2014 Season Preview: Milwaukee Brewers
Part 1 of my National League Central preview focuses on those Warriors from Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Brewers. Nick at the Brewers Bar was nice enough to take a few minutes away from accusing FedEx delivery guys of tampering with urine samples to answer some of my questions. You can follow them on Twitter at @theBrewersBar.
CSG: During spring training the Brewers introduced their new four-legged mascot named Hank (after Hank Aaron). How long do you think Hank will be around to detract the media’s attention from Ryan Braun?
BB: As long as it takes! I share your cynicism regarding Hank the dog to a great degree. I think it’s either serendipity or a really sneaky marketing campaign, hopefully the former. The Brewers obviously could’ve used a distraction from the Ryan Braun fiasco this spring, and they got it. It looks like Hank the dog is here to stay, so I imagine he will continue to distract from the Ryan Braun controversy for the foreseeable future. I’m sure from the outside looking in, the Hank the dog thing seems contrived in a lot of ways, but it all seems pretty genuine as a fan and follower of the team.
If the team’s owner, Mark Attanasio, had bought a dog for the team, yeah that would be laughable. But it appears this was a real stray. Then you have the inevitable Hank the dog merchandise, but it’s hard to hate on that as well because it raises funds for the Humane Society. Again, yes it’s a distraction. The origins of it will probably never be totally free of suspicion, but the whole team shouldn’t be punished for Braun’s deeds. In addition, yeah Braun wasn’t straight up about what he did, but I don’t see much pressure on other Biogenesis clients about their malfeasances, save for A-Rod.
None of these other guys like Jhonny Peralta or Nelson Cruz had their tests leaked and were then interrogated about it in the media. I understand the inclination to hate Braun and want to crucify him, but it’s still unclear what he did exactly and when, and if he failed a test in 2011, what about 2012 in which he repeated MVP-level production?
CSG: When Prince Fielder was traded, it opened the door for Ryan Braun to be the face of the Brewers. Since the thought of that still being the case is quite laughable, who do you think is (or who would like to be) the new face of the Brewers?
BB: It’s true the notion of Braun as the face of the franchise is pretty ridiculous now. That could change a year from now, however, if he bounces back into form. People in Brewer Nation are upset about what his actions have done to the franchise and the negative attention it brings. Still, he’s our guy and with the amount of years and dollars the team has invested in him, there’s little choice but to hope he does well.
To me, the face of the franchise is the unassuming but solid Jonathan Lucroy, the starting catcher. The Brewers Bar committed to that in January when we sponsored Lucroy’s Baseball Reference page. He has improved every year since he came into the league and he does a lot to keep the pitching staff focused and effective. He seems like a no-nonsense kind of guy who is really invested in the team playing well and leading by example. He’s also a clutch hitter who’s only getting better at the major league level. Beyond Lucroy, the faces of the franchise would have to be their two 2013 All-Stars, centerfielder Carlos Gomez and young shortstop Jean Segura.
CSG: From an outsider’s perspective, the 2014 Brewers seem like a very disjointed team. Do you Brewers fans trust the front office, or do you sense some frustration about the direction the team is heading in?
BB: I’ve heard this “disjointed” critique fairly often this spring and frankly, I don’t really understand it. What’s disjointed about the roster, exactly? They are solid up the middle with Lucroy, Segura and Gomez, and to a lesser extent, Scooter Gennett / Rickie Weeks at second base. Yes, they have an aging third baseman in Aramis Ramirez and a position in flux at first base with Mark Reynolds, former-Red Juan Francisco and Lyle Overbay in the mix, among others. Their outfield is formidable, at least at the plate. Braun and Gomez will be fine and youngster Khris Davis showed he can hit the ball in 2013. I think there was a lot of frustration among fans prior to the Matt Garza signing. Without Garza, the Brewers just didn’t have the firepower in the rotation to compete in what is perhaps a stronger NL Central division than ever before. However, with Garza and re-signing K-Rod to fortify the pen, the Brewers have a decent pitching staff, with some depth in the high minors.
Before Garza, it looked like the front office was going to stand pat and wing it in 2014. That would not have been OK. While the Brewers may have some lean years going forward in which they’ll be forced to “rebuild” more than “reload,” I think the fans are happy that the owner and front office authorized what will be one of the highest payrolls in the team’s history (~100 million) to give it a real shot this year. Sure, the team is unsettled at first base and perhaps second base, too. But those are issues that can be worked out in time. They have options in both cases. I’m not sure the Brewers are all that more fractured or unsettled than the Reds or Pirates. Lately reports have surfaced that the Pirates are still looking for a first baseman.
CSG: Matt Garza recently had the following to say about the Chicago Cubs: “I wish them the best, but I like where I’m at, and I’m going to try to kick their teeth in every time I get a chance.” That’s like a My Little Pony fan threatening a Rainbow Brite fan. Your thoughts?
BB: In my short time following Garza more closely, and hearing some of his thoughts and observing his behavior, it’s clear the guy likes to talk and speak his mind. I didn’t give much thought to this quote, because it’s one of many already that Garza has uttered that raise an eyebrow, perhaps. To me, this is just like anyone who is traded or not re-signed by his former team, and then subsequently wants to beat that team even more. Wisconsinites have seen this before, particularly with the Brett Favre nonsense. It’s very irrational, but it’s human emotion we’re talking about. Don’t be surprised if Garza talks shit about the Reds at some point this season, basically. He likes to jaw a bit. Also, I don’t think Brewers or Cubs fans would appreciate your comparison of the two teams to My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite. Who are the Reds… Cabbage Patch Kids?
CSG: What are your thoughts on the newly instituted instant replay rule in MLB?
My thoughts on replay are mixed. I think in large part it’s overdue because of the egregious missed calls over the years (the Armando Galarraga near-perfect game looms large, along with blown calls in the playoffs). At the same time, I don’t want to see a bunch of umpire conferences over replay several times a game unless they can speed up the process. In spring training so far, (granted they’re getting used to the system) replay requests have bogged down the game a bit. I just hope in the regular season they can do this efficiently. In the end, both teams want a fair shake and replay should help in that regard. I think technology should be implemented where reasonable. Expanded replay looks good to me so far in terms of what they’re looking at and what they’ll be able to fix if conspicuous human error comes into play on a call.
Sometimes it’s hard to make a judgment even after reviewing the video, though. I don’t think they should ever allow balls and strikes to be challenged by managers. I’m really glad they aren’t giving managers red flags to throw on the field, too. This isn’t the NFL, nor should it mimic that style of things. On a related note, I’m satisfied for now on the revised home plate-collision rules, but I think it’s ludicrous that home plate collisions would be banned entirely. I’m sorry guys like Mike Matheny and Buster Posey have dealt with concussions and significant injuries due to collisions, but to legislate one of the most exciting baseball plays out of the game? Utter madness.
CSG: Your prediction for the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers?
BB: My prediction for the Brewers in 2014 falls somewhere around 85-77, good for third place in the division. No offense, but I think the Reds or Pirates could stumble this year. They are both very good teams, but both have lost key players and it remains to be seen how they’ll respond. A.J. Burnett was a big part of the Pirates’ rotation and it’s unclear if former-Red Edinson Volquez will do anything for them. Their offense is probably overrated, too. For the Reds, I don’t know if their pitching staff will be as good in 2014 as they were in 2013. Shin-Soo Choo was a big loss for them, I think. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce are all excellent hitters, but streaky too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are, unfortunately, the team to beat once again in the NL Central. Hopefully one of the other teams can knock them off their perch, but until then it will be the Reds, Pirates, and, yes, the Brewers fighting it out for Wild Card spots. I know most folks in the division think the Brewers are nowhere near contention. But if things go well in the first couple months, during which the Brewers have a very difficult schedule, they could surprise in the National League. I’m not saying it will happen, just that it could.
From my end, hopefully Reds fans will be cursing the Brewers for beating them rather than casually dropping My Little Pony references. Haha. It’ll be a fun year for sure. I hope all the division teams, excluding Chicago, are in the race at least until July or August. That would be entertaining.
Best of luck to the Reds and their fans in 2014.