There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers going into spring training since the 2011 season. In December of 2010, the Brewers acquired Zack Greinke from the Royals in a deal that sent Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress to Kansas City. The Brewers made a run to the NLCS that year where they got beaten by the hated St. Louis Cardinals in 6 games. This was the Brewers best shot at winning a World Series during my lifetime and it has been a struggle to stay competitive ever since. The Greinke deal has now come full circle as the Brewers return both Cain and Jeffress to the 2018 roster.
Having one of the smallest markets and payrolls in the MLB, the Brewers have always struggled to attract and sign big free agents in the offseason. Coming off of a surprise 86-76 season, there was plenty of talk that Brewers GM David Stearns would make a splash in free agency for a front end starter to help push the team to the next level. Instead, the Brewers unloaded the farm for the talented Christian Yelich. Not more than an hour later, news broke that the Brewers had also signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal worth $80 million. This was great news for Brewers fans as they now have one of the most lethal outfields in the MLB, both offensively and defensively. Fans in Milwaukee were hungry for more moves after the two outfielders were brought in. There has always been a huge need for a front end starter in the Brewers rotation, something they have lacked since Greinke was traded to the Angels around the 2012 trade deadline. Yu Darvish was the name that was thrown around the most, especially after he quoted a tweet that mentioned the Brewers submitting a formal offer for his services. It is still up for speculation whether the Brewers ever actually submitted an offer for the coveted starter. Darvish would eventually go on to sign with the rival Cubs, a move that did not sit well with many fans.
The current starting rotation is one that many Brewers fans feel as though is not strong enough to make a deep playoff push in 2018. In 2017, many starters made huge strides and put up impressive numbers.
Brewers 2017 Starters (Min. 10 Games Started):
Jimmy Nelson: 12-6, 3.49 ERA, 175.1 IP, 199 K, 48 BB, 1.25 WHIP
Chase Anderson: 12-4, 2.74 ERA, 141.1 IP, 133 K, 41 BB, 1.09 WHIP
Zach Davies: 17-9, 3.90 ERA, 191.1 IP, 124 K, 55 BB, 1.35 WHIP
Matt Garza: 6-9, 4.94 ERA, 114.2 IP, 79 K, 45 BB, 1.45 WHIP
Brent Suter: 3-2, 3.42 ERA, 81.2 IP, 64 K, 22 BB, 1.29 WHIP
Junior Guerra: 1-4, 5.12 ERA, 70.1 IP, 67 K, 43 BB, 1.48 WHIP
The projected starting rotation for the 2018 season is:
- Chase Anderson
- Zach Davies
- Jhoulys Chacin
- Brent Suter
- Yovani Gallardo, Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra
The Brewers will have to start the season without Jimmy Nelson, their number one starter. Nelson partially tore his labrum in Chicago late last season while sliding into first base. This is a huge loss for the Brewers as Nelson finished 9th in Cy Young voting last year. If his rehab goes as planned, he should rejoin the rotation around June and should be a huge boost if he can regain his 2017 form. Looking at the projected rotation for 2018, it looks like it could use one more piece at the top to make the Brewers serious contenders this coming season. Jhoulys Chacin was acquired this offseason and should be able to give the Brewers solid starts in the middle of the rotation. It remains to be seen if the Brewers will make a move for a big name starter before the start of the season, but history has showed us that when the Brewers bring in a premier starter, they win. The Crew brought in C.C. Sabathia from the Indians in 2008 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. As mentioned before, they traded for Zack Greinke in 2011 and also made a playoff push that year. It is my opinion that the Brewers have the offensive power to make at least a Wild Card spot this season. A front end starter could make us serious World Series contenders for the next couple of seasons. Time will tell what direction the Brewers plan to go, but if we enter the season with the current rotation it might not be enough to improve on the 86-win season from 2017.
One of the strongest areas of the Brewers roster is their bullpen. Corey Knebel was the team’s only all-star last year and is poised to build off of his impressive 2017 season. Josh Hader was everything that Brewers fans had hoped he would be. Hader was essentially shut down in the 7th inning role and was consistent throughout. This spring will be a battle for the 8th inning job in the bullpen. Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers, and Jeremy Jeffress should all battle for that spot in the bullpen. Pitchers like Gallardo, Guerra, and Woodruff should fill in the rest of the bullpen if they do not make the starting rotation. Boone Logan was brought in to give the Crew another lefty option in the bullpen and Taylor Williams was promising in his short time with the Brewers at the end of last season.
Enough about pitching, let’s talk about the bats. Obviously the Brewers have brought in two big name hitters to their lineup in Yelich and Cain. They should provide solid hitting at the top of the order and also save the Brewers some runs with their defense in the outfield. Yelich posted a .997 fielding percentage in 2017 while Cain had a .984 fielding percentage. These are welcome additions to an already talented outfield of Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, and Brett Phillips. It’s a bit of a log jam and will be a struggle for players like Broxton and Phillips to find playing time. Ryan Braun is taking reps at 1B this spring and will likely platoon with Eric Thames. As a team, the Brewers hit 224 home runs last year with a .249 batting average and .322 OBP. Below are some projections from fangraphs.com for the bulk of our lineup.
Players included in projections:
Total projections from list of above players:
This is basically the bulk of our lineup and we will see these players contribute the most to the lineup offensively. Add in players like Hernan Perez, Manny Pina, Jonathan Villar, and Eric Sogard, and this lineup could be better than the 2011 lineup that hit 185 home runs with a .261 batting average.
The Brewers travel to San Diego for their first game of the 2018 season. They should face off against Clayton Richard who is a lefty. This means that Braun might get the start at 1B to start the year.
My projected opening day starters are:
- Cain CF
- Yelich LF
- Braun 1B
- Shaw 3B
- Santana RF
- Arcia SS
- Pina C
- Villar 2B
- Anderson P
With J.D. Martinez signing with Boston and getting out of the National League, that gives the Brewers the upper hand against the Diamondbacks who made the Wild Card last year. Can this team make it to the World Series? Probably not in 2018, but they can definitely make a big run and get some playoff experience going into the coming seasons. The Brewers have a five-year window to win a World Series, and hopefully they can end the drought and put Milwaukee back on the baseball map. A lot of hope surrounds the Brewers this season and fans can’t wait for the season to start. The Crew opens their spring season with a split squad matchup against the Cubs and Giants this Friday.
Follow Caleb Gillis on Twitter: @gill360