Playing Pepper 2016: Milwaukee Brewers

It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning.  For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper!  We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat.  This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal.  It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.

Milwaukee Brewers
68-94, fourth in the NL Central
Last year’s Pepper

Has it really been just five years since the Cardinals and the Brewers staged that wild and crazy NLCS?  While the Cardinals have continued their winning ways, the Brewers have hit a bump in the road since that time, slipping behind the current powers in the NL Central.  A lot of new faces up Wisconsin way over the past couple of seasons.

What does 2016 have in store?  We’re talking with our friends from The Brewers Bar today to find out.  Usually it’s Nick Michalski doing the honors, but with a new addition to his family taking up a lot of his time, Nick asked Enrique Bakemeyer (on Twitter @C_Enrique_B) to do the honors this year.  They’ve asked me some questions as well, so be sure to check out their site in the next day or so for those!

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

BB: Thanks again for having us, Daniel! Brewers leadership has been preparing the fan base for a major overhaul since the first half of the 2015 season. The team dug itself into a hole by the end of April, the manager was fired, and it was clear the Brewers needed a little more than a few tweaks and tinkering to be competitive again.

Even though we knew it was coming, the body count of players that have left Milwaukee since July is pretty striking: Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton, Neal Cotts, K-Rod, Jason Rogers, Adam Lind, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis. You may have heard the Brewers also now have the youngest general manager in MLB. And finally, Bob Uecker’s broadcast partner Joe Block left for Pittsburgh at the end of January.

With that context, my first thought on the team’s offseason is I don’t know you anymore, Brewers. They’re probably doing what they need to do, but it’s going to take some time to adjust. By the end of spring training I’ll probably have a handle on who Rymer Liriano and Damien Magnifico are. I understand the position the team is in, and that the right thing to do is tear everything down and start over from scratch. It just might take a little getting used to.

C70: It appears that this season is going to be a rebuilding one. How does that affect your watching and keeping up with the club?

BB: I’m a creature of habit, so finding another hobby to replace my Brewers fandom is pretty much a non-starter. If I suddenly had all these extra hours in the week to fill, not to mention a bunch of extra money in my pocket from not going to Miller Park, I’d get restless and be prone to making bad judgment calls. I’d probably start regretting that I don’t binge-watch Netflix as much as my peers, or that I never tried cocaine in college.

It’s not like the Brewers haven’t had some real clunker seasons in recent memory. They were never in contention during the 2010 season, which was Prince Fielder’s worst year in Milwaukee. In 2013, Ryan Braun was suspended for half the season. I lived through those and kept coming back. At least this year I know already not to get my hopes up. My watching and keeping up with the club will be largely the same as it has been for the last decade, presumably without the crushing disappointment that comes with heightened expectations.

C70: From the outside looking in, it seems more when than if on whether Jonathan Lucroy will be traded. Is that the case, when do you expect that to happen, and is it a good idea?

BB: No idea when it might happen, but it’s hard to argue it’s not a good idea if the Brewers can get something decent in return. Lucroy said in January he’d rather be traded than have to suffer through a dreary rebuild. I assume the only reason it hasn’t happened already is GM David Stearns hasn’t gotten a suitable offer.

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

BB: One guy you’d think would have to make strides is Matt Garza. 2015 was the worst season of his career. I’m not licensed to practice math or statistics, but I have to believe it’s essentially impossible for the dude not to make strides after hitting rock bottom. Two other Brewers starters – Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson – are also guys positioned to have strong years (a bounce back in Peralta’s case) without the pressure of being contenders hanging over them.

Domingo Santana, who was a big piece of the Gomez/Fiers trade with Houston, turned some heads in Milwaukee with his phat opposite field homers. It would be dandy if he could keep that up while learning some plate discipline (something you could say about half of major leaguers). And I can’t be the only fan hoping Damien Magnifico makes it to the majors and turns out to be a good earner so we can all run out and buy “Magnifico” jerseys.

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

BB: I project the Brewers finish last but lose fewer than 100 games.

C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

BB: [EXPLETIVE DELETED] CARDINALS, naturally. The Cardinals have had the Brewers’ number for as long as I can remember. The last time the Brewers were even .500 against St. Louis was 2011, and oddly I can’t remember how that season ended, it’s all kind of hazy and repressed. Since then, the Brewers are 24-48 against the Cardinals. Victories against St. Louis only happen about one-third of the time, so I try to enjoy them as much as I can. I don’t have any reason to think the rebuilding Brewers will fare particularly well against the perennial division-leading Cardinals in 2016, but surely there will be a couple of exhilarating wins. For example, you may recall late in September 2015 when the Pirates still had an outside shot of catching the Cardinals, the Brewers hung a delicious blown save on Trevor Rosenthal. Moments like that are cathartic for fans of underperforming clubs.

I do appreciate Enrique bringing the heat in regards to the Brewers.  (I imagine he untucked his shirt after that one!)  Let’s hope this new rebuilding project means an eventual revitalization of the brewing rivalry!

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