(BaseballStL) — After being riddled with injuries- and the suspension of their star player Ryan Braun- Milwaukee’s 2013 was essentially a lost season. Baseball STL is going through each team in the National League Central and sizing up how they look heading into the 2014 season. No team will have such a dramatic turnaround as the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014.
Key Losses: OF Norichika Aoki, OF Corey Hart
Hart, the longest-tenured Brewer, missed 2013 with a damaged knee. In his previous 9 years with the team, he posted an OPS of .824, hit 154 home runs and drove in 508 runs in 945 games. In 2012, his last action, he hit 30 homers, drove in 83 runs and finished with an .841 OPS.
The club wanted him back, but the 31-year-old opted for a contract with Seattle.
Aoki served as Milwaukee’s leadoff man for the better part of two years. In 306 games with the Brewers, he was steady as could be; turning in a .287/.355/.399 with 18 homers and 50 stolen bases. He scored 161 runs and picked up 446 total bases, holding nearly even from 2012 to 2013 in most categories.
He may not have been an elite leadoff man, but a dependable presence in the top of the order is always a plus. However, a trade to the Royals moved the 32-year-old out and made room for Khris Davis in the outfield.
The Brewers also lost Yuniesky Betancourt. It’s not nearly as notable, as his numbers were well below average in the 137 games he played for the team in 2013.
Gains: Matt Garza, Will Smith, Francisco Rodriquez, Ryan Braun, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis
Overbay and Reynolds are minor league contracts with spring training invites, so they are more veteran fortification than dynamic puzzle pieces.
Will Smith was transitioned into a relief role in 2013, and his 33 innings of work netted a respectable .93 WHIP and a 128 ERA+. He racked up 43 strikeouts for a ratio of 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
K-Rod is less exciting than he was in the mid-2000s, but threw well for the team in the first half of 2013 before he was traded to Baltimore. You can never have enough arms in the bullpen, and Rodriguez is a veteran reliever with solid career numbers.
The prized addition to the pitching staff is right-hander Matt Garza. In what was the biggest free agent contract in organizational history, Garza joined the Brewers for a four-year $52 million deal.
The club looks to put him near the front of the rotation with Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. Though his career numbers aren’t stunning, he is certainly above average for a starter. Injuries will be a concern, as he has missed starts in the last three years on the DL.
Ryan Braun returns to the lineup in 2014. Prior to his suspension for PEDs last season, Braun was one of the league’s elite hitters, and his bat elevates Milwaukee’s lineup.
Scooter Gennett and Kris Davis got tastes of MLB action last season with promising results.
Davis slugged nearly .600 in 153 plate appearances with 11 homers and 27 RBIs. His OPS came in at .949 and he picked up 81 total bases in 56 games. With Aoki gone, Braun will likely move to right field and Davis will be slotted for everyday action in left.
Gennett was the story of the second half in Milwaukee. After coming up in June, Gennett looked like he could handle the role of everyday second baseman. When he returned at the end of July, he proved it.
Playing all the way through August and September, Gennett ended the year with a .324/.356/.479 slash and 102 total bases.
The 23-year-old has a real shot at taking the starting job from Rickie Weeks, and will almost certainly be a star for the organization down the road.
Biggest note: Milwaukee’s return to form
2013 was a punt if there ever was one. Braun missed half of the year, Weeks was hurt, Aramis Ramirez was hurt, Tom Gorzelanny was hurt and Hart missed the entire year.
Braun is back in business, Gorzelanny projects to return by opening day, Weeks has reportedly healed form a torn hamstring and Ramirez’s knee will by all accounts back to 100% for the season opener.
Add to that a stronger pitching staff, a shored-up bullpen and two very exciting young players in Davis and Gennett and the Brewers have a shot to contend for the division.
They will be better in every phase of the game, which adds another strong team to what has quickly become the best division in baseball.