COMMENTARY | The Milwaukee Brewers don't get no love. Two years ago, Ron Roenicke's crew won a franchise record 96 games, but it lost Prince Fielder to free agency. Last season, the collective "effort" of his bullpen cost the Brewers a chance at the postseason, but Milwaukee still managed to finish with a winning record.
And yet, as we gear up for the 2013 season, the Brewers' over/under for wins was set at 79.5. Not only would this win total keep Milwaukee under .500 and out of the playoffs, but it is impossible for the Brewers to achieve because there's no tying in baseball. To no one's surprise, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds are projected to finish ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central.
But it's not the end of the world, Brewer fans -- these are only projections, and with Vegas low-balling Milwaukee, that could relieve some pressure heading into the season. 79.5 wins doesn't do the Brewers justice, and here are five reasons why.
1. Young starting pitchers turned 2012 season around
This shouldn't be so difficult for people to grasp. Even after the emergence of Mike Fiers early in the season, Mark Rogers in the middle and Wily Peralta late, it was still considered a given that the Brewers needed to be aggressive in the open market for a starting pitcher this offseason. Not to rekindle bad memories, but that was the way Milwaukee obtained Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf.
General manager Doug Melvin did make a run at Ryan Dempster, but that didn't materialize, so the Brewers are contest to go into camp with Fiers, Rogers and Peralta battling with Chris Narveson for three rotation spots. If it hadn't been for those three newcomers, there's no way Milwaukee finishes above .500 last season and contends for the final wild card spot.
2. The bullpen can't possibly be any worse
Can it? The Brewers' bullpen sported a league-worst 4.66 ERA last season, and that prompted Melvin to make some drastic changes. The only remaining reliever from the 2012 opening day roster is closer John Axford, and he's coming off a pretty rough season of his own.
Jim Henderson made a lasting impression after his call-up last season, and Melvin went out and acquired three relievers during the offseason to join Ax and Henderson that didn't have an ERA higher than 3.03. A sp0t or two is still up for grabs in the bullpen, but Axford, Henderson, and newcomers Burke Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny make for a sneaky-good relieving corps.
3. That lineup…
…it's pretty good. And by the time Corey Hart is ready to return from his knee injury, it will be the same lineup from 2012 that scored the third-most runs in baseball. How the Brewers will replace Hart in the meantime is still up in the air, but having Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot from the get-go will benefit Milwaukee, and it's hard to envision Rickie Weeks having a worse season than he did last year.
There was also the extremely slow start Aramis Ramirez got off to, as well as the two months without Jonathan Lucroy in the lineup, who was well on his way to an all-star selection. With Hart and Carlos Gomez in contract years and Jean Segura getting some valuable experience at the big league level last season, there doesn't appear to be any breaks in the Brewers' lineup.
4. More bang, less buck
The Brewers' payroll will land somewhere in the $73-$77 million range this season, a significant drop-off from 2012, but that doesn't mean they are mailing it in. Names like Francisco Rodriguez, Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum, who took up over $25 million combined, are gone, and they didn't exactly bring the Brewers to the promise land last season.
Replacing those three with quality relievers like Badenhop, Gonzalez and Gorzelanny -- who will make a combined $6.7 million this season -- isn't only cheaper, but it fills a desperate need and improves an area that drastically held Milwaukee back last season. Alex Gonzalez was also re-signed for $2.75 million less than he made last season, and he could very well end up being Hart's replacement at first base for the first six weeks of the season, as well as a security blanket and mentor for Segura at short.
5. Ryan Braun's shoulder has quite the chip on it
For the second straight year, Ryan Braun has had a tumultuous offseason. In late 2011, Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, and after successfully appealing his 50-game suspension, Braun put up MVP-caliber numbers in 2012. Now, Braun faces more allegations after his name showed up on pieces of paper obtained from Biogenesis, a clinic being investigated for distributing performance enhancing drugs to MLB athletes.
And for the second straight year, Braun has vehemently denied using PEDs and has something to prove to all the non-believers. Whether Braun cheated or not, hitting .319 with 41 HRs and 112 RBIs and not testing positive for PEDs silenced some critics, and now he'll have to try and silence them again this season. If Braun truly has a case and can translate his frustration to success on the field once again, the Brewers could ride him to a successful 2013 campaign. The rest of the league might want to look out.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.