Brewers end trying year on upswing
Injuries, Braun suspension mar campaign, but young players emerge after break
MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun was not the Brewers' only story in 2013, even though it felt that way at times.
The former National League MVP dominated Brewers-related news all year, from a Spring Training that began amid alleged links to Biogenesis, the South Florida firm that was investigated by Major League Baseball, to Braun's injury issues early in the season, through a suspension in July that barred him from playing in the team's final 65 games.
By then, the Brewers had been knocked out of contention, doomed by a historically difficult May and injuries that decimated a batting order that was supposed to be the team's strength. Those losses, on the field and off, pushed general manager Doug Melvin into "sell" mode, though even that had its challenges. First baseman Corey Hart and third baseman Aramis Ramirez would have been the Brewers' best trade chips, but they were sidelined by injuries at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Another potentially moveable player, second baseman Rickie Weeks, suffered his own season-ending injury in August.
The result was a 74-88 season, good for fourth in the National League Central.
"It's no secret we have a good team," said center fielder Carlos Gomez, whose breakthrough season represented a bright spot. "When you have a slow start, it's hard and complicated to take off again. We had one month -- May -- kill us.
"When we have everybody together next year, we know we can compete and be one of the best organizations."
Here's a look at the five stories that defined 2013 for the Brewers:
5. Rookies help out
The website FanGraphs.com caught the eye of Brewers officials with its study of baseball's most valuable rookie classes, using a system that aggregated four factors: Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for first-year players, number of rookies used, total rookie at-bats and total rookie innings pitched, with an emphasis on WAR. They found that baseball's most valuable rookies were not Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and the Cardinals; or Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers.
They were Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Scooter Gennett and the Brewers.
"When the dust settled, I was shocked to the see the Brewers leading the pack," wrote FanGraphs' Marc Hulet.
Gennett led Brewers rookies with 1.9 wins above replacement, and he is the frontrunner to man second base next season over $11 million man Weeks. Khris Davis had a 1.2 WAR in place of Braun, and he will probably be the Crew's left fielder in 2014. On the pitching side, Henderson, a late-bloomer who turned 31 in October, took over the closer's role and had a 1.4 WAR, while setup man Kintzler's WAR was 1.3. Starters Tyler Thornburg (1.1) and Wily Peralta (1.0) also boosted Milwaukee's ranking.
Those numbers do not mean the Brewers had baseball's best rookies in 2013, but that they played a vital role in preventing a poor season from devolving into a disastrous one.
4. Emergence of Gomez and Segura
Center fielder Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura took big steps forward in 2013, each making the National League All-Star team for the first time, and Gomez winning the Brewers' first Rawlings Gold Glove Award since Robin Yount in 1982.
Neither made an impact in the All-Star Game itself (both Brewers grounded out against Mariano Rivera), but they emerged as star-caliber players in the first half of the regular season before fading in the fall. Gomez signed a contract extension in March and finished the year as the club's MVP despite battling myriad bumps and bruises down the stretch, batting .284 with 24 home runs, 73 RBIs and 40 stolen bases. Gomez was the first 20-homer, 40-steal player in Brewers history. Segura hit .294 with 12 home runs, 49 RBIs and 44 steals.
3. Another second-half surge
In 2012, the Brewers and A's were the hottest teams in baseball over the final six weeks. In 2013, the Brewers again saved their best for last, going 38-56 before the All-Star break and 36-32 afterward. Brewers starters were last in the NL and ranked 28th of 30 Major League teams with a 4.86 ERA before the All-Star break, but they were second in the NL and fourth in the Majors with a 3.36 ERA afterward.
With so many returning players, particularly in the starting rotation, the Brewers will have to prove those second-half numbers were legit.
"All of them finished strong, which is very encouraging going into next year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "They should have a good feeling coming into Spring Training when you know you finish up that well."
Outside of May, the Brewers were a respectable 68-66. Inside of May, they were 6-22 and fell out of contention.
They won on the final day of the month to merely match the worst month winning percentage-wise in 45 years as a franchise. The 1969 Seattle Pilots were 6-22 (.214) in August in their only season before a hasty move to Milwaukee the following spring.
Pitching was mostly to blame. With Yovani Gallardo still struggling with his mysterious drop in velocity, Kyle Lohse paying the price for having no Spring Training and Wily Peralta settling into his first full season, Brewers starters owned a Major League-worst 6.72 ERA in May.
"I'm very happy to be in June now," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy on May 31. "May was a tough month. A tough, tough month."
1. Braun suspended for links to Biogenesis
After nearly two years of declaring his innocence, Braun admitted mistakes in accepting a season-ending suspension from MLB on July 22 for violations of the league's drug policy. A month later, he admitted taking a cream and a lozenge to aid his recovery from an injury during the 2011 season, when Braun won the NL MVP Award and led the Brewers to their first division title in 29 years.
Reaction from around baseball and other sports was swift. Dodgers star Matt Kemp said Braun should be stripped of the MVP. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a former friend and business associate, called Braun a liar. Some Brewers fans altered the first and last letters on their No. 8 jerseys so the name read "FRAUD."
"I'm deeply remorseful about what happened," Braun said just before Thanksgiving, breaking his media silence. "I wish I had the ability to go back and change things and do things a lot differently, but unfortunately I can't do that.
"All I can do is move on and try to do everything in my power to earn back people's trust and respect and support. I don't anticipate being able to earn back everybody's support, but I certainly intend to do everything in my power to do that, and I won't stop trying."