The Milwaukee Brewers made some positive changes during the off-season, but it’s not enough to win the division this year.
Immediately after the Milwaukee Brewers traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain, Brewers fans started asking if their team might be ready to win the division this year. There is no question that the additions of Yelich and Cain provided a boost to the Brewers both on offense and defense.
If you look at the Brewers starting lineup, there aren’t many holes. The outfield is arguably the best in baseball. Travis Shaw is solid at third and Orlando Arcia took a step forward offensively in 2017.
First and second base are still question marks. Can Jonathan Villar return to his 2016 form? How much will Braun play first base and which Eric Thames will we get? Will we get the Thames who constantly knocked the ball out of the park for the first two months of the year, or the one who struggled so badly that he needed to be platooned for the entire second half of the season? Manny Pina was a pleasant surprise in 2017 and even if he regresses offensively, he is still an asset defensively.
The starting rotation is filled with question marks too. Arguably our best starter, Jimmy Nelson, is out for an extended period of time after shoulder surgery. There is no guarantee he will be the same pitcher when he returns. Chase Anderson had a great 2017. But we don’t know if he finally figured things out, or if last year was an anomaly. Prior to 2017, Anderson had career statistics that were less than stellar.
Zach Davies won 17 games last year, but he did it with an ERA around four and a WHIP over 1.30. Jhoulys Chacin has had an up and down career. He pitched very few innings in 2014 and 2015, struggled in 2016 but had a decent year in 2017.
After Anderson, Davies, and Chacin, there remain two spots open with six candidates. Those candidates include two minor league guys, a guy best suited for long relief. and three veterans looking to get their careers back on track after some disappointing seasons.
The bullpen looks good this year with Matt Albers, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel as the main pieces. I worry that our questionable rotation will put a lot of pressure on this bullpen. The possible over reliance on the bullpen could lead to issues as the season progresses. Regardless, the Brewers are going to need to score a lot of runs to win games.
The Other Possible Contenders
The Chicago Cubs lineup as a whole is just as impressive as the Milwaukee Brewers. This lineup includes a group of quality players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Wilson Contreras, and Javier Baez. Their rotation is much stronger than the Brewers too. Not many teams can match a top three that includes Yu Darvish, John Lester, and Jose Quintana. The Cubs bullpen is not their strength but good enough to keep them in games.
The Cardinals had a good starting lineup in 2017 and the addition of Marcell Ozuna only makes it stronger. Their starting rotation is very solid as well. Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha aren’t as good as the Cubs top three but still better than the Brewers.
When I look at the Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals, I see three teams that have solid lineups but only the Cubs and Cardinals have quality starting rotations. A good pitching staff seems to be the most important piece to a successful season. Five of the six division winners in 2017 were ranked in the top 7. The Brewers don’t seem to have a staff good enough to win the division.