MLB In Full Bloom - Brewers Preview - 3/13/2014

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19– Number of days until Opening Day

73,519– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Milwaukee Brewers Preview

Key Additions: Matt Garza, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Will Smith, Francisco Rodriguez

Key Departures: Norichika Aoki, Yuniesky Betancourt, Chris Narveson, Mat Gamel, Mike Gonzalez

The 2013 season was a disaster for the Milwaukee Brewers. A 6-22 month of May sent the Brewers crashing down to the bottom of the NL Central standings, and they were never able to fully dig themselves out. The big conversation in Brewers camp this spring has been the return of Ryan Braun to baseball. The response from his teammates has been positive and there is no doubt the team will go as far as Braun can take them in 2014. If the Brewers are going to be relevant, the Brewers not only need Braun to produce, but the starting pitching must improve as well.

OFFENSE: The Brewers were hampered by injuries and suspension to the middle of their lineup last year. Even with all those challenges, the Brewers still found a way to be an average offensive team in 2013. The Brewers are counting on the return of Ryan Braun and a healthy Aramis Ramirez to improve its offense back among the best in the National League. Finding a leadoff hitter to replace Aoki will be key. Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy join Braun and Ramirez to give the Brewers five potentially dangerous hitters. Mark Reynolds could thrive hitting at Miller Park, but he is competing with Juan Francisco and Lyle Overbay to get regular playing time at first base. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura are candidates to fill the lead-off spot now that Norichika Aoki was traded to the Rangers.

STARTING ROTATION: The Brewers signed Matt Garza to team up with Kyle Loshe and Yovani Gallardo to give them a top three capable of contending. Wily Peralta was inconsistent during his rookie season in 2013, but he did show flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Marco Estrada will likely fill out the rotation. When healthy, Estrada has proven to be a solid back-end option. Milwaukee also has depth in the minor leagues with several pitchers having some big-league experience.

BULLPEN: The Brewers drastically improved their bullpen last season, going from a league-worst 4.66 ERA in 2012 to the fifth-best ERA at 3.19. Jim Henderson will begin the season as the team's closer after saving 28 games in 2013. Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez will team up to cover the seventh and eighth innings. Tom Gorzelanny is a versatile lefty that can fill a long relief role as well as short relief. Gorzelanny was acquired in the Aoki trade and Will Smith will give the Brewers another left-handed option. The rest of Milwaukee's bullpen will be filled out with young, inexperienced arms who got their feet wet last year.

2014 PREDICTION: Without Ryan Braun performing at an MVP level, the Brewers are a solid team, but on the outside looking in to the playoff race. The Brewers are better than quite a few teams and they'll be competitive in just about every game they play, but not at the level of the teams that will spend the year leading the wildcard standings. Even with the addition of Matt Garza, there is not enough depth with the starting rotation. The Brewers are better, but they will miss the playoffs.

Final Record - 81-81 (4th Place NL Central)