Even though this annual act is an invitation to ridicule, I can’t help but make a season prediction for the Milwaukee Brewers‘ campaign every year.
This team might be the most difficult to gauge in the history of the franchise thanks to the many question marks that exist, from age and injury to young performers and doubts about last year’s stats. Still, it has to be done.
Part of the club’s success will be determined by the teams within the NL Central, but also the ones who could be pushing for a Wild Card berth by season’s end. For example, the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks have been damaged greatly by injuries to their pitching staff, creating some doubt as to their quality.
Meanwhile, in the NL Central, you can’t argue with the defending NL champs being the favorite. The St. Louis Cardinals have a sick amount of pitching talent and always create offense to win consistently throughout the year. The 2014 campaign will most likely not be any different.
The other two franchises ahead of the Brewers last year just don’t seem as potent as they were in securing playoff berths in 2013.
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost veteran starter A.J. Burnett and are hoping for a repeat performance from Francisco Liriano. Aside from the talented Gerrit Cole, the Pirates are looking for big years from 35-year-old Wandy Rodriguez (62.2 innings in 2013), Charlie Morton (career 4.72 ERA, 1.503 WHIP as a starter) and Edinson Volquez, who earned a 6.01 ERA in pitcher-friendly Petco Park last season.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have a ton of question marks offensively, having lost OBP extraordinaire Shin-Soo Choo and lacking upper-level bats at third base, left field, shortstop and behind the plate. The pitching should be solid, but there are some doubts about Mat Latos effectiveness coming off elbow surgery and how Homer Bailey will respond after his big contract.
These issues leave the door open for the Brewers to slip into second place in the division, which is exactly what I see happening. The Brewers’ deep rotation and powerful, yet quick lineup will lead Milwaukee to play consistently well throughout the season, avoiding long stretches of losing like their 6-22 May last year.
No true aces reside in the Crew’s top five arms, but they could all legitimately put up numbers fit for second-tier starters. Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse will pitch to their three-year norms, making them a formidable trio. Marco Estrada has been incredible during the spring, has the rate numbers in his career to be dominant. He may finally be ready to shine.
If young fireballer Wily Peralta steps up his game as many believe he can, the Brewers’ staff becomes top-five in the league.
Throw in a lineup could see potential All-Star production from Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, while bringing young energy with Khris Davis and Jean Segura, and you’re talking about more than 80 wins.
The bullpen will be better than many expect with Will Smith dominating hitters in the late innings and Jim Henderson doing just enough to close out games. Brandon Kintzler is an underrated arm and Francisco Rodriguez, if used properly, will serve as a valuable piece to the puzzle.
Add it all up, and the Brewers will finish with an 88-74 record, earning the top Wild Card spot to set up a one-game playoff. The regression from Cincy and Pittsburgh drops them below the Brewers in the standings, and Milwaukee will on the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park.
Predicting the outcome of postseason play is a tougher task, but I’ll take the Brewers to win the Wild Card game, then fall to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. Either way, it will be a fun ride for Brewers fans once again. Maybe they can shock the world.
All Stars: Braun, Ramirez, Lucroy
Surprise Candidate: Khris Davis (26 HR, .798 OPS)
Breakout Candidate: Marco Estrada (15 wins, 3.54 ERA)
Disappointment Candidate: Carlos Gomez (OBP .300 in leadoff spot)