Wait 'Til Next Year: Milwaukee Brewers
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait ‘Til Next Year series.
Current record: 70-86 (.449, 4th place in NL Central)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 14
What went right in 2013:
Carlos Gomez built on his seemingly out-of-nowhere performance in the second half of 2012 to emerge as an MVP candidate in his age-27 season, hitting .281/.335/.498 to this point with 22 homers, a major league best 10 triples, 37 stolen bases (at an 84 percent success rate) and spectacular defense in center field. Jean Segura became an All-Star in his first full major league season, hitting .296/.331/.426 and reaching double-digits in homers (12) and triples (10, tying Gomez for the MLB lead), stealing an NL-best 44 bases (at a 77 percent success rate) and providing excellent glovework at shortstop.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has proven that his injury-shortened 2012 season (.320/.368/.513 in 96 games) was not a fluke, hitting .281/.338/.461 with 18 homers and 81 RBIs. Thirty-year-old rookie Jim Henderson excelled as the team's closer after taking the job from John Axford in April. Milwaukee also got some encouraging small-sample performances from rookies Scooter Gennett, who replaced the injured Rickie Weeks at second base, and Khris Davis and Caleb Gindl, who filled in for the suspended Ryan Braun in left field.
What went wrong in 2013:
Braun battled injuries and denied allegations before effectively admitting that he was a liar and a cheat in late July by accepting a season-ending 65-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. In terms of worst-case scenarios, having your franchise player appear in just 61 games before he has his season ended and his reputation destroyed ranks pretty high on the list.
Even more damaging to the Brewers' 2013 performance, however, was the fact that Corey Hart missed the entire season due to knee surgery, as did his intended replacement, Mat Gamel, who tore the ACL in his right knee last February, a freak reoccurrence of the injury that wiped out most of Gamel's 2012 season. As a result, the team's first basemen -- a group that has included repurposed shortstops Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt, mid-season acquisition Juan Francisco and rookie Sean Halton -- have hit an awful .208/.262/.378 so far.
Starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who looked like an emerging ace in recent seasons, was busted for driving under the influence in April and proceeded to suffer through his worst major league season, seeing his strikeout rate drop by two Ks per nine innings and his ERA climb above the league average. Second baseman Rickie Weeks had the worst year of his career (.209/.306/.357) before suffering a season-ending hamstring tear in early August. Aramis Ramirez missed more than 50 games due to issues with his left knee. Axford lost the closer's job almost immediately after a blown save on Opening Day and was traded to the division-rival Cardinals at the end of August, for whom he has since excelled.
Braun's return is, of course, the key to the Brewers' future, not only because at his best he's an MVP candidate, but also because he is signed through 2021. Hart is a free agent this winter, and if he's healthy he ranks among the best first basemen available. Milwaukee might want him to fill its hole at first, but so will a lot of other teams. Meanwhile, both Gomez and Segura fell off significantly in the second half of 2013 (Gomez: .255/.330/.435; Segura: .245/.273/.321). Gomez remains valuable at his second-half level of production, but the same can't be said for Segura, casting doubt on his status as player the team can build around. There are some reasons for optimism about his future, however, due to his strong first half of the season and his relative youth (he's only 23). Rookies Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg are finishing strong in the rotation, giving the Brewers some hope that their starting pitching will be better in 2014, particularly if Gallardo can return to form. Still, with the Pirates having finally fulfilled on the promise of the last two seasons, Milwaukee is buried deep in a strong NL Central. Climbing back to the top in that division will be a significant challenge. So while the Brewers stand a good chance of being better in 2014, they don't seem likely to be a contender.