COMMENTARY | Following a franchise-record 96 victories and coming just two games away from reaching their first World Series in 29 years, the Milwaukee Brewers made a vital mistake the following offseason -- they neglected their bullpen.
It was a complete and utter disaster during the 2012 season, as they allowed LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to walk after masterful performances in relief throughout the season. Francisco Rodriguez wound up accepting Milwaukee's arbitration offer of $8 million, only to fall flat on his face. And John Axford lost his magic touch, blowing nine saves in all.
The bullpen was the main culprit for the Brewers' failure to reach the playoffs, and it was blown up following last season. While Milwaukee did its best to atone for its pitiful 'pen in the offseason, another issue arose -- inexperience in the starting rotation.
The Brewers have had a top-tier offense for the better part of the last decade, but the backbone of their 2011 playoff run was the starting five. Veterans and proven commodities like Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf teamed with a budding star in Yovani Gallardo and the best No. 5 starter in the league in Chris Narveson.
But there was one more pitcher who put the Brewers over the hump, a la CC Sabathia in 2008. That man was Zack Greinke, one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball. Greinke was dealt at the trade deadline last season with Milwaukee seemingly out of the playoff race.
The former Cy Young Award recipient went 25-9 in a Brewers uniform, and it was his ability to throw strikes and pitch deep into games that made Greinke so valuable. He's now making $147 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers, money the Brewers simply don't have to splurge.
When you look at Milwaukee's current rotation, the concern is there aren't any starters who can eat up innings and help hide the bullpen. Even Gallardo runs up the pitch count early in games. There will be two pitchers -- Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta -- in the rotation who have less than a year of MLB service.
To compensate, the Brewers finally caved and signed free agent Kyle Lohse to a three-year deal. Lohse doesn't throw hard like Greinke, but he throws strikes and is a workhorse, averaging just under 200 innings over the past two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also pitched brilliantly last season, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA.
While Lohse is 34 and Milwaukee has had its failures with free-agent pitcher acquisitions in the past, he brings experience and makes the Brewers better. Now they just have to hope that their young arms hold up, Gallardo takes the next step, and the bullpen clings on to leads.
That's a lot of hoping, and no matter which way you slice it, Zack Greinke will be sorely missed in 2013.
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
- Zack Greinke
- Yovani Gallardo