On the cusp of the 2017 season, it’s safe to say most Brewers fans aren’t expecting any miracles. I suspect we’ll be satisfied with a below average season with some bright spots that suggest Milwaukee is on its way to a World Series championship around 2021. We’ll be pleased by moments of individual accomplishment like 2016’s almost-complete-games by Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra, Keon Broxton’s home run robbery of Anthony Rizzo, and Aaron Hill’s seven-RBI game against the Reds. We’ll be saddened when our favorite players are traded by the end of July. When we are saddened, we’ll find comfort in Miller Park’s new concessions and expanded beer menu.
Even if we don’t know how this season will play out, it’s fair for us to have some questions about the potential storylines of 2017.
Where Will Ryan Braun End Up?
Few Brewers fans expect Braun to live out his twilight years in Milwaukee, and Braun himself will have a big say in where he ends up. In May, Braun becomes a 10-and-5 player with rights to veto any trade. Braun is the only veteran who has not yet been moved as part of the rebuild, and at this moment it’s hard to believe he’ll still be here at the end of 2017. It will be nice if he puts a few more smiles on a few more faces before he goes.
How will Junior Guerra follow up on his surprising 2016?
One of the happiest Brewers storylines of last season was the remarkable performance of the 31-year-old rookie Guerra, who had his first major league start in May 2016—which he won. He would finish with a 9-3 record and 2.81 ERA, while the team would go 14-6 in games Guerra started. Guerra was subsequently rewarded by being named 2017’s Opening Day starter. What can we expect from Guerra as a 32-year-old sophomore? His final two spring training starts against Oakland and Cleveland did not inspire confidence. At the very least fans will appreciate if Guerra can hold his own against the Rockies and put the last two years of disastrous and merely awful Opening Day starts behind us.
Will Eric Thames or Jesus Aguilar see more time at first base?
The Brewers brought Thames out of Korea with a generous three-year contract with the expectation he would be the starting first baseman for the foreseeable future. No one could have anticipated Aguilar’s off-the-charts spring training—seven homers, 19 RBI, 1.376 OPS—which earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster. By comparison, Thames’ spring training was, shall we say, on the charts…and not particularly high on the charts at that. Aguilar basically only plays first base. As the investment advice goes, past performance is no indicator of future results, but it’s hard to say right now who will have the first base job locked down by mid-season.
Can Domingo Santana stay healthy?
Brewers fans have pumped our fists at Santana’s phat homers and spiffy defense, but because of injuries we didn’t see as much of him as we would have liked in 2016. He only played in 77 games, and suffered at least one big setback as he recovered. Santana is expected to play an important role when the Brewers are competitive again, but only if he can stay on the field.
Can Wily Peralta bounce back?
Peralta’s aforementioned merely awful Opening Day 2016 start was the beginning of another disappointing season, which included a demotion to the minor leagues in June. In his final start before heading to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Peralta left on a high note, belting the first homer by a Brewers pitcher since Yovani Gallardo in 2013.
When he came back to Milwaukee in August, Peralta showed notable improvement. He finished the year with eight quality starts in ten opportunities to and lowered his ERA from 6.68 to 4.86. It was the closest we’ve seen to 2014 Peralta. Maybe he’s got something left in the tank after all.
Will a Brewers starter throw a complete game?
No one threw a complete game in 2016, although Guerra and Anderson came so very close. The last Brewers complete game was authored by Taylor Jungmann in 2015, and it was the only one that season. Complete games are nice. It would be cool if the Brewers had more.
What happens if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as closer?
Even on a team that’s not expected to be competitive, blown saves take years off of fans’ lives like The Machine from The Princess Bride. Feliz had a pedestrian spring training, but he’s the only guy in the bullpen with more than a couple of major league saves on his record. If he doesn’t get it together and the Brewers have to send out Corey Knebel or Carlos Torres in the ninth…well, maybe those guys will do fine. But at this moment it’s hard to imagine Brewers fans are excited to go into the ninth inning with a one-run lead.
Will Orlando Arcia deliver in (what we hope will be) his first full major league season?
Expectations were probably a little too high for Arcia when he made his major league debut in August 2016. He ended up turning in a disappointing two months at the plate (.219/.273/.358) while being a slightly above average shortstop. Not everyone can be Kris Bryant, so it’s understandable that Arcia stumbled out of the gate, especially considering the weight of being the Brewers’ top prospect. That said, Arcia should be a key player on the eventual 2021 World Series Champion Milwaukee Brewers, so it would be good to see some development (and few injuries) in his first full season.
What it’s going to be like having two new catchers?
The era of Jonathan Lucroy/Martin Maldonado is over, and the Brewers will have two unproven players calling pitches in 2017. Manny Piña has only had a cup of coffee at the major league level. Jett Bandy had just over 200 at-bats as a member of the Angels. It’s hard to say how they’ll be able to work with a similarly unproven/questionable pitching staff. Brewers fans had gotten used to several years of an All-Star catcher and a solid backup, so this may be a bit of an adjustment.
Do Brewers fans have much sympathy for Matt Garza?
Garza got emotional last week about starting 2017 on the DL. It wouldn’t be sporting to express contempt about someone suffering an injury. But lack of sympathy isn’t the same as contempt. Entering the final season of a four-year contract, Garza is 20-30 with a 4.57 ERA as a Brewer. Even if Garza were never to start for Milwaukee again, it’s not clear the Brewers would be losing much, other than the embarrassment that comes with Garza trying to field his position. There’s nothing wrong with a little contempt for that.
Few are expecting a competitive Brewers team in 2017, but it would be good to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s move toward that light together. Go Brewers.