The Milwaukee Brewers won 86 games in 2017, but finished six games in back of the Chicago Cubs. They added to their offense and rebuilt their bullpen in the off season. Could they win the division? We’ve got four reasons why the Brewers will take the NL Central title in 2018.
This series has focused on why the Milwaukee Brewers division rivals won’t win. Lets take a look at how the Brewers will win.
The revamped lineup
The Milwaukee Brewers bashed 224 home runs in 2017. That was good enough to tie for seventh in all of Major League Baseball. However, their team OPS was only .751. That was 15th in the league. They’ll do better in 2018.
The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain mean that Keon Broxton won’t play as much as he did last year. Broxton posted a .719 OPS in over 400 plate appearances. Jonathan Villar looks like he’s ready to bounce back from the .665 OPS he posted in 2017, and Hernan Perez should improve upon his .704 OPS.
The 2018 lineup is better on paper than the 2017 lineup, especially with Yelich near the top of the order. The Milwaukee Brewers had a revolving door at the lead off spot last year. Brewers lead off hitters only managed a .687 OPS in 2017. That needs to improve for the Brewers to break through the 90-win plateau.
The updated bullpen
Corey Knebel will start the season as the closer. He worked in a set up role last year, while Neftali Feliz was handed the closing duties. Feliz was released after a few weeks of rough results. The Milwaukee Brewers will also have a full season of Josh Hader in a set up role, along with a real LOOGY in Boone Logan. Matt Albers and Jacob Barnes provide depth that the 2017 team lacked until they added Anthony Swarzak at the trade deadline.
The 2018 version of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen isn’t starting the season with the same holes the 2017 team had. That alone could help the Brewers pick up a few extra wins early on that didn’t get with last season’s bullpen.
The improved defense
Adding Cain and Yelich gives the Milwaukee Brewers two solid defenders in the outfield. Braun’s transition to first base has started smoothly and will keep him out of the outfield. It’s also easier to hide Domingo Santana‘s deficiencies with two plus defenders next to him. The Brewers outfield defense should be a strength in 2018, and that wasn’t always the case in 2017. Travis Shaw and Orlando Arcia were also solid on the left side last year of the infield.
The only real question mark in the Milwaukee Brewers infield is at second base. Eric Sogard is capable, but clearly not an every day player. Villar spent a lot of time at second in 2017, and never really impressed. Perez is also still an option. The Brewers are solid at four out of five infield positions, but second base needs to be solved quickly.
Surprises are on their way
The surprises of 2017 were what made the year special. Eric Thames in April, Knebel in May, and the additions in August and September carried the Milwaukee Brewers over .500.
This year, the most likely mid-season call up looks like prospect Corbin Burnes. He appears to be ticketed to start the season in Colorado Springs, but he could get the call quickly. If anyone in the bullpen falters, Burnes could be asked to fill in for half a season. Burnes looks like a Major League starting pitcher, but a few months in the bullpen could help him grow into a starting role in 2019. The Milwaukee Brewers could also still sign a free agent starter.
Jimmy Nelson is also a total wild card at this point. He could return at mid-season and lead the rotation into the post season. Nelson could also take longer to recover, and end up starting his season as late as September.
Mauricio Dubon could also get the call to take over the second base job. However, Keston Hiura could also hit his way into an opportunity at second base. The Milwaukee Brewers could also deal for a second baseman at the deadline.
The Milwaukee Brewers have turned weaknesses into strengths on a team that was already knocking on the door for a playoff spot. They’ll need the help of a few surprises along the way. Every season requires trades, signings, and call ups. The Brewers will find heroes in unlikely places, and make additions if there’s an opportunity. The Chicago Cubs are clearly the favorites to win the NL Central again, but the Brewers will keep the race close, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll make it interesting in September.