The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers put together a respectable season at 83-79, thanks in large part to their offense. When you think of the top offensive teams across the league the Brewers may not be the first to come to mind. But with Ryan Braun leading the charge with a dominant campaign, the Crew led all of the National League in runs scored, topping the mighty Cardinals by 11 runs.
It would be pitching that would disarm the Brewers’ attempt at another playoff run. In particular, the bullpen was to blame. Milwaukee’s pen finished dead last across all of MLB in ERA with an unsightly 4.66 mark. A brief glance at some of the primary relievers and their numbers will tell the story. John Axford was 5-8, blew 9 saves, and had a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Frankie Rodriguez was 2-7 with a 4.38 ERA. Kameron Loe posted a 4.61 ERA, which was better than Manny Parra’s 5.06. You get the point. It was ugly.
The Brewers brought in some new faces to hopefully shape up the pen. Mike Gonzalez resurrected his career a bit in Washington last year and will bring his 34-year old left arm to Miller Park. Another lefty, Tom Gorzelanny also comes over from the nation’s capital fresh off of a career year. He posted a 2.88 ERA in 2012. Right-hander Burke Badenhop joins the Brewers via Tampa and will look to help bolster the pen.
Yovanni Gallardo will headline a starting rotation that has its own issues. Several unproven pitchers will be asked to step up their game in an effort to allow the offense, the true strength of this team, to carry them toward a playoff run.
Best Case Scenario for 2013
I think the Brewers will be a good team in 2013. They dominated at home a year ago, posting a 49-32 record, but they stumbled away from Wisconsin by only going 34-47 on the road. That is the difference between a playoff team and a 3rd place finish. I like what the front office did to shore up the bullpen but I just don’t see the overall pitching staff being good enough to get past the Reds or Cardinals in the standings. If they capture some magic, they could contend for the 2nd wild card spot, but a more likely scenario is another 3rd place finish in the NL Central.
Most Important Brewers
Ryan Braun is far and away the most important Brewer. He is so good that he can push a team from being merely an onlooker all the way into the playoffs. Braun was the NL’s 2011 MVP and very easily could have been again in 2012 after putting up a .319 average, 36 doubles, 41 homers, 108 runs, 112 RBI’s, and 30 steals. At age 29 he is sitting smack dab in the middle of his prime and will continue to put up crazy numbers. The PED rumors may never go away, but neither will his off the charts production.
Quite often a bullpen will go as their closer goes. And last year they all went haywire. With that in mind, John Axford has to return to his 2011 ways when he blew just 2 saves in 48 chances. Axford still logged plenty of strikeouts in ‘12 (93 in just 68.1 innings) but his homer and walk rates were up substantially. In ’11 he gave up just 4 homers and 25 walks. Just one year later he allowed 10 long balls and 39 free passes. As a result, his ERA catapulted from 1.95 to 4.67 and his WHIP from 1.14 to 1.44. He coughed up 9 of his 44 save opportunities. Simple math will tell you that the Brewers lost 7 wins from 2011 to 2012 by way of his increase in blown saves. 7 more wins and they would have easily made the playoffs. Axford must step up for this team in 2013.
Potential Breakout Players
Shortstop Jean Segura was the prized possession in the Zack Greinke trade. After coming to Milwaukee he hit .264 over 148 at-bats, stealing 7 bases in 8 tries. Segura will turn 23 in March and is the odds-on favorite to be this team’s everyday shortstop. Just in case he’s not ready, the Brewers brought Alex Gonzalez back on a 1-year deal as a trusted veteran insurance piece. A year ago, Segura spent time on both the Angels and Brewers’ AA teams. He hit a combined .304 with a healthy .358 on-base %. He is basically a singles hitter at this point in his career as he only mustered up 25 extra-base hits. But a steal is as good as a double, and he had 37 swipes. If he can get 500 at-bats for manager Ron Roenicke this year, he could put up a .270 average with 30+ steals.
There is going to be competition for the 5th starter gig in the rotation and I really hope Wily Peralta gets a long look. He was recently ranked the 64th best prospect by MLB.com and could potentially bring his arsenal to the big leagues on a full-time basis in 2013. Peralta is 23 and stands 6’2’’ while weighing 240 pounds. He is a big fella with a power arsenal who tends to fight his command at times. He has 589 K’s in 620.2 career minor league innings. With a rotation full of guys who could be really solid or might implode at any given moment such as Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and potentially Mark Rogers, getting a breakout year from a guy like Peralta could pay huge dividends for Roenicke.
Worst Case Scenario
This team is going to hit, but we don’t know if they will pitch very well. The bullpen makeover should help but the keys to the effectiveness of that unit rest in John Axford’s powerful right arm. If he is right, this team should compete. But even if the pen is by and large fixed, the starting rotation is a big question mark after Gallardo. If things go sideways on this pitching staff early on, some of the hitters might disengage and the team could freefall to a sub .500 season. With veterans like Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Norichika Aoki on board, the ship should be relatively stable.
Areas of Concern
Would you guess that it’s pitching? With Greinke gone, Gallardo is on an island by himself and is going to need a lot of help from some guys who have put up decent numbers but nothing to get overly excited about. Can Mike Fiers be a number 2? He started off in dominating fashion as a rookie last year but collapsed late, posting a 4.89 ERA in August and 7.09 ERA in September. Estrada got his first real shot at being a starter in 2012 and grew into the role as the season went along. Unlike Fiers, he got stronger as he went, throwing up a 5-3 record in August and September with 3.12 and 2.63 ERA’s respectively.
Corey Hart’s knee injury will take a big bat out of the lineup and give Mat Gamel yet another opportunity to prove he can hit with consistency at the major league level. Gamel better get right to it though as Hart is projected to return in late April or early May.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012
We’ll ignore John Axford in this section as his need to rebound is obvious. Digging a bit deeper, 2012 was a tale of two halves for Rickie Weeks. From April – June he was virtually useless at the plate. He hit .186 in April, .132 in May, and .231 in June. By the time July 1 rolled around he had accumulated just 6 homers, 22 RBI’s, and 6 steals. However, from that point on he was the Rickie Weeks everyone has come to expect, hitting .260-.270 with solid power numbers. After the calendar flipped to July he hit 15 homers, drove in 41 runs, and stole 10 bases. As discussed, the Brewers have a top flight offense with the guys already mentioned, along with underrated catcher Jonathan Lucroy and centerfielder Carlos Gomez fresh off of a career season. If Weeks can get his act together for the entire season then expect Milwaukee to be able to hit with anyone.
Mat Gamel is in grave danger of officially being labeled a Quadruple-A player if he isn’t careful. He is still just 27 years old and had a golden opportunity to be the team’s everyday 1st baseman in 2012 thanks to the free agent departure of Prince Fielder. He got off to a poor start in April before succumbing to injury and missing the season’s final 5 months. With Corey Hart out for likely all of April, Gamel gets another go at it. Remember just one spring training ago when Milwaukee was extremely excited about his progress. His last full season in the minors was 2011 when he hit .310 with 29 doubles, 28 homers, and 96 RBI’s. He has good on-base skills and if he can make his mark in April, he might finally get a serious dose of MLB at-bats. With 350 plate appearances, Gamel has enough upside to hit .280 with double digit homers.
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