Last year, the NL Central was one of the least competitive divisions in baseball. The Cardinals won, the Pirates took second place and lost in the wild card, and the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds were a clump at the three, four, and five. The Brewers fell apart in September, finishing with an 82-80 record even though they were on their way to the playoffs.
The hope was as follows for 2015: land a key star to plug some offense into the team and maybe add another pitcher and the wild-card spot can be in sight. Instead, the Brewers traded ace Yovani Gallardo, got rid of some other key utility players, and signed first baseman Adam Lind to hopefully be the turnaround king and inject power into Miller Park’s alleyways. Meanwhile, the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all had monster off-seasons, adding names such as Jason Heyward and Jon Lester.
In short, the Brewers were falling behind, and were going to rely on a miracle to keep them in the division race. It was a miracle that did not happen, as the NL Central became the MLB’s most competitive division. This became evident by the fact that the Chicago Cubs were the league’s third best team, yet only third best in the division and had to play on the road in a wild-card game when they had 97 wins. The Pirates’ 98 win season was ruined by one Jake Arrieta night in the playoffs, while the Mets and Dodgers’ fates get to last at least another week.
As for the Brewers, they were never close. On April 16th, they were 2-13 and had an 8-game losing streak, all of which came as losses to divisional teams. In general, they would go 31-45 against divisional teams, including a horrific 11-27 record against the Cardinals and Cubs, their two most notable rivals.
A winning streak of eight at the end of June-beginning of July brought some hope for me that the arrival of the All-Star Break might lead to a spectacular turnaround, but losing streaks throughout the season of 8, 7, 6, 6, 8, and 4 to end the year made me quickly realize that my thoughts were lost in fantasy.
Offensively, a general inability to drive in runs plagued the team. Ryan Braun’s 25 home runs and 84 runs batted in earned him an All-Star nod, but he battled injuries and consistency all season. The rest of the offense did not fair too well, led by Adam Lind’s 87 RBIs and Khris Davis’ 27 home runs. Key components like Jonathan Lucroy battled injury all season, while Jean Segura, Scooter Gennett, and others remained streaky.
On the mound, things were not much better. The most stable pitcher, Jimmy Nelson, had only an 11-13 record, came with a taxing 4.11 earned run average. Other hurlers such as Kyle Lohse, Willy Peralta, and Matt Garza could not get anything going all season, and it became a point of such dismay that both Lohse and Garza, two high-paying and veteran pitchers, had to be removed from the rotation in favor of young, inexperienced guys who could maybe bring in a new spark. Taylor Jungmann, a prospect who I have watched since the Brewers took him number 12 overall from Texas, actually was a bright spot, as his 9-8 record, 3.77 ERA and 100 plus strikeouts leave me some hope for his future. Lastly, the bullpen was pretty good throughout the season, led by Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez (38 saves with a 2.21 ERA), ranking 10th in the MLB according to Fangraphs in bullpen Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
In the front office, it was a season of transitions. In early May, manager Ron Roenicke was fired and replaced by Whitefish Bay native and longtime Brewers connoisseur Craig Counsell. The hometown hero was and still has been welcomed with open arms, but has a long road ahead of him in order to earn key Wisconsin trust from a fanbase that has seen a lot. Doug Melvin announced in August that he would resign after 13 years of being general manager, and the youngest general manager in baseball, former Astros assistant GM David Stearns, will take over the helm with lots of pressure and moves to make. Hopefully, he follows a Theo Epstein-style approach, ridding the team of key attitude and financial problems to make way for a blossoming farm system that with time will bloom the next generation of MLB stars. In reference to trades, the Brewers made many this season, relinquishing players such as Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Gerardo Parra, and Jonathan Broxton all within a span of a week approaching the trade deadline. While these trades brought in some prospects, only time will tell if they become anything of note.
Overall, a 68-94 record and fourth-place finish puts the Brewers at a spot clearly below their hopes and dreams, and sets them up on a quest for improvement this off-season. It is going to be incredibly difficult for David Stearns to convince free agents to want to play in an environment like Milwaukee, but it is an argument that will need to happen this winter for any progress to be made in the organization. Simply put, this off-season the Brewers must clean house and start fresh as they move into a new era of baseball in Milwaukee. As their cross-town counterparts like to say, Own The Future. Let’s see that attitude drip into Miller Park starting next April.
All images courtesy of Getty Images.