January 25th, 2018 was a great day in Milwaukee Brewers history. It was the day that this current iteration of the franchise went from borderline contender to NL Central playoff stalwart.
On that day, two major acquisitions took place for the team. First, the Brewers absolutely stunned the fanbase when they traded four prospects for outfielder Christian Yelich. Years later, the move clearly worked out as a heist for Milwaukee.
Then, even though the team seemingly was set at outfield, the good news continued. The Crew decided to add some World Series pedigree to the mix when two-time All-Star and former ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain was signed as a free agent.
The two immediately combined to form a fearsome 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup. Cain would hit over .300, steal 30 bases, and score 90 runs while Yelich (.326/.402/.598, 36 HR, 110 RBIs, 22 SB) would take home the 2018 National League MVP.
The tandem nearly brought home the ultimate team prize as well. After setting a new franchise record with 96 wins that year, the Brewers looked well on their way to reaching their second World Series ever too. Unfortunately, they would fall just short with the Dodgers ending their season in game seven of the NLCS.
2019 saw things take a slight step back in some ways. The team would win 89 games, Cain would see his numbers slide a bit (though he would finally take home his first career Gold Glove), and Yelich would fall just short of going back-to-back for NL MVP. The playoff run would also be shorter, lasting just one game in a heartbreaking Wild Card loss to the Nationals.
That following offseason, Yelich would be rewarded for his performance with a brand new contract extension. It is currently set to keep the superstar outfielder in Milwaukee until at least the 2028 season.
But after another couple seasons featuring postseason appearances that again featured quick exits (Wild Card in 2020, NLDS in 2021), Cain now finds himself in the final year of his contract. That means 2022 could be the final time fans see both Cain and Yelich in a Brewers lineup together.
Can Cain and Yelich’s final guaranteed season together finally result in them leading the Brewers to a World Series?
Since his two MVP-caliber seasons, Yelich’s numbers have regressed. In 2020, though the on base (.356) and home run numbers (12 in 58 games) were there, the average dipped (.205) and the strikeouts rose (30.8% K rate). Last year saw different results (117 G, .248/.362/.373, 9 HR), but ones that were still well below his standards.
As for Cain, he missed the chance at a bounce back season in 2020 after deciding on a Covid opt out. And though injuries limited him to just 78 games in 2021, his numbers were improved from his ones back in 2019.
And even though last year’s playoff appearance ended as quickly as it did, it came from a Brewers team that had the talent to make a deep run. 2022’s squad is lining up to look nearly the same as 2021’s version that won 95 games and another NL Central crown.
For this year’s team to take the next step, it could necessitate a return to form, or at least something close to that, from the Cain-Yelich duo. But imagine if Yelich finally snaps out of it and looks more like his MVP self. Imagine if Cain even just returns to his career averages.
Last year’s playoff squad ultimately fell short due to a lack of offense. Should Cain and Yelich play a large part in rectifying that problem, it could result in what the team envisioned when they originally signed the two and something Brewers fans have been waiting for as long as many fans can remember – that elusive World Series.
No matter what happens, this could be the end of the Cain-Yelich duo as we know it. Hopefully in their last ride together, they can end it with a shiny piece of hardware.