In 2011, Ryan Braun was on top of the baseball world. He had just won his first NL MVP, was given a huge contract extension, and became the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal a PED suspension. He never disputed the results rather its method of delivery, thus, conferring his steroid use. Fans were outraged and, to some extent, so were players (fellow Wisconsin native quarterback Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers said he felt ‘betrayed’). But that did not stop his arrogance. He continued to publicly deny while secretly using and finally Commissioner Selig dropped the hammer, suspending Braun for the final 65 games of 2013. The Milwaukee Brewers are a talented bunch but as long as Braun is with the team, they are cursed to not make the postseason.
Yovani Gallardo has been the unquestioned ace of the rotation since 2009. Last year was the first time he did not rack up 200+ strikeouts in five seasons. He has never allowed more hits than innings pitched and won at least 12 games in every full season. Gallardo has electric stuff, it is simply a matter of keeping him motivated throughout the season. If he struggles early, he could be used as trade bait to replenish the minors and start building for the future. Ace-in-the-hole Matt Garza is waiting on the links behind Gallardo. Garza is an innings eater who consistently gets 30 starts a year while averaging almost a strikeout per inning. He should put up solid numbers winning at least 12 games in the pitcher-friendly Miller Park. Kyle Lohse follows as the third starter. At 35, Lohse is past has prime but can possibly reach 200 innings and 14 wins. He has averaged a 3.20 ERA over the past four years and is a proven winner. Since his domestic dispute derailed his Mets career, Francisco Rodriguez bounced around before finding his way back into baseball. K-Rod, the single-season saves leader, returns as the closer for the Brewers. He has always had a lively fastball. As long as he keeps his temper in check, he should collect 35-40 saves.
With Braun taking the swoon for abusing steroids, the spotlight was cast on Carlos Gomez and the centerfielder delivered. The highly talented athlete, remembered as the prospect the Mets traded to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal, avoided the DL and put up career-highs in all major offensive categories. He accomplished a rare 20-20-20 feat with 27 doubles, 24 homers and 40 stolen bases. If Braun gets back on the juice, CarGo is the undisputed face of the franchise. He had a solid season but look for him to breakout this year. Patience is running thin for second baseman Rickie Weeks. After posting a career with 29 homers in 2010, his batting average has dipped every season to a paulty .209 in 2013. At 31, he is capable of returning to form but with his inconsistent career that seems unlikely. Aramis Ramirez is the savvy veteran and team captain. The decorated player has earned respect from his colleagues for playing hurt throughout his career. The only time Ramirez sits is if he is recovering from surgery, otherwise, the warrior is on the field. Even with his best years behind him, Ramirez is still a dangerous hitter. He should go for 25 homers and 80 RBIs but likely finish the year playing for a World Series contender. Jean Segura is the team’s diamond-in-the-rough. The young star burst on the scene hitting .294 with 44 steals. Reminiscent of Omar Vizquel, the speedster is slowly climbing the ranks of top shortstops. Hitting in front of CarGo and Ramirez, he is poised for a big year and should see more runs scored as well.
When Braun argued his initial failed PED test, he placed blame on all parties without ever looking in the mirror. When he made his first public appearance since his biogenesis scandal, he sounded disingenuous and unabashed. With over $100 million still due his way, Braun’s body language practically questioned what he should be sorry for. Moving forward, players just as much as fans want to see what kind of numbers he can put up without an elevated testosterone level. The Yankees got burned in the A-Rod deal but the Brewers are in a far worse situation considering Braun is entering his prime and already is a two-time user. Commissioner Selig could push for a lifetime suspension if Braun uses again. All these lingering questions make the Brewers a cursed organization. Should Braun apologize, the slate is wiped clean but that will not happen any time soon.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.