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Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

Can Brewers make a playoff run? Most fans say yes

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Center fielder and Gold Glove winner Carlos Gomez provides power and speed to the Brewers’ lineup. Center fielder and Gold Glove winner Carlos Gomez provides power and speed to the Brewers’ lineup. Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Over 2.53 million fans, or more than 31,000 per game, attended Brewers games at Miller Park last year despite the team’s lowest divisional finish since 2006.

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A rash of injuries and a terrible start derailed any realistic shot at the postseason by June, and Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension to end the year was the proverbial nail in the team’s coffin.

Braun is back, the law of averages should mean fewer guys on the disabled list and another 6-22 run in May -- the franchise’s worst month of futility since the 1969 Seattle Pilots -- would appear unlikely, which should push more people through the turnstiles again this year.

Better pitching and significant contributions from several farmhands after the All-Star break in 2013 and the signing of free agent pitcher Matt Garza have many fans in the Stateline area guardedly optimistic about a turnaround, although they have reservations.

That journey starts when the Atlanta Braves come to town for Opening Day on Monday as Milwaukee tries to earn its fifth winning season in eight years and be a factor down the stretch despite three National League playoff teams residing in the Central Division.

“The Brewers should compete for a wildcard spot,” said Val Crofts, a longtime fan from Janesville. “Much better pitching, a better bullpen and rotation with the addition of (Matt) Garza. (Aramis) Ramirez being healthy all year should help a lot and protect (Ryan) Braun in the three spot. Ninety wins this year, I hope. But in the spring, all is well.”

Jason Knott of Edgerton is predicting 85 to 88 wins for The Crew.

“I’m just not convinced the starting pitching is going to be as strong as some think,” Knott said. “I like (Yovani) Gallardo, Garza and (Kyle) Lohse … I’m just not sold on (Wily) Peralta, (Marco) Estrada, (Tyler) Thornburg and the rest of the back-of-the-rotation guys. I predict big offensive numbers from Braun and (Jean) Segura, and I think Rickie Weeks will rebound from his dismal year at the plate. But if Braun or Segura miss any significant time, they’ll struggle to score.”

Tedi Knox of Evansville has been a fan since moving to Wisconsin in 1976.

“Would love to see them (finish) higher because I love them, but I think they will come in third in the division behind St. Louis and Cincinnati,” she said. ”With Braun back in the lineup, I think there will be runs scored. Ramirez also will help score more runs, as long as he stays healthy. (Carlos) Gomez, as a Gold Glover, has the ability to keep the opponents’ scoring low. Now that they have made a decision at first base with (Mark) Reynolds and (Lyle) Overbay, I feel there will be more consistency.

“Pitching still is going to be a weakness, especially the bullpen,” Knox added. “Age is a factor … (Jim) Henderson is 31 and spent the bulk of his career in the minors. K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez), though I like him as a player, is 32 and has had an up-and-down career. That leaves the bullpen short. Weeks, what can I say? He is my least favorite because he is so inconsistent. I have yelled more at my TV in the past two years because of him than I ever have.”

Gary Shields of Janesville doesn’t quite share the others’ enthusiasm.

“Their pitching will be their downfall, and they are in a tough division,” Shields said. “Second to last place at best.”

Jason Robinette, an Elkhorn native who lives in Whitewater, is arguably the team’s biggest fan from the area. He is a 20-game ticket holder who typically attends more than 60 contests annually.

   “Win or lose, Miller Park is a great atmosphere and they play rain or shine,” Robinette said. “But I think the Brewers will do well, and if they stay healthy I believe they can play with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. A lot will depend on the starting rotation, but I think if they win 85 to 90 games they can be a wildcard team … 90 or 91 wins should win the division.”

Understandably, fans have mixed emotions about Braun, a lightning rod since being caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. Everybody but Shields has forgiven the slugger for his transgressions.

“I am no longer a Ryan Braun fan,” Shields said. “He lied repeatedly and his apology was lame. I place him just a little above Alex Rodriguez in that at least Braun didn’t prolong his fight.” 

“Braun has a lot to prove this year, more than he did as a rookie,” Knox said. “No matter what happened, Braun is a great ballplayer. I’m not happy about the doping, but I still like him as a player and am looking forward to watching him come back this year. He will overcome the adversity and shine.”

Crofts and Robinette agreed.

“All is forgiven as far as I’m concerned,” Crofts said. “It’s in the past. He’s done his penalty and we welcome him back. Can’t wait to see his numbers this year.”

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