Complete Milwaukee Brewers 2014 Season Preview

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

Complete Milwaukee Brewers 2014 Season Preview

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    The Milwaukee Brewers are an interesting team heading into the 2014 season, as they look to bounce back from a poor season last year that saw them in the midst of a battle with the Chicago Cubs to avoid a last place finish for much of the year.

    On paper, they are a much better team than their 74-88 record in 2013 indicates. And with the big bats of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez making their return this season, they will be looking to get the offense back on track.

    Right-hander Matt Garza was the big offseason addition, and he will join Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse to form a solid trio of proven veterans atop the staff.

    Making a run at contention seems like a longshot, especially in a deep NL Central, where the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are all expected to contend. That said, they should be able to improve upon last season and could make a run at a winning record.

    In any event, here is a complete look at everything you need to know about the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers.

Spring Training Recap

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Most Impressive Hitter: CF Carlos Gomez (15-for-47 [.319 BA], 8 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 10 R)

    The breakout star of the 2013 season for the Brewers, Carlos Gomez will be looking to prove that he belongs among the ranks of the game's elite outfielders with another big season. Other guys have hit for a higher average than the .319 mark Gomez has put up this spring, but his 11 extra-base hits are impressive, and he will open the season setting the table out of the leadoff spot.

     

    Most Disappointing Hitter: 2B Scooter Gennett (12-for-54 [.222 BA], 5 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R)

    After hitting .324/.356/.479 in 69 games down the stretch last year while playing in place of the injured Rickie Weeks, it looked like Scooter Gennett could make a run at the everyday job this spring. Instead, he has struggled, and while he will still get a chance to play his way into the job, Weeks has out-played him so far.

     

    Most Impressive Pitcher: SP Yovani Gallardo (20.1 IP, 3.98 ERA, 6 BB, 15 K)

    The 28-year-old Yovani Gallardo will take the ball on Opening Day for the Brewers for the fifth straight season, and he will be looking to regain his position as one of the top starters in the NL. After going 60-38 with a 3.68 ERA and 9.4 K/9 over his first four seasons in the rotation, he was 12-10 with a 4.18 ERA and 7.2 K/9 last year.

     

    Most Disappointing Pitcher: SP Matt Garza (11.2 IP, 10.03 ERA, 5 BB, 10 K)

    When the Brewers signed Matt Garza to a four-year, $50 million deal this offseason, it looked like an absolute steal. He was one of the top-three starting pitchers on the free-agent marketarguably the most attractive given the fact that he had no draft-pick compensation tied to him.

    It's been a rough spring for Garza, but his numbers are inflated by a start in which he allowed nine hits and 10 runs (six earned) over 1.2 innings of work.

     

    Top Prospect: RF Mitch Haniger (8-for-16 [.500 BA], 1 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 5 R)

    The No. 38 pick in the 2012 draft, Mitch Haniger opens the season as the team's No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America. The 23-year-old has not seen a ton of action in big league camp, but he has impressed in his limited action.

    He posted a .779 OPS with 36 doubles and 11 home runs between Single-A and High-A last year, and he will likely open this season in Double-A.

     

    Surprise Roster Spot Winner: RP Wei-Chung Wang (12.0 IP, 4.50 ERA, 0 BB, 6 K)

    The Brewers took Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule 5 draft, but he is not your average Rule 5 player. Signed out of Taiwan by the Pirates in 2011, he had his original contract voided. However, he eventually re-signed with the Pirates, making him eligible for the draft if he was not protected.

    The 21-year-old has yet to pitch above the Rookie League level, posting a 3.23 ERA and 0.866 WHIP in 12 games (11 starts) there last year. He has enough upside that the Brewers opted to keep him this spring, and he will look to stick around for the duration of the year.

     

    Surprise Roster Cut: 1B Juan Francisco (9-for-26 [.346 BA], 1 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R)

    Though he hit just .221 in 89 games with the Brewers last year, Juan Francisco did flash some solid power, with 10 doubles and 13 home runs in 240 at-bats.

    The team brought in Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay as non-roster invitees this spring to compete with Francisco for the first base job, and the duo wound up beating Francisco out despite his solid numbers. Francisco was put on unconditional release waivers on Monday, according to the AP (h/t USA Today), and he has a good chance of landing elsewhere.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    RP Tom Gorzelanny (shoulder)

    One of the team's few offseason acquisitions last year, Gorzelanny made 43 appearances for the Brewers last season and posted a 3.90 ERA and 8.8 K/9 over 85.1 innings of work. Shoulder issues cut his season short, and he underwent shoulder surgery on Dec. 7.

    He has just started throwing off a mound, and, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, he could be back at some point in April.

     

    SS Jean Segura (shoulder)

    Segura has been sidelined with a sore right shoulder since March 18, and there is a possibility he could open the season on the DL, according to a report from ESPN.

    Manager Ron Roenicke told reporters that he is uncertain of Segura's status at this point:

    I'm not going to say it's not (a possible DL situation). They checked it and it's nothing with the rotator cuff or the labrum. There's a muscle in there that he strained. When you strain something, sometimes they go away in a couple of days and sometimes it's a week.

Lineup Preview

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Lineup

    Player2013 Stats
    1. CF Carlos Gomez147 G, .284/.338/.506, 27 2B, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 80 R
    2. SS Jean Segura146 G, .294/.329/.423, 20 2B, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 74 R
    3. RF Ryan Braun61 G, .298/.372/.498, 14 2B, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 30 R
    4. 3B Aramis Ramirez92 G, .283/.370/.461, 18 2B, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 43 R
    5. C Jonathan Lucroy147 G, .280/.340/.455, 25 2B, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 59 R
    6. 1B Lyle Overbay142 G, .240/.295/.393, 24 2B, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 43 R
    7. LF Khris Davis56 G, .279/.353/.596, 10 2B, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 27 R
    8. 2B Scooter Gennett69 G, .324/.356/.479, 11 2B, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 29 R

     

    Outlook

    After leading the NL in runs scored in 2012, the Brewers' offense fell off greatly last year, as they scored 136 less runs and dropped to the eighth spot in the league.

    Much of that had to do with the absence of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez for a big chunk of the season. Those two will be back in the middle of the lineup in 2014, though, and they should have plenty of RBI opportunities with Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura setting the table.

    Gomez broke out in a big way last year and undoubtedly ranks among the top outfielders in the NL. Segura is more of a question mark, as he hit .325/.363/.487 in the first half but fell off to .241/.268/.315 after the All-Star break.

    Khris Davis is a potential breakout candidate after a strong showing in limited action last year, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy has quietly become one of the more productive backstops in the game.

    The first base battle this spring was won by Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds, as they will both look to hold things down as part of a platoon, while Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks look to be headed for a platoon of their own at second base.

     

    Projected Bench

    Player2013 Stats
    C Martin Maldonado67 G, .169/.236/.284, 7 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 13 R
    1B/3B Mark Reynolds135 G, .220/.306/.393, 14 2B, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 55 R
    IF Jeff Bianchi100 G, .237/.272/.292, 8 2B, 1 HR, 25 RBI, 22 R
    2B Rickie Weeks104 G, .209/.306/.357, 20 2B, 10 HR, 24 RBI, 40 R
    OF Logan Schafer134 G, .211/.279/.322, 15 2B, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 29 R

     

    Outlook

    It's much of the same on the Brewers bench, as backup catcher Martin Maldonado, utility infielder Jeff Bianchi and fourth outfielder Logan Schafer return after seeing significant time in 2013.

    As mentioned before, Mark Reynolds and Rickie Weeks will both likely see a decent amount of playing time, at the very least against left-handed pitching as part of their respective platoons.

    Outfielder Caleb Gindl and utility infielder Elian Herrera will both start the season in Triple-A, but they could wind up seeing time off the bench this year as well.

Rotation Preview

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Projected Rotation

    Player2013 Stats
    1. RHP Yovani Gallardo31 GS, 12-10, 4.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 144 K, 180.2 IP
    2. RHP Kyle Lohse32 GS, 11-10, 3.35 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 125 K, 198.2 IP
    3. RHP Matt Garza24 GS, 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 136 K, 155.1 IP
    4. RHP Marco Estrada21 GS, 7-4, 3.87 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 118 K, 128 IP
    5. RHP Wily Peralta32 GS, 11-15, 4.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 129 K, 183.1 IP

     

    Outlook

    Last season, Brewers starting pitchers combined to go 48-60 with a 4.20 ERA, with offseason addition Kyle Lohse ranking as the team's best starter, by far.

    Looking to shore up their staff after 12 different pitchers started a game last year, the team signed right-hander Matt Garza to a four-year, $50 million deal this winter after his asking price dropped significantly throughout the course of the offseason.

    Wily Peralta is looking to build off of a solid rookie season in which he proved to be a workhorse, if nothing else, and he has the stuff to take a big step forward.

    Marco Estrada has emerged as a solid arm over the past year-and-a-half and will look to keep that going, as he threw the ball well this spring. A strained hamstring injury cost him 57 games from June to August in 2013, limiting him to just 21 starts for the year, and a full season from him in 2014 would give the staff a boost.

    The X-factor here is staff ace Yovani Gallardo, as he looks to bounce back from his worst season since joining the rotation full time. The team has a $13 million option on him for next season; otherwise, he will hit free agency at the age of 30.

Bullpen Preview

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected Bullpen

    Player2013 Stats
    RHP Tyler Thornburg18 G, 7 GS, 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 48 K, 66.2 IP
    LHP Zach Duke26 G, 1-2, 0 SV, 6.03 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 18 K, 31.1 IP
    LHP Wei-Chung Wang*12 G, 11 GS, 1-3, 3.23 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 42 K, 47.1 IP
    RHP Francisco Rodriguez48 G, 3-2, 10 SV, 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 54 K, 46.2 IP
    LHP Will Smith19 G, 2-1, 0 SV, 3.24 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 43 K, 33.1 IP
    RHP Brandon Kintzler71 G, 3-3, 0 SV, 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 58 K, 77 IP
    RHP Jim Henderson61 G, 5-5, 28 SV, 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 75 K, 60 IP

    *Minor League Stats

     

    Outlook

    A year after posting an MLB-worst bullpen ERA of 4.66, the Brewers made a handful of additions in the offseason and lowered that mark to 3.19 last season, which ranked fifth in the MLB and third in the NL.

    An unconventional rookie at 30 years old, Jim Henderson converted 28-of-32 save chances last year and struck out an impressive 75 batters in 60 innings of work. His numbers would have been even better had it not been for a hamstring strain that cost him time.

    Francisco Rodriguez is back with the team after being traded at the deadline, and he was 10-of-10 on save chances with a 1.09 ERA in 25 appearances prior to being moved.

    Brandon Kintzler is back in the setup role, and he is joined by left-hander Will Smith, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals this offseason for outfielder Norichika Aoki.

    Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang and veteran swingman Zach Duke give the bullpen two more left-handers, while former top prospect Tyler Thornburg earned an Opening Day spot out of the pen but could find himself in the rotation before the year is up.

Prospects to Watch

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    SP Jimmy Nelson (Triple-A, 24 years old, No. 1 prospect)

    The Brewers' top prospect and the No. 96 prospect in baseball entering the year, right-hander Jimmy Nelson likely would have had a real shot at making the Opening Day rotation had it not been for the signing of Matt Garza.

    The 24-year-old was 10-10 with a 3.25 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 152.1 innings of work between Double-A and Triple-A last year. That earned him a late-season call-up, and he threw 10 innings in the Bigs down the stretch, allowing just two hits and one run. He also pitched well this spring.

    He'll open the season in Triple-A, but he could be the first pitcher called upon if the rotation needs a reinforcement.

     

    1B Hunter Morris (Triple-A, 25 years old, No. 10 prospect)

    After hitting .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs and 113 RBI in Double-A in 2012, it looked like Hunter Morris could make a run at the starting first base job last spring while Corey Hart was shelved with a knee injury.

    Instead, he wound up spending the full year in Triple-A, and his numbers fell to .247/.310/.457 with 24 home runs and 73 RBI. Now, the 25-year-old finds himself behind veterans Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay on the depth chart.

    He's on the 40-man roster, though, and he could be called on to take over at first base if the veterans struggle or if he starts the year hot in Triple-A.

     

    SP Ariel Pena (Triple-A, 24 years old, No. 15 prospect)

    There are a number of solid pitching prospects in the Brewers system that could see time in Milwaukee this year, but the hard-throwing Ariel Pena is my pick as one to watch.

    With a fastball that he can dial up to the high-90s and a biting slider, his future may be in the bullpen. However, he was a starter in Double-A last year, going 8-9 with a 3.73 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 142.1 innings.

    There are a handful of guys ahead of him for a spot in the rotation, but a call-up to fill a spot in the late innings could be a possibility.

     

    *Prospect rankings courtesy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.

Breakout Candidates

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    LF Khris Davis

    The Brewers saw enough from Khris Davis last season to trade Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals this offseason, opening up an everyday job for the 26-year-old this coming season.

    Davis will man left field, with Ryan Braun sliding over to play right field. And while Davis will likely open the year hitting in the bottom third of the order, he has the potential to be an impact bat.

    There was a lot to like about what Davis did last year, as he hit .279/.353/.596 with 10 doubles and 11 home runs in just 136 at-bats. Obviously, those numbers won't project over 550 at-bats, but he seems like a safe bet for 25-plus home runs and 80-plus RBI, as he could be the next breakout star in the Brewers' lineup.

     

    SP Wily Peralta

    Right-hander Wily Peralta was ranked as the Brewers' No. 1 prospect heading into the 2012 and 2013 seasons, according to Baseball America.

    Lost in the shuffle of fantastic rookie pitchers in the National League last year, Peralta made 32 starts and went 11-15 with a 4.37 ERA. His 183.1 innings ranked third among all rookie pitchers, trailing only Hyun-Jin Ryu (192.0 IP) and Julio Teheran (185.2 IP).

    He seemed to find his stride down the stretch, going 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA over his final six starts, and the 24-year-old could be ready to breakout in 2014.

Top Keys to a Successful 2014

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    A Bounce-Back Performance by the Offense

    With Ryan Braun missing the final 65 games of the season while serving a PED suspension and Aramis Ramirez limited to just 92 games with a bum left knee, the Brewers dropped from first to eighth in the NL in runs scored last year.

    With those two big bats now back in the lineup, and with the duo of Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both coming off of big seasons, the offense has a chance to again be one of the best in the league if everything goes according to plan.

     

    A Healthy Starting Rotation

    With the addition of Kyle Lohse last year and Matt Garza this winter, the Brewers have quietly assembled what could be a plus rotation. Those two veterans join incumbent ace Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta to form a solid staff from top to bottom.

    The staff has not pitched all that well this spring outside of Gallardo and Estrada, but they are all capable of being double-digit winners. Peralta should be able to take another step forward in his sophomore season, and a return to form for Gallardo would give them a bona fide ace.

    They do have some options behind those five in Johnny Hellweg, Mike Fiers, Hiram Burgos and top prospect Jimmy Nelson, among others, but they are all unproven and an injury to one of their projected starters would be a major hit.

     

    Consistency at the Back of the Bullpen

    The Brewers employed three different closers last season, with John Axford opening the year with the job before giving way to Jim Henderson. An injury to Henderson opened things up for Francisco Rodriguezbefore he was eventually tradedand Henderson took the reigns once again.

    When all was said and done, the team's bullpen finished with a 3.19 ERA, a vast improvement over the league-worst 4.66 mark they had put up the previous season.

    Still, finding some consistency in the late innings could go a long way in taking the team's bullpen from solid to great when it comes to slamming the door on games.

Previewing Milwaukee Brewers' Opening Series

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Game 1

    When: March 31

    Time: 1:10 p.m. CT

    Pitching Matchup: RHP Julio Teheran vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo

    The Brewers take on the Atlanta Braves at home to kick off the season, and they will be facing a rotation that has been decimated by injures. The one returning stud from last year's rotation for the Braves is Julio Teheran, as he earns the Opening Day nod in his sophomore season.

    The 23-year-old made one start against the Brewers last year, going 6.1 innings and allowing eight hits and two runs, though he wound up taking the loss.

    Yovani Gallardo goes for the Brewers, as he makes his fifth straight Opening Day start. He didn't face the Braves at all last season but is a solid 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in seven career starts against them.

     

    Game 2

    When: April 1

    Time: 7:10 p.m. CT

    Pitching Matchup: LHP Alex Wood vs. RHP Kyle Lohse

    Alex Wood turned in a solid season in 2013, splitting the year between the rotation and bullpen, and he slides up to the No. 2 spot in the Braves rotation due the aforementioned injuries. All three of his appearances against the Brewers last year were in relief, as he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while striking out four.

    Veteran Kyle Lohse, who was the Brewers' best starter last season, is the probable starter for Game 2. He was spectacular in his lone start against the Braves last year, throwing a complete game, two-hit shutout, walking none and striking out five.

     

    Game 3

    When: April 2

    Time: 12:10 p.m. CT

    Pitching Matchup: RHP Aaron Harang vs. RHP Matt Garza

    Newly-acquired Aaron Harang, who was in camp with the Cleveland Indians this spring, will be the No. 3 starter in the Braves' patchwork rotation. He made one start against the Brewers last year in his final outing of the year, and he pitched well, allowing just five hits and one run in six innings of work while striking out five.

    Newcomer Matt Garza is the projected Game 3 starter for the Brewers, as he looks to get things on track after a rough spring training. He didn't take on the Braves last year and has struggled against them in three career starts, going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA.

Season Outlook

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    Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

    Predicted Record: 82-80

    Predicted NL Central Finish: Fourth

    The Brewers have fallen off greatly since going 96-66 and winning the NL Central title in 2011. They advanced to the NLCS that season but said goodbye to Prince Fielder that offseason and took a step backward as a franchise.

    They finished third in the division in 2012, going 83-79 to finish five games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card race. The drop-off continued last year, as they fell to 74-88 and finished the season a full 23 games behind the division-winning Cardinals.

    With a healthy lineup and a rotation that looks like it could be a legitimate strength if everyone pitches to their potential, the Brewers should have no problem improving upon their 2013 record. However, with the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds all looking like serious contenders once again, they may have their work cut out for them as far as making a run at a playoff spot.

    Stranger things have happened, and the Brewers do have the talent to potentially surprise, but a fourth-place finish seems like the likely outcome of their 2014 campaign. We'll say they finish with a winning record, but it will be by the slimmest of margins.