This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 18: The Milwaukee Brewers. You can find previews for teams 30 through 19 here.
2013 Record and Finish: 74-88, fourth place in NL Central (21st overall)
2014 Projected Record: 79-83, fourth place in NL Central
The Case For
They finished with their worst record since 2004, but the Brewers were quite competitive in every month but May, when they went 6-22; they were 68-66 otherwise, and even 33-32 after Ryan Braun's Biogenesis suspension. Though outscored by 47 runs (640 to 687), their third-order record — adjusted for run components and quality of competition — was within a hair's breadth of .500. Braun is back, shifted to rightfield to accommodate promising late-season fill-in Khris Davis and forming a powerful pairing to augment a strong up-the-middle core that includes Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez. Second baseman Scooter Gennett won't hit .324/.356/.479 again, but he should be better than what's left of Rickie Weeks (.222/.320/.384 in 2012-13), strengthening that core further. The rotation has added Matt Garza, and there's hope that Yovani Gallardo's second half (3.09 ERA and eight quality starts out of 11) is more representative than his first (4.83 and nine quality starts out of 20).
The Case Against
Undone in part by Corey Hart's season-ending knee woes a year ago, the Brewers still haven't found a suitable first baseman; that Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds platoon won't be much to write home about. Nobody knows what they'll get out of a post-PED Braun, whose pre-suspension slugging percentage (.498) represented a career low. Garza has made just 42 starts over the past two seasons due to elbow and shoulder woes, and the guys at the back of the rotation, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta, have yet to put it all together over a full season.
X-Factor: Khris Davis
It's a stretch to draw too many conclusions about a player from 153 big league plate appearances, but you have to admit that the early returns on Davis are promising. Bouncing up and down between Triple-A and the majors last year, he didn't even get a shot at regular play until mid-August, and then missed time in September due to various ailments. But when he was available, he hit .279/.353/.596 with 11 homers and added 10 doubles in his small slice of playing time. A seventh-round pick in 2009, Davis never had the arm, foot speed or athleticism to make himself a real prospect, and he's generally been a bit old for his minor league level, but he's hit for power and shown patience at every stop, and with the trade of Norichika Aoki, he's poised for regular duty. Pitchers will adjust to him sooner or later, but if he comes anywhere close to approximating his 2013 line, the Brewers have a bat they can fit into the middle of the lineup.
Number To Know: −18 net home runs
Because Miller Park is such a home run haven, the Brewers' success has become tied to the extent to which they can outslug the opposition. Last year, they hit 157 homers, a precipitous falloff from the 202 they belted in 2012; meanwhile, Brewers pitchers served up 175 dingers, up from 169 the year before. The net deficit was just the second time since that abysmal 2004 season that the Brewers have been in the red (2009 was the first). Braun's absence was a big part of the reason; even before his 65-game suspension, he missed four weeks due to a nerve problem in his hand, and wound up dropping from 41 homers to nine. Hart's 30 homers disappeared completely from the ledger (their first basemen hit 21 amid an unappealing .206/.259/.370 line), Aramis Ramirez dipped from 27 homers to 12 amid injuries, and Weeks went from 21 to 10. Meanwhile, newcomer Kyle Lohse served up 26 homers (1.2 per nine), his highest total since 2004.
Most overrated: Scooter Gennett
"I'm gonna say Scooter Gennett. He's just a little - the hype on him, he might not quite be what they had hyped him up to be. He's really scuffling right now. You don't have to throw him a strike. He's gonna get himself out. He has really struggled. He's getting in bad counts early and just pressing too much. He's a better player than that, just not right now. He's always been a fringy infielder anyhow."
Most underrated: Jonathan Lucroy
"Jonathan Lucroy is one of the more underrated players. He's a solid hitter with some power and he's got an accurate arm. And you almost have to force him to take days off. That’s a good thing, but it kind of wears on you when you’re a catcher."
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