On the eve of the 2014 season, there are a few reasons for Brewers fans to feel confident. After an injury- and suspension-marred 2013, it seems like there are enough pieces in place for the Brewers to bounce back and have a productive year. Even though the Brewers have their work cut out for them in a division that produced three playoff teams last year, there are always some teams that surprise fans and pundits. Might as well be the Brewers in 2014.
Starting tomorrow, the games count, and we will be able to feel irrational panic and/or exuberance soon enough. Writing this the day before, not knowing where this team will be in a few months from now, here are the top ten hopes/concerns that are on my mind.
1. How much impact will Braun-hating a-holes have?
I don’t mean impact on Ryan Braun. I mean impact on me – the noble, magnanimous Brewers fan who just wants my team to do well. It’s easy to forgive Braun since he’s brought so much joy to my life. It’s not easy to feel much compassion for the insufferable, sanctimonious dopes who think chanting “steeeeeer-rooooooids” is a sign of their high ethical standards. I’m not looking forward to sitting near Cubs, Cardinals, and Twins fans at Miller Park when Braun comes up to bat. (In fairness, I never look forward to sitting near Cubs fans in any circumstance.) Hopefully, Braun will have the kind of season he had in 2012 – right after his failed PED test, when presumably he was under close scrutiny by MLB’s drug warriors. Is it too much to ask that Braun shut up his detractors by repeating his best season?
2. Was Gallardo’s 2013 an outlier?
In talking with other fans, it seems that for whatever reason people think Gallardo has had two bad seasons in a row, when in fact his 2012 numbers were right in line with his previous performance (but you don’t have to take my word for it). Although he had a relatively strong second half in 2013, overall last season was a mess for Gallardo. Was it a sign of permanent decline, or just a sour note at the mid-point of an otherwise productive career? All five starters must do their part if the Brewers are going to make a run in 2014, but it feels like Gallardo needs to set the tone.
3. Was Garza’s 2014 spring an outlier?
No one should read too much into spring training performance, but it’s hard not to notice the Brewers’ big offseason acquisition Matt Garza laid an egg – 8.80 ERA, 2.35 WHIP, and a .403 opponent batting average. Apparently Garza has said he’s a slow starter in spring training. But if you pull up his spring training numbers at the MLB website (I can’t figure out how to link it), his 2014 was notably worse than every other year except 2011. If he’s going to have a rough stretch, it’s better to get it out of his system now, but it would have been encouraging if Garza had more than one solid outing going into the start of the season.
4. Is Khris Davis who we think he is?
Braun’s suspension had one obvious silver lining (other than giving Brewers fans the chance to learn that forgiveness is liberating) – it gave Davis the opportunity to have regular playing time and wow us with his bigass homerun power.
Now that Davis has earned the starting leftfield job for the Brewers, it would be nice if it turns out he’s for real. No one wants his second half of 2013 to end up being some kind of 2006-Bill-Hall-type fluke. The Brewers had one rookie All Star last year in Jean Segura. Why not Davis this year?
5. How much does Aramis Ramirez have left in the tank?
Ramirez will turn 36 this year (not that there’s anything wrong with that). After missing half of 2013 with injuries, it’s fair to say his best years are behind him. Still, Ramirez had a decent spring, and he may well have a couple of good seasons left in him yet. The Brewers have already accounted for the possibility of Ramirez going down by signing Mark Reynolds, but Ramirez’ bat has been more consistent than Reynolds’ over a longer period of time. One more strong season from a healthy Ramirez will go a long way toward helping the Brewers rock the baseball world in 2014.
6. Will Lyle Overbay make Ron Roenicke look good for keeping him?
When the Brewers parted company with Juan Francisco and added Overbay to the roster, Roenicke emphasized that Overbay’s crummy spring was nothing to get excited about. He’s a veteran and a solid defender, and many of us still feel nostalgic about his first run in Milwaukee a decade ago. While no one expects him to return to his 2004-2005 form, we’re all confident Overbay will be a good role-player and maybe surprise us with some clutch hits against right-handed pitching. On the other hand, there’s always a chance Overbay pulls a Yuni. If he does, the fan that’s always looking for reasons to fire the manager will have something to bitch and moan about. And no one wants that.
7. Does K-Rod still have cactus thorns in his foot or what?
There’s a fair amount of bizarre injuries in professional sports, so K-Rod stepping on a cactus wasn’t exactly beyond the pale. It was a little odd that he was still pulling needles out days after the incident. During a recent broadcast, Bill Schroeder and his partner (can’t remember if it was Brian Anderson or Craig Coshun) discussed the possibility that the remaining needles would be absorbed into K-Rod’s body tissue. So K-Rod’s part cactus now? There’s a comic book villain in the making here.
8. Will the Cardinals make the Brewers look like suckers yet again?
Not surprisingly, the public at large thinks the goddamn Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central.
Your votes are in! Here’s who YOU think will win the NL Central! pic.twitter.com/B21tb7coP7
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 28, 2014
And who can blame them? The Cardinals have a better organization, more talent, and are contenders every year. Indeed, I’d pick them to win the division if there was money or other property on the line. Even if they do end up in first place again, I’ll be happy if the Brewers go .500 against St. Louis. Oh who am I kidding – I’ll be happy if the Brewers win more than five games against the goddamn Cardinals. Christ.
9. Will Rickie Weeks prove his doubters wrong?
After two years of substandard play – not to mention a heap of criticism from fans – it would be poetic if Weeks turns it around and his best year since 2010. His spring training was encouraging, and the presence of Scooter Gennett may be the motivation Weeks needs to have another All Star year. Well, that may be a tad optimistic…but if Weeks could hit .250 and boost his WAR into positive territory, it would be a thrilling turn of events.
10. Will Hank the dog still be interesting in six months?
As you are no doubt aware, the Brewers announced there will be a Hank bobblehead on September 13. I’ve already got my tickets. Of course, that’s quite a while from now. The whole world may be a different place by then. It would be a shame if Hank’s 15 minutes of fame are long expired by that point. It would also be a shame if a mascot bobblehead giveaway is the most meaningful thing going on with the Brewers as the season winds down.
Even if the Brewers don’t have all the pieces we might like, they appear to have enough to be competitive. If they can avoid injuries and get some breaks, they might as well be one of the surprise teams of 2014 that comes out of nowhere, clinches a wild card berth, and eventually knocks the Cardinals out of the playoffs. At the outset of a 162-game season, hope springs eternal. Go Brewers.
(Image: Tom Lynn/Getty Images)