The Milwaukee Brewers Should Go for It in 2018
Life comes at you fast.
Yeah, it's a TV commercial slogan, but it's also pretty true, and for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, their rise to being a National League wild card contender certainly happened faster than they expected.
The Brewers went 86-76, finishing one game behind the Colorado Rockies for the postseason's final spot, and were it not for an injury to their ace, Jimmy Nelson, who made his last start on September 8th thanks to a torn labrum, they may have caught Colorado and ended up at Chase Field for a one-game playoff against the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. Their talented young core has developed faster than expected, and now, it appears they're trying to take the leap into true contention.
Reports indicate Milwaukee has made a trade offer to the Miami Marlins for outfielder Christian Yelich, while they also have a contract offer on the table to Yu Darvish, the best starting pitcher available on the market. The odds are strong that the Brewers won't land both players, but the fact that they're being aggressive show they believe their window to contend in the National League begins right now.
Are they right?
Strong Starting Rotation
As with all teams, it starts with the rotation, and the Brewers have a good one. Although Nelson is expected to miss "a chunk" of the 2018 season, they have a few other arms in there that can hold down the fort until he returns.
Chase Anderson will start as the team's ace unless Milwaukee signs one of the free agent arms on the market. He went 12-4 with a 2.75 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in 25 starts last year (141.1 innings), putting up a bWAR of 4.1, the team's highest mark. Their second starter will be Zach Davies, who went 17-9 with a 3.90 ERA and a 4.22 FIP in 33 starts, good for a 2.9 bWAR. When you add in Nelson's 12-6 record, 3.49 ERA, and 3.05 FIP, you get a top three that is among the best in the National League.
Milwaukee had the 8th-most fWAR from the starting rotation (13.3) with a 4.10 ERA that ranked 10th in the Majors and 5th in the NL last season. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, and Chicago Cubs were better.
They've already added Jhoulys Chacin as a free agent, who was great while pitching in San Diego last year (1.79 ERA) but terrible away from home (6.53 ERA). Adding another starter like Darvish would only further enhance what is already a strength of this team.
Fireballers in the 'Pen
Last year, Milwaukee relievers averaged 94.5 mph on four-seam fastballs, the fourth-highest team velocity in baseball. These dudes have cannons, led by all-world closer Corey Knebel, who averaged a team-high 97.4 mph on his heater. It seemed to work well for him, tallying 39 saves with a 1.78 ERA and a 2.53 FIP. His 3.7 bWAR tied with Arizona's Archie Bradley for the best in baseball last year among relief pitchers. He also led all relievers with 76 appearances, but he's ably supported by Josh Hader (2.08 ERA), Jacob Barnes (4.00 ERA), Oliver Drake (4.44 ERA) and Junior Guerra (2.10 ERA in 30 AAA innings last year), too.
Knebel is the key in that 'pen. He struck out an astounding 40.8% of batters faced last season, with only Craig Kimbrel (49.6%), Kenley Jansen (42.3%) and Chad Green (41.0%) posting a better rate. Opponents also only managed a .180 batting average against him. The Brewers have a bullpen that is set up to perform well in October, if they can get there.
The addition of a player like Darvish would undoubtedly help strengthen the Brewers' rotation, but the offense could use Yelich even more. They scored 732 runs last season, tied with the Atlanta Braves for 20th in the league. Their offensive players tallied 16.5 fWAR last season, 18th-best in baseball. Although they hit a bunch of homers (224, tied for 7th-most in baseball), they were just 17th in on-base percentage (.322) and tied for 21st in batting average (.249).
Yelich would be a perfect fit here. He has a career slash line of .290/.369/.432, which includes a .282/.369/.439 line last season while scoring 100 runs at the top of Miami's lineup. He'd score a ton of runs batting ahead of Travis Shaw (31 homers and 101 RBI last year), Domingo Santana (30 blasts), Eric Thames (31 dingers), and Ryan Braun (17 bombs in 104 games).
They also have the prospects to pull off a trade for Yelich, so this could be a match.
Replacing the Pirates
The Chicago Cubs are still going to be good. There's no way around that. The St. Louis Cardinals are re-tooling to make another run, adding outfielder Marcell Ozuna in a trade to go along with a very solid core and a decent starting rotation. Those will be two tough nuts to crack in the National League Central, but the Pittsburgh Pirates seemingly are no longer a threat after trading away their ace in Gerrit Cole and the face of their franchise in Andrew McCutchen.
Milwaukee clearly sees an avenue where they can take advantage of last year's 86-win campaign. With a couple of shrewd moves, they could add another 4-5 wins and strengthen their position as an NL wild card favorite heading into the 2018 season.