Following the Cardinals acquisition of third-basemen Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies, most within Brewers Twitter were left to feel that the Brewers were now in the chase position within the NL Central in 2021 behind St. Louis.
However, on Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for 2021 were released and to the surprise of most, Milwaukee emerged as the projected division champion.
1. Brewers: 89-73 (55% odds to win division)
2. Cubs: 85-77 (29%)
3. Cardinals: 81-81 (9%)
4. Reds: 79-83 (6%)
5. Pirates: 61-101 (0%)
The projection of 89 wins, on the surface, seems a little high for a team without a complete 40-man roster and a major hole still at third base. For historical context, the 2019 Brewers with Grandal, Moustakas and Braun finished the season with 89 wins as well.
So where is this Brewers optimism coming from?
Although the Brewers off-season has moved at what feels like a snail’s pace, the teams only departure from the opening day starting lineup are Justin Smoak (first base), Eric Sogard (third base) and Ryan Braun (DH) who combined for -0.7 WAR in 2020.
With the addition of Kolten Wong and the move of Keston Hiura to first base, the Brewers are banking on an improvement defensively to provide a large lift to the overall results of the 2021 Brewers. The seismic difference between Wong and Hiura defensively is part of the PECOTA optimism but as are bounce back years for Christian Yelich, Avisail Garcia and Omar Narvaez plus the return of Lorenzo Cain.
The pitching staff is quite strong, led by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, who are expected to continue to improve in 2021. Also the emergence of Devin Williams alongside Josh Hader in the bullpen should give off a lot of confidence for that group.
Despite lacking in name power beyond Yelich, the Brewers do have a lot of good, young players and that shows up in the PECOTA projections.
Whether you lean toward the optimistic side or are still cautious, what we know is that the Crew’s recent track record shows that they will compete, and the current roster is not complete yet. If more additions are made, especially someone like Justin Turner or Taijuan Walker, that would definitely boost the Crew’s chances of coming out on top in this division.