COMMENTARY | On July 27, 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers' World Series aspirations might as well have gone out the window when Rickie Weeks severely turned his left ankle while attempting to leg out an infield single. Weeks was able to return in early September, but he clearly wasn't the same player, especially in the postseason when he only hit .146 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals.
There is something we common folk simply don't know about Weeks' sprained ankle. It was a helluva lot more serious than we realize, and it set him back for a large portion of the 2012 season seeing how Weeks couldn't break the .200 mark until a full year after that fateful ankle-turn. Certainly, we've seen inconsistencies with Weeks in the past - he has the ability to catch fire for a stretch, only to dip back into a funk in which he is hindered by injury or a large hole in the barrel of his bat.
To be fair, Weeks hit the ball on the screws quite a bit last season - a line drive percentage of 16.9 was his best mark since 2009. The only problem was that his HR/fly-ball ratio was low for his standards (13.1), and striking out one out of every four plate appearance didn't help Weeks' cause, either. Luck did return to his side for the second half of 2012, as his average jumped from .183 to .230 and his production also increased as he managed to stay on the field for the duration of 2012.
No longer is Weeks' gruesome ankle injury an excuse - he is going to make $21 million over the next two years, and if that wasn't enough incentive to pick his game up, the 30-year-old Weeks has the 22-year-old Scooter Gennett breathing down his neck. That's not to say that Weeks will lose his job to the smooth swinging Gennett this season, but Weeks is a lifelong Brewer, and there isn't any indication that he wants that to change.
With Ryan Braun on the roster, Weeks has to accept the fact that he won't be the best player on the team, but for Weeks to be the team's top infielder, he will have to outperform Aramis Ramirez, who received MVP votes last season, Corey Hart, who is in a contract year, and Jean Segura, an up-and-coming shortstop who has unlimited range.
We'll start with Segura, the biggest piece Milwaukee received in return for Zack Greinke from the Los Angeles Angels. Segura goes under the designation of contact hitter and may very well top Weeks in batting average next season, but he is still early in the learning process after being somewhat thrust into The Show. And even though Segura's glove-work has been hyped, he kicked it ten times last season in just 45 games at the big league level. Unless Segura has an unexpected power surge - he's still awaiting his first MLB home run - he'll be the least productive infielder for the Brewers in 2013.
In the case of Hart, he should be motivated by the contract year, but he'll also be set back at least six weeks due to knee surgery. While Hart does put up respectable averages as a career .276 hitter, he's also one of Milwaukee's biggest power threats, hitting 25 or more home runs in the past three seasons. Missing roughly one-fourth of 2013 isn't going to bode well for Hart's home run or RBI total, and he simply won't be able to make up for lost time. Mat Gamel will likely fill in during Hart's absence, but likewise won't receive enough playing time to have as much of an impact as Weeks.
That brings us to the most pleasant surprise of the 2012 season for Milwaukee, third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Hart's impressive transition to first base, Norichika Aoki's rookie season and the emergence of Mike Fiers all fall short of Ramirez's act, who at 34 years of age hit .300 with 27 HRs and 92 RBIs, numbers that topped his final year with the Chicago Cubs. It's unanimous that Ramirez has actually outperformed his deal up to this point.
What made Ramirez such an effective hitter was how his ground balls and fly balls split was nearly even (.91), showing a very consistent approach at the plate. However, it was an abnormal year in that regard for Ramirez, who did struggle to start off the season. Although he is notoriously a slow starter, it's going to catch up to Ramirez eventually as he gravitates further from his prime.
It won't fully kick in this season, but Ramirez won't be able to duplicate his numbers from a year ago due to the law of averages and his losing battle with age. Will he still be a worthy candidate to protect Braun in the lineup? Sure. But there are signs that point to the Brewers' second baseman taking a big step forward following a disappointing 2012 campaign, and Ramirez taking a step back following his surprising debut season with Milwaukee.
When Weeks is healthy like he was in 2010, 2011 pre-ankle injury and 2012 post-ankle recovery, he is one of the most dangerous threats in Milwaukee's lineup. Yes, Weeks has dealt with several injuries in the past, but he is a lot like Carlos Gomez when it comes to his all-out, every play attitude. He's due to enter spring training 100 percent healthy barring another unfortunate setback, and with some added motivation, the Brewers will see a revitalized Weeks in 2013.
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_.