The Milwaukee Brewers went all in this season in a team built to make a run at the National League Pennant. Unfortunately, their pitching fell flat in the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals and the team fell short of their goal. Still, it was a great season that included 96 wins (six wins above Pythagorean) and a tough win over an Arizona Diamondback team in the first round of the playoffs. They face a difficult off season and seem destined to lose Prince Fielder to free agency. The question to be asked about the Brewers is if this was a one year glory, something that seems built into their history, or can they stay atop team in the NL Central?
The Starting Rotation
The starting rotation for the Brewers seemed like a strength going into the playoffs but with the exception of a few good games from Yovani Gallardo and a good game by Randy Wolf, the rotation really crashed in their two post season series. Zack Greinke seemed to lack some maturity needed by a staff ace to climb the mountain in the post season. Yet, in fairness, defense wrecked his starts and it was his first taste of post season play. Greinke certainly had a good season and there is no good reason to believe that he can't continue to lead this pitching staff in 2012.
Yovani Gallardo stepped up during his post season starts until his last one. And he had another very good season. The Brewers need to hand Greinke the ball as the Number One starter which slots Gallardo really well as the Number Two. He will only be 26 in 2012 and should continue to get better as the years move on. The Brewers should be in good shape with Greinke and Gallardo in tandem for next season.
The rest of the rotation seems strong enough on paper. Randy Wolf is a solid Number Four and though his FIP was sixty points higher than his actual ERA, he's a proven major league pitcher that should allow his team to win more of his starts than lose. Chris Narveson showed flashes of goodness during the season. His home run rate went down though he still walks too many batters. His 4.45 ERA is nothing to feel great about, but his FIP of 4.06 shows better. Narveson is a capable Number Five.
The one glaring question mark after this post season is Shaun Marcum. He simply had nothing in the playoffs. As Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus pointed out on Twitter last night, Marcum was either out of gas for the season or injured. The Brewers would have to hope that it was the former and not the latter.
The Brewers control all five of their rotation members going into 2012. And they have Wily Peralta ready to crack the rotation if he shows well in the spring. Peralta made great strides this season and finished strong in Nashville (Triple A). He threw 150 innings this season and should be ready. His walk rate was better and his strikeouts, particularly in Nashville, were up.
You can say goodbye to Francisco Rodriguez. He was terrific for them and this writer still ranks his acquisition from the Mets as the best trade deadline deal of them all. But K-Rod wants to close and famously stated that the Brewers lied to him. There is no doubt that he's gone.
That said, the Brewers have one of the best finishers in baseball in John Axford. He had another terrific season, was solid in the post season and is young. There are no worries about him moving forward. The question is who will get him the ball? LeTroy Hawkins was a nice piece in the bullpen, but the ancient pitcher is a free agent and will probably be allowed to walk. Marco Estrada looks good at times, but his propensity to give up long balls makes him more filler than back end. Kameron Loe does not seem like a guy to trust a seventh or eighth inning to.
Zach Braddock could be that guy if he can harness is terrific stuff. His walk rate is simply too high as it stands now. It would be great if Brandon Kintzler could return successfully from his disability to again compete for the Brewers. First, you want the young man to be able to live a normal and successful life. But best case scenario, Kintzler is a fine arm and if right, could be a big help moving forward. He's someone to root for.
Obviously, the first base question will have to be addressed in the off season. The owner of the team said that the Brewers will try to sign Fielder, but how serious are they? As for Fielder himself, it's hard to see him fitting in anywhere better than he seems to fit with the Brewers. But the man is intent on making his money and it's hard to blame him. The honest assessment here is that he isn't worth the Mark Teixeira money that he will be asking for but someone will probably give it to him anyway. And certainly, Fielder has a lot more homers left in that bat going forward. Obviously, if the Brewers can't sign Fielder, they will have to go out and try to get someone to play first and fill some of the void left by Fielder's bat.
Second is all set with Richie Weeks who is one of the elite second basemen in baseball. This will probably shock you, but this writer is fine with Yuniesky Betancourt at short. As long as you don't expect him to take walks, his defense was as solid as it's ever been for him and he will show occasional pop. He's a bottom third of the batting order type guy, but there are worse shortstops...believe it or not.
Jerry Hairston was a nice story during the playoffs, but that was a short sample size fluke kind of a thing. His defense in the last two games certainly took away anything gained by his bat. And he was only playing because Casey McGehee simply flopped with the bat this season. McGehee was a total mystery this season. He was a bad fielder/good bat for the last two years but this season was great in the field and terrible at the plate. So what happens now? Based on past performance, it would seem to behoove the Brewers to try to fix him. He became overly pull happy and that threw his game all off. There are no other internal options, so that seems to be the best route for the Brewers to take.
Ryan Braun is obviously a superstar and his defense has improved in left. That's all set. Corey Hart is solid in right and he is all set. Center field is a bit maddening. Both Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan are solid defensively but both fast guys simply refuse to be more selective at the plate. This lack of selectivity absolutely sinks Gomez's game. Morgan had a great year offensively, but it really feels like an outlier season than what to expect moving forward. His enthusiasm is great at times and seems to work against him and his team at others. Caleb Gindl seems ready to step into the breach. Gindl doesn't have the range of Gomez and Morgan, but he's a solid on base guy who seems better suited long term. Gindl isn't a tools guy, but if he was a football player, they would say that his motor is always running. Kentrail Davis is still a couple of years away.
The Brewers are all set at the catching position. Jonathan Lucroy made a strong statement as their catcher moving forward. He improved his hitting but needs to improve further. Defensive metrics are listed in the negative for Lucroy, but this writer is impressed with only one passed ball all season. His ability to throw out base runners could be better at 28 percent. George Kottaras is a capable back up offensively if not great at throwing out runners (18 percent).
There is still a lot to like about this Brewers team moving forward. Sure, they need to address first base with a replacement for Fielder in the high likelihood they can't sign him. McGehee needs to bounce back, but there is a capable major league player at every position and two elite players in Weeks and Braun. Their rotation seems solid (on paper at least) as long as you forget all about the Cardinal series. Shaun Marcum needs to be watched closely. The bullpen needs an arm or two but they may have internal options that will do the trick. Ron Roenicke had a solid debut season at the helm and he should have plenty to work with to repeat as NL Central champs next season. They have become the darlings of Milwaukee and their fans are a terrific success story. This is a solid franchise with plenty of promise moving forward.