The Milwaukee Brewers and Ryan Braun are both hoping to bounce back from a 2013 season that began with optimism and ended in disappointment. Just a couple of seasons away from their National League Central title in 2011 the Brewers and their star are at a crossroads this season.
The team that General Manager Doug Melvin built in 2011 that easily won the NL Central is long gone, a common occurence with small market teams. They build for a small window before their young stars are no longer affordable and have to be moved on to other teams while they rebuild again. The one star the Brewers did keep was Braun, who evolved in to the face of the franchise and one of the elite hitters in the game.
He was beloved by Milwaukee fans for staying while another young star Prince Fielder left for a bigger contract with the Detroit Tigers. Braun was the good guy, the one who stuck around and would help the Brewers stay on top of the NL Central and remain competitive for years to come. The plan was to build around him and be a consistent contender for the next five to ten years but along the way Braun found himself in a PED scandal twice, avoiding suspension once by sheer luck only to have it happen to him again.
So after a 65 game suspension and nearly half a season lost where do the Brewers and Braun go now? A lot of that depends on Braun and what kind of player he is. Melvin apparently is of the mind that Braun will be his old self and has tried to supplement his roster for the moment with veteran players in hopes of taking advantage of Braun’s peak years. This is not a team rebuilding for tomorrow, they are going after it today.
Aramis Ramirez does not offer the kind of protection in the lineup that Fielder once did but if he stays healthy and can replicate the season he had in 2012 then Melvin would be thrilled. He, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and a top of the order bat like shortstop Jean Segura give the Brewers and Braun legitimate hope they can bounce back in 2014.
Of course none of this is possible without a pitching staff that can compete night in and night out and while Milwaukee does not have a legitimate ace they do have a solid rotation. Melvin signed right-hander Matt Garza in his biggest off-season move and he will join Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse to form a solid trio of veterans to lead the staff. Manager Ron Roenicke made Jim Henderson the closer midway last season and he responded well saving 28 of 32 chances so the end of the should be in good shape.
The Brewers face a lot of questions as they begin the 2014 season from the health of Ramirez and the depth of their starting pitching but none of them loom as large as Braun and the kind of player he will be. Melvin is betting both the Brewers and Braun bounce back.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Milwaukee Brewers