This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23, 2013, and ending on Feb. 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the AL East, worked across to the NL counterpart, and now, tackle the Central divisions in alphabetical order. Next up, the Milwaukee Brewers.
2012 finish: 83-79 (3rd place, NL Central)
LHP Michael Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Kelvim Escobar, IF Bobby Crosby, 3B Donnie Murphy
LHP Manny Parra, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Shaun Marcum, OF Raul Mondesi Jr., OF Nyjer Morgan, 1B Travis Ishikawa, C Yorvit Torrealba
Why they will improve this year
Did you see the way this team finished down the stretch in 2012? After the comically terrible bullpen stopped blowing every lead the team put together, the Brewers became one of the scariest teams in all of baseball. It was too little too late last year, but if they maintain that momentum, watch out.
It really was a shame for Brewers fans last year that the bullpen was so horrendous for most of the season. The lineup is absolutely stacked and there is a ton of young starting pitching to be excited about. They may not have made the playoffs anyway last year, but Milwaukee is extremely dangerous in 2013.
The rotation is headed by the always-good Yovani Gallardo. He backed by several young talents, not the least of which is 23-year-old Wily Peralta, who had a 2.48 ERA in five starts last year. Marco Estrada struck out 143 batters and walked just 29 in 138.1 innings last season. Even Michael Fiers, who faded down the stretch in 2012, is a dangerous fourth starter.
From the left side, the only real option Milwaukee has is Chris Narveson, but I think Mark Rogers lands the final spot anyway. With great, young starting pitching in place and a bullpen that turned a corner late last year, the Brewers might have the pitching staff to finally complement their hard-hitting offense.
Why they will regress this year
There are a ton of question marks in Milwaukee. Most importantly, will Ryan Braun beat the PED rumors for a second time? If not, he faces a suspension that would most likely sink the Brewers' chances right from the get-go. He is the heart and soul of the team, and I'm not sure the rest of the lineup can maintain its stature if he is out for extended time.
As for the pitching staff, it does boast some exciting young talent. But unless all the stars align, not all of the guys I listed above will have breakout years. Personally, I'm expecting a good year from Fiers and an above-average campaign from Estrada. I don't think Rogers and Peralta are quite ready.They might get knocked around in their first full seasons.
The bullpen did step up down the stretch, but it's still the same 'pen (plus or minus a couple players) that was the worst in the league for a large chunk of 2012. Can the Brew Crew rely on a lot of those same guys to be shut-down, impact guys in 2013?
And lastly, the rest of the lineup is full of free-swinging power hitters, but none are the complete hitter that Braun is. Jonathan Lucroy might enjoy a big year, but will we see progressions or regressions from Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki? What about Mat Gamel filling in for the injured Corey Hart at first base until May? If any of those guys do regress, the lineup is significantly less dangerous.
The outlook for 2013
As a Dodgers fan, the Brewers started terrifying me down the stretch last season. They are a year older and a year better in 2013, so nobody should be taking them lately. Their season will likely hinge on the outcome of the Braun rumors and inevitable investigation.
If Braun plays a full season, you can expect the Brewers to be in the thick of the race for the NL Wild Card at the very least. I do like the pitching staff, but I'm not sold on its depth and experience. Their most experienced starter is Gallardo, and even he is prone to bouts of wildness.
One thing I do love is how much speed is laced throughout the lineup. In 2012, the Brewers stole the most bases in the National League. They might lengthen that lead in 2013.
The bullpen is still a worry, though I do fully expect a return to normalcy for closer John Axford, Plus, the pick-ups they made should provide a little stability.
My biggest concern, aside from Braun, lies with Segura at short, Aoki in right and the inconsistency of Carlos Gomez and Rickie Weeks offensively.
Even if those guys struggle, a core of Braun, Hart, and Aramis Ramirez is a scary thought for opposing pitchers. I like the lineup as is, and actually expect Aoki to have another good year, Lucroy to put up surprising numbers at the plate and for Segura to at least make strides (though he probably won't live up to expectations just yet).
It's the opinion of this writer that the Brewers are very close to challenging the Reds and Cardinals for NL Central supremacy. Not this year, but maybe in 2014, depending on how their next offseason goes and the development of the young pitchers this season. I'm giving the Brewers a four-win increase from last year to 87, and a third-place finish in the division.
Potential changes before Opening Day
Not a ton is going on in Milwaukee's front office, as it has made most of the moves it was going to make before the season begins. They reportedly had some interest in Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, but both signed in the American League.
One thing still on the radar is the possibility of landing free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse, according to beat writer Adam McCalvy (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com). I think it would be a great move for the Brewers, although the cost might be prohibitive. Adding Lohse to that rotation would give it some veteran legitimacy. Still, I don't think Lohse ends up in Milwaukee in 2013.
Biggest surprise: Michael Fiers
Biggest disappointment: Jean Segura
Bold prediction: Brewers get 120 combined steals from Braun, Aoki, Gomez and Segura
Projected lineup (before Hart returns)
1. Norichika Aoki, RF
2. Carlos Gomez, CF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C
6. Rickie Weeks, 2B
7. Mat Gamel, 1B
8. Jean Segura, SS
2013 Brewers season outlook?
1. Yovani Gallardo, RHP
2. Michael Fiers, RHP
3. Marco Estrada, RHP
4. Wily Peralta, RHP
5. Mark Rogers, RHP
Projected finish: 87-75, 3rd place
For more preseason evaluations:
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.