Milwaukee Brewers: Are they better than the Chicago Cubs?
By Max Neibaur
The Milwaukee Brewers decided to add talent to their team and challenge the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central crown in 2018. As of February 2018, how do the Brewers match up with the Cubs?
The Milwaukee Brewers surprised the MLB cold stove with a pure napalm punch on January 25. The team traded four top prospects for budding outfielder Christian Yelich and then signed Lorenzo Cain to the largest contract in club history.
Brewers General Manager David Stearns wants the Milwaukee Brewers to be competitive every year. Few people, however, thought he could make them competitive with the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs this quickly. But, after a good 2017, Stearns saw an opportunity this offseason to start a run at a championship by adding Yelich and Cain.
“We decided that now is the time. Both players are here, obviously, for a long time and allow us to, we believe, be a strong team for multiple years,” Stearns said in a press conference.
Now that the Milwaukee Brewers have decided to make a postseason push in 2018 and years to come, the first thing to do is assess their standing compared to the NL Central Champion Cubs.
The following analysis shows that the Brewers can indeed compete with the Cubs for the NL Central starting in 2018. Many things are, however, likely to change with these rosters before Opening Day.
How Do the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs Compare On Paper Heading Into the 2018 Season?
As of the end of January 2018, this is how a position-by-position breakdown of the Brewers and Cubs looks.
1st Base: Rizzo over Thames or Braun: Cubs advantage
The Chicago Cubs have Anthony Rizzo. They win. The Brewers do not have a player of Rizzo’s pedigree on their roster. Ryan Braun used to be a perennial MVP contender like Rizzo is now. Christian Yelich could be that good starting in 2018 because his remaining development as a hitter will be in the hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park. But Rizzo is already there.
The Brewers counter with Eric Thames who showed two faces in 2017. The Brewers first baseman smashed 23 home runs in the first half of the season but only eight in the second half. Thames did seem to make an adjustment after slumping mid-season, however. By September, he smacked for an impressive .995 OPS. This shows the player might have made an adjustment.
The Milwaukee Brewers have also shot around the idea of moving Ryan Braun to first base if they continue to have too many outfielders for too few spots. But, regardless of who plays there for the Brewers, the advantage at first base goes to Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs.
2nd Base: Zobrist? Happ? Baez? vs Villar? Sogard? Perez?: Push
Both the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs have some depth at this position, but no solid, single starter.
The Cubs probably want Javier Baez to step up and fill this role on a consistent basis, Baez has tremendous pop for a second baseman, however he walked just 30 times while striking out 144 times in 2017.
The Brewers hope Villar will return to his 2016 form after a poor 2017. In 2016, Villar led the league in stolen bases and effectively hit leadoff. In 2017, his OBP fell 76 points and he stole just 23 bases. Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez are good utility players, but the Brewers need Villar to step up or they need to trade for a second baseman who can get the job done regularly.
Shortstop: Arcia over Russell: Very slight advantage for Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs both have good, young shortstops, but Arcia looks better at this point.
Addisson Russell has more experience and power, but he has a low career OBP of .312. Even with good defense, he does not compare to the Milwaukee Brewers shortstop.
The Brewers knew Orlando Arcia would play terrific defense. Arcia showed them right away in 2017 that his bat would not be a concern either. He hit a respectable .277 with 15 homeruns along with dazzling fans with his glove last year. If Arcia keeps his average up like in 2018, that combined with his defense make him a very special baseball player
This is another close call, but the Brewers seem to be a bit better at shortstop.
3rd Base: Bryant over Shaw: Cubs Advantage
The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs view third base as a position of strength. Last season, Travis Shaw put up huge numbers and was the most consistent hitter for the Brewers. Bryant had an off-year and still earned 2.1 more WAR than Shaw.
The Cubs expect Bryant to hit more home runs next season, but they are not worried about their slugger. Like first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Bryant is a perennial MVP candidate and the Milwaukee Brewers have no one on the roster to match his pedigree.
Shaw or, as Brewers fans adoringly refer to him, “the Mayor of Ding-Dong City,” can only hope to equal or build on a great year that showed off his run-producing potential (31 HR, 101 RBI).
Again, this position goes to the Cubs, but the Brewers have a good player at third base as well.
Catcher: Contreras over Pina: Cubs Advantage
The Cubs have a very good all-around catcher in Willson Contreras. The Brewers have Manny Pina and Stephen Vogt. This is one position in which the Cubs have a considerable advantage. Vogt might have a little bit of pop, but his defense is poor. Also, Pina might have hit better than expected in 2017 but regression or status quo is expected. Perhaps the Brewers will stick out their necks and re-sign free agent Milwaukee favorite Jonathan Lucroy if he is affordable.
Outfield: Brewers advantage
Much has been written about Yelich and Cain joining the Brewers outfield recently. The Cubs have depth and good defense, but so do the Brewers. The Brewers have so much depth that they will likely flip some of this depth into another impact player.
Starting Rotation: Cubs over Brewers
The Chicago Cubs probable starting rotation as of January 8, 2018 according to Carrie Muskat.
- LHP Jon Lester
- RGP Kyle Hendricks
- LHP Jose Quintana
- RHP Tyler Chatwood
- RHP Eddie Butler
Lester, Hendricks and Quintana should be great. Chatwood will be eager to prove himself now that he does not have to pitch so often in Coors Field for the Rockies where his split stats show he struggled. Butler is the best of the rest of a meandering group of “others.” The Cubs are still looking to fortify this group by acquiring another top-notch starting pitcher.
Milwaukee Brewers probable starting rotation as of January 9, 2018 according to Adam McCalvy.
- RHP Chase Anderson
- RHP Zach Davies
- RHP Jhoulys Chacin
- LHP Brent Suter
- RHP Yovani Gallardo
I would like to think that Brandon Woodruff will work his way into the rotation instead of Suter or Gallardo who seem better suited for the bullpen. Also, The Brewers will be getting last year’s ace, Jimmy Nelson back sometime during the first half of 2017 to help this group.
The Brewers also could sign a pitcher or trade for another pitcher by flipping some of their surplus outfielders. As of now, the Chicago Cubs have more experience and fewer question marks in their front three pitchers.
Of all the positions, however, this is the most volatile. Both teams are still looking to make moves. If the season started today, the slight advantage goes to the Cubs. But, both teams are unlikely to carry these exact rotations into Opening Day.
Bullpen: Cubs a Tick Better
Cory Knebel and Josh Hader became breakout relievers for the Brewers last season. Milwaukee has added some cheap options to compete for spots in 2018 that will round out their pen. They could still use another closer/setup type to keep up with the trend of dominant bullpens around baseball.
Next: Could DeGrom Be A Trade Target?
The Cubs plan to use free-agent signee Brandon Morrow as their closer, however, they could still add someone to take that role before Opening Day. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2018 season. However, the Cubs depth is slightly more proven.