Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Time for a Milwaukee Brewers 2014 Season Preview

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As the Milwaukee Brewers baseball season officially begins on March 31, 2014, it’s time for a season preview.

Last year, the Brewers had an underwhelming year, to put it mildly. While youngsters just up from AAA like Khris Davis and Caleb Gindl helped All-Stars Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez get to a 74-88 record, the season was marred because of slugger Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. And the constantly rotating cast of characters over at first base due to Corey Hart’s double-knee surgery woes didn’t exactly help, either.

And must I remind you about the horrible month of May, considering it was historic for all the wrong reasons?

Thankfully, 2014 looks to be a different story entirely.

This year, Braun is back, and is hitting a ton in Spring Training. There are now only two people who will regularly be playing first base — Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. All of the starting pitchers — Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, and Wily Peralta — appear healthy and ready to go, while the bullpen features an interesting mix of youth and experience.

So, will the 2014 season be better than 2013? One would hope so . . . but then again, hope springs eternal and every team, coming out of Spring Training, thinks it’s going to be a world beater.

Here are my thoughts regarding the 2014 Brewers:

  • Braun will have an excellent season both at the plate and in the field. He’ll be tested rigorously, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll fail another drug test any time soon. So his play should be a bright spot no matter what else happens.
  • Garza has had a lousy Spring Training, to be charitable. But he’s one of those pitchers like former Brewer Ben Sheets — Garza doesn’t like to show anything of what he’s actually going to do in Spring Training, and because of that, it’s hard to gauge where he really is. My guess is that if he has enough stamina to get through six innings, he’s going to be fine.
  • Lohse looks good. He’s fit, healthy, a good mentor to the younger pitchers . . . he’s not the titular ace of the staff (supposedly, that’s still Yovani Gallardo), but he sure looks an ace to me. I expect no problems from him at all, and think he’ll be one of the best pitchers in the National League, providing he stays healthy.
  • Gallardo looks much better than he has since 2011. His curveball is sharp and his fastball seems to have recovered the movement it didn’t have during much of 2013. He had some off-the-field problems in ’13, including an arrest for DUI, but it seems like he’s gotten sober and is taking much better care of his health. This should mean that he’s going to be a better and more consistent pitcher, so this might be the year that Gallardo finally breaks out and shows he’s one of the top fifteen pitchers in the NL (along with Lohse).
  • I don’t know what the Brewers are doing with Peralta. Every time I’ve seen Peralta pitch on TV (as I haven’t been able to get to Arizona, obviously, to see them live and in person), Peralta’s battery-mate has been Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy hits well and is a good catcher, but he is not the right fit for Peralta as Peralta seems extremely uncomfortable whenever Lucroy catches for him.
  • Speaking of Lucroy, I agree that the Brewers need him in the lineup as often as possible, as Lucroy is one of the Brewers’ best hitters. However, he should not catch Peralta, and he probably shouldn’t catch Estrada either, as both of them do much better with Martin Maldonado. The Brewers should instead put Lucroy at first base on those days, as it’s best for all concerned and they’ll get much better mileage out of Peralta and Estrada if they do.
  • The biggest question mark, to my mind, remains at first base. Unless Lucroy does play over there two times every five days, there isn’t going to be much production coming from that position.The two first basemen, while better than Yuniesky Betancourt and a cast of thousands were last year, are still not very good. Overbay is now thirty-seven, and while his glove is still better than average — and while the Brewers infield needs all the help it can get, especially with Rickie Weeks being way under par defensively at second base (the only time Weeks has ever fielded well was when Willie Randolph was helping to coach the team and giving Weeks constant pointers; is there any way to get Randolph back?) — Overbay does not look like he can hit major league pitching consistently any longer. And Reynolds . . . well, he’s not been as bad a fielder as advertised at first base, I’ll give him that. He seems comfortable over there, and he hits better than Overbay. But he’s a strikeout machine on a team that already has Gomez and Weeks, and that doesn’t seem conducive to getting too many runs across no matter how much power potential Reynolds demonstrably has (he’s one of those guys who’s actually hit baseballs completely over scoreboards or completely out of stadiums, well over four hundred and fifty feet).

The remaining thoughts I have are mostly about the bullpen . . . but rather than put them in bullet points, I’m just going to say this:

They’re mostly young. They’re mostly unproven. But I like the mix . . . Tyler Thornburg can start or relieve, Zach Duke can spot start if he needs to, if closer Jim Henderson falters, Francisco Rodriguez is right there and can possibly help (K-Rod has looked especially sharp in Spring Training, especially considering his freak accident in Arizona where he stepped on a cactus while playing with one of his kids; the doctors are still getting cactus spines out of his feet ten days-plus later), and I’m particularly impressed with Brandon Kintzler’s fortitude and perseverance, as he actually made his way to the major leagues via the Independent Northern League.

So, will the Brewers be any better? Or won’t they?

Only time will tell . . . but I like their chances.

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