Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly column where writers Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski participate in a discussion on one baseball topic. You can follow @RyanTopp and @SteveGarczynski on Twitter.
OK, Steve, so we’ve taken some heat for being too negative in this space in the past. It’s true that we’re both relatively pessimistic about the Brewers’ chances to make the playoffs this season. Let’s not dwell on that today, though. Let’s look at some areas of upside and potential success for the team this year. What are some things that could happen that would push the team into not just contention but into the thick of the National League’s top teams?
To me, it all starts in the rotation. I think that for the Brewers to really go anywhere, they’ll need the duo of Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse to soak up a lot of innings and keep the team in games on a regular basis. The thing that would really put them over the top, though, would be if Wily Peralta could take the leap forward that his stuff suggests is possible this year. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or that it’s all that likely, but Peralta does have the pure talent to dominate hitters and become a true front-of-the-rotation force. If the Brewers want to be more than a fringe playoff contender, it will probably take something like that happening.
If you really wanted to dream, I suppose it’s also possible that one of the guys currently in the minor leagues could step up and really impact the major leagues sooner than expected in the rotation. It’s possible that Taylor Jungmann or Jimmy Nelson could pitch so well at AA that they force the team’s hand in terms starting 10-15 games in the second half. It’s also possible that someone like Johnny Hellweg or Tyler Thornburg could shed the label of “likely reliever” some scouts and analysts have hung on them and emerge as dominant starters at some point this year. These aren’t the sorts of bets you make unless you get pretty good odds in return, but stranger things have happened.
So what do you think? How can this team surprise you?
Like you pointed out, it all starts with the rotation. The Brewers have a mature line-up, so we all have a pretty good idea what they can do offensively. Gallardo and Lohse should both be solid to above average at the top of the rotation. Marco Estrada should give Milwaukee 180-200 innings, some nights where he’ll shut teams down, other nights he’ll get knocked around a bit. We both agreed in the rotation preview that knocking Estrada down to the 3-4 spot in the rotation makes him more of an asset.
Success for this team lies squarely in the shoulders of Peralta, Fiers and Narveson. It would be a nice surprise if one of the young arms in the minors forced their way to the major league roster, but I don’t think that needs to happen. Hellweg and Thornburg are bullpen arms, so put the idea of those two emerging as starting impact arms of any type out of your head. It won’t happen, and that is OK.
Before we get stuck in neutral by spending all our time on pitching, I’d like to compliment Jean Segura for a solid few games after a strong spring training. It’s easy to say that The Brewers have a strong offense, but little upside. Segura is the one spot where we could witness a guy who can emerge and really change the dynamic of the line-up. Is Segura more important to this team than we’ve acknowledged leading up to the start of the season?
I’m not sure I would say Segura is super important to the offense at this point. They’ve constructed a pretty deep lineup with lots of guys who can contribute in a variety of ways, especially hitting for power. As some other guys move past their primes and/or to other teams Segura is going to become pretty important, but right now he mostly represents a chance to make a good offense even better. Which, I guess, is important to what we’re talking about here. It certainly could help the team exceed expectations if he were to break out. Perhaps, though, at this point I would almost rather see a defensive breakout than an offensive one, given some of the infield’s defensive limitations.
I think we’ve overlooked the single biggest reason most teams massively over perform the reasonable expectations created by their roster: the bullpen. We need not look back any farther than last year to the Orioles to see a team that was basically carried by the situational brilliance and good fortune of their pen. I know things aren’t off to a great start in that regard, but isn’t it at least possible that over the course of the next 159 games that several dominating performances are turned in by relievers and they help carry the team to a record the rest of the team may not be up to achieving on its own?
Embrace the cheap, young reliever because a successful team should save money in the bullpen. Only a fool dumps money in the bullpen. It’s the Three Card Monte of baseball contracts. Once you get drawn into the game, you lose.
This could turn into a bullpen hatin’ rant after one series, but so far we’ve seen the worst case scenario with both Gallardo and Estrada only covering 5 innings per game. It’s the opposite of what Milwaukee needs to be successful.
I am officially putting John Axford on notice. Coming into the season I thought he was a potentially excellent reliever with a rough two month stretch. Now I have to adjust that and say he’s a mediocre reliever that can have moments of brilliance. If he makes it through his arbitration years, I have a hard time believing he’ll be worth signing as a free agent. It happens.
So what is going to make the 2013 Brewers successful? After 3 games, I have to say that this bullpen needs to get their act together. Maybe Alfredo Figaro is the guy who will straighten things out. Maybe Brandon Kintzler can stay healthy. Or maybe the answer is the kids in the minors. The only way this team makes the playoffs is if they get as many breaks as possible, and that definitely won’t happen with another bullpen that can’t hold an average number of leads.
I have to completely agree with your concerns on the Brewers not going deep into games. If they want to maximize their win total, they’re going to need to do better than this. I wrote about that a couple of months ago, and while it would be ridiculously early to claim this proves the trend, it’s not exactly a comforting development.
Getting back to the pen, they do potentially have some options to move Axford out of the high leverage role he currently occupies, and it may be that they need to do that as our own James Anderson wrote earlier. Regardless of who is in those high leverage, holding on to close lead roles, they’re probably going to need to be somewhere between very good and outstanding to get the team up there with the elite in the National League. Ultimately, while I have a feeling that the team has guys capable of performances like that, either in the major or high minors, I’m not sure if they’ll have enough time to get it all sorted out, optimized, and then actually get those performances this year. They probably will also need to give up on the idea of some guys being starters, and I just don’t know if they’re ready to do that at this point.
Well, it looks like despite our best efforts, we ended up going somewhat negative here anyway. I’m going to go ahead and blame the 1-2 start and hope that things get better soon.