The 2014 campaign for the Milwaukee Brewers was thrilling–until the last month of the season, when the team completely collapsed. For 150 straight days, the Brewers had held first place in the NL Central. The starting rotation stayed healthy, the lineup was producing runs, and bullpen arms like Will Smith and Francisco Rodriguez were consistently on fire.
Their 9-22 record to finish out the year nullified all those months of hard work. In one month, the Brewers found themselves going from Central champs to not even making the playoffs. That September turned 2014 into a gut-wrenching nightmare for Brewers fans.
Despite the collapse, the Brewers have largely remained the same as far as the roster goes, though pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada are gone. Adam Lind is the new face at first base, and youngsters like Luis Sardinas and Corey Knebel will eventually see action.
The starting rotation, if it remains healthy, will once again put the Brewers in many winning situations. Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Wily Peralta are the top three guys who all posted ERAs under 3.65 in 2014. Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson have good stuff, and it will be especially up to Nelson to find some consistency in the Majors.
This team is the same that dominated for most of 2014. If the Brewers stay healthy, get constant production in the middle of the lineup and avoid a huge late collapse, they’ll be in great shape to make it to October.
Best Case Scenario for 2015
The Brewers are certainly capable of finishing first in the NL Central. Of course, so is virtually every team in this division. Ideally, the Brewers keep the Cardinals and company at bay with consistent starting pitching, just like 2014. In addition, if Ryan Braun returns to 2012 form and Aramis Ramirez ends his career with a bang, the offense will produce more than enough runs to win a plethora of ballgames.
Most Important Brewers
Jonathan Lucroy and Braun are especially important on offense. Lucroy got MVP considerations at the end of 2014, posting a .301 batting average, 13 home runs, 69 RBI’s and a staggering 53 doubles. He’s currently dealing with a hamstring strain, but he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Lucroy needs to keep hitting those line drives into the gaps, so he can put himself and others in scoring position for bigger bats like Braun and Ramirez.
Braun, then, will be counted on to be that run producer behind doubles machine Lucroy. Unfortunately, Braun is a question mark. He battled a thumb issue during the 2014 season and it was a factor in his career-worst .266 average. He had surgery to repair the nerve in his thumb in the offseason, and he appears optimistic about the new year. Braun will be instrumental to the team’s success, but he needs to produce far more at the plate this year (he only had 19 home runs and 81 RBI’s).
Wily Peralta has steadily been improving each year in the pros. Last year he posted a 3.53 ERA and 17-11 record, and he could one day be the Brewers’ ace. His youthful, powerful arm needs to anchor this rotation and aid capable veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Peralta looked like an ace at numerous points last season, and the Brewers need him to continue giving them quality innings.
Potential Breakout Players
I like Scooter Gennett here. This will be his first year as an everyday player, and if he can develop against left-handers, Gennett could have an All-Star season. Last year in his platoon role with Rickie Weeks, Gennett hit .289 with a .320 OBP, as well as nine homers and 54 runs driven in. Gennett has a good approach at the plate; he doesn’t try to do too much, and he can hit to all corners of the field. A full offseason of developing should get him ready for his everyday role, and I envision that a good contact hitter like Gennett will solve his problem against lefties. Gennett could definitely come to be a clutch hitter wherever he’s put in the lineup.
On the hill, Jimmy Nelson could have a great year. He tore up Triple AAA and deserved a call-up last year, but he couldn’t find consistency in the Majors, going 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA. In some games, you could see his potential. But he just never got comfortable enough to be a mainstay in the rotation. With Gallardo now gone, the last spot in the rotation is Nelson’s to lose, and I think he comes out of the gate strong and finds a groove.
Worst case scenario
Braun continues to decline, the rotation either gets banged up or just falls apart, and base running errors plague anyone who manages to get on base. And since the NL Central is so full with talent, the Brewers could find themselves in last place by a mile.
Areas of concern
K-Rod may be back, but the bullpen is still a questionable area. The Brewers are counting on Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson to come roaring back from their 2014 injuries, and the rest of the bullpen will need to complement the starters. The thing is, I’m not sure if this bullpen will avoid another collapse. Part of that is Ron Roenicke‘s mismanagement of the bullpen. He used Will Smith so much, for instance, that it caused a burnout and a spike in Smith’s ERA. Don’t get me wrong, there is talent in the bullpen. I’ve been a big fan of Thornburg, Smith and Jeremy Jeffress. But many are somewhat untested down the stretch, and I’m concerned about a potential breakdown at some point.
Base running is also a concern. Aggressiveness on the base paths isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can turn out to be. The Brewers were so aggressive in their base running late in the year that it caused numerous bad plays and killed countless rallies. The Brewers need to avoid those unforced errors.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2014
Braun is the immediate name that comes to mind, as is Jean Segura. While dealing with personal tragedy, Segura didn’t produce much at the plate. He posted a .246 average and .289 OBP, which is nowhere near what Segura needs to be doing at the plate. He is just 24, so there should be some patience given to Segura’s career, but he does still need to produce more.
If those two turn things around in 2015, the Brewers will be well on their way to a playoff season.