The Milwaukee Brewers enter the 2015 season with the specter of last year’s collapse looming like a black cloud.
A seeming lock to make the playoffs in late August, the Brewers finished the 2014 season by losing 25 of their last 34 games, including a particularly horrendous stretch where they lost 13 of 14. The question faced by Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio heading into this off-season was simple: Are the Brewers a playoff contender that had a fluke collapse or an average team that came back to Earth? They decided the former was true and kept the team mostly intact. As much as I want to agree with them, the Bill Parcells adage that, “You are what your record says you are,” has me thinking otherwise.
This is not to say the Brewers have not done anything to improve their team. At the end of last season the team acquired relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton and Gold Glove-winning outfielder Gerardo Parra; players that will be valuable assets this season. They also improved at first base by swapping Marco Estrada for Adam Lind in November; and in January’s Yovani Gallardo trade they received three prospects that could contribute later into the season. Perhaps the biggest off-season development is Ryan Braun’s successful thumb surgery. If he is truly healthy the Brewers will have an offensive difference maker that can carry a team when everyone else is slumping.
When you think about these tweaks and remember the awesomeness of Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez it’s easy to get excited about 2015 being a year of redemption. Even so, this is still essentially the same team that finished last season with an 82-80 record.
The Brewers still have a thin pitching staff without a true stopper. This could change based on the development of Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson, but that is a big question mark at this point. In terms of offense, outside of the incredibly disciplined Lucroy the Brewers are still a free-swining bunch that will be prone to prolonged run-scorning droughts. Looking at the relievers, the Brewers will rely on tightrope artist Francisco Rodriguez to close games. Considering that he allowed a career high 14 homers last year, you can’t help but fear his act could end at any time.
The Great Collapse of 2014 was one of those flukey blights that afflict sports teams from time to time. If the Brewers once again find themselves in first place with a 73-58 record in August it’s highly unlikely that lightning will strike twice. So the concern this season is not about another collapse, it’s whether the Brewers are good enough to get a 73-58 record in the first place. I don’t think they are, but then again, I’m usually wrong about these things.