Playing Pepper 2015: Milwaukee Brewers

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Milwaukee Brewers
82-80, third in the NL Central

All year long, I expected the Brewers to fold.  Even when they got out to their early lead in the season, I kept saying to anyone that would listen that it wouldn’t last.  Yet, on August 31, they were tied with the Cardinals for the divisional lead.  Only a rough September (9-17) kept them from returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

In other words, it’s probably not smart to write off the Brew Crew in 2015.  We’ve got a number of good bloggers today to talk about the chances the ’15 squad finishes what the ’14 could not.  To start with, we have Justin from The First Out At Third.  Justin’s written at a few places but now has hung out his own shingle.  He’s on Twitter @JSchu23.  Next, we have Nick and Enrique, both who serve up the knowledge at The Brewers Bar on the Bloguin network.  They both wanted in and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity!  Nick’s on Twitter @MichalskiNick, Enrique @C_Enrique_B and the blog @TheBrewersBar.  (BTW, I answered some questions for them as well and they should be up in the near future.)  Finally, we have another Justin, but this one has a bit of a twist.  Justin Jabs has played pepper before as the author of Baseblog, but now is actually serving an internship with the Brewers.  He Tweets @justinjabs.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

FOAT: The Brewers did exactly what they needed to do in the offseason, so I find it puzzling that analysts and experts are berating them. They were in desperate need of a first baseman; they got one in Adam Lind. They needed left-handed in the bullpen, they got one in Neal Cotts for only $2 million. But most importantly, they traded Yovani Gallardo, a move that was well overdue in my mind. I like Corey Kneblel a lot, as long as he can control his pitches. The Brewers had a smart offseason, and with all the money coming off the books in 2016, the future looks bright.

BBN: I feel the Brewers should’ve done just a little bit more. It’s was a quiet, lonely winter for Brewers fans. Adam Lind was a nice pickup for first base, but he’s dealt with injuries in recent years and it’s unclear if he can be counted on to play a lot of games. With Yovani Gallardo sent to the Texas Rangers, I think they should’ve picked up a starting pitcher on a minor league deal to increase depth, at least until Opening Day. That’s easier said than done, of course, but even a soft-tosser like Kevin Correia would’ve been OK to shore up depth during March because they’re on thin ice at the back of the rotation with Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson, along with youngster Taylor Jungmann as the No. 6 guy.

BBE: I’m a roll-with-the-punches kind of fan who always gives his home team the benefit of the doubt. The addition of Adam Lind as the Brewers’ first real first baseman since 2011 makes me happy. Everyone says the bullpen could use some upgrades, but that doesn’t keep me up at night since every team’s bullpen could use some upgrades. I have a feeling Francisco Rodriguez will come back to Milwaukee [K-Rod since re-signed], and although he had his highest HR rate last year, he’s still been more good than bad. I’m a little concerned about the rotation since replacing Yovani Gallardo with Jimmy Nelson seems like a step backward, but there’s no sense in worrying about that now – the movie Frozen taught me a lot about letting go. Overall, I’m perfectly content with the Brewers’ offseason moves. Maybe I’m an easy sell.

JJ: As it stands now, I’m lukewarm on the Brewers offseason. Yes, the Brewers had an epic collapse in 2014 and that fact won’t escape our minds anytime soon. But the flip side of that coin is they were a great team and a division leader for the vast majority of the season before that time. I applaud Doug Melvin for not yet blowing this thing up and giving it another go. The Brewers didn’t need an overhaul, just a tweaking. Whether or not the tweaks made were the right ones is yet to be seen. Jean Segura can’t be as bad as he was. Ryan Braun will hopefully be healthy. I’m confident Lucroy will remain in the MVP conversation (I personally had him in the Top 4 last season). As for the actual additions the Crew made… First base still makes me uneasy. I like the team getting value for Gallardo if they think Jimmy Nelson is truly ready, which obviously they do. K-Rod makes the bullpen better but relievers are so hit-or-miss year-to-year I’m not going to worry about it’s “on paper” weakness until some pitches get thrown.

C70: I’ve labeled Aramis Ramirez as a Sith Lord because of what he does to the Cardinals. Is there any chance he’ll slow down overall this season?

FOAT: Aramis Ramirez has been slowing down for a while now as his isolated power has decreased in three straight seasons. He’s getting old and will have a tough time staying healthy in 2015, but might be a trade chip for the Brewers if they fall out of contention early.

BBN: I guess I haven’t paid attention to what he’s done against the Cardinals too much, but Ramirez has been slowing down for years, though gradually.  Many Brewers have poor numbers against St. Louis historically, so the fact that Ramirez can hit a little against them is nice.  But it hasn’t made an earth-shattering impact; the Cardinals seem to get by regardless.  After having an injury-plagued year in 2013 in which he played in only 92 games, he was better last season but still not able to put up the really big numbers that Milwaukee needs.  By the way, considering the Rule of Two, is Ramirez the master or apprentice?  And who’s the other Sith…Braun?  (I’m really looking forward to Episode VII.)

BBE: The rivalry between the Cardinals and Brewers seems so one-sided, the idea that Cardinals fans would fear anything about Milwaukee doesn’t quite compute. But I guess Ramirez’ career .895 OPS against St. Louis can’t be an accident…and now I realize I might have taken it for granted and failed to appreciate it when I had the chance. Ramirez will turn 37 this year, and given his recent injury history one would think the chance he’ll slow down is pretty good. And I didn’t know what I had until it was almost gone.

JJ: Obviously, there’s a chance, but in my mind he won’t. I’m unable to discern how much of that is based on facts and how much of that is based on fandom. Take out the injuries and he’s been one of the most consistently solid offensive players in the league for the past decade. Now he’s most likely retiring after 2015. I won’t call him underrated, but A-Ram certainly doesn’t get the type of appreciation he should. He’s been a mainstay in the NL Central for his entire career, and he’s choosing to uphold a promise to his daughter and his family rather than stick around for a few more laps in the Show to inch closer towards the Hall of Fame. That’s admirable in my book. Here’s hoping Aramis Ramirez has a full and healthy season, hits 16 more home runs, and gets a standing ovation from a healthy mix of Cubs and Brewers fans on October 4th, 2015.

C70: What will be the strength of this team in 2015?

FOAT: The outfield, definitely. Carlos Gomez is an MVP-caliber player, and if Ryan Braun’s thumb heals from his offseason procedure, he should return to the player he was prior to 2013. Khris Davis should also improve, especially with Gerardo Parra spelling him in left field from time to time. Milwaukee’s outfield is full of fire power and should be fun to watch.

BBN: I would think the Brewers’ rotation will be the team’s greatest strength. The offense is prone to massive slumps because they’re often an all-or-nothing squad with their homer-happy hacking. But the pitching has been remarkably good for the last several years overall, and the bullpen has enough depth to it now. I’m particularly confident in the top three of the rotation (Lohse, Garza, Peralta).

BBE: I’m a believer in the adage that it all starts with pitching. The Brewers’ 2014 downfall was due to disappearing offense – the pitchers mostly held up their end. If Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza continue to do what we’ve come to expect from them, if Wily Peralta builds on his strong 2014 and keeps making progress, if Mike Fiers can demonstrate his resurgence wasn’t a fluke, if Nelson can come into his own at the big league level, and if the bullpen can produce at an above-average level, everything will be fine. (Don’t all teams have a lot of “ifs” in spring training?)

JJ: A great outfield will be a strength of the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers. Carlos Gomez is becoming one of the better center fielders in the league on both offense and defense. We’ll see what Braun has in the tank. I still really like Khris Davis, and Gold Glover Gerardo Parra makes for one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball. They will be a fun group to watch.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

FOAT: I have two players; Jeremy Jeffress and Mike Fiers. I believe Jeffress is MLB’s next big-time closer and I think he’ll be one of baseball’s top relievers. He has a great groundball percentage and has a high-powered fastball. He’s the real deal. And as for Fiers, well, I think he’s a dark horse for the Cy Young. He was brilliant in 2012 and unbelievable last season. He’ll be the best pitcher in the Brewers’ rotation.

BBN: I’m going to cheat a little here and say Jean Segura and Khris Davis. Shortstop Segura had a down year after a brilliant 2013 but I think he’s poised for a rebound. Plus he’s playing to re-establish value for a future contract. Davis has shown some serious pop (22 homers in 2014 and more RBI than Aramis Ramirez), and I think he could hit for a better average this year. Fewer strikeouts and more balls in play should bode well for the Milwaukee left-fielder.

BBE: Wei-Chung Wang. It would be practically impossible for him not to make great strides.

JJ: The easy answer is Jimmy Nelson. The Brewers are handing him a rotation spot and asking him to run with it.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

FOAT: I have the Brewers finishing 79-83 for a fourth-place finish in the NL Central. The rotation isn’t strong enough, and with Scooter Gennett having to face lefties, Jean Segura’s ground ball obsession and Ramirez’s aging problems, the Brewers will have a tough time keeping pace in the ultra-competitive Central.

BBN: I’m going to predict second in the NL Central and a Wild Card spot if things go right. If they go wrong, splitting time with the Reds/Cubs at the bottom of the Central. If they bomb this season, count me among those who think they should trade veterans for prospects AND fire manager Ron Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin.

BBE: I predict the Brewers finish first in the NL Central and win the World Series. What’s the point of predicting anything else?

JJ: I’ll go with 85 wins, somewhere in the vicinity of the Cubs and Pirates. Cardinals will probably be on top. I really am not sure. The only thing I’m certain about in the NL Central is the Reds will be hot garbage and Joey Votto will bounce back, get on base 44% of the time, and infuriate Cincinnati columnists and fans alike.

C70: What do you like best about being a Brewers fan?

FOAT: Brewers fans are known for our tailgating skills. No one can tailgate like us. Nothing beats getting together on a hot summer day, drinking beer and watching the Brewers.

BBN: The community of Brewers fandom and the fact that Brewers fans know how to have some fun. The Brewers are almost always the underdogs so that reinforces an “us against them” mentality that strengthens the bonds among supporters. Brewers fans can’t rest on the team’s laurels because we have no laurels. It’s all about the future for this club, not the past. But yeah, Brewers fans know how to have a good time, whether it be the Miller Park tailgating scene, listening to Bob Uecker while kicking it in the backyard or singing “Roll Out the Barrel” to commemorate the city’s beer-making heritage. We show up in large numbers every year despite our organization’s consistent incompetence. We are a bit wild and not too uptight. This is baseball after all, not the Army.

BBE: I don’t know how it looks from the outside, but inside the Milwaukee bubble we hear a lot about how we’re a great fan base for such a small market. It certainly feels like we have a strong baseball culture here, and the Miller Park experience is always a treat. If that wasn’t enough, we’re now home to international sensation Hank the dog. There’s so much to like I couldn’t possibly pick one thing. (The fact that MKE Brewing Company’s super boozy O-Gii beer is readily available at the ballpark is also worth mentioning.)

JJ: Miller Park is a great place to watch a ballgame. I really, truly love it. Miller Lite in my hand, the dark green metal, Bob Uecker’s voice in my ear while I’m in the bathroom. Sometimes I’ll sneak out of the office and just sit in the bleachers for a good 15 minutes, no matter the temperature. It’s a great place and I encourage all Cardinals fans to make the trek one day.

My thanks to both Justins and the Brewer Bar Boys for their thoughts about the Brew Crew.  Odds are, any trip the Cards make up to Wisconsin isn’t going to be an easy one!

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