Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
You could make a case that the 2013 Brewers were the ultimate Murphy's Law team — whatever could have gone wrong for Milwaukee this season pretty much did. Between the slew of spring training injuries, the panic signing of Kyle Lohse costing a starved farm system a first-round pick and Ryan Braun's Biogenesis problem, the season ran off the rails in a hurry.
Preseason prediction: Most of the over/unders on the Brewers have been between 79 and 81 wins, and without any way of knowing how the starting pitching is going to hold up, that seems just about right. Pitching — from both the rotation and the bullpen — could be a roller-coaster ride this year, but the bats will keep them in just about every game they play.
What Went Right: Carlos Gomez broke out last year with a 3.1 fWAR season, and the Brewers rewarded him with a $24 million extension through 2016. They were betting that 2012 was no fluke, and it looks like they were right. Gomez was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing offense, earning his first All-Star nod and doubling his fWAR from last season. For the second straight year, Gomez has hit at least 19 home runs and stolen at least 30 bases, and also has a chance to bring home Milwaukee's first Gold Glove since 1982. Gomez was slated to become a free agent after this season and is represented by Scott Boras. If B.J. Upton got over $75 million over 5 years this past offseason, how much do you think the Brewers saved on the Gomez extension?
Jean Segura was the other bright spot, making the All-Star team in his first full season in the majors. Segura's been so good to this point that if he's the only thing to ever come out of last year's Zack Greinke deal, the Brewers will probably be satisfied with the return. The low walk rates are a little concerning moving forward and the early-season home run power surge is likely more flukey than anything, but Segura still gives the Brewers their first long-term answer at shortstop since J.J. Hardy was in town.
What Went Wrong: Well, there was that whole Ryan Braun thing. That should probably be mentioned here. The Biogenesis story broke in February, and it seemed like rumors of Braun being suspended popped up every couple weeks. By the time it finally happened, the Brewers were well out of contention, which at least minimized the on-field effect of the ban. Even before taking his plea deal suspension, Braun wasn't his usual self at the plate, hitting .298/.372/.498 as he battled nerve issues in his hand for much of the first half.
The Braun circus has drawn a lot of attention away from the fact that the Brewers are getting some historically inept production from the first base position. Corey Hart was supposed to return from offseason knee surgery after the season's first couple months, but then he hurt his OTHER knee while rehabbing and had to go under the knife again, keeping him from the field for the entire season. Backup plan Mat Gamel re-tore the ACL he tore last year, meaning the Brewers went into the season using the likes of Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt there. The results have been predictable, although things have mildly improved since acquiring Juan Francisco.
When it comes down to it, "What Went Wrong" for the Brewers basically was the month of May, when they went 6-22. Without that month factored in, the Brewers have been at or near .500 for much of the season. With it, they're playing for a Top 10 pick.
Most Surprising Player: Gomez and Segura have both had surprisingly good years, but the edge goes to Gomez here. The highlight reel catches and speed on the basepaths was expected, but the offensive improvement is the reason Gomez has gone from replacement level to All-Star during his four years in Milwaukee. At just 27, Gomez is starting to hit his peak and flash the tools that made him the centerpiece of the Mets' deal for Johan Santana. The Brewers would've been fine with a few more years like 2012. Instead, Gomez has been worth nearly the entire extension in just year one.
Most Disappointing Player: Braun would be an easy pick here, but it got to a point where a suspension just seemed inevitable, and he at least took the punishment during a lost season. Aramis Ramirez would also make sense here, with his knee problems that have bothered him since spring training and a DL stint that eliminated any chance of him being moved at the trade deadline. Let's put Rickie Weeks here, who hit .209/.306/.357 with a career-high 26.3 K% in 104 games before a torn hamstring ended his season. He made $10 million this year and is due $11 million next year, and for a time this year slipped into a platoon with Scooter Gennett. He hasn't been the same since a gruesome ankle injury in 2011, and now in his 30s, may have seen his best days already.
The Future: Unlike some of the other teams with similar records this year, the future isn't looking very bright for the Brewers. They do have a solid nucleus of young players — Gomez, Segura and Jonathan Lucroy, to name a few — but the impact talent in the minor leagues just isn't there. They have enough talent to meddle around .500 for the next few years if they stay healthy, but a playoff run like the one they had in 2011 seems far-fetched. Ownership seems content pushing for 83 wins every year instead of giving the go-ahead for a full rebuild. While that would still qualify as one of the more successful stretches in franchise history, ask the pre-rebuild Houston Astros how that worked out in the end. Division rivals in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago are all building very deep farm systems, making it hard to see the Brewers finishing much higher than 3rd or 4th in the division over the next few years.