Strong start key for Brewers, who face tough NL Central & interleague matchups

Aramis Ramirez. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Strong start key for Brewers, who face tough NL Central & interleague matchups

By Nick Michalski. CREATED Mar 13, 2014

With a ruinous month of May in 2013 that saw the team go 6-22, the Milwaukee Brewers lost 14.5 games in the division standings in that single month and never recovered.  The most well-constructed roster imaginable would find it hard to dig out of a hole such as the Brewers dug in 2013.

A good start to the season in baseball is invaluable, particularly for the 2014 Brewers.

The Brewers have emerged on June 1 with a losing record in three of the last four years, but a strong start in 2014 could mean the Brewers stick around in the race all season because they'll face the gauntlet from the get-go.

The Brewers clash with good or great teams directly out of the gate in 2014.  Reportedly one of the most demanding early schedules in the National League in 2014, the early slate of April and May sees the Brewers matched up with many formidable opponents.

They open the season at home versus the 2013 NL East champion Atlanta Braves and then venture to Boston to participate in the home opener for the World Series champion Red Sox at Fenway Park. 

In the weeks following those two series, the Brewers play an improved Philadelphia Phillies team, all three NL Central playoff teams from 2013 (St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds), along with very good teams in the Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.

In May the Brewers also have four more against the Braves in Atlanta.

Back in 2010, the Brewers were 9-14 in April and 12-16 in May, and went on to finish 77-85 and in third place in the NL Central.  In manager Ron Roenicke’s first year at the helm in 2011 they bucked that trend, playing .500 baseball in April (13-13) and then posting a strong 17-12 mark in May. 

That month of May in 2011 also underscored the importance of playing good baseball at Miller Park.  The Brewers destroyed opponents at home (13-2) but got pushed around on the road (4-10).

A winning May strengthened the foundation for the Brewers in 2011, and that season they never posted a losing record in any one month, barring an 0-1 record in March.

Of course, they went on to accumulate the best record in franchise history and secured the franchise's first NL Central division title that year, ending the regular season with 96 wins and a trip to the postseason.

The following year in 2012, the Brewers stumbled out of the gates once again.  They finished each of the first four months of the season with losing records and finished the season at 83-79, good for third place in the division.

A winning record overall in 2012 was only possible due to a scorching-hot September, which saw the team go 18-10. 

In 2013, the Brewers were actually over .500 at the conclusion of April, but then the disastrous May sunk the team’s hopes to get back into the race.  They finished 74-88 and in fourth place in a very difficult NL Central.

The Brewers also didn't play well at home in 2013, ending up with the same 37-44 mark at home as on the road.  Their Miller Park magic vanished.

Sometimes a game in April is more important than a win later in the season, because it boosts a team's standing and confidence.

Milwaukee lost 36 games last year to the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates, including a particularly gruesome 5-14 mark against St. Louis.  In order to weather what figures to be the most challenging portion of their schedule, the Brewers will need to play focused, efficient baseball against their NL rivals to start the year.

They will also aim to be less of a punching bag for AL East teams like the Red Sox and Yankees compared to recent years.

A grueling two months to open the season will be a severe test for the Brewers, but it could also be a launching pad for a remarkable year.

Nick Michalski (@MichalskiNick on Twitter) is an editor and writer for The Brewers Bar.