It’s been a long winter in Milwaukee, and with temperatures hitting -4 degrees this morning, spring seems like a long ways off. However, today I have summer in my heart, as today marks the end of my four month long depression. Though we are still about two weeks away from game action, we can finally say that baseball has arrived, pitchers and catchers report today!
The Brewers’ collapse in 2014 has been well documented, and today offers the team their first chance to begin to write a new narrative for 2015. In order for the team to compete for the playoffs in a competitive NL Central, they need some things to break their way. Here are four questions surrounding the Brewers entering Spring Training 2015:
1. Can Braun and Segura Bounce Back?
Brewers’ fans have become accustomed to seeing all-star caliber performances from right fielder Ryan Braun and shortstop Jean Segura. Both fell well short of expectations last season. Segura was an all-star in his first full season in Milwaukee in 2013, posting a .294/.329/.423 line in 146 games, good enough for a 3.5 WAR rating. He struggled in the second half of that season, however, so the Brewers held Segura out of winter ball so he could get rest after a long season. Segura responded with a .246/.289/.326 line in 2014 with only 25 extra base hits in 557 plate appearances, throwing his future in Milwaukee into doubt. He dealt with personal tragedy after the loss of his infant son before the All-Star break, and was a better player when he returned. A .319/.364/.389 September perfomance leaves some optimism that Jean Segura can improve going into the 2015 season.
Braun posted a career low in all slash categories with a .266/.324/.453 line, with his .777 OPS and 19 home runs by far his lowest in a full season. His struggles were even more pronounced in the second half: a .226/.295/.374 line, striking out in 21% of his plate appearances. Braun’s troublesome right thumb cause him issues throughout the season, and as we discuss below, his health will go a long way to his improved performance.
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2. Can the Brewers stay healthy?
Already picked to place fourth in a competitive NL Central by Bovada, the Brewers are going to need all hands on deck if they are hoping to compete for the playoffs. Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Tyler Thornburg, Jim Henderson, and Ryan Braun all missed significant time with various injuries last season, and none of those hurt the Brewers more than Braun’s season-long thumb troubles. Braun received an experimental freezing treatment on the thumb early in the offseason, and he says he’s feeling healthier than he has in a long time. If Braun is truly healthy, then we should expect a big increase in his performance. Thornburg and Henderson are reportedly hoping to be ready for Opening Day after both missed most of last season, and their presence will go a long way towards solidifying the bullpen.
The season if off to a worrisome start, with catcher Jonathan Lucroy already suffering a hamstring injury that will cause him to miss basically all of spring training. Lucroy should be healthy by Opening Day, but playing the most physically demanding position in baseball could make for a long season on those legs. The Brewers can consider themselves lucky that this injury happened now instead of in June, but they’ll need to keep a close eye on Luc and give him plenty of rest to try and ensure the injury doesn’t creep up again during the season.
3. Can the young guys step up?
The Brewers are have made an organizational move to become increasingly dependent on their young, homegrown players, and this has never been more evident than heading into 2015. The Brewers traded Yovani Gallardo to open up a spot for Jimmy Nelson in the rotation, and Mike Fiers has also been promised a spot in the starting five. Scooter Gennett will play an increased role this season, as the team has committed to him as the everyday second baseman after allowing platoon-mate Rickie Weeks to leave in free agency. Khris Davis will again be a fixture in left field, as well. If these young players can all take another step toward reaching their potentials, then the Brewers stand a good chance to compete in 2015.
4. Can the Brewers move on from last year?
The Brewers endured a collapse last year that has been seen only three other times in the history of Major League Baseball: they spent over 150 days in first place, yet a 9-22 finish dropped the Brewers to a third place finish in the NL Central. While oddsmakers are down on the Brewers this season, the rest of the teams in what could be baseball’s most competitive division all face questions as well. The Brewers need to use last season as a lesson, and hopefully they will show a new mental toughness in 2015.
The Milwaukee Brewers might be facing an uphill battle in order to make the postseason in 2015, but the pieces are in place for the team to make a playoff run if things break right for the Brewers. If the team can answer each of the above questions with a firm “YES!” then I would advise fans to prepare themselves for an exciting season as the Brewers push towards a playoff run this season.