In Sports Commentary

Norichika Aoki is one reasons why the Brewers will contend in 2013. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

Brewers look strong again for 2013

Baseball continues into mid-October without the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, with the National League Central-winning Cincinnati Reds looking like a World Series contender and the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals also in the divisional round.

On the surface, it seems like the Milwaukee Brewers are in a tough spot heading into 2013.

But as the team packed up following the end of the season on Wednesday, that was not the vibe in the clubhouse.

"We know it's there," Rickie Weeks said. "Our biggest thing was starting the season with great expectations, then to start how we started and then to finish how we finished, you just know it was there. At the same time, I think everybody is eager to get back to spring training. Obviously get some rest, but we are trying to get back there (to the playoffs)."

Despite how bad the Brewers were, record wise, by the middle of the year, you can't blow 29 saves unless you're leading late in games.

And you're not leading in so many games without excellent starting pitching and enough hitting to put you in that position.

The end result is not what the team, or the fans, wanted, but look at it this way: The team posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2007-08 and has had only three losing seasons overall since Mark Attanasio bought the club in 2005.

The last time the Brewers were this consistently competitive was from 1987 to 1992.

"It's always disappointing when you don't make it to the playoffs when you figure you have a team that is championship caliber," manager Ron Roenicke said. "The whole season – disappointment. But when I look back at where we were and where we ended up, I'm really happy with where we went. And there are so many positives this year with what we accomplished and what we saw for going into next year and having to make decisions."

It was an attitude the players took with him as they packed their bags for home, as well.

"Ultimately, we'll look back on the season as a positive," Ryan Braun said. "At the beginning of the year if you would've told us that we'd miss out on the postseason I think we'd all be disappointed, but at the same time you have to reassess your goals when you consider everything we dealt with as a team. Between injuries and trades, new guys coming up (and) performing really well, being 12 or 14 games under .500 or wherever we were in August, to finish over .500 is definitely an accomplishment. Getting back in the race, playing meaningful games in September up until the last three games is something we're really proud of. Hopefully we can build on this heading into next year."

There is much to look forward to, mainly because the entire starting lineup that helped the Brewers lead the National League in home runs and stolen bases is back.

And, after entering 2012 with the 10th highest payroll in all of baseball in payroll at $97,653,944 the team has some flexibility to upgrade its bullpen and the back end of the starting rotation.

The Brewers have five free agents that are all likely to walk away in Alex Gonzalez ($4.25 million), who will be 36 in February, Livan Hernandez ($750,000) will be 38 that same month, Shaun Marcum ($7.7 million), Francisco Rodriguez ($8 million) and Yorvit Torrealba ($3.25 million paid by Texas, Toronto and Milwaukee)

Zack Greinke ($13.5 million) and Randy Wolf ($9.5 million) were also moved.

Nine players are arbitration eligible, with starter Marco Estrada in line for the biggest raise off his $486,000 salary. Carlos Gomez, Chris Narveson and John Axford are all locks to be back, and Jose Veras is also likely to be offered. I also expect Kameron Loe to be brought back.

It's probable that Nyjer Morgan and Travis Ishikawa are non-tendered, as Mat Gamel will likely be the left-handed bat off the bench to spell Corey Hart at first. This should be the end of the Manny Parra era, as well.

Here is a quick overview of who is coming back, and where, in 2013. It's an impressive lineup, and a young and exciting starting pitching corp. The only real question there is who wins the four and fifth starter spots between Chris Narveson, who is coming off shoulder surgery, rookie surprise Mike Fiers and former top pick Mark Rogers.

Starting lineup

Jonathan Lucroy, catcher
Opening Day age: 26
Brief: "Luc" was having an All-Star caliber first half before breaking his hand and missing all of June and most of July, hitting .345 with 30 RBI. He finished the year with a .320 average, 12 homers and 58 RBI and an OPS of .881.

Corey Hart, first base
Opening Day age: 31
Brief: Battled through injuries to hit .270 with 30 homeruns and 83 RBI while entrenching himself at first base for at least the 2013 season.

Rickie Weeks, second base
Opening Day age: 30
Brief: Slumped horribly all the way through July, only to rebound to hit .230 with 21 homers and 63 RBI.

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