The Milwaukee Brewers are one of the most intriguing teams in the NL due to their potential talent and concrete placement as the fourth team in the NL Central. The Brewers are trying to move up the chain in that stacked division and not surprisingly, they made some of the most offseason moves in that division. Corey Hart, Norichika Aoki, Yuniesky Betancourt, Burke Badenhop, and Mike Gonzalez are no longer Brewers but they did pick up Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith, Mark Reynolds, and Lyle Overbay. Milwaukee will also get their most talented player back into the lineup. Clear of PED sanctions, Ryan Braun returns to the Brewers lineup as a 30-year old. He will be transitioned to right field this season but the Brewers will likely go as Braun goes.
The Brewers didn't exactly have the best infield last season with a below average player on third base and struggling to replace the loss of Prince Fielder. Corey Hart did his best to hold down first base but he is gone now and Milwaukee won't be replacing him with anyone elite. Milwaukee had five different players at first through 2013 and that trend will probably not completely die in 2014. Mark Reynolds is the most probable player to be on first for opening day. He appeared in 135 games last season with 504 plate appearances. Reynolds hit for a .220 average and 21 home runs but was just 0.4 wins above replacement. Reynolds will be backed up by veteran Lyle Overbay, Sean Halton, and Juan Francisco. Scooter Gennett will be the everyday second baseman after replacing Rickie Weeks in his rookie season. Weeks is aging and continues to have injury issues however Milwaukee has found gold with Gennett. He hit for a .324 average with 21 RBIs through 230 plate appearances last year. It's a small sample size but even if he falters in 2014, a Gennett-Weeks combo will be a steady one this year. Jean Segura was fantastic at shortstop for the Brewers last season and he will return to that position. He hit for a .294 average while stealing 33 bases. The Brewers will definitely take his above average offense and defensive skills moving forward. Aramis Ramirez will start at third base after missing the majority of the 2013 season. Ramirez is 35 years old and although he can still contribute offensively, he is still somewhat of a risk especially due to the Brewers lack of depth at the hot corner. Jeff Bianchi is second on the depth chart at third base and he has appeared in just 33 career MLB games.
The outfield is where Milwaukee shines. They've got their slugger Braun back this season and potential MVP caliber player Carlos Gomez who was ninth in voting in 2013. Gomez hit for .284 with 40 steals and 24 home runs. Gomez is a gold glove winner and will remain in center field this season. Braun is going to move over to right field to make way for Khris Davis who was impressive last season, hitting for a .279 average with 11 home runs. The Brewers are hoping that Davis can contribute at least 25 home runs in 2014. Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer also add depth options for Milwaukee in the outfield.
Jonathan Lucroy has quietly become an elite catcher in the NL Division. Although known for his play behind the plate, Lucroy is coming off a solid offensive season where he hit for a .280 average and 18 home runs. Lucroy has been consistent for the past two seasons, posting 3.6 wins above replacement in each of those seasons. Martin Maldonado will be the back-up catcher after coming off of a terrible season where he batted just .169. The Brewers need to hope that Lucroy stays healthy this season.
The Brewers pitching staff in 2013 was rather poor, accumulating a 4.20 staff ERA. Milwaukee's management went out to improve that area by signing Matt Garza to a four year contract worth $50 million dollars. Garza is coming off a solid 2013 campaign, throwing for a 3.82 ERA and about eight strikeouts per nine innings. Garza should allow the Brewers to contend with the top tier teams in the NL Central. He will join Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo to form the front of the Brewers rotation. Both of those pitchers regressed last season and each of them saw their strikeout numbers decline. Lohse had some home run problems and he signed with the Brewers at a career high in my opinion. We are expecting Lohse to provide more of the same in 2014. Expect him to put together a mid to high three ERA but his 1.18 home runs per nine should come down a few ticks. Yovani Gallardo is coming off the worst season in his career at least by ERA standards. His ground ball rate did improve but he was also giving up more through the air. Gallardo is a key asset for the Brewers and he is only 27 years old. Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada will make up the back-end of the Brewers rotation. Peralta has shown flashes of excellence during his rookie season and he should be a capable starter in the four spot for Milwaukee. Estrada is a solid fifth slot pitcher but the Brewers also have some depth in their minors in case anything goes wrong. Tyler Thornburg was the most impressive of the bunch. He had seven starts in 2013 and posted a 2.03 ERA. The Brewers also have Johnny Hellweg who started seven big league games last season as well.
The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen was one of the positive takeaways from 2013. They had the fifth best ERA in the league and likely improved after acquiring lefty Will Smith from trading Aoki. Smith struck out 43 batters in just over 33 innings pitched last season. Jim Henderson will be the Brewers closer to start the season after saving 28 games in 2013. Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez will provide solid innings for the Brewers bullpen. Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Fiers will make up the rest of a highly underrated backend in the NL.
The Brewers are a tough team to predict. They could have a potent offense but the production of Braun and Ramirez is questionable at best. They will need their key players to stay healthy and this is especially important due to their lack of depth at key positions. Jonathan Lucroy is the glue that holds this team together and if he gets injured then the Brewers will probably need to pack up their playoff hopes. The Brewers will need their top three pitchers to throw at their career averages or better to have a chance in their tough division. All of these are a lot of ifs. The Brewers could be a potential upset candidate in the NL Central but they are going to need a lot to go their way.
Odds to win World Series: +5000