clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Weekdays at Bernie's: A Milwaukee Brewers preview

New, 121 comments

A look ahead at the NL Central cellar-dwellers

Yeah...
Yeah...
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers are generally well-liked by White Sox fans for a variety of reasons. They're no longer division rivals since the 1998 realignment. They have a fan-friendly park with a great tailgating culture in driving distance of Chicago. They feel like small-market underdogs with a recent (though not current) long drought of making the playoffs. Cub fans flood their stadium about ten times per year, making them feel like they're second-fiddle in their own hometown, a situation with which South Siders can identify. They have cool sausage races and sing Roll Out the Barrel. Heck, the Brewers are just plain fun.

In several recent seasons, the actual play of the Brewers has been just as fun as the culture surrounding the team. For most of 2014, it looked like Milwaukee was going to make a trend out of making the playoffs every third year.  Then, a brutal 1-13 stretch that started in late August of last season shattered that dream.  On Aug. 26, the Brew Crew had a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs, as estimated by Baseball Prospectus. What happened next had the visuals of a historic stock market crash.

Though the way the Brewers fell short was tragic, it wasn't like they were a great team. There were plenty of flaws in between the significant bright spots. Seldom-used FRAA is the only defensive metric that thinks shortstop Jean Segura's glove is good enough to truly offset the fact that he's one of the worst regular hitters in all of baseball. Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds combined to form an uninspiring first base platoon; the Brewers essentially forfeited offense at a critical position. Fallen superstar Ryan Braun had a nagging thumb injury that likely caused a dreadful second half, and lineup anchor Aramis Ramirez lost more effectiveness to Father Time, as his batting line slipped closer to league average.

While there's not much to be done at this point about the Segura and Ramirez problems, Braun underwent surgery in the offseason to help with his thumb and he's supposedly not bothered by the injury anymore, though you wouldn't know it by looking at his current rate stats, which are decidedly not Braunesque.  The Brewers brought in lefty platoon hitter Adam Lind to play first base after a strong 2014 season. Though he's a strong bet to keep hitting, he should never ever wear a glove, which is sort of a problem because of the whole National League thing. Before the Brewers came to life against the Cubs this past weekend, Lind was the one guy keeping the Brewers' lineup afloat, as he had been the only regular with an OPS over .700 (yikes).

Coming into the season, the Brewers could have been considered a threat to compete because of the strength of their two best players, center fielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Gomez is a superlatively good center fielder with tremendous speed, very good power, and increasingly strong plate discipline, which used to be his bugaboo. That superstar player I just described has been nowhere to seen this year, as hamstring and hip injuries have sapped some playing time and he's flat out pancaked across the board with the bat thus far.

Better still is Lucroy, who actually had a pretty strong case to be last year's National League Most Valuable Player. Lucroy led the majors in doubles last season while hitting for average, drawing walks, and providing lots of value with his pitch framing ability. He's out with a broken toe for the time being, and pnoles offseason plan trade target Martin Maldonado is starting in his place. Maldonado is good behind the dish and hits better than what he's shown thus far, but there's simply no replacing the best catcher in baseball.

That's too bad, because for the Brewers to have been successful, Lucroy and Gomez would have had to compensate for plenty of shortcomings elsewhere on the roster. One major such shortcoming is the Brewers' starting rotation, which performed admirably last season but doesn't quite have the same favorable outlook this time around. 36-year-old Kyle Lohse has started to decline after a late-career peak, and Matt Garza has lost velocity and sharpness. Neither of them project as aces, and even calling them number-two starters is a stretch. They're backed by Wily Peralta, a personal favorite of mine who throws hard, but doesn't have great success inducing whiffs and whose best skill is getting hitters to beat the ball into the dirt. The Brewers are very much without a true front-line pitcher, and have a rotation fronted by three LAIMs.

The last two guys in the rotation, Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers, are equal parts encouraging and concerning. Nelson was a hittable back-end type in 2014, but arrived this season with improved velocity and a much better curveball. Mike Fiers has an extremely inconsistent track record, but was arguably the most effective Brewers starter during their collapse last season, posting a 2.13 ERA when the team desperately needed it. Milwaukee wants these guys to be able to soak up innings, particularly because the bullpen took a big hit after the loss of current Sox reliever Zach Duke.

While offense has been the calling card of Brewers teams of the past, this year's squad has been mired in an ugly cesspool of strikeouts and OBPs beginning with '2'. Khris Davis hasn't khrushed much at all, Ramirez has depreciated to the point of utter worthlessness, and Scooter Gennett has had a season befitting a man named after the worst of all the Muppets. The punchless bats and leaky pitching staff essentially eliminated the Brewers from contention before the calendar flipped to May and they simply don't have the horses to rally back. The Brewers may be a fun organization, but right now, it's a heck of a lot more fun to play against them than to be them.

Predicted Record and Finish: 70-92, fifth place, NL Central

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Carlos Gomez - CF

SP1. Kyle Lohse - RHP

2. Scooter Gennett - 2B

SP2. Matt Garza - RHP

3. Ryan Braun - RF

SP3. Wily Peralta - RHP

4. Adam Lind - 1B

SP4. Jimmy Nelson - RHP

5. Aramis Ramirez - 3B

SP5. Mike Fiers - RHP

6. Khris Davis - LF

CL. Francisco Rodriguez - RHP

7. Jean Segura - SS

RP1. Jonathan Broxton - RHP

8. Martin Maldonado - C

RP2. Will Smith - RHP

RP3. Neal Cotts - LHP