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2018 MLB preview: Milwaukee Brewers

 

2017: 86-76 (second place in NL Central)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2011

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES TITLE

2017 Recap

After winning just 68 games in 2015, and 73 the following season, the Brewers finished 10 games above .500 in 2017. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s 86 wins was not good enough for a postseason berth, as they finished one game shy of clinching a spot in the NL Wild Card Game.

Milwaukee led the NL in steals, and finished eighth in the MLB in home runs. Sadly, all this pop and speed did not translate to too many runs. The Brewers ranked 20th in runs, and also struck out more than any team in the NL.

Domingo Santana joined Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt as the only three players to hit 30 home runs, steal 15 bags, and post an OBP better than .370. (Reviewing The Brew)

In his first season with Milwaukee, Travis Shaw led the team in hits, doubles, and RBIs (101). He also hit a career-high 31 home runs. Eric Thames, who hadn’t played in the MLB since 2012, also hit 31 home runs, including 11 in April. Thames, who spent time in the KBO League, led the Brewers in SLG at .518.

Obviously Thames’ production was a bit of a surprise, but no one expected Domingo Santana to join Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt as the only three players to hit 30 home runs, steal 15 bags, and post an OBP better than .370.

Milwaukee’s pitching is really what carried them to their solid regular season. They finished ninth in the MLB in ERA and pitching WAR. Their bullpen led the NL in saves, and finished 7th overall for reliever WAR. Leading the charger was Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson.

Nelson, who underwent shoulder surgery in September, went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA over 175.1 innings of work. He also struck out 199 batters, and finished with the 10th best K/9 ratio. In 2016, Nelson led the league with 86 walks issued. A year later, he walked just 48 batters. This change was the main reason he finished ninth in Cy Young Voting.

Chase Anderson missed nearly two months last season because of oblique injury, but, when healthy, he was lights out. He finished the season with a 12-4 record, a 2.74 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP over 141.1 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

Although they didn’t score too many runs, and ultimately finished 22nd in hits, help is on the way. This offseason, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, and signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80M deal. In 2017, Yelich ranked 10th in times on base,  hit 18 home runs, 36 doubles, and drove in 81 runs.

As a member of the Royals, Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs, 26 steals, and a career-high .363 OBP in 2017. He also walked 54 times, which was 17 more than his previous high. Cain is a huge upgrade in centerfield for Milwaukee, a team that finished 26th in WAR for CF in 2017. Yelich, Cain, and Santana have a chance to be baseball’s best outfield core in 2018. That is, if Santana is not traded by Opening Day.

Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, two monster moves for Milwaukee. (Getty Images)

The additions to the outfield means a position change for Ryan Braun, who has been getting reps at first base. Braun, who ranks third all-time in the Brewers franchise for WAR, hit .268 with 17 home runs and 12 steals in 2017. He battled calf and wrist injuries all season, which limited his games to 104, but Braun is still a very solid hitter. His BABIP was under .300 for the first time in his career, so he is bound to get that average up, and he clearly still has plenty of power. Braun’s transition to first means less playing time for Thames, who will serve as the DH in inter-league play, but most likely come off the bench for the majority of the season.

Calling the game behind the plate will again be Manny Pina, who led the team with a .279 batting average, and finished 10th in defensive WAR. Stephen Vogt, who was selected off waivers by Milwaukee last June, will be splitting time with Pina.

In 2016, second basemen Jonathan Villar slashed .285/.369/.457 and hit 19 home runs with 62 steals. A year later, he was a totally different player, hitting just .241 with 11 home runs and 23 steals. His walk rate went from 11.6 percent to 6.9 percent. If Villar can be just 70 percent of what he was in 2016, this offense could be dangerous.

The left side of the infield will remain the same. Orlando Arcia will hold down short, while Shaw will man the hot corner. Arcia, in his age-22 season, hit 15 home runs with 14 steals in 2017. He is still incredibly young, and could blossom into something special.

On the Bump

With Nelson possibly out until June, the Brewers have at least two spots up for grabs in the starting rotation. The three locks are Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, who won 17 games last year, and Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched for the Padres last season. Over 100.1 innings, Chacin posted a 1.79 ERA at Petco Park, which is fantastic, but keep in mind, San Diego’s ballpark ranked 29th in runs allowed. It is a pitcher friendly park, and when Chacin went on the road, he had a 6.53 ERA.

Competing for the final two spots will be Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Aaron Wilkerson, and Wade Miley, who was flat out abysmal last year, Suter, being the only lefty in the group, has a good shot to make this rotation.

Corey Knebel, who had 39 saves last season, will remain in the closer role. Milwaukee also has Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers, and Josh Hader who will all play pivotal roles in making sure this bullpen continues to produce.

The Future

Even though they traded away Lewis Brinson in the Christian Yelich trade, Milwaukee still has a solid farm system. They have three players on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list: Keston Hiura (No.56), RHP Corbin Burnes (No. 69), and Woodruff (No. 96), who, like mentioned earlier, has a shot to make the MLB club this season.

Hiura, a second basemen, was tremendous in 42 games between R/A. He slashed .371/.422/.611 with four home runs and seven triples. He will be a high-average hitter, who shows occasional pop. The 2017 first round pick, Hiura will put up Omar Infante type numbers once he reaches the MLB.

Burnes, Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect, posted a 1.67 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 26 starts between A+/AA. Burnes is expected to reach the MLB in 2019. Keep in mind, Milwaukee also has Brett Phillips, the 23-year-old outfielder who had a .351 OBP in his 37 games with the Brewers last year. While he may not see too much playing time, Phillips could be special down the road.

2018 Prediction: 88-74

The additions of Yelich and Cain make this a playoff team. They finished 11th in run differential last year, and that was with some weak spots in the lineup. This offense is deep, and, even though Nelson will miss the start of the season, this team will be playing in the NL Wild Card Game.

Featured image by MLB.com 

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