The most emotional moment of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2013 season was when outfielder and franchise icon Ryan Braun was suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy in August, leading to an array of mixed reactions from Brewers’ fans everywhere.
Like him or hate him, he is a major piece of the Brewers’ plans moving forward, and that couldn’t be more clear.
Last season, Braun appeared in only 61 games, hitting .298 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs. The incident, which shattered any resemblance of trust I personally had in the man, will linger on for years, but nonetheless, it’s time to move on. The real question, though, is whether or not his production will be anywhere near where it was during the first portion of his career.
In 2012, the year after he beat out Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League MVP, Braun finished second in the voting, hitting .319 with 41 home runs and 112 RBIs. That’s a promising sign, but the ever-elusive question centers around the unknown impact the PEDs had on his play.
With Braun under team control through 2020 with a mutual option for 2021, the Brewers’ PR team will have their hands full next season. However, a bounce back campaign from the outfielder would go a long way in remedying his wrongs.
Joining Braun in the Milwaukee lineup will be young shortstop Jean Segura, who is expected to play an even bigger role for the club in 2014, and center fielder Carlos Gomez, who became the team’s offensive star in Braun’s absence last season.
A healthy, productive Braun coupled with Gomez will form a powerful 3-4 punch in the Milwaukee lineup that could be hard to top for other National League Central clubs. Gomez swiped 40 bases, adding 24 home runs and 73 RBIs this season, which helped Milwaukee make a strong second half run.
The one-two punch of Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse underperformed in 2013, but if Gallardo can bounce back from a 12-10 record and a 4.18 earned run average next season, that will go a long way in remedying the team’s pitching struggles. Adding one more arm, something along the likes of Scott Feldman, will add much-needed depth.
Even if Braun is healthy and productive and Gomez continues to develop, this team is still not ready to take on the likes of St. Louis and Pittsburgh in the division. They could make a run at third, but not much more than that. They need a stronger rotation and there’s a strong chance team chemistry could be an issue in wake of the Braun fallout from 2013.