BY RYAN MILOWICKI
2013 Record: 74-88 (4th Place NL Central, 23 GB)
The Brew Crew found themselves in unfamiliar territory in 2013. Their fourth-place finish in the NL Central marked their first time finishing out of the top three since 2006. Just two seasons prior, they played a highly competitive NLCS against the rival Cardinals, but that team seemed miles away last year. From a technical standpoint, their performance in the National League was middling across the board (8th in runs, 6th in home runs, 6th in team batting average, 9th in team ERA).
Fortunately for the Brewers, their missing piece is extremely evident. Fresh off his 61-game suspension to end the 2013 season, Ryan Braun is back and ready to contribute. His healthy power and average numbers were sorely missed by the team, as their 74-88 record indicates. He’s off to a hot start in spring training, so his added offensive prowess figures to help out a decent pitching staff on which only three hurlers recorded more than seven wins in 2013.
1B Mark Reynolds (1yr/$2 mil)
SP Matt Garza (4yr/$50 mil)
RP Francisco Rodriguez (1yr/$3.25 mil)
Fresh off a disappointing 2013 split between the Indians and Yankees (his 21 home runs were the fewest since his rookie season), Reynolds looks to add depth at first base for the Brewers. It’s been five years since he hit 44 home runs, but at age 30, he realistically should be in his peak power form.
Providing some depth to the rotation, Garza should slip into the #2 spot behind Yovani Gallardo. His 2013 with the Cubs and Rangers was mediocre, but pitching half of his starts in the cavernous Miller Park should bring down his relatively high home runs allowed.
K-Rod’s back! He spent 2011, 2012, and the first half of last season with the Brewers before being shipped off to Baltimore at the trade deadline. He pitched miserably for the Orioles, but the Brewers have welcomed him back with open arms. Jim Henderson will still be the closer, but Rodriguez provides good depth in the bullpen.
Norichika Aoki: Losing your leadoff hitter is never easy, especially when he leaves an opening to the tune of 171 hits and a .356 OBP. That being said, Braun will likely assume Aoki’s spot in right field, so the Brewers should wind up ahead here.
Yuniesky Betancourt: The utility man extraordinaire played five positions last year, spread amongst 137 games. The Brewers decided not to make him an offer in free agency, and who can blame them with his .212 batting average. However, his departure leaves the Brewers vulnerable if any injuries should occur in the infield.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Aramis Ramirez. The 35-year-old is in the last year of his contract, and will make $16 million in 2014. Translation: he’s set up for one of the biggest contract busts in the MLB this year if he can’t perform. Injuries limited him to 92 games and just 12 home runs last year, so his health will be a lingering concern in 2014. He needs to put up numbers like his 2012 season (27 HR, 105 RBI, and a league-leading 50 doubles) in order to protect Ryan Braun in the lineup.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
Garza, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, and Wily Peralta will likely fill up the remainder of the rotation.
The Brewers will be much better in 2014 with the return of Ryan Braun. They should be able to break .500 , but whether or not they are able to leapfrog the Pirates and Reds to compete for the Cardinals’ NL Central crown will come down to the performance of veterans Reynolds and Ramirez.