2013 Milwaukee Brewers Preview
After faltering in 2012 and missing the playoffs, the Brewers will try to rebound to their 2011 numbers and make a run at the NL Central Division crown in 2013.
2012 was a disappointment for the Milwaukee Brewers. Just one season removed from winning 96 games in 2011 and making it all the way to the NLCS only to be defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals, expectations were super high heading into the 2012 campaign. Unfortunately, the Brewers could not live up to those expectations, largely due to a shaky pitching staff who struggled to hold leads for the team. Dissatisfied with their performance last season, the Brewers got some help for their bullpen this offseason, and return a potent offense and a rotation that is improving which should see them improve from their 83-79 record in 2013.
The Brewers’ rotation last season was more-or-less Yovani Gallardo, who went 16-9 with a 3.66 ERA, and Zach Greinke, who was purely a rental player brought back to the club to try to give their rotation a shot in the arm. Greinke is gone now, signing with the Dodgers this offseason, which means that if the Brewers are going to improve in 2013, they are going to have to do it behind some very young arms in their starting rotation.
Marco Estrada (5-7, 3.64) will likely get the nod to start behind Gallardo and the two should complement each other fairly well. Estrada pitched well in his rookie campaign last season, putting up a 9.3 K/inning ratio and led the pitching staff with a 1.14 WHIP, but he is very young and time will tell if he is able to keep those numbers up, or if he will see a slight slide in his sophomore season.
Willy Peralta is expected to get the third spot coming out of spring training as he looked very solid in his 10 appearances for the club last season. At 23-years old, the future looks bright for Peralta who really excelled in the minor leagues. Michael Fiers had a tremendous rookie campaign in 2012 as well and has earned the right to pitch out of the fourth spot coming out of spring training this season. Fiers went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA last season, but he also saw a really good K/inning ratio of 9.5 from his call-up in May through the end of the campaign. Mark Rogers should win the final spot in the rotation this spring after going 3-1 with a 3.90 ERA for the club last season.
The Brewers’ bullpen was terrible last season and was one of the major reasons that the team won 13 fewer games than they did in 2012. They led the league with 29 blown saves and closer Jonathan Axelrod was the main culprit, struggling to keep the lead in close games and blowing nine saves while posting a career-worst 4.67 ERA. Those numbers are not normal for Axelrod, so the upside is he should be able to bounce back this season, but if he struggles again they could have a hard time finding a replacement for him that currently resides on their roster.
Behind Axelrod the rest of the bullpen was equally miserable last season so the Brewers decided to clean house, jettisoning Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe, Manny Parra and Jose Veras, and bringing in Michael Gonzalez, Burke Bandenho and Tom Gorzelanny to replace them. Lefties Gonzalez and Gorzelanny came over from the Washington Nationals and were really good last season going a combined 4-2 with ERA’s right around the 3.00 mark. Gorzelanny will likely be the set-up man for Axelrod and with the two of them in the fold, the bullpen already looks much better than it did last season. Right handers Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler will return from the 2012 bullpen and both turned in decent performances for the club. Henderson will probably split duties with Gorzelanny in the 8 th, while Kintzler will work alongside Bandenhop and Gonzalez as middle-relievers. All in all, this looks to be a much improved bunch and should give the Brewers a good shot at taking back some of those 13 wins that they lost between 2011 and 2012.
The Brewers could hit last season, and they proved that they could hit for power as they led the National League with 202 homers and 776 runs overall. The offense is led by the slugging trio of Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart. Braun had an incredible season, batting .319 with 41 homers and 63 RBIs in 154 games while Ramirez hit an even .300 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs of his own. The two will make up the heart of the Brewers order and when Hart is healthy again (he will open the season on the DL with a knee injury) he will add another 20 to 25 homers to an already potent line-up.
The Brewers’ other biggest threat is their speed on the base paths, with all three of their outfielders in Braun, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki notching up 30 or more steals last season. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy had a breakout season in 2012, posting a career-high .320 batting average and hitting 12 homers in just 95 games. If he can keep that trend going this season, the Brewers will have yet another big bat to rely on in key situations. To bridge the gap while Hart is recovering from his injury, the Brewers were expecting to use Mat Gamel, but he tore his ACL and will miss the entire 2013 season recovering, so they will instead turn to rookie Hunter Morris to play first base and back-up Hart upon his return. Morris put up good numbers in the minor leagues, batting .303 last season and showed that he can hit for power at times. Whether that will translate into the big leagues remains to be seen, but if he and shortstop Jean Segura wind up being the two pieces of the offense that don’t hit for the same power as the rest of the line-up, it’s not going to cause too much trouble for the club.
The Brewers have gotten better this offseason but the injury to Hart could wind up hurting their offense a bit until he is healthy enough to return to play. Ramirez has also missed a little time this spring with a knee injury of his own, so it will be interesting to see if that ends up coming back to bother him as the season wears on. The club’s bullpen is much improved over last season, but their starting pitching is still an area of concern if their young arms go out and struggle with big league hitters. The NL Central is going to be a tough division this year, with Cincinnati and St. Louis both looking tough as always and Pittsburgh expecting to be better than they were a season ago, so the Brewers have their work cut out for them if they’re going to try to make a run for another division title. Despite the improvements made to this club, I still see them finishing very close to their 2012 record, going 82-80 and finishing a game behind Pittsburgh for 4 th place in the division.
By Robert Gonzalez