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Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Preview and Prediction

Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy

Who, exactly, are the Milwaukee Brewers? Are they the team that led the NL Central for 150 days last season? Or are they the team that collapsed down the stretch? After an in-depth review of all aspects of baseball operations, general manager Doug Melvin is betting on the former, as picked up Aramis Ramirez’ option and traded for first baseman Adam Lind. However, a maxed out payroll led to one big change, trading ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas for three players. There’s still lots of proven talent returning, although much will be riding on the balky right thumb of right fielder Ryan Braun. But if he’s even close to his former MVP self and the pitching is again solid, Melvin’s gamble might well pay off.

Rotation

In Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and budding ace Wily Peralta, the Brewers have a nice 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation. Peralta, a burly Dominican righty, won a career-high 17 games utilizing a fastball that ranked third in the majors in average velocity at 95.8 mph and a nasty slider that induced lots of ground-ball outs. Entering his second season in Milwaukee, Garza battled injury and inconsistency but showed flashes of his former dominance. Lohse remains a reliable workhorse, pitching right around 200 innings for each of the past four seasons. The Brewers are hoping the No. 4 spot in the rotation will be solidified by yet another righty, Mike Fiers, who came out of nowhere to go 6–4 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 late-season starts after a nondescript stint earlier in the season as a long man. Fiers was nothing short of incredible, posting a 14-strikeout game in his second turn in place of an injured Garza and then bouncing back mentally following his scary September beaning of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The  Gallardo trade also opens up the final spot in the rotation for young, hard-throwing Jimmy Nelson.

Bullpen

Milwaukee was set to lean on veteran Jonathan Broxton, acquired from the Reds in a late-August trade, as its closer, that was until Francisco Rodriguez was brought back at the start of spring training. K-Rod signed a two-year deal to reclaim his closing duties, something he was quite effective at (44 of 49 opportunities) last season. His return and Broxton’s move back to a setup role gives the Brewers two veteran options to pair with its collection of ascending, but relatively unproven, arms. Lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress both figure to serve as the bridge between the starter and the finishers. Smith was a revelation early on with his devastating slider befuddling left-handed hitters, but he faded badly after being overused. Still, with 86 strikeouts in 65.2 innings, he certainly has stuff befitting a late-inning reliever. Jeffress, with a fastball that routinely touches the high 90s, does as well, and he went 1–1 with a 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances after the Brewers — the team that drafted him back in 2006 — rescued him off the scrap heap. The longest-tenured reliever is righty Brandon Kintzler, who scuffled his way to a 3–3 record and 3.24 ERA after a dynamite 2013. He had a lingering knee injury repaired in the offseason, and the hope is he’ll return to his old form. Melvin found himself in the hunt for another lefty when Zach Duke signed with the White Sox, which is why veteran Neal Cotts was signed in late January. Righties Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are coming off shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.

Middle Infield

There are major questions here. Most center around shortstop Jean Segura, who slumped badly in 2014 after turning down a $38 million extension from the Brewers in spring training and then having his newborn son unexpectedly pass away just before the All-Star break. The free-swinging Segura did himself no favors by continuing to swing at pitches out of the zone, giving opposing pitchers no reason to throw him strikes. He was expected to employ some changes at the plate while playing winter ball in the Dominican in the offseason, and if he can regain some consistency it would help solidify the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup. At second base, budding star Scooter Gennett finally gets a chance to be the full-time starter. He hit .289 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in a platoon in 2014, but the question remains: Can he hit left-handed pitching? He comes into 2015 having hit just .128 against lefties in 78 career at-bats.

Corners

Melvin hopes he solved the offensive black hole at first base by trading for Lind, whose left-handed bat should be a perfect fit in the middle of the lineup. And the belief is he can at least be an adequate defender. Lind has battled nagging injuries in recent years, but when healthy he murders right-handed pitching — a major plus in a division that features a lot of it. Jonathan Lucroy will likely be called upon in place of Lind with a lefty on the mound. At third base, Ramirez is coming off an All-Star season, but one in which he posted his worst offensive numbers since becoming a full-time player. He turns 37 in late June and announced at the start of spring training that this would be his last season. Ramirez has battled numerous leg issues since becoming a Brewer, but the hope is he can turn in one more respectable campaign.

Outfield

Braun’s return from his Biogenesis suspension did not go according to plan. A painful nerve issue in his right hand returned and got progressively worse over the course of the season. He underwent a little-known cryotherapy treatment in the offseason in hopes of eliminating the pain. Left fielder Khris Davis acquitted himself fairly well in his first season as a starter, banging 22 homers and driving in 69 runs. But his .244 average needs to improve, as does his selectiveness at the plate. Center field remains locked down by Carlos Gomez. He became the Brewers’ full-time leadoff hitter and displayed better plate discipline.

Catching

The Brewers might be better positioned here than any other team in the majors with an All-Star in Lucroy and an above-average backup in Martin Maldonado. Lucroy was a doubles machine, leading the majors with 53, while also improving defensively. He’s regarded as the finest pitch-framer in the game. Catching 133 games wore him down, so playing him more at first base should help keep him fresh this year. The next step for Lucroy is to become a bigger presence on a team with plenty of veterans but precious few vocal ones.

Bench

Switch-hitting Luis Sardinas was acquired in the Gallardo trade and can play all over the infield. In the outfield, the Brewers have a terrific insurance policy in two-time Gold Glover Gerardo Parra, who can play all three spots as well as provide a left-handed bat on a righty-heavy team. Luis Jimenez, a waiver claim from the Angels, is expected to be a backup at the corners. Outfielder Logan Schafer, another left-handed bat, will probably round out the bench.

Management

Principal owner Mark Attanasio was livid after his team’s slide out of playoff contention. After cooling off, he and Melvin chose to keep manager Ron Roenicke, determining that an offensive funk was mostly to blame. New hitting coach Darnell Coles will be tasked with teaching a more consistent approach at the plate, and it will be on Roenicke to rein in a group that has continually run into some baffling outs on the bases. The Brewers’ expected payroll of $110 million signals Attanasio’s desire to win despite his team’s small-market status.