NL Central: Brewers trying to make another run with Braun

NL Central: Brewers trying to make another run with Braun
March 15, 2014, 4:45 pm
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Tony Andracki

In many ways, 2013 was a disaster for the Brewers. There were injuries and the Ryan Braun situation hung over the organization like a dark cloud.

[NL Central preview: Can McCutchen and the Pirates do it again?]

But that's all behind them. Braun and the Brewers are ready to move on to the next chapter. With Carlos Gomez emerging as a star, Milwaukee is establishing a nice core that includes shortstop Jean Segura and catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

The National League Central will be competitive behind the Cardinals. Neither the Reds nor the Pirates made any big moves this winter, meaning the Brewers have gained some ground in the division while the Cubs are patiently waiting for their kids to hit the big leagues. With Opening Day fast approaching, CSNChicago.com will be previewing the NL Central.

Last season: 74-88, 4th place NL Central
Manager: Ron Roenicke (Record with Brewers: 253-233)
New in 2014: RHP Matt Garza, LHP Will Smith, 1B/3B Mark Reynolds
Gone from 2013: OF Norichika Aoki, RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Michael Gonzalez, 1B Mat Gamel, 1B/OF Corey Hart, LHP Chris Narveson, RHP Mark Rogers

X-Factor: Khris Davis

Davis came out of nowhere last year to slug .596 with a .353 OBP while filling in for Braun down the stretch. Davis, 26, has never been considered among the top prospects in the game, but he's hit everywhere he's been with a career .898 OPS in the minor leagues. The Brewers traded Aoki to give Davis a full-time gig and if he keeps hitting, he can add an interesting dynamic to a lineup that already includes Braun, Gomez and Aramis Ramirez.

[NL Central preview: Everyone’s chasing the St. Louis Cardinals]

Magic number: .583

After an All-Star first half (.325 average, .849 OPS, 27 steals), Segura faded badly after the Midsummer Classic, hitting just .241 with a .583 OPS in 53 second-half games. The Brewers need Segura to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup, setting the table for Braun and Co.

Farm system rankings: 29 (Baseball Prospectus), 30 (Baseball America), 30 (ESPN.com)

They said it: "Dude, say what you want about me, but I am strong. Mentally and emotionally, I am strong." Braun told USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale in response to the reaction he's received from fans since returning from suspension.

Outlook: Braun will have to be strong. Milwaukee's season depends on it.

All eyes will be on the 2011 NL MVP. The boos and criticism will follow him around all season, from fans, media and fellow big-leaguers. Can he tune it out and get back to work?

[NL Central preview: Billy Hamilton the key for Cincinnati Reds]

The lineup should score runs, inserting young second baseman Scooter Gennett for veteran Rickie Weeks, who hit just .209 last season. Garza's addition to the pitching staff should make for a formidable rotation led by Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse. Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson should help stabilize the back end of the bullpen.

The Brewers have enough pieces in place to make a run at the playoffs, but they will need a lot to go right to contend in the competitive NL Central.