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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 25, 2014

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Milwaukee Brewers: Bad Relief Pitching Derailed 2012 But The Future Looks Bright

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In the end it all felt so familiar for the Milwaukee Brewers. Squaring off against an overmatched San Diego Padres team in the final game of the 2012 season, the Crew powered their way to an early lead only to watch it all slip away due to an underperforming bullpen. Ultimately, game number 162 was a microcosm of the entire season.

There are so many positive things fans should take away from this year's campaign including Ryan Braun's MVP-worthy performance, Yovani Gallardo staking his claim as the staff's ace, the emergence of Carlos Gomez as a legitimate starter, and the frantic September push that nearly kept the hated St. Louis Cardinals out of the playoffs.

But when push comes to shove, the reality is that 2012 was a season chalked full of missed opportunities and botched relief appearances. Wednesday's loss marked yet another blown save for a beleaguered bullpen that must enter the offseason knowing they are the reason the Brewers will watch the playoffs from home.

Anything other than a postseason performance by a club this gifted should be considered a disappointment - and it was - but enough with the bad. There were a number of bright spots throughout the year and plenty to be excited about entering 2013. Here's why I'm excited for Monday, April 1, against the Colorado Rockies.

Ryan Braun proved yet again in 2012 that he is the most complete offensive player in the National League and should enter next year's campaign with his second Most Valuable Player award. He ended the year batting .319 with 41 home runs, 112 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. Brauny showed that he could get it done without Prince Fielder and is quickly rising towards Robin Yount-like status here in Milwaukee.

Yovani Gallardo fully entrenched himself as a legitimate number one in 2012 and allowed the Brewers to trade Zack Greinke and shore up their middle infield spot for years to come. At only 26 years of age Gallardo's best years are ahead of him and he could very well improve on his best season to date in which he notched 16 wins, 204 strikeouts, and an earned run average of 3.66.

Carlos Gomez has always possessed top-level talent and was finally able to showcase it this year as his offense began to catch up to his defense. After splitting time early in the season Gomez firmly grabbed hold of the starting spot in center and isn't likely to relinquish it anytime soon. Falling just short of 20 homers and stealing 37 bags, the speedy youngster should be viewed as one of the cornerstones of the roster and be rewarded with a lengthy contract.

Jean Segura is the long-term solution at shortstop and Doug Melvin should be commended for bringing him into town. There's obviously no way of telling how the season would have ended had the Brewers kept Greinke and it's likely that he wouldn't have resigned. Instead, the team now has blue-chip prospect standing next to Rickie Weeks and one of the most electrifying infields in the majors.

Other highlights from the season include the emergences of catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, the surprising leadership ability of Aramis Ramirez, the impressive rookie campaign of Norichika Aoki, and the smooth transition to first base for Corey Hart. Not lost in the mix should also be the host of young pitching talent that stepped up including Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Brandon Kintzler, Josh Stinson, and Tyler Thornburg.

All in all, 2012 will go down as an exciting season that was unfortunately derailed by underperforming relief performances by John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, and others. But with a steady mix of proven veterans and blossoming prospects 2013 could be a year to remember.

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