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Milwaukee Brewers: What the 2013 Season Could Have Been, and What 2014 Could Be

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COMMENTARY | "We're just one player away from becoming a playoff team."

The projected thought that crossed the mind of Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio on March 25 when the decision was made to sign free-agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse.

The Brewers flirted with the idea of signing Lohse all offseason, finally concluding that it was the right move. Expected No. 5 starter Mark Rogers went on the disabled list because of shoulder fatigue while Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers were a debacle during exhibition play. Beyond that, there weren't any legitimate options for Milwaukee, so it inked Lohse to a 3-year, $33 million deal and forked over a first-round pick to its good friend, the St. Louis Cardinals.

That was certainly the major con of the Lohse signing, and it also tied up a lot of money in a 34-year-old pitcher. But Lohse has been worth every penny -- he's been the Brewers' ace, going 9-8 with a 3.39 ERA.

Just about every other Brewer, however, has not.

Think about it. If the Brewers enter the season healthy, their starting position players are the following: Norichika Aoki, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jean Segura. That, including this season, is a lineup consisting of six All-Stars, one of the best catchers in the National League and one of the most consistent leadoff hitters in baseball.

The alternative? Weeks hits .209 before tearing his hamstring on Aug. 8. Braun's hand injury and subsequent suspension. Ramirez missing two months with a knee injury. Hart requiring surgery on both of his knees, missing the entire season. That's not to mention losing both Mat Gamel and Taylor Green to season-ending injuries as well.

Yowza.

Turning it over to the pitching side, the Brewers might not have signed Lohse had Rogers stayed healthy and had Peralta been more convincing during Cactus League play. While Lohse has performed admirably, it's been all for naught considering Milwaukee's record.

Once again, when the Brewers turned to Yovani Gallardo to be the ace of the staff, he didn't respond. Early in the season, Gallardo was arrested for DUI and his numbers reflect that behavior -- he's 10-9 with a 4.39 ERA. But since his return from the DL, Gallardo has posted a 0.93 ERA in three starts, which goes to show just how lousy it was going previously.

Peralta has arguably grown into the Brewers' No. 3 starter, but he's been a human roller coaster. Despite putting together 13 quality starts and two complete games, Peralta is 8-13 with a 4.51 ERA. If only he could grasp the concept of consistency.

Of course, injuries have also killed Milwaukee on the pitching front. Gallardo, Lohse, Rogers, Chris Narveson, Mike Fiers, Tom Gorzelanny, Marco Estrada and Jim Henderson have all spent time on the DL this season.

Speaking of Henderson, he's led a revamped bullpen to success. The Brewers remain the only team not to lose a game they've led after eight innings, and Henderson is a huge part of that, saving 22 games with a 1.82 ERA. Overall, Milwaukee has the fourth-best bullpen in baseball when it comes to ERA (3.00) thanks to the performance of Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, the since-departed Francisco Rodriguez, and others.

We may not have known it then, but entering the season, the bullpen was once again a strength rather than a glaring weakness. Take away injuries, and the offense remains one of the most dominant in baseball.

The starting rotation? When Gallardo and Peralta are right, they're really right. Considering the recent performance of Estrada (1.88 ERA in four starts since returning from DL) and the stability of Lohse, those are four guys who can pitch at a high level.

The Brewers are getting a taste of what happens when your starting pitching is clicking. Despite going up against formidable foes like the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds as of late, Milwaukee has won or split six of its last seven series. Even so, the Brewers sit at 59-74, 16 1/2 games out of the final wild card.

What could have been?

Certainly a run at .500, possibly even a wild card. But considering the loaded NL Central, it was going to be an uphill battle regardless.

What does the future hold?

That's an impossible question to answer, but the Brewers have been able to get a good look at future chips thanks to injuries and the suspension of Braun, and, just like in 2012, the pitching has come together late in the season. Barring any drastic changes during the offseason (see: trade of Ryan Braun), the Brewers could be looking at similar expectations to those they faced before the start of the 2013 season.

The starting rotation figures to be largely the same, although youngsters like Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornburg should figure to get long looks during spring training. Milwaukee could bring back Hart on an incentive-laden one-year deal, especially if it feels prospect Hunter Morris isn't ready for the next level. Did you happen to see the Brewers' first-base situation this season?

Other than Hart, the only other players set to enter free agency this winter are reliever Michael Gonzalez and utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. Just a hunch, but Brewer Nation probably wouldn't shed a tear over the departure of those two.

Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett have exceeded expectations in unexpected playing time. How will they factor in next season? Segura and Gomez became first-time All-Stars, and it's a shame to waste such performances. Can they keep it up in 2014? Braun will return from a 65-game suspension on opening day. Will he be the same player of years past? How will he be greeted by his home crowd?

Those are only a fraction of questions that need answering, and we aren't even through 2013. Perhaps what could have been this season will be next season -- and then some.

Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.

You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.

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