Four musts for the 2014 Brewers, and how they're doing at them

Apr 2, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza (22) pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park. Image by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Four musts for the 2014 Brewers, and how they're doing at them

By Ryan Topp. CREATED Apr 7, 2014

The Brewers may not be getting picked by many to make the playoffs in 2014, but they’re also not being picked to finish near the bottom of the pack. At the start of the season, Baseball Prospectus PECOTA system had them winning 79 games, which is still within shouting distance of the second wildcard spot, at least.

Milwaukee so far is four down, 75-plus wins to go.

Here are four things that probably need to go right for the Brewers to surprise nationally and find themselves in the playoffs:

1) Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez need to stay on the field

In 2012, Braun and Ramirez played a combined 303 games and the team led the National League in runs scored. In 2013, they combined for 153 and they slipped to 8th, and slightly below average in total runs.

There is a good supporting cast around those two, so they’re not going to be asked to carry the whole offense. That being said, the pitching staff is built more around depth than aces up top, so the offense is going to have to carry quite a bit of the weight for this club.

How are they doing?  Braun has missed one game, but the specter remains of an elongated absence due to nerve damage in his right hand.  It hampered his performance until Sunday, with just one hit on the year until a 2-for-4 day Sunday in the win over Boston.

Ramirez has been lights out. So far, he's produced a .440 batting average with six RBI, many of them clutch in the Brewers' 4-2 week.

2) Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse need to eat innings

One of the most important things that a starting pitcher can do is to simply soak up innings. The more the starters throw, the less the team needs to use it’s middle relievers, who are generally the weakest pitchers on the club. Getting an extra out or two per start may not seem like a lot, but over a full season it can quickly add up to big numbers.

For the Brewers, it’s going to be especially important for their “Big 3” starters to eat up innings, because Marco Estrada often struggles to stay on the field and Wily Peralta is still learning how to succeed start-to-start at the major league level.

If the Brewers can get 500 to 550 innings from those guys, it means they stayed healthy and effective enough to give the team a shot at some big things.

How are they doing?  Not a bad first week.

Gallardo: Two starts, 2-0, 0.00 ERA in two six-plus inning outings.

Garza: One start, 0-1, but a 1.13 ERA in an eight-inning hard-luck masterpiece.

Lohse: One start, 0-1, 3.86 ERA in seven innings.

3) Either Scooter Gennett or Khris Davis needs to prove 2013 was no fluke

Both Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett had quite successful rookie campaigns in 2013, exceeding the consensus expectations of the scouting community by quite a bit. Granted both performances came in under a half a season’s worth of games, but it was more than enough time to raise some eyebrows.

The question going forward is whether or not both players can continue to defy expectations. Even if one does come crashing back to earth, there is enough depth to the lineup that it shouldn’t completely kill their chances. If both players struggle, though, it really could open up some sizable holes in the lineup that could prove difficult to overcome.

How are they doing?  Davis: low in production, high in average.  .348, with one RBI and serven strikeouts, co-leading the team.

Gennett: .267, two RBI.

4) The bullpen can't fall apart

Bullpens are funny things, mostly because relief pitchers are so hard to predict performance-wise. Bullpens that are full of question marks heading into a year (like the Brewers in 2011) often excel and those that appear stacked for success (like the 2012 pen) very often flop.

On the surface, the Brewers pen this year seems to have enough talent and depth to at least hold it’s own. If Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler or Francisco Rodriguez struggle holding close leads for extended runs, though, it could quickly undermine whatever progress might have been made in the lineup and rotation.

How are they doing?  Through week one, fantastic.  2-0, a 1.02 ERA, two saves.

Ryan Topp (@RDTopp on Twitter) runs the Brewers fan site Disciples of Uecker.