Coming into this season, I did not know what to expect of the Milwaukee Brewers. After a 74-88 season, some changes seemed to be called for in terms of the playing staff. The only thing resembling a "big splash" was signing Matt Garza to a 4-year contract. It was not a bad move -- just not a "wow" move.
The team started out incredibly well and spent an amazing 133 games in first place during the season. The high water mark for the year came on June 28, when the Brewers reached 19 games over .500 -- or on July 1, with a 6.5 game lead over second.
The team fell apart in August and thereafter. That month of September...well...it brings to mind a song about a volcano.
In all seriousness, the year closed with tons of negatives. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay at first base were not good at all. Despite 22 HR, Reynolds put up a SLG of just .394. That's what happens when you get 378 AB with 74 hits (.196 AVG). Overbay's SLG was .333. Soak that in for a second. That's your first basemen, where you stash a hitter who isn't the best fielder.
While Khris Davis showed that he can play left field well enough to stick, his OBP was a paltry .299 (though he slugged .457 to make up for it).
As the song says, "How am I gonna be an optimist about this?"
Let's talk about some of the good:
Rickie Weeks played reasonably well in a platoon/pinch hitting role in what will almost certainly be his final season in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. He stayed healthy the entire year, and got on base at a .357 clip in 286 plate appearances.
The bad with Weeks? His refusal to play anywhere but 2nd base -- certainly driven by his desire to be a starter somewhere else this coming year -- meant that the team had little flexibility on its bench and had to carry guys like Elian Herrera because Herrera could play literally everywhere on the field.
But, with Weeks leaving, here are a few of the cards I picked up at the card show earlier this month.
Yovani Gallardo -- and the pitching staff in general -- had a solid season. Even when Marco Estrada turned into a batting practice pitcher, guys like Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers filled in admirably. Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Wily Peralta each threw over 190 but less than 200 innings this past year. That's an excellent record.
While it seems like Gallardo has been in Milwaukee forever, he was only 28 years old. Studies by sabermetricians interested in the issue for fantasy baseball purposes have shown that age 30 tends to be the peak for pitchers -- when physical ability catches up with mental acuity. Brewers fans can hope that Gallardo will pitch well this coming year in the option year of his contract and then resign with the Brewers. Okay, I hope he does that. I wouldn't be surprised if bigger money came in and swiped him, though.
One of the clearest bright spots for Milwaukee this past season was the play of catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He and Carlos Gomez were by and far the best hitters on the team -- with Lucroy winning the OPS race .837 to .833. Both play key defensive positions, though Lucroy's is certainly more difficult. Add in the fact that Lucroy just signed a very team-friendly contract in which he will be paid just $3 million in 2015 and $4 million in 2016 before a $5.25 million option for 2017 (when Luc is 31 years old), and he quickly becomes a favorite.
So, there's at least one point about which I can be an optimist.
Here's the other guy about whom I can be optimistic. The Twins whiffed on Carlos Gomez's potential when they traded him to Milwaukee, though certainly the Brewers wouldn't mind having JJ Hardy at shortstop too.
Gomez is 2 years into a 4-year, $28.3 million deal. His agent is Scott Boras, which usually means testing the water in free agency at the end of a contract, but, Gomez did sign that deal and give back some of his arbitration and early free agency years.
Anyway, I'm glad he is on my team. I'd probably not like him too much otherwise.
Okay, back to doom and gloom. Jean Segura was avert-your-eyes bad in the middle of the year as well -- certainly with good reason in light of his baby son's death -- but that .246/.289/.326 line looks more like an anchor on the offense than anchoring the middle infield.
Then, there is the PED man.
Ryan Braun couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag after the All-Star break due to thumb trouble. The snarky among us might cite karma being a bitch and all for that, but fans expected more than a .266/.324/.453 line.
There is talk that Braun might be shifted positions yet again, this time to first base, in the offseason. It's possible, I suppose, but it will be tough to do that if he is hurt or struggling with potential nerve damage in his thumb that makes hitting painful. He had a procedure to try to fix that immediately after the season, and we will not know whether that was successful honestly until he swings again in anger next spring.
So, what do the Brewers need to do to rebound next year?
1. Fix First Base: that means getting a real player who isn't the reincarnation of Rob Deer to play there.
2. Shore up the Bullpen: at least one and possibly two or three good middle relievers are needed. The Wei-Chung Wang Rule 5 draftee experiment taxed the bullpen greatly in trying to hide a kid with a ton of potential but no experience above A-ball in the bullpen. It meant working with a 24-man roster.
3. Hope that Segura & Braun Rebound: With the money (Braun) and time (Segura) invested in them, that's really the only option.
In reality, this was always a flawed team. That they did as well as they did for as long as they did was a good result, generally. It just would have been easier to take if the bad month was in April.
2014 is in the books for the Brewers -- on to the next episode.
Thanks again for reading, and note that the links above take you to the player collection page for each of these guys.