For as long as the Brewers have been one of the better offenses in the National League, they’ve also been one of the league’s worst defensive teams. A lot of that is their desire to get bats that produce into the lineup, without thinking much about the effects on the team’s defense. For all the talk this spring about wanting to improve the team’s defense — especially at first base — the Brewers are still going to have rather significant defensive issues in 2014.
Consider, for a moment, this potential starting infield: Aramis Ramirez at third, Jean Segura at shortstop, Rickie Weeks at second base and Mark Reynolds at first. Segura has a strong arm but is still relatively new to shortstop. The rest couldn’t even be considered below average on their best days. Add in the possibility of Matt Garza fielding bunts, and things could get tragically entertaining in a hurry.
Then there’s the outfield. Carlos Gomez is coming off a Gold Glove season, and part of the reason he’s made so many spectacular catches and covered so much ground in centerfield is because he’s had to, considering who is playing next to him. Ryan Braun grew to be serviceable in left field, but despite several Gold Glove “nominations” in left (which should tell you how silly it is to break the outfield Gold Gloves down into separate positions), he was never one to cover a ton of ground. Now he’s moving to right field, which doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but he’s played on the left side of the field for his entire life, whether it was shortstop and third base in college or left field the past six seasons. Moving to right means learning how to read the ball off the bat differently, how to take different routes and all that other fun stuff that could lead to some mishaps. Taking over in left field is Khris Davis, who was never considered much more than a fourth outfielder coming up through the minors mostly because he had no position — he has a weak throwing arm and is so bad defensively, a tryout at first base is even out of the question.
Simply put, this is a team that isn’t going to do the pitching staff many favors. The Brewers better hope Garza and Gallardo have their strikeout stuff going this year, because just about any ball put into play could be dangerous.
A second weakness would be a relatively unproven and possibly unstable bullpen. Closer Jim Henderson collected 28 saves last season, but beyond him things get a little murky. For lack of any better ideas, the Brewers brought Francisco Rodriguez back yet again in a set-up role, and while he has plenty of experience, you’ll have trouble finding anyone who has much confidence in his ability to put up a clean inning. Brandon Kintzler put up nice numbers last season, but 2013 was his first full season in the majors and for whatever reason, the Brewers seem reluctant to fully trust him with the 8th inning.
Tom Gorzelanny is coming off of shoulder surgery, and after him you start running into the guys who have the stuff to do well in the bullpen but honestly have no idea what to make of quiet yet — Rob Wooten, Will Smith and possibly Tyler Thornburg if the Brewers can ever decide if he’s a starter or reliever.
Bullpen pitchers are, by definition, inconsistent. If any team knows this, it’s the Brewers, who rode an unhittable bullpen to a division title in 2011, only to see the same exact group completely torpedo the 2012 season. It’s why teams are so crazy about getting Veteran Relievers — you at least know what they’ve done before, so you can at least hope they do something they’ve done in the past. The Brewers have a slew of not-quite-good-enough-to-be-starters-but-could-be-great-in-the-pen guys at the upper level of the minor league system, but it’s hard to trust a bunch of fresh faces in the middle innings when you’re dreaming of a postseason berth. The bullpen could end up being a strength at the end of the year. They could also end up shuttling relievers back and forth to Nashville all year, trying to find someone who can stick. Beyond Henderson, nobody has earned a lot of trust yet, and even he’s only been on the big league scene for a couple seasons.