyote's head. The one change they made to their lineup this winter was replacing Lyle Overbay at first base with Adam Lind. Lind's presence in the batter's box hasn't dwindled, when healthy. If his current pattern of one year hurt, one year healthy continues; 2015 should see him stay on the field. The field however is where he is quite a problem. In the American League, Toronto could use him at DH when he was having a particularly rough go of it at first base. Milwaukee will have no such luxury and it could get real ugly on the right side of the infield, real quick. At second base, Scooter Gennett didn't have to do much to usurp the now departed Rickie Weeks for the position. Once second was all his though, complacency seemed to set in on the 24 year old and the hustle and grit he displayed as a rookie all but faded away. With no real competition again coming out of spring, Gennett is going to have to rekindle that fire inside to show GM Doug Melvin that he is part of the team's future. (Side note: Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke both survived last year's meltdown.) At shortstop, the enigma known as Jean Segura still remains. Segura burst onto the scene in 2013 garnering an All-Star nod and league-wide praise. Since that Mid-Summer Classic, praise wouldn't be the word I'd use to describe what most are saying about the 25 year old Dominican. His second half swoon from two years past carried over into 2014 and then some. He hit just .246 and the speed (stolen bases down from 44 to 20) and power (home runs down from 12 to 5) he showed early on are all but evaporated. As with Gennett, there is no real viable threat to his position this year. Top prospect Orlando Arcia may challenge him in the future but he is at a minimum a year away from the Majors. Third base is still in the hands of Aramis Ramirez. He is in the final year of his contract and his ability to drive the ball continues to dwindle. BUT, and stop me if you've heard this before, there is NOBODY TO CHALLENGE HIM AT THIRD BASE. He only made the All-Star team last season because he was voted to start and I don't expect there to be a sudden uptick in production from him this year. However, I am saving the best of the Brewers' infield for last. That would of course be catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting a season ago and like Ramirez was voted to start in the All-Star Game. His inclusion was quite warranted though. Lucroy was able to get himself into the lineup more with a few shifts at first base and flourished. He led the Majors in doubles and had an on base percentage of .373. Lucroy is cheap, productive, and versatile. Milwaukee would be smart to lock him up or risk losing him in two years.
On paper, the Brewers' outfield should be one of the best in the National League. Carlos Gomez is in his prime as he continues to maintain power (20+ HR two straight years), speed (30+ SB two straight years), and Gold Glove defense. The bad news is that he is a free agent after 2016. If what they did with Yovani Gallardo is any indication of their strategy for the future, I think Gomez will be traded before he ever gets to free agency. One contract they're stuck with is that of Ryan Braun. Now that the Biogenesis mess is behind him, Braun has developed a new wart on himself. A troublesome thumb that he tried to play through resulted in the lowest full season offensive output of his career. He says he is 100% healthy in Spring Training but still looks to be shaking off some of the rust. If I was a Brewers' fan, I'd be downright terrified of that thumb becoming a recurring hindrance for a player that is locked up until at least 2020. The last spot in the outfield still belongs to Khris Davis. No longer a prospect, he'll be 27 in 2015, Davis needs to show more than power (22 homers in '14) to keep his place in the lineup. He strikes out a ton and walks never. Add that to the below average defense he provides in left field and his pop may not be able to make him an every day entrant on the lineup card. I say that because outfield is the one place where Milwaukee has some depth. Take that as you will since their "depth" is just one guy that can play all three outfield spots. That man is Gerardo Parra. Parra was a puzzling acquisition at the trade deadline last year as the Brewers' needs at the time were everything BUT outfield. Compound that with the fact that they dealt two of the their top ten prospects for a fourth outfielder making over $6 million this year and you may just send your resume to Miller Park announcing your just as unqualified candidacy for the GM position. Add on the fact that Parra is a free agent after this year and you might as well use the Men In Black Neuralyzer on yourself and forget the sport of baseball exists.
If you think I was critical of the lineup, you are going to charge me with a hate crime when it comes to the pitching. The starting staff has no real "ace" to speak of but will either trot out Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza in the role for 2015. Lohse has been the model of consistency since 2011 and should win at least 12-15 games this year. The flip side is that he is a free agent and will turn 37 in October. That means he will either retire or leave Milwaukee for one last big pay day that they surely will not grant him. I only say that because they traded former ace Yovani Gallardo for peanuts to get out from his impending free agency. As for Garza, he is a steady hand for a rotation that is going to get very young in the coming years. He is never really dominant but is also never completely appalling. I guess that is what $50 million buys you these days, as that is the amount owed to Garza over the next four years. This is the point where my Haterade comes out in full effect because a lot of people really like the rest of the Brewers' rotation. Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, and Jimmy Nelson are slated to be those final three pitchers as of today. Peralta won 17 games last year and nearly pitched 200 innings. With that being said, he is a pitcher who pitches to contact who gives up a lot of hits and home runs. It takes just one bad stretch for those two attributes to really pig pile on a young player. With the Central Division improving around them, I wouldn't be surprised if Peralta gave up 30 homers this year making it two straight years a Brewers pitcher led in that category (Marco Estrada did last year). As for Nelson, the high regard for him within the Brewers' organization is more of a symbol of their dearth of pitching talent than it is to his actual ability. In his first extended look in the Majors in 2014, Nelson got shellacked. His stuff isn't great and while he doesn't walk many, he throws way too many pitches down the heart of the plate. I expect him back in either the Minors or the bullpen by season's end. The last pitcher is Mike Fiers. I saved the best of the three for last. I also saved the most brittle. When you type Mike Fiers' name into Google the first thing that pops up under his name is "Mike Fiers Injury." The guy cannot stay healthy. Freak injuries to random ailments seem to haunt this guy each season and he isn't getting any younger. You'll get just as many trips to the disabled list as you get quality starts from Mike Fiers this year.
The bullpen was one of the main reasons the Brewers crashed and burned in 2014. How did they remedy this glaring deficiency? Overpaying Neal Cotts for one year. He was brought in to replace Zach Duke, who went to Chicago, Milwaukee's only competent left hander out of the pen. Outside of two good years nearly a decade apart, Cotts' ERA sits in the 5.00 range. Not quite the savior the Brew Crew were hoping for. But the Brewers have plenty of former closers to choose from if Francisco Rodriguez falls on hard times. K-Rod has had a bit of an up and down career in Milwaukee but he had 44 saves in 2014, his highest output since he set the Major League record with 62 in 2008. Jonathan Broxton and Jim Henderson both have closing experience but if either claim the role at any point in 2015, the season will be going much worse than even I expected.
The Brewers have plenty of upside and may provide their fans with some fireworks with a lot of home runs. Just know that the opposing fans are going to get just as much joy watching their team launch dingers off the Brewers' sub-par staff and bullpen. You won't have to worry about a collapse this year Milwaukee faithful, you are going to stink throughout.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #25 (NO CHANGE)
PREDICTED RECORD: 73-89
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Jonathan Lucroy (catcher), Carlos Gomez (outfielder)
Trevor Utley enjoyed Milwaukee when he went there and experienced one of the more surreal moments in his life when every girl (and he means EVERY girl) in a Marquette bar combined to sing Madonna's "Like A Prayer" only to return to normalcy as if nothing happened as soon as the song ended.
Image Credit: Brewers logo (sportslogos.net)