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Keys for Milwaukee to claim the Central

Milwaukee Brewers contender

The Milwaukee Brewers became a surprise contender in 2017 by pushing the defending champion Chicago Cubs to the brink. At the beginning of the season, Chicago was a clear favorite to win the Central Division. However, it was not until mid-September that they finally pulled away from those pesky Brewers.

The Brewers now know that they have an opportunity to compete with the Cubs. They have already proven they have what it takes to get past the Cardinals. Now their new acquisitions have to prove what they are worth.

Revamped outfield

It seemed this offseason would be one the Brewers would make their presence known. Milwaukee went out and signed Lorenzo Cain, one of the top free agent outfielders. In almost no time at all, they then traded away their best prospect to acquire Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins.

Milwaukee Brewers contender
The Brewers made an aggressive move for Christian Yelich. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Domingo Santana will most likely be the third outfielder in the mix, as the Brewers are more likely to trade Keon Broxton out of their crowded outfield.

Santana had a breakout year in 2017, compiling 30 home runs and a .278 batting average. In order for the Brewers to keep this excitement rolling into the regular season, it is vital that Santana continues his success from last year as he enters his age 25 season.

There has been an experiment in Brewers camp by testing out Ryan Braun at first base with the crowded outfield. If he gets comfortable there, the Brewers will have a tough decision after the breakout of Eric Thames last year.

There is no clear-cut answer between the two. However, Braun’s history with the team may have an impact on a potential starting spot at first base. Either way, it will be a decision that will greatly affect their chances at catching the Cubs.

Bullpen stability

The Brewers only finished behind three other teams for the most blown saves in baseball last year. Closer Corey Knebel was somewhat reliable in closing out games as he grabbed 39 saves out of 45 opportunities. The key for the Brewers is the rest of the bullpen around him.

Josh Hader is another up and comer in baseball, as the 23-year-old came onto the scene as a reliable reliever for the future. Whether or not he is able to eventually take up a closer roll is still undetermined, but he could serve as a fine setup man for the Brewers for the near future.

One of the more under the radar moves the Brewers made was getting Matt Albers, who was previously on the Washington Nationals. The 35-year-old proved that he still has some juice left in the tank, and it is key for him to provide more reliability in the Brewers’ bullpen. Milwaukee has no chance of catching Chicago if they have as tough of a time closing out games in 2018 as they did in 2017.

Living without Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson turned out to be one of the strongest pitchers in the National League last year. Unfortunately for Nelson and the Brewers, it is likely for him to miss a significant portion of the 2018 regular season.

What is most frustrating about the whole situation for the Brewers is that he got the shoulder injury by just diving back into first base. Shoulder injuries are always a concern for pitchers. It has to be difficult knowing that it did not come on the mound.

Milwaukee Brewers contender
Nelson may not be back until around the All-Star Break. (Photo from MLB.com)

With Nelson out for a good amount of time in 2018, it is time for others in the rotation to show what they can do. Zach Davies and Chase Anderson will be heading up the rotation, and the Brewers’ success will largely depend on their performance.

Anderson looked to be not much more than a fourth or fifth starter in the rotation, but his performance in 2017 should not go overlooked. Nelson may have been the highlighted member from that rotation, but Anderson certainly carried some weight on his shoulders. If he is able to keep doing what he was doing from a year ago, it would be huge for the success of the team.

Zach Davies is entering just his age-25 season. Last year, he was able to rack up 17 wins. His ERA was floating around four, but if he is able to build upon his success from last year, it will be as if Nelson never left the rotation.

Can they catch Chicago?

The Brewers were a favorite to land Yu Darvish much of the offseason. What is tough for them is that he fell into the laps of the last team they would have liked him to. Now that Darvish is a Cub, the Brewers have some serious work to do to make this work.

In order for them to prove that last year was not a fluke, it will be vital for the rotation to survive with Nelson’s absence. With all of the new additions, the Brewers should be pretty set on the offensive side of the plate.

The goal for the Brewers should be to stay within striking distance of the Cubs in Nelson’s absence. There is no reason to set unrealistic goals, so if they are able to stay within four games of them until about midseason, they will have enough firepower to stop the Cubs from obtaining the Central crown for the third year in a row.

 

Featured image from ESPN

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