This is the fourth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Milwaukee Brewers.
The 2013 season for the Brewers was a mess, and I think we've already established where things went wrong – injuries, and pitching. The Ryan Braun saga was just the cherry on top of a season that had already gone off the rails.
But despite all of that chaos, Milwaukee isn't hopeless in the future. After all, this is a Brewers club that won the NL Central in 2011 and finished above .500 in 2012. The Brew Crew has a total of three free agents this offseason (not including non-tender candidates), the most significant of which is first baseman Corey Hart, who hasn't (and won't) played an inning this season thanks to knee surgery. Their whole core will return next year, including Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and yes, the disgraced Ryan Braun.
Past their returning players, Milwaukee was really screwed over by bad luck in 2013. Aramis Ramirez has hit a ton when he was on the field, but has played in just 78 games. Before being suspended, Braun dealt with injuries and played in just 61 games. Rickie Weeks was terrible, and will more than likely be dealt in the offseason due to the emergence of Scooter Gennett.
Then, there's the first base issue. Hart nor Mat Gamel played an inning this year, and the club was forced to give most of the playing time at first to the weak-hitting Alex Gonzalez, the lead-footed and strikeout prone Juan Francisco, and the generally terrible Yuniesky Betancourt. Their first basemen as a whole have hit .211/.264/.379 this year compared to a major league average of .261/.337/.438. I can't even begin to explain how awful that is, and you really can't blame the Brewers for that. It's not as if the team went into the year ready to roll with that platoon of garbage. Their first and second options were both hurt before the season even began, and this mess is what Ron Roenicke had to deal with. Imagine if the Diamondbacks lost Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Chavez (just for the hell of it) in March. Willie Bloomquist would be an every day player, and Arizona would probably be scraping the bottom of the barrel in the NL West.
Let's get back to hope for Brewers fans. If the Brewers don't resign Hart, they'll still have Gamel ready to roll at first base, assuming his recovery from ACL surgery goes well. If not, the team has another option: Khris Davis, who is currently starting in left field with Braun suspended and is bashing the bejeezus out of the ball, homering nine times in 128 plate appearances. With Braun coming back for 2014, Gomez firmly set in center field, and the Brewers holding a ridiculously affordable option on right fielder Norichika Aoki, Davis will be without a spot to play…except for first. Hell, if Gamel returns and is playing well, Milwaukee can use Aoki as a fourth outfielder like they did early on in 2012.
The Brewers' pitching staff was a dumpster fire coming into the year, but their rotation has performed well in the second half, thanks to the performances of Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, and to a lesser extent, Wily Peralta. Throw in a decent job by Brandon Kintzler, Burke Badenhop, Tyler Thornburg (also a starter), and Jim Henderson in the bullpen, and you've go the makings of something that could at least hold the fort down.
Milwaukee isn't in a terrible place despite the state of their farm system and what their record this season may indicate. Aside from a horrendous May, this is a team hovering around the .500 mark with a solid core in place that doesn't need to be blown up. At the same time, the Brewers aren't just one piece away and shouldn't do something dumb like they did last winter by signing Lohse and losing a draft pick. They don't need to do what the Astros did and start from scratch, but they probably aren't going to be a playoff team next year either. Honestly, there are teams in much worse shape going forward than Milwaukee, and Brewers fans shouldn't be hunkering down for another ice age.