NL Central Preview

Somethin’s Brewin’

[Editor note: I've known John since we were in high school. While he's quite accomplished professionally - Professor of Law at St. John's University in New York City - it's his ongoing devotion to the Milwaukee Brewers that most impresses me. I'm thrilled he's agreed to share his thoughts about the upcoming season with us. I'd recommend against getting into an argument with John, though. He was the top college debater in the country his senior year at Georgetown. - SPM]

The Brewers are back in Milwaukee to play their last preseason games at home (I’m not sure why).  I have not lived there in a long time, but it’s my hometown.  It’s been the Brewers home since I was eight. I appreciate Steve’s invitation to write about them. They’re still my team. We grew up together. They keep me entertained, and young.

The Brewers club that appeared out of bankruptcy court in April 1970 had been, for one season, the Seattle Pilots. Those Brewers were nearly an expansion team and they were bad. (And they knew it. A few years ago, I had a brief conversation at a minor league game with a manager, Ted Kubiak, who had been a Brewers infielder on the 1970 team. I told him that I’d grown up in Milwaukee, that the Brewers’ arrival had been the biggest event of my childhood, and that I’d had his and every Brewer’s photograph plus other team stuff on my bedroom wall.  “What a tragic childhood,” he replied.)

Although it has not been tragic to be a Brewers fan, it has been, to date, short of the glory. They were (personal view) the best team in baseball from 1981 through most of 1983, but they made only the 1982 World Series and lost that in game seven. They didn’t get back to the (expanded) playoffs until 2008.  They won a playoff series in 2011 but lost the NLCS. The past two seasons have been, um, complicated and disappointing.

But it is nearly April, I am a Brewers homer and, all that aside, they look to be good, maybe very good, this year.

[This post title? “Somethin’s Brewin’” has been a club marketing slogan. It’s also part of the title of a 2007 song by “Osmosis Gintronics” (guys from Milwaukee, it seems). They first recorded it in 2007 and then updated it for 2011. As far as I can find, there’s no 2014 version. There should be.]

As in past good years, this year’s Brewers look to have lots of pop and strong (at least starting) pitching.

The spark is Carlos Gomez. Leadoff man with strong stats, including power. Golden glove in CF. Last year an All-Star. Could be that for many years.

Power pervades the rest of the batting order. Aramis Ramirez (3B), Jean Segura (SS), Jonathan Lucroy (C), free agent pickup Mark Reynolds (1B), LF Khris Davis and others can hit—this team will score a lot of runs.

[A note on Segura: “Starting shortstop, Milwaukee Brewers” is special territory. Robin Yount took that job in 1974 when he was 18. He became the team’s face, its biggest star, an All-Star, twice an MVP and in 1999 a Hall of Famer. In the Brewers’ pantheon, Yount will always be “The Kid.” But Segura, only 24 and an All-Star last year, is the new kid—he is something special, and the team and its fans will happily deal with nickname confusion.]

That batting order will support a starting pitching staff that is the Brewers strongest in many years. In the offseason, they spent big and smartly to get Matt Garza. He joins Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily—as in Loman, not Coyote—Peralta. Each could win 15 games or more.

The bullpen? I’ll get back to you. Jim Henderson is a strong closer. The Brewers always have a strong closer until he blows up. Then things get ugly, and then they find another strong closer—see Dan Plesac, Trevor Hoffman, John Axford, etc. I hope that Henderson stays where he was last year, in the strong part of that cycle, and that it lasts. The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad but might not be great…

Special motivation? The Brewers have announcer Bob Uecker, now 80 and funny as ever. (His 2003 Hall of Fame induction—well, almost—speech) It is time to win for Ueck.

Fan-pleasing gimmick? The Brewers found a battered dog this spring at their Arizona training camp. They cleaned him up and named him “Hank” (after Henry Aaron, who means much more than that might indicate to Milwaukee, the Brewers, baseball and the country). Hank the dog became the team mascot and a People magazine celebrity. The other Brewers who came from Arizona to Milwaukee for the start of the season are glad that only Hank has been neutered. He’ll be a Miller Park darling.

And one more development: When the Brewers open next Monday, they’ll start a new right fielder. That’s just a new position—the player himself is not new to the team. But he didn’t play much last year. Yet, he could have a tremendous impact this season—with all of the above talent, he could be the Brewers’ key piece. That’s what management expected when it signed him to big contracts, first in 2008 for seven years and then in 2011 when it extended him through 2020 for about $150 million guaranteed. That fall, he carried the Brewers to a division title and a playoff series win. Then he flunked a drug test. I’ll focus on Ryan Braun in a next post.

11 thoughts on “Somethin’s Brewin’

  1. Thanks again to John for writing this for us. It was a busy and emotional week for him with the funeral services for Judge Lawrence Walsh, one of John’s mentors. John wrote this obituary for Judge Walsh for Time (Magazine) that was published today.

    Anyone with comments or questions for John?

  2. Hi John — this is a really good article. Do the Brewers have the minor league depth to either have a meaningful call up during the year or make a move at the trade deadline?

    • Thanks. I don’t have much knowledge on this–I’m more fan that expert/scout! I did notice that SI, in its baseball season preview issue this week, called the Brewers’ farm system the worst in the MLB. I hope that’s wrong! I do know that they don’t have anyone who’s being discussed as Fielder and Braun were, back in their early youth. One minor leaguer (Nashville AAA) who had some good MLB moments last year is P Johnny Helweg, who came to the Brewers with Gomez from the Dodgers for Zack Grienke.

  3. Great overview, John. I am probably more bullish on the Brewers than most folks, as I view them as the primary competition for the Reds in the race for second (provided the Cardinals are the world beaters that everyone expects them to be). With a full year of Braun, the criminally underrated Carlos Gomez, a duo of potential five win players in Davis and Segura, and a pitching staff that now has three horses (provided Garza stays healthy), I think they are a plus-.500 club. With a few breaks, they could win upwards of 90 games.

    Are they Harvey’s Wallbangers? . . . No, but they just may be good enough to beat the Reds out of a playoff spot.

  4. Lucroy is a stud who flies under the radar somehow. It’s a very scary everyday lineup, even if Davis doesn’t produce. Purely on offense, they top the Reds in 2/3 of the OF, C, SS, 3B. Votto, Bruce, and Phillips maintain the overall edge at their spots.

    If and when, and probably just when, Aramis gets hurt, the Brewers will scramble just a bit ,as they spent two spots on first base, leaving only Jeff Bianchi as a utility guy.

    Reds have superior pitching, but the Brewers will rarely be out of it with those bats. As a Reds fan, I have to hope the bullpen remains a consistent weak spot for the Brewers. I can see them surpassing the Pirates for sure and challenging the Reds for second as long as their starting pitching holds.

  5. Hi John. Thanks for gracing us with your thoughts on the season for the Brew Crew. A question, I’ve been hearing a lot about Davis without being able to see much. While his stats look good, nothing about his contributions stand out as something I, “must take note of” which everyone is implying. In your opinion, what makes him a special one to keep an eye on? Cheers.

    • Good question… made me look him up more. Obviously his 150 PA’s in MLB aren’t significant yet, but he did very well with what he had. I certainly noticed the long balls he whacked against the Reds!

      Taking a quick glossing over at his minor league stats, he’s more impressive than I realized: Throughout the ranks he has always OPS’d over .800 (usually much higher) and has consistently held down an OBP over .350. Seems like a pretty formidable mix of power and getting on. So, it’ll just be seeing if it all translates long term to the Show. But seeing those stats behind him makes me less inclined to believe (and more worried as a Reds fan) that his audition last season wasn’t just good luck.

      He’s 26, so a touch old for a guy to be just breaking out, but coming into his baseball prime.

        • An update: As the Brewers swept three this weekend in Boston, Davis was 8 for 15 with four doubles, six runs scored and one RBI. He told the Milwaukee J-S that he’d made “[j]ust minor adjustments. Nothing big. Just some mental confidence that Johnny gave me. He talked to me on the off day [4/3] about having a different approach.” I did give him the above excellent advice, but alas he was crediting not me/this blog but Brewers’ hitting coach Johnny Narron.

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