Just like with any team that falls one game short of going to the World Series, the Milwaukee Brewers had many things go right and a number of contributors along the way. Heading into the new season, we hope for similar success but with how well everything worked out in 2018, can it be duplicated?
Making it as far as the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2018 is no easy feat, and in manager Craig Counsell’s end of the season press conference, he discussed how difficult of a task it will be to get back.
"“We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not a lot of different work. It’s just really hard to get where we got”."
Counsell would also add “It’s really hard. Really good teams cannot get to that point (game seven on the NLCS). That’s what’s so daunting about it and what’s so inspiring about it because you have to work for it again”.
Now by no means do I expect the Milwaukee Brewers to fall off the face of the earth but with the high expectations that many hold for this team, we need to mindful of all the unexpected contributions they received and wonder can it be duplicated or who will step up in 2019?
Christian Yelich’s MVP season
Looking back at when the Milwaukee Brewers made the trade for Christian Yelich nearly a year ago, everyone knew that a heck of a player was being added to the roster. However I can’t imagine anyone would have predicted the season that Yelich would end up having.
Yelich put together a no-doubt MVP season in Milwaukee and was perhaps the biggest reason that the Brewers were able to over take the Chicago Cubs for the division title during the month of September.
On the season, Yelich recorded a slash line of .326/.402/.598. and his .326 average won him the NL’s batting title. Yelich also added 110 RBIs, tying for second most in the NL and hit 36 home runs, good for third best in the league.
After putting together a career season and carrying this team offensively for much of the second half, we have to wonder if he can produce similar results in 2019?
Realistically, it is reasonable to assume that Yelich will drop off slightly and if so, that production will have to be made up elsewhere.
Jesus Aguilar’s first half performance
2018 was a breakout year for Jesus Aguilar who didn’t see consistent playing time until a thumb injury to Eric Thames took place.
Overall, Aguilar put together a wonderful season but his first half performance was special and one that we rarely see from a power hitter. Much like Yelich carried the team offensively in the second half, Aguilar did the same in the first half.
Jesus made his first All-Star team behind a slash line of .298/.373/.621 and a .995 OPS. He also added 24 home runs and 70 RBIs. All while not seeing regular playing time during the first few weeks of the season.
Without Aguilar’s performance in the first half, the Milwaukee Brewers may not have been in position to catch the Cubs down the stretch even with their amazing September run.
Orlando Arcia and Erik Kratz’ postseasons
During the Milwaukee Brewers playoff run, we saw the bats of Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar amongst others go cold. To the surprise of many, a lot of the offensive production came from the likes of Orlando Arcia and Erik Kratz.
Arcia had struggled for much of the season and was sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs on two different occasions, in an attempt to get him back on track at the plate. If it wasn’t for depth issues at shortstop, Arcia most likely would have spent far more time in the minors during 2018 than he ended up having to.
Kratz was picked up early in the season from the New York Yankees and has spent much of his career being yo-yoed from the big leagues to the minors. As the season progressed, Kratz began to see more playing time but much of that can be attributed to his defense, particularly his ability to frame pitches rather than his work at the plate.
However, once the playoffs started, these two flipped a switch. Arcia posted a slash line of .333/.353/.606, while Kratz recorded .292/.346/.375.
With both players returning for 2019 many are hoping that they will be able to build off of their postseason performances, but up to this point there is nothing to suggest that it is sustainable.
The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen is coming off of a season with heavy usage and some fantastic performances. Led by Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, we can expect Counsell to rely strongly on this unit again in 2019.
Last season as a whole, the Brewers bullpen recorded an ERA of 3.47, had 708 strikeouts, 49 saves and held opponents to a batting average of just .225. All of which were second best in the NL in their respective categories.
However, an age-old question in the game of baseball that goes unanswered is how can bullpens be so inconsistent from year to year?
Even as one of the better bullpen units in baseball last season, the Milwaukee Brewers saw these inconsistencies amongst their better pitchers. Knebel went from being an All-Star reliever in 2017 to needing time in the minors, fortunately he bounced back incredibly. And Jeffress who dominated a majority of the season struggled during the playoffs.
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This Milwaukee Brewers bullpen was a huge reason for the team’s success in 2018 and I would anticipate much of the same in 2019, but baseball history has shown us that it is no guarantee.
Other than the trade made for Jonathan Schoop at the deadline, GM David Stearns had hit on just about every move he made last season.
We all know about the big names of Yelich, Cain and Mike Moustakas that were brought in but even the lesser known acquisitions proved to big contributors last season.
Jhoulys Chacin who had put together a decent career up to that point turned out to be the Milwaukee Brewers most consistent starting pitcher. He didn’t miss any time, threw 192.2 innings and had a 3.50 ERA, a WHIP of 1.163, while holding his opponents to a .220 batting average.
Veteran Wade Miley was brought in without a guarantee that he would even make the big league roster. Once fully healthy, Miley put together a 2.57 ERA, 1.215 WHIP and held his opponents to a slash line of .237/.309/.327, all far and away better than his career averages.
Even players like Gio Gonzalez who struggled mightily all year in Washington, won all of his September starts with the Brewers and Curtis Granderson played a key role coming off of the bench, as well as leading the Brewers to a September victory over the Chicago Cubs with a home run, a triple and scoring three times.
There are many other players and performances that could be mentioned but the point is that a lot of things went right for the Milwaukee Brewers to make their playoff run last season. However that goes for any team that ends up just one game short of the World Series.
In what is turning into a very difficult NL Central, if the Brewers hope to find the same kind of success in 2019 they will need similar offensive production. The question is will it come from the same players, newly acquired players, or someone who no one expects?
It should be another special season for the Brewers, but as Counsell said, it’s going to be really hard getting back.