Out of all of the major sports, baseball is the one where players often feel the most pressure. Players feel heat, not only from the fans, but also from the organization. There are always young players who are hungry and looking to win a job. In Milwaukee, there are five Brewers who have plenty of pressure to perform heading into 2014.
#5 Rickie Weeks
There was a time that Rickie Weeks was viewed as a franchise cornerstone. Weeks appeared to be worth every penny of his multi-year extension during the 2011 season, by having an all-star first half. Before the break, Weeks hit .278 with 41 extra-base hits, including 17 homeruns. But, after a gruesome ankle injury Weeks was not the same player upon his return. Since then he has battled injuries and seen a decline in both average and power. His past two season starts have been disastrous at the plate. He has been unable to have a batting average above .230. After a stellar debut by rookie second baseman Scooter Gennett, Weeks will need to impress if he wants to earn playing time this season. In a contract year, there is a great deal of pressure on Weeks to show he still has something left in the tank.
#4 Jim Henderson
The 31 year old Jim Henderson, a former journeyman minor leaguer, will take the reins of the closer role. He will look for long-term success unlike predecessors, John Axford and Derek Turnbow. Both of these pitchers had successful seasons, but they were unable to keep the job for long. Henderson took over the role during the middle of last season and was very successful, recording 28 saves. He even appeared to be getting stronger late in the season. as he recorded two saves of over an inning. When he is on, he has the ability to mow down hitter after hitter as shown in his 11.9 strikeouts/nine innings. When he is off, he often gives up the long ball. Fox Sports Wisconsin, John Pesetski referenced that Henderson is working on attacking lefties who have a slugging percentage two hundred points higher than righties. The most recent closers have struggled after a successful year, the pressure will be on for Henderson to reverse that trend.
#3 Matt Garza
Matt Garza comes into Milwaukee as the most expensive free agent signing in franchise history. Some of the other high price free agents that were brought in like Jeff Suppan, Eric Gange, and even Jeffery Hammonds have not worked out well. On numbers alone, Garza is one of the best right handed pitchers in the league. He is a strikeout pitcher with a career 3.84 ERA. When he is on, he is unhittable. The pressure for Garza is not so much to perform, but it is to stay on the field. During the past two seasons, he has battled various ailments which have kept him off of the field and only allowed him to make a combined 42 starts. A healthy first season will go a long way in easing the anxiety of Brewers fans.
#2 Yovani Gallardo
Last season was Gallardo’s chance to show that he was the unquestioned ace of the Brewers staff and he had the worst season of his career. An impressive finish allowed Gallardo to have 12 wins and a respectable 4.12 ERA. But those numbers do not show the whole picture. His strikeout totals were the second lowest in his career and the strikeout per nine innings ratio was the worst in his career. His poor start ballooned his ERA and took the Brewers out of games. Instead of being the innings eater like years past he was often out of games before the seventh. While the Brewers have a club option on Gallardo for 2015, Gallardo will need to have a very strong showing for it to be exercised. With a young rotation that has a lot to prove and others looking for a chance to step in, Gallardo enters the season looking to be that ace the club expected him to be.
#1 Ryan Braun
Ryan Braun is the Brewer who is feeling the most heat and he is feeling it more than anyone in the major leagues. All eyes will be on Braun this season to see if he can still put up the same MVP type numbers that had before his PED suspension. If he does not hit, people will point out how he is off the juice. If he hits, people may accuse him of just finding a way around the tests. No matter what he does this season, Braun will have critics. However, Braun is a player who has thrived under pressure in his career. Whenever the club has needed a big moment, Braun has produced. To begin to silence critics, Braun first needs to stay healthy and then hit. While he may never be fully away from rumblings for the rest of his career, it would be a big start to taking some of the pressure off and reshaping his tarnished image.
Statistics Provided by Baseball Reference