Brewers' fate is tied to their ability to bounce back
Crew needs Braun, Ramirez and Segura to return to form this season
MILWAUKEE -- With Spring Training now days away, this is the first of a series of stories examining the 2015 Brewers, beginning with their bounce-back candidates. The series will also look at newcomers to the club, prospects who could contribute, lineup and bullpen possibilities, and details for fans planning their own visits to Maryvale Baseball Park. It culminates Feb. 20, when pitchers and catchers formally report for the start of Spring Training.
Bounce-back candidates are a good place to begin, since the Brewers' offseason strategy was basically built around them. Instead of breaking the club down after its disastrous final six weeks in 2014, principal owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin opted to keep the Crew mostly together, aside from the addition of first baseman Adam Lind and subtraction of pitcher Yovani Gallardo.
For the strategy to work, some of these players will have to perform closer to the career numbers on the back of their baseball cards:
RF Ryan Braun and 3B Aramis Ramirez: Much of the Brewers' fortune lies in the middle of the order with Braun, who had surgery in October to relieve the nerve issue in his right hand, and Ramirez, who was dragged down by a nagging hamstring injury. Braun is the key; at the All-Star break, his slash line was .298/.348/.515, but it fell to .226/.295/.374 in the second half as his power disappeared. In September as the team fell apart, Braun contributed only one home run, five RBIs and a .603 OPS. Ramirez couldn't pick up the slack, contributing only one homer and five RBIs himself. The Brewers will need much more production from those two spots.
SS Jean Segura: An All-Star in 2013, Segura slumped the second half of that season and never found any sustained success in 2014 while dealing with struggles on the field and off. Personal tragedy struck just before the All-Star break, when a young son died suddenly in the Dominican Republic. Segura returned quickly and actually found some success late in the season, with his two highest monthly on-base percentages in August (.343) and September (.364). He worked over the winter on a change to his batting stance -- adding a slight leg lift -- that the Brewers hope will improve his balance and restore some line drives.
RHP Jimmy Nelson: Central to trading Gallardo was a faith in Nelson, who was good enough in the first half of last season to win Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year honors, but he showed little in the Majors. Nelson says he fell into the habit of "trying to do too much," and got hurt after falling behind hitters. He has a history of struggling after a promotion one season, then bouncing back the next. The Brewers badly need that trend to continue.
RHP Brandon Kintzler: After emerging as a reliable eighth-inning man in 2013, Kintzler still managed 64 appearances and a 3.24 ERA last season, but fell down the depth chart and found himself grinding through lower-leverage innings. Barring last-minute additions, he could be a more important piece again in 2015, with some questions looming about Jonathan Broxton returning to a closer's role, Will Smith adapting to the rigors of relief, Jeremy Jeffress still proving himself and Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson still rehabbing injuries. Kintzler was quietly bothered by a knee injury last season, but he underwent surgery in October and should be healthy entering Spring Training.