What defined their 2019 campaign?
For the Brewers, the 2019 season was all about a memorable September comeback that helped them seal another postseason berth. Milwaukee started the last month of the season at third place in NL Central and 3 games behind the NL Wildcard, only to go 20-7 in the remainder and visit the future World Series champions Washington in the NL Wildcard Game, in an unsuccessful effort. What makes it even more impressive is that they accomplished that without their superstar Christian Yelich.
Milwaukee was, from top to bottom, inconsistent and unbalanced. Yelich was the frontrunner to win the NL MVP award for the second straight year until his injury. Mike Moustakas had an excellent year and was selected to his third All-Star Game and Keston Hiura was one of the best rookie hitters in the NL.
At the same time, the rotation lacked depth and the bullpen was a letdown. While starting pitching was still in the top half of the league in terms of starters ERA, only Pittsburgh had a higher ERA from within the NL Central. Matt Albers, among others, damaged a previously solid bullpen – we’re in March and he’s still unemployed.
Notable additions: Eric Lauer, Luis Urias, Eric Sogard, Justin Smoak, Ryon Healy, Avisail Garcia, Josh Lindblom, Brett Anderson, Alex Claudio, Keon Broxton, David Phelps, Jedd Gyorko, Logan Morrison, Brock Holt
Notable departures: Hernan Perez, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Albers, Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz, Trent Grisham, Zack Davies, Mike Moustakas, Chase Anderson, Eric Thames, Yasmani Grandal, Omar Narvaez, Tyler Saladino, Junior Guerra
The postseason was very busy for the Brewers in both directions but they certainly lost more than they gained, thus probably being a worse all-around team as we approach Opening Day. Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal, two of their vital hitters, left, while starters such as Davies, Lyles, and Gonzalez, who got it going in the second half of 2019 and were important in the playoff push, have also departed.
The rotation has experienced the biggest overhaul. Brett Anderson provides reliability at the No. 3 spot with a 13-9 record and 3.89 ERA with the A’s last year. Lindblom returns to MLB after being by far the best starting pitcher in KBO with the Doosan Bears. Eric Lauer, likely to occupy the final spot, continued his progress with San Diego in 2019, starting 29 games.
Lauer was acquired in a November trade that also brought in the Padres’ top prospect, second baseman Luis Urias. Unlike San Diego’s situation, Luis Urias is now probably at least a year or two away from a starting job, but his flexibility to play shortstop and third base makes his valuable, especially amid Orlando Arcia‘s woe-ridden 2019 campaign.
If anyone can fill in the holes left by the departing Moustakas and Grandal, that’s the former Blue Jays and Rays infielder Eric Sogard. During a breakout 2019, Sogard batted .300 with Toronto and was traded to Tampa Bay before the trade deadline.
Avisail Garcia, in the meantime, selected free agency and left the Rays for the Brewers. After the team lost both Thames and Aguilar, Justin Smoak, Ryon Healy, and Logan Morrison are the only natural first basemen on the Milwaukee 40-man roster. Talks of Garcia starting in right field date back to Ryan Braun‘s injury complications but he’s now widely regarded to have formally moved to first base to keep both him and Garcia in the same lineup.
The season for Brewers relievers was fairly ugly as they posted the 13th-highest bullpen ERA. Hard-throwing closer Josh Hader had a sub-3.00 ERA for the third time in three MLB seasons and, as he prepares to carry that streak onto 2020, there are extra positives for the group.
Brent Suter, who pitched two seasons as a starter, in now ready to take on his new role as a long reliever or setup behind Hader after returning from a Tommy John surgery last September. Both of them are durable on the mound but manager Craig Counsel knows the winning formula is not to overuse his best bullpen arms.
Freddy Peralta posted a total ERA of over 5.00, which includes 8 starts. His numbers, however, in relief are way more encouraging – 4.01 ERA, 12.59 K/9, and 1.09 HR/9. Control continues to an issue but he was good enough even with this flaw last year. Corey Knebel also looks to return to top form and David Phelps and Alex Claudio are valuable additions that give the bullpen much-needed depth.
Lineup returns strong
The offseason left the lineup empty-handed but there’s a catch in such a statement. Yelich and Hiura were great on a daily basis, Lorenzo Cain didn’t live up to his usual standard and Ryan Braun batted over .300 after the All-Star break.
Next up on the agenda is All-Star 3B Mike Moustakas, whose departure takes away a lot of production. How did they address his absence and will the Brewers be ready to replace him? The simple answer here in no but don’t count out Sogard and Garcia to collectively fill in that hole.
Sogard’s average was high for the better part of last year, meaning he was consistent but his power factor is still to be seen. The same goes for Garcia to a large extent. Both of them hit career bests in homeruns and batting average last year.
The biggest challenge comes at the leadoff spot. The two players with best marks in the on-base department, Yelich, and Hiura are both needed in the heart of the order and all signs point to Sogard, whose .353 is still well over the league average. If Braun is indeed a starter at first, he and Garcia are more than ready to contribute to the bottom part of the lineup. Despite looming rumours about retirement, Braun is still a proven and capable power-hitter and had a solid OBP in 2019.
With Yelich in the No. 3 spot and a leadoff with a higher OBP, the lineup has the potential to be productive, despite losing power from Moustakas and Grandal.
When Keston Hiura debuted in May 2019, he probably didn’t envision being the centerpiece of the Brewers infield. After Travis Shaw left for free agency, Eric Sogard’s addition resembled a significant improvement. The rest certainly isn’t the best, though.
Orlando Arcia played more than 110 games for the third season of four with the Brewers. The shortstop had numbers that went on and beyond as opposed to his disastrous 2018 but he was a liability at the bottom of the batting order. Since breaking out in 2017, his OPS stands at .610, which isn’t going to gain you leverage in the slugger-heavy MLB of the 2010s/2020s.
Arcia was previously the best option is a shortstop position that lacked depth but, provided he keeps it up, Urias is a legitimate threat to his starting job. Add that to the list that also includes a plethora of unproven, out-of-prime options at first base if Braun fails to adapt and Narvaez as the best Counsel has on his hand at the catcher’s position.
Rotation questions and depth concerns
The Brewers rotation seems stacked with names that we’ve heard of on numerous occasions but they come with more questions than answers.
Brandon Woodruff isn’t in the business of underperforming so he’s not a subject of this conversation. The same goes for Adrian Houser, who is a good bet to still be the second-best starter on the staff after Davies’ trade to SD. Brett Anderson was very decent on a good Oakland starting rotation and doesn’t look like a concern. However, Josh Lindblom and Eric Lauer are not in the same situation.
Lindblom has pitched in just 5 games since 2015, 4 with the Pirates in 2017 and 1 with the A’s in 2014. He currently holds a 4.10 ERA on the major-league level and is coming off a season that saw him finish second in ERA in the KBO. Meanwhile, many questions as to whether he can sustain that success comes from the fact that the last time he started more than 10 games in an MLB season was 2012 when he appeared in 74 games in relief for LAD and PHI.
Lauer rounds up a shaky rotation that could hold the team back this upcoming campaign.
The Brewers are still in the elite of a flawed but much more competitive NL Central division. Cincinnati Reds had a huge and successful winter and making the biggest push to regain their crown and become the fourth different team to win the division title in the last four years.
St. Louis Cardinals’ star power finally counted last season with the emergence of a solid rotation and young phenomenon Jack Flaherty, which puts them one step above. However, do not underestimate Milwaukee’s chances to make it a real race for the Wildcard, or even the division.
Best case: Brewers’ hitters impress and the rotation is surprisingly solid as Milwaukee seals an NL Central title and the No. 3 seed in the National League.
Worst case: Yelich has another injury and Hiura suffers from the infamous “sophomore slump”, while Woodruff can’t sustain his past success, unable to hold together the rotation for the fourth-place Brewers.
Prediction: 85-77, 3rd place in NL Central