Posted on February 28, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
After falling one game short of the World Series last year, the Milwaukee Brewers are hoping to take another step forward in 2019. Of course, they still play in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Can the Brew Crew replicate last year’s success and make another deep October run or will they take a step back in 2019?
The Brewers reached the NLCS last year in spite of their rather average starting rotation. Jhoulys Chacin led the way with 15 wins and a 3.50 ERA, and he’ll be expected to replicate those numbers this season. The same can be said of Chase Anderson, who has posted an ERA under 4.00 in back-to-back seasons. However, the Milwaukee rotation will be without Wade Miley, who made an unexpected contribution the second half of last season and was important during the postseason.
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Even if Chacin and Anderson continue to pitch like frontline starters, there are two big X-factors in Milwaukee’s rotation in Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson. Davies had a sub-4.00 ERA from 2015 to 2017 but was limited to 13 starts last year due to rotator cuff issues. The Brewers will need more from him this season. Nelson, meanwhile, didn’t pitch at all last season because of shoulder trouble. That creates some skepticism about him being able to return to the form he had in 2017 when he won 12 games and pitched to a 3.49 ERA.
Fortunately for the Brewers, they have a fair amount of rotation depth with Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Brent Suter, and Corbin Burnes. However, Woodruff and Burnes were both useful out of the bullpen last season, so Milwaukee needs their top guys to stay healthy so they don’t have to rely on their depth too much.
Milwaukee’s bullpen was arguably the biggest reason for their deep October run in 2018. Even with some instability that forced three different players to record 12 or more saves, the Brewers were able to close out games better than almost any other team in baseball. The biggest question is whether Corey Knebel can consistently pitch the way he did in last September and throughout the 2017 season as opposed to the immense struggles he had in the middle of the 2018 season. If Knebel struggles, Jeremy Jeffress gives the Brewers another option late in games after posting a 1.73 last season.
Of course, Josh Hader remains Milwaukee’s biggest weapon coming out of the ‘pen. He could save games if needed, although he’ll be best served as a versatile pitcher who enter if the game is on the line before the 9th inning. However, the Brewers may not have as much depth as last season outside the trio of Knebel, Jeffress, and Hader. It’s vital that those three remain consistent and that the Brewers are able to use starters like Woodruff and Burnes in relief roles.
With the addition of Mike Moustakas late in the offseason, Milwaukee’s lineup in 2019 will bear a strong resemblance to the one they used in the postseason last year. The Brewers still have a trio of dangerous hitters from the left side in Moustakas, Travis Shaw, and reigning MVP Christian Yelich. Those three are balanced out by Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar, and Ryan Braun from the right side. We also can’t forget that the Brewers brought in switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal on a one-year deal to make their lineup even deeper.
The Brewers also have an impressive amount of depth on their bench. Eric Thames, who was a 31-home run revelation in 2017, will split time with Aguilar at first base and could get some at-bats in the outfield. Ben Gamel is a solid fourth outfielder while Corey Spangenberg will be a useful utility man on the infield. The only real question for the Brewers offensively is how much they’ll get out of Orlando Arcia and Hernan Perez at shortstop. However, they should survive without much production at that position because of how many proven offensive players they have in their lineup.
On paper, the Brewers have a real chance to be better in 2019 than they were last season. There are some questions on the pitching staff that will depend on the health of the rotation. But the Milwaukee lineup will mash and the back end of the bullpen could be one of the best in baseball. Look for the Brewers to finish 98-64 in 2019, falling short of 100 wins primarily because of the strength of the NL Central. However, they will return to the postseason and be a threat to play deep into October.