In the end, early- and mid-season struggles were just too much to overcome for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers were eliminated from playoff contention with their 7-0 loss to the Houston Astros, but those postseason dreams would have died anyway with St. Louis’ win over Washington.
It’s a disheartening end to a wild run through August and September that helped make the final weeks of the season interesting — something that seemed unlikely back in July. Milwaukee went through the first four months of the season without a winning mark in a single mark and found themselves a season-low 12 games under .500 on August 19. What followed was one of the greatest hot streaks in franchise history, as the Brewers reeled off 24 wins in 30 games from August 20-September 21 before stumbling during this past week.
With no Zack Greinke, the rotation will again lack a top-end starter, but what the Brewers are lacking in high-ceiling arms they could make up with depth. Marco Estrada proved he’s a solid big league starter. Mike Fiers showed his success in the minors wasn’t just smoke and mirrors. Wily Peralta had a knack for working out of jams and showed flashes of why he came into the year as the Brewers’ top pitching prospect. Before being shut down, Mark Rogers was striking out 9.5 batters per 9 innings. Tyler Thornburg has the repetoire to be a solid starter, too, if he can figure out a way to minimize the home runs.
Even if Thornburg doesn’t translate into a starter, he could be a part of a younger, cheaper, and likely more effective bullpen next season. Brandon Kintzler’s 2012 season (and his stuff, good as ever) should make him a candidate to break camp next year as a part of the bullpen. Jim Henderson won’t be young next year as a 30-year-old, but he became Ron Roenicke’s go-to “8th Inning Guy” this year with Francisco Rodriguez struggling. To date, Henderson has 40 strikeouts in just 27.2 innings — the kind of strikeout stuff you want to see from late-inning relievers. Josh Stinson doesn’t have strikeout stuff, but the Brewers seem to like him nonetheless, and his groundball tendencies could make him an option to replace Kameron Loe if Loe is non-tendered this winter. In the minors, the Brewers have stashed a couple hard-throwing waiver claims in Fautino De Los Santos and Miguel De Los Santos (no relation), and Santo Manzanillo is worth watching to see if he can bounce back from a rough year following an offseason car accident. Two pieces from the Greinke trade — Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg — could see time in the majors at some point next season, too.
Speaking of Greinke trade pieces, Jean Segura should provide some optimism for 2013 as well. The Brewers’ decision to call him up in early August so soon after the trade wasn’t a universally popular one, and initially he struggled at the plate: as late as September 5, he was hitting less than .200 with very little plate discipline and no power. He’s turned it around in recent weeks, hitting the ball with more authority, picking up more extra-base hits, and even learning to take a walk as the #8 hitter. Calling up Segura so soon only made sense if the Brewers were planning on contending right away next year. With Segura playing this way (and with some more improvement in discipline and power), the Brewers shouldn’t have to worry as much about losing a year of team control as he tries to develop at the big league level.
There are other things about the 2012 season that inspire confidence for next year, too — things like Ryan Braun having another MVP-caliber year despite all of the distractions, Corey Hart taking to first base well, Norichika Aoki doing well in a leadoff role, Rickie Weeks turning things around in the second half, etc. Barring any blockbuster offseason acquisitions, the NL Central looks winnable again next season, and as we saw this year, the addition of the second wildcard will keep many teams “in it” until September.