Some of their most ardent supporters might argue otherwise. But there were few baseball fans who expected that the Milwaukee Brewers would end the 2021 season by taking home the NL Central title.
And who would blame them? The Brewers were coming off a 2020 season in which they posted their first losing record since 2016. Expanded playoffs allowed them to stumble their way into the postseason, but that experience ended quickly with a lackluster two-game showing against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So, when the 2021 season rolled around and Milwaukee started with largely the same core as the year before, expectations were tempered. Few sites had them predicted to finish the season better than second in the division and more common expectations were a finish of third.
Of course, by now we all know what ended up happening. Key additions of Kolten Wong, Rowdy Tellez, and Willy Adames combined with one of the best starting rotations in the league, among other things, led the Brewers to their first NL Central crown since 2018.
Now, heading into 2022, the Brewers again bring back a similar core from the previous season, but this time from an NL Central-winning squad. They’ve also swapped outfielders in trading Jackie Bradley Jr (plus prospects) for Hunter Renfroe, who replaces departed free agent outfielder Avisail Garcia in the starting lineup.
Despite all that, one projection model predicts that the Brewers will fall just short of an NL Central repeat.
Even though the lockout is preventing us from knowing exactly when an MLB season will begin, that hasn’t stopped sites from projecting what this season’s standings will be. FanGraphs has released a version for 2022’s NL season via Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system.
Recently, we took a look into the ZiPS projections for the Milwaukee Brewers and made some observations. Those projections say that the Crew will have a very good team again next year, but maybe not quite good enough.
ZiPS predicts that the Brewers will finish second in the NL Central with a record of 88-74, a game behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals (89-73). The Cincinnati Reds (80-82) stay in the middle of the pack while the Chicago Cubs (76-86) continue to take a step back since trading away their core last year. The Pittsburgh Pirates (68-94), well, they remain the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Now there is one big caveat to all of this. As Szymborski mentions, these projections are based on rosters as they currently stand. Normally around this time, teams would be, for the most part, wrapping up roster additions for the offseason and looking ahead to pitchers and catchers reporting. The lockout has prevented that, though.
The Brewers could still address some holes once league operations resume post-lockout. Would that be enough to help them leapfrog the Cards? Does St. Louis still have some moves to make of their own? What about the rest of the division?
Either way, it appears to be a two-team race to be the cream of the NL Central in 2022. Odds are when other standings predictions come out, they’ll say the same thing.