Who’s on first? The A.V. Club’s refreshingly optimistic 2013 Brewers preview
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It was a whirlwind offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers. Between the organization’s greatest player shooting a former Brewers manager in the head, a Klement’s Racing Sausage costume being kidnapped while bar-hopping in Cedarburg, Nyjer Morgan (and his various other personas) being cut loose and signing a contract to play in Japan, Ryan Braun’s name being written on a piece of paper (!!!), and, of course, Mat Gamel’s return from last year’s season-ending injury being quickly derailed by another season-ending injury, it’s been a crazy ride for fans since the Brew Crew played its final game last season.
Fortunately, Milwaukee’s front office was kind enough to help keep the fan base’s emotions in check with its unwillingness to sign a starting pitcher or do much else in the way of notable acquisitions, except overpay Kyle Lohse—and give the Cardinals the 17th overall draft pick in the process—on a polarizing long-term deal. Still, the lack of (popular) Brewers offseason transactions isn’t an indication of lowered expectations or an unwillingness to win. Rather, the organization seems to believe the Brewers’ established stars are ready to be joined by a sizable cast of promising homegrown youngsters (and Jeff Bianchi) to make some waves this season and compete for the playoffs for years to come.
After trading Zack Greinke for an impressive haul last season, releasing Randy Wolf, and deciding against re-signing Shaun Marcum for a modest sum, Milwaukee’s starting rotation looks drastically different after Yovani Gallardo this season. Of course, the Brewers just went out and overpaid (in money and with a first round draft pick) for Kyle Lohse, to add a veteran (read: old) presence. But we’re not ready to accept that reality. The four other hurlers competing for the three remaining rotation spots have started a combined 133 Major League games, to Gallardo’s 148 career starts. Still, even the most casual of wave-beginning, Hulk-fist-can-cozy-wearing fans will recognize the names of the other starters.
Chris Narveson re-joins the rotation after a torn rotator cuff ended his 2012 campaign after only two starts. Marco Estrada, who made the most of his opportunities to fill in for Narveson and Marcum in 23 largely impressive starts (seven of which found him striking out at least nine hitters), has earned the chance to echo his 3.64 ERA and 11 quality starts. Little-known farmhand Mike Fiers also made the most of his start opportunities after arriving in Milwaukee at the end of May. In Fiers’ first time around the league, his sweeping curveball lulled opposing bats to sleep to the tune of 12 quality starts (seven of which found him pitching at least seven innings). Increased exposure and Fiers’ relative inexperience helped the league catch up to him, as he allowed four or more earned runs in six of his final 10 starts. Highly touted Wily Peralta and 2004 first round pick Mark Rogers (assuming he doesn’t blow out his elbow brushing his teeth) are likely on the outside of the rotation looking in.
If there’s one culprit for Milwaukee missing the playoffs last season, blame can squarely be placed on the bullpen. After John Axford (temporarily) pitched his way out of a job, an incapable cast of closers combined for a MLB worst 29 blown saves. Still, the mustachioed one managed 35 saves and finished strong after re-taking the closer role, only blowing one save in 13 September opportunities.
The 2012 relief troubles actually helped the Crew find a lot of viable internal options to aid the team this season. Jim Henderson is the front-runner to serve as Axford’s setup man. Fellow Nashville Sounds call-up Brandon Kintzler seems to have also pitched his way into a regular role in the Brewers pen. Still, the front office focused the majority of its money and attention on improving the bullpen with proven outside options. First, the Brewers sent A-ball player Raul Mondesi Jr. to Tampa Bay to acquire consistent middle reliever Burke Badenhop. Then, journeyman Tom Gorzelanny was inked to a two-year deal to correct the failed Manny Parra relief/employment experiment. Finally, veteran lefty Mike Gonzalez (who’s coming off one of the best seasons of his 10-year career) was signed to an affordable one-year deal.
Who’s on first?
Mat Gamel’s ACL injury early last year proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Corey Hart to step up and play admirably at first base, while allowing plus defender Nori Aoki to slide over to right field, and letting Carlos Gomez (and his 2.3 wins above replacement) to spend more time in center field.
However, with Gamel shelved for the season again, and Hart likely out until May with an injury of his own, the team is forced to make due with its limited corner-infield options. The most likely candidate to bide time at the base is last season’s opening-day shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who was re-signed this winter to back up and mentor Jean Segura as he transitions from second-base prospect to every day MLB shortstop. That failing, maybe Richie Sexson won’t be doing anything this April.