COMMENTARY | OK, so this may be just a tad late, but as of April 2, we are through just one of the 162 scheduled games that the Milwaukee Brewers will play this season. Besides, we didn't want people thinking this preview was some kind of April fool's joke.
That one game invoked about as much drama as you could expect, as the Brewers rode the rollercoaster of emotions before finally winning in the tenth inning on a Jonathan Lucroy sacrifice fly. The game featured several red flags for Milwaukee, but the bottom line is that the Crew is 1-0. Still, we're here to analyze the season in its entirety - how the Brewers will perform and what their players will bring to the table in 2013.
Catchers (2): Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado
With Lucroy sidelined for two months due to a broken hand last season, Maldonado received the call from Triple-A Nashville. Somehow, Maldy found a way to perform better in the big leagues than in the minors, and the Brewers barely missed a beat without Lucroy thanks to his bat and cannon behind the plate. The Brewers now have one of the best tandems at catcher in the league, and Maldonado will likely catch every fifth day with Lucroy, who hit .320 last season, healthy.
Gonzalez will play first base until Corey Hart returns in early May, and we could also see Maldonado and Betancourt, who will back up every infield position, get the occasional start at first. Weeks and Ramirez will look to avoid slow starts again, and if they can do so, look out. Meanwhile, Segura's glove is big-league ready, but the question is whether or not he can hit big league pitching.
Braun is currently being investigated by the MLB for his involvement with Biogensis, but he should be expected to put up huge numbers if he avoids some sort of punishment. Gomez, coming off a career-year and an extension, no longer has a contract to play for, so we'll see how that affects his mindset and performance. Aoki will lead off and his patience and ability to get on base make him perfect for a role the Brewers had trouble filling for so long.
Starters (5): Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse, Mike Fiers
This rotation looks better with Lohse in it, so now it's just a matter of him playing up to his contract (three years, $33 million). Gallardo has had issues pitching late into ball games, so that will be something to keep an eye on as he takes over the ace role. After that, it's anyone's guess as to how Estrada, Peralta and Fiers perform as they each enter the season as a starting pitcher at the big league level for the first time.
Relievers (8): Chris Narveson, Tom Gorzelanny, Alfredo Figaro, Brandon Kintzler, Burke Badenhop, Mike Gonzalez, Jim Henderson, John Axford
Plenty of unfamiliar names help make up the Brewers' titivated bullpen, and the Brewers hope that's a good thing. Axford reprises the closer's role, but he's already 0-for-1 on the year courtesy of the long ball, which was a major issue for Ax last season. Henderson, Narveson and Kintzler are the only others who saw the field for Milwaukee last season. This group will be narrowed down to seven within a few weeks once the Narv-dog and Lohse get stretched out.
A team that has so many uncertainties makes the level of success we should expect the Brewers to have hard to gauge. We know the lineup will take care of its end of the bargain, especially once Hart returns from his knee injury. Ron Roenicke's aggressive managing style combined with the power of Braun, Ramirez and Weeks and the speed of Gomez, Aoki and Segura makes Milwaukee a fun team to watch.
That level of enjoyment is compounded when Lucroy, a career .308 hitter with runners in scoring position, and Braun (.312) come through in the clutch, something they so often do. Segura hit .367 this spring, and if he can at least hold his own at the plate, that lineup becomes all the more dangerous.
But then comes the pitching. Last season, the Brewers' current starting five combined to go 48-30 with a 3.38 ERA, and that looks pretty darn good on paper. At that pace, Milwaukee would challenge 100 wins, but that's an unrealistic outlook. Who knows if Lohse can duplicate his performance from over the past two seasons. Plus, can the Brewers survive without a lefty in the rotation assuming Narveson stays put in the 'pen?
Speaking of the bullpen, just as many unknowns lie within this group. Axford may not last the season at closer if home runs and blown saves continue to be an issue, and while several guys are coming off breakout seasons, it's hard to imagine general manager Doug Melvin hit the jackpot on every single one of his acquisitions this winter.
That being said, the bullpen isn't going to have a 4.66 ERA a la 2012, a season where Milwaukee still managed 83 wins while battling for the final wild card. The lineup remains the same, and Lohse provides a boost to a rotation that desperately needed another veteran presence. Fewer uncertainties in the starting five should result in more success for Milwaukee.
Some rough patches for the rotation and the bullpen will create some turbulence, but the one constant will be the offense, and that will be enough to keep the Brewers competitive and battling for a playoff berth.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
- Sports & Recreation
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Jonathan Lucroy