The Sunday Cycle LogoThe wait is over, Brewers fans- Opening Day 2015 is finally upon us! After last season’s historic collapse, I find it appropriate that the Brewers organization has plastered billboards around the season reading “Unfinished Business”.

I couldn’t agree more with the message; last season left something to be desired, and this team is out to finish what the 2014 Crew could not. Clever marketing is easy; the difficulty for this team will be finding a way to win consistently in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, with a lineup that is nearly identical to that of last year.

Being the chronic optimist that I am, I’ll start with the areas of this team I like. The Brewers return two All Stars in Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy, and will look to both to play 145+ games. Lucroy finished 3rd in NL MVP voting last year, and will see his fair share of starts at first base to keep his bat in the lineup. Gomez possesses blazing speed and covers a ton of ground in center field. If he can keep his free swinging ways under control, he should hit for 20+ home runs and steal 30+ bases this year. The Brewers cannot win without consistency and leadership from these two. Anything resembling a playoff run will be due to the success of Lucroy and Gomez.

From there, things start to get shaky. Rounding out the top of the lineup is everyone’s favorite former MVP (sarcasm), Ryan Braun. Braun is perhaps the biggest question mark in the entire lineup. If Braun’s offseason surgery was truly the answer to last year’s woes at the plate, and he can return to MVP form, the Brewers may truly have a shot to be competitive in the NL Central. That is a tremendous if, though, for a proven PED user who so happened to have the worst numbers of his career a year after serving his suspension for violating the drug policy. I’m not a fan of Braun, or his contract that is going to cripple the Brewers for years to come, but a 35 home run and .300 batting average season could be enough to keep the Crew in contention. Like I said, though, this is the biggest IF of all on this team.

Aramis Ramirez will enter what will likely be his last season (his words, not mine) as the Brewers starting third baseman. A perennial slow starter, Ramirez is a wild card at this point in his career. He provides a solid arm at third base and a veteran presence in the clubhouse, but at age 36, health is an issue, and his production has diminished the past two years.

The biggest weakness of this ball club will be the bottom of their order, which will consist of newcomer Adam Lind, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, and Jean Segura. The 5-8 spots in the lineup are what doomed the Brewers during August and September of last year. They lacked the ability to string together hits and manufacture runs, and they ended up being a black hole where late inning rallies went to die. Gennett and Lind struggle mightily against left handed pitchers, something opposing managers will almost certainly use against them when they turn to their bullpens. Whether we see the Jean Segura from his rookie year or last year’s version could mean the difference between a 76 win team and one who competes for a wild card.

The other glaring weakness of this squad is their lack of depth with their starting pitching. The rotation will feature three solid arms in Kyle Lohsche, Matt Garza, and Wily Peralta. There is no true ace on this Brewers squad, but all three of those mentioned are solid pitchers who would be the 2-3 pitchers on most teams. From there, the Crew will turn to Mike Fiers, hoping he can build on his incredible comeback from last year. Rounding out the rotation is Jimmy Nelson, who tore apart AAA before struggling to carry his success over at the big league level. Management has been very high on Nelson all offseason, but his spring training woes have many, myself included, quite concerned.

While I was a fan of both offseason trades the Brewers made this winter, they involved parting ways with Yovanni Gallardo and Marco Estrada, leaving a huge void in the organization for quality starting pitchers should someone get injured (or worse, consistently rocked). Other than Tyler Thornberg, who is a coming back from a season ending shoulder injury, there is nobody in the Brewers system who is ready to make the leap into a starting pitcher role, which could be the death of this team.

There are a lot of frustrated fans out there that believe the Brewers did not do enough as an organization this winter to keep the Crew competitive in a division that seems to get better every year. I count myself among those fans. So much will need to go right for the Brewers in order for them to have a shot at the playoffs, and I just don’t know if that is possible when I look at the holes in this lineup. There is a stunning lack of depth that will spell death for this team should they lose anyone to injury. It’s just not their year.

Maybe. Unless it is. What do I know? I’m the same guy who was predicting a World Series last year for a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Perhaps last year’s collapse provided enough of a spark for this team to come together and really make a run at it.

There is nothing more exciting than a blank slate for a baseball team. Opening Day is much more than a game, it’s a celebration of the start to the longest and most grueling season in professional sports. The beauty of baseball is that there is almost some semblance of hope at the start of the season. Hitters can break out, pitchers can find their groove, and teams can find ways to string together wins that can turn underdog teams into contenders- just ask the 2014 Brewers from last April – July. Because of that, I’m excited, and I hope you are too.

Happy Opening Day, everyone- we made it.

Flash Predictions: 

The Brewers will win the NL Central if: Ryan Braun and Jean Segura’s batting averages jump 30 points or more from last season.

The Brewers will make the playoffs as a Wild Card if: Wily Peralta has a 15 win season with an ERA below 3.00, establishing himself as the Brewer’s first Ace since C.C. Sabathia.

The Brewers can be a 70 win team and still have a successful season if: Ryan Braun has a comeback season and is traded in July to a contender, ridding the Brewers of his contract.

Team MVP: Jonathan Lucroy

Team Cy Young:  Matt Garza

Biggest Surprise: Khris Davis will see a significant increase in power numbers coupled with a decrease in strikeouts.

Biggest Disappointment: Scooter Gennett (breaks my heart, because I love Scooter, but his inability to hit lefties will cause him all sorts of trouble as an everyday player).

Best new stadium food: Nachos on a stick- review coming in next week’s cycle.

Ron Roenike’s job status in September: Unemployed- he never had a chance.

Disclaimer: This entire post was written and edited without wifi access (thanks AT&T Uverse). As such, there is very little statistical analysis. As such- please disagree with me as you see fit and argue in the comments section!

Plug: Follow me on twitter @RPetrie10 for in game commentary and thoughts about life that make me laugh.

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