I want to believe in the Milwaukee Brewers this year. I really do. Having a competitive baseball team to follow every day provides a great mental trick for making the summer longer than it really is, and in Wisconsin we need as many such illusions as we can get.
The team's more optimistic fans insist the Brewers will be significantly better this season because everything went wrong last year and they can't possibly have such bad luck again. It's a decent point, elegant in its simplicity, except...it ain't quite true. When you look at the club's highest-paid players, yes, last season was a bus wreck. All of them had the worst years of their careers, mostly due to injury, and we don't need to rehash the Ryan Braun mess, do we?
However, several Brewers played outstanding baseball. Center fielder Carlos Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura made the All-Star team. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy quietly had a terrific year. Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse was solid after being signed from the Cardinals. Because Milwaukee's season was essentially over by Memorial Day, several rookies got extended playing time, and a few -- outfielder Khris Davis and second baseman Scooter Gennett, for example -- fared well.
So, the main riddle as the Brewers open next week is whether they can rely on last season's good performers to repeat their sound play while the MIAs from 2013 return to form. My guess is that we'll see mixed results on both sides of the equation. Braun probably will have a solid comeback season, but it's fair to have questions about a long list of other Brewers, including their recycled first basemen, Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay; Segura after his fade during the second half of last year; Gomez and his ability to play at All-Star levels again; the aging Aramis Ramirez; and a staff of starting pitchers that appears generally improved but hardly inspiring.