SOUTH HILLS – The Brewers are in a precarious position. They live in a small-market city. They reside in a division that has three playoff teams form a year ago. In the division are three teams – Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs – that have consensus top-10, if not top-five farm systems. The Brewers own the worst or one of the worst farm systems in game, according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
Yet, they still might have a fight or two left in them.
The Brewers entered the year as a popular sleeper team in the N.L. Central and they enter the weekend in first place in the division.
They have arguably the best up-the-middle-talent in the division with Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy and an MVP-caliber playing right field in Ryan Braun (if he can play through the nerve issue in his right hand).
That’s not a bad position from which to start. The Brewers can hit, the shift, and they have some plus defenders.
The question in 2014 would be can they pitch and they early return is they can.
The Brewers enter a key early season series with the Pirates with a MLB best 1.95 ERA supported by a 9.1 K/9 rate and 2.8 BB/9 rate.
*Yovani Gallardo has declined from future acehood to middle-of-the-rotation-looking arm the last few seasons, but he’s shown improved control that could help him overcome his velocity loss.
*A lot of people liked Marco Estrada as a sleeper this season and he’s done nothing to lessen enthusiasm by missing bats.
*Wily Peralta has always had a big arm and Matt Garza came at a reasonable price for a proven veteran No. 3 type starter. That’s not an awful rotation.
*The bullpen has some big arms in Tyler Thornburg, Will Smith (via K.C.) and Jim Henderson.
Pitching depth? Lacking.
Still, while they’re not going to post a sub-2.00 ERA in 2014 the pitching looks like its in a better place than it was a year ago. They have Braun back – who I think is motivated to prove his performance was not heavily impacted by PEDs – and Lucroy and Gomez arguably is the best defensive and offensive 1-2, center field-catcher combo in the game.
The Brewers are also a team like the Pirates that leans heavily on analytics and shifts to further bolster their run prevention capabilities.
While there’s little reason to fear the Brewers long term given their unhealthy system, there is reason to believe they can hang around the N.L. Central race and perhaps replace or join the Reds or Pirates as wild card contenders. What this all means is the N.L. Central could be even more competitive than it was a season ago – and that’s saying something.