Manager: Ron Roenicke Projected Record: 78-84
It was tempting to copy and paste last year’s preview on this page with updates to the roster and call it a day. The Brewers are still a team with some obvious strengths, some not so obvious weaknesses, and some things that need to break just right in order for them to be a competitive team. Last year, they got a lot of those breaks. The Cardinals and Pirates had problems with uneven performance and injuries for much of the season. When those teams got healthy and leveled out late, the Brewers appeared to have collapsed late in the season. In reality, their September was just another data point on what was a very up and down 2014 for the 82-80 Brew Crew. After starting 20-8 through the end of April, the Brewers were 62-72 (.463 winning percentage) the rest of the way. For comparison sake, the Cubs were 64-72 (.471) from May 1 onward. They rode a hot April as far as they could with the better teams in the division struggling. They’re cooking with the same recipe this season, but unless they get the same breaks with better teams having injury and uneven performance issues early on, there should be a lot less optimism at Miller Park late in the season.
After sending Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers, Jimmy Nelson will get to take a turn every fifth day out of camp this season. Aside from that, Kyle Lohse will enter his contract year as the Opening Day starter for the Brewers after posting a respectable 2014. Matt Garza returns for the second year of a four year deal with the Brewers. It is the middle and the bottom of the rotation that has question marks for the Brewers. Wily Peralta started 2014 very hot before settling at a 3.53 ERA, 4.11 FIP, and 3.64 xFIP. Those numbers are in line with the guys ahead of him in the rotation. The bottom of the rotation is either unproven or hasn’t been able to prove long term performance. Jimmy Nelson only made 12 starts last season, and had trouble the second time through line-ups. He’s developed a curve ball, which may help, but his effectiveness as a regular starter is to be determined. Mike Fiers has been an up and down arm in the Brewers organization for a few years, both in respect to performance and whether he pitches in Milwaukee or AAA. As it stands, this rotation is not one that, on paper, looks good enough to lead the Brewers to the playoffs.
The Brewers signed lefty Neal Cotts and brought back closer Francisco Rodriguez this off-season, which is the bulk of the movement. They were rumored to be close to adding Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, but that deal never materialized. As far as actual composition of this bullpen, the back end looks pretty solid. Broxton and K-Rod are both steady and reliable. Broxton should be able to allow K-Rod days off so that he isn’t needed to pitch 3 or 4 consecutive days. Overall, this bullpen is average or slightly better. Jim Henderson could make this a good bullpen when he returns from injury if he is able to regain the form that made him the Brewer closer in 2013.
Jonathan Lucroy is the best catcher in baseball. He hits, he blocks pitches in the dirt, he is as good as they come at pitch framing, and he is quickly becoming the leader of the Brewers organization. He is a fan favorite in Milwaukee for damn good reason. He is, as we sit here today, the gold standard for catchers in MLB. Even at this early stage, it is fair to call him an MVP candidate. He is that good.
This is going to be the final season of Aramis Ramirez‘s great career. He’s made that pretty clear. He has also said that he would like to play 140 games, which would be the most he’s played since 2012. Ramirez is not what he once was, but he is still good enough to be impactful when he is in the line-up. His power numbers were down last year, but he was still productive, and he can be protected in the field by their short stop’s ability to cover ground that Ramirez can’t. Jean Segura was a mess at the plate last season, continuing a down second half of 2013. He’s a solid defensive short stop, but his .246/.289/.326 in 2014 doesn’t scare anyone. Scooter Gennett will get the chance to be the true everyday second baseman after the departure of Rickie Weeks. For this to be successful, Gennett has to be something more than absolutely horrific against left handed pitching. .103/.125/.128 isn’t going to cut it and is the reason he only got 42 PAs against lefties last year. Adam Lind was brought over to play first from the Blue Jays after a down year in the power compartment. His 6 HRs and 40 RBI were the lowest of his career. Defensively, he doesn’t offer a great deal of value, which explains why he was used as a DH pretty regularly in Toronto. He will not have that option nearly as frequently in Milwaukee. For the Brewers to achieve their stated goal of competing this season, the infield is going to need to improve to the point of over-achieving.
Of all of the position groups on this team, the outfield is the deepest and most talented. Khris Davis is a good left fielder, who can hit 5th or 6th in a good line-up and be very productive. Ryan Braun is coming back again after issues with his thumb last season. The health of that thumb is going to make a world of difference in the depth of the line-up. If Braun is healthy all season and can put up numbers in the range of his career numbers, the Brewers are going to be fun to watch at the plate. If not, the depth in the line-up is going to suffer for it. If he is able to be a fixture in the third spot as he has been in years past, this team is that much better. At this point, that remains to be seen. He says he feels good, but he did last year, too. Carlos Gomez is the star of the group. He finished 4th in fWAR among center fielders in 2014, behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Michael Brantley. He is outstanding both offensively and defensively, has great speed, hits for power, and makes some spectacular catches. He really does it all. While he didn’t quite match a break out 2013 in terms of fWAR (5.9 last season was down from 7.8 in 2013), most of his offensive numbers were as good or better at the plate. There is every reason to believe that he repeats that production this season.
Despite some very real stars in Lucroy and Gomez, the Brewers are left with some of the same questions this year as they had last year. Will the starting pitching be good enough and consistent for the duration of the season? Will their infield produce? Have they found an answer at first? Even though there are some players who are very good and have some great resumes, the Brewers are probably going to struggle to be consistent in 2015 in some of the same ways they did in 2014. They don’t appear willing to be sellers if things go south, so it would figure that this team will look pretty much the same all season, with some variation for injuries or the possible small trade. If they start out as hot as they did last year, they may try to add small pieces to their roster, but without a great deal of high end talent in the system, the ability to add a big piece is severely limited. As currently constructed, the Brewers have a ceiling of about 84 wins and a floor of about 75. Neither is enough to get them into the playoffs or to protected pick territory. Unless they come into a huge wealth of money, decide to sell off assets, or some of their players seriously out-perform the back of their baseball cards, the Brewers seem to remain destined for the purgatory that is mediocrity.