Assessing the Competition: The Milwaukee Brewers

In hindsight, the Cubs won the NL Central with far less drama than we probably expected. Personally, I had visions of a race with the Brewers that went right up to the final weekend. Instead, the Cubs clinched in St. Louis almost a week before the close of the regular season, and by then they had already locked away Milwaukee. Look back on it, and they won the division by six games, so it was not the race we anticipated.

Despite the Friday-Sunday sweep at Wrigley in September that had a lot of us (ahem, even me) thinking that this might be Milwaukee’s year, the Cubs dispensed of that notion by returning the favor and taking three of four games at Miller Park in the following weekend.

The Brewers were supposed to be rebuilding in 2017, but instead they proved more potent than expected, and whether they take a step forward in 2018 or not, Milwaukee has every reason to feel good about the future of its baseball team. Like the Cubs of a few years ago, they are bursting with young talent, and with the right veteran acquisitions, they might be poised to seize control of the division at nearly the same time when the Cubs will be potentially trending down.

In Milwaukee, they have a farm system that ranks in the top five, and a lot of those prospects are bats who could be flipped for pitching when it’s time for them to bolster their rotation. They may not have the financial resources to offer contracts like the Cubs did to get Jon Lester, but, like the Cubs, they have stockpiled enough talent in their minor league system to get the arms they might need in the near future. And they have already graduated some of those players to the majors in Josh Hader, Orlando Arcia, Lewis Brinson, and Brett Phillips.

But at risk of heaping too much praise on the Brewers, this is not an easy path. I think the Cubs can rightfully be called a juggernaut, or at least something very close to it, and the Cardinals will always be pesky enough to be competitive no matter what. And for the Brewers, there are potential pitfalls in their way.

Just a couple of days ago, the ZiPS projections for Milwaukee were released, and while the 2017 Brewers thrived thanks to some surprise pitching performances, that may not hold true in 2018. A lot of this might depend on how well Jimmy Nelson pitches when he returns, and there is no guarantee that he will fully return to form next season.

On offense, they traded away several of their best hitters prior to the season, but thanks to a few of those who remained outperforming expectations, they absorbed that loss. But ZiPS doesn’t see that necessarily continuing. Here’s a key piece of the article on Fangraphs:

The successful 2017 team, however, doesn’t necessarily represent a baseline for the 2018 one. While one might expect the projections for the next iteration of the Brewers to reflect a club prepared to take another leap forward, that’s not what one finds here. Only two players, Domingo Santana (566 PA, 2.3 zWAR) and Travis Shaw (573, 2.7), are forecast by Dan Szymborski’s computer to transcend the two-win threshold. Meanwhile, both of the club’s starting middle infielders, Orlando Arcia (599, 1.4) and Jonathan Villar (526, 1.0), profile as something more like useful part-time players than first-division regulars.

This might sound vaguely familiar. As Cubs fans, we have been told repeatedly that progress is not linear, and that’s akin to what’s being expressed here. Their offense did really well in 2017, but that does not mean that they will do better or even as well in the upcoming season.

Milwaukee had a very good year; they held the top spot in the division until the All-Star break, and they were only a game out of the wild-card spot at the end of the season. In 2018, we should see if they turn the corner.

Right now the Brewers strike me as being on the cusp of either putting together a very formidable team or fizzling. The Cubs were fortunate that so many of the players they drafted during the rebuild worked out so nicely, but that is not always what happens. In fact, it is really a rarity. Even as we see the White Sox hoarding a collection of minor leaguers so good that they seem destined to climb back to the top of their division in the next few years, a lot of that depends on their farm system developing at least some of them into players who can not only contribute at the major league level, but excel. The Brewers are no different. They have a bevy of intriguing players in their farm system, but the next year or two will probably show whether that will field a better baseball team at Miller Park.

 

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  • I actually picked Milwaukee to come in second last year, people called me crazy and...they finished second. Now I'm not tooting my own horn here because I picked Seattle to win the AL West, San Fransisco to win the NL West and had Boston winning the World Series so it's more of the broken clock is right twice a day than any superior prognostication, but the fact is I really like what the Brewers have been doing. For 2018 I'm not as bullish. Nelson is clearly a concern, the bullpen is a bit unsettled and as we know development for young players is not linear. Also while there are young players on the team, they aren't that young. Thames is 31, Sogard is 32 and Ryan Braun is 34. They could use an upgrade behind the plate and I'm not sure who Travis Shaw is. Then you have guys on the farm like number one prospect Lewis Brandon who actually took a step back in 2017. If they sign Arrieta, maybe have a reunion with prodigal son Jonathan Lucroy at C and get a boost from their system by getting some quality innings from guys like Freddy Peralta or Corbin Burnes then I might give them a better shot in 2018, but those are a lot of ifs. In the end I think they take a step back and finish a distant third before stepping back up with the big boys in 2019.

  • In reply to TC154:

    The prospect is "Lewis Brinson", spellcheck clearly didn't believe me. Oops.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Picking the Brewers second was pretty impressive until I read all your miss picks. Ahh baseball, it's why we play the games.

    I don't think the Milwaukee team has done enough improving to compete. They benefited from a slow Cub first half. After the break they were easy to catch.

  • w/o Jimmy Nelson right now the Brew crew lacks pitching depth. They are also short on upper tier IFS, can anyone convince me Eric Sogard is going to hit like he did last year in there pen, and if they have to moce Hader into there rotation it will hurt. He was a big factor in there pen last year.

  • If they have a good year the Brews might win as many games as the 2017 Cubs.
    But I don't expect the 2018 Cubs to win as few games as the 2017 Cubs.

    In other news, Davis REALLY wanted to get paid.
    That's the only reason for a pitcher to go to Colorado.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    I would say as of today the Cubs on paper are no better then they were last year. I think their starting pitching is worst then a year ago. Chatwood for Arrieta, Montgomery for Lackey? Their bullpen is also weaker Morrow for Davis. But, I also don't believe the Cubs are done yet.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I don’t think they’re done yet either. Minus the closer, I do think the pen is better, though. And if Wilson gets straightened back to a semblance of what they traded for, it could be a stellar pen. That said, I would like Duensing back, Reed added & would be more comfortable w/that going into spring. But they may also believe Maples, Zas &/or 1 of the other fringey acquisitions can hold up the middle relief roles, if not, a deadline deal could address it.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Me either. Blockbuster free agent Cobb, Darvish or Areitta and a blockbuster trade Yelich or Machado. Well, I can dream.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I prefer Jake & Darvish of the trio. Cobb just doesn’t excite me. Although, he would be better than nothing I suppose. And if it was for the “fair” value...

  • In reply to 44slug:

    The Cubs would have to give up far too much for one year of Machado to make that a worthwhile trade.

    Have not heard what Yelich might cost, though I suspect more than Theo etc. are willing to give up.

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    Yelich would likely cost more than Ozuna or Stanton did, Yankees virtually stole Stanton merely by agreeing to take on 90% of his contract. Marlins are in a salary dump mode period.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Then skip that deal too.

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    I agree. Is that cost really worth the upgrade.... ? Or is that cost better spent upgrading elsewhere (ToR)...? I think the answer could/will be answered after more playing time for Almora & Happ. If neither shows more of an uptick in BA/Obp from the past season by all star break, then maybe it is worth it. Right now I look at Yellich as a luxury to have. If the cost doesn’t affect much of the current roster &/or ammo to upgrade at ToR then I say pull the trigger.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I disagree with your statement, "their starting pitching is worst then a year ago". A year ago the rotation was:
    Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey, and Anderson

    As of right now the 2018 rotation is:
    Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood, and Montgomery

    IMO the rotation is better this year and we might not be done yet.

  • In reply to John57:

    I see your comment after I posted mine. I agree with your thinking

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    At the beginning of the year, the starters were Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey and Anderson.

    As of today, the starters are Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery.

    At worst, the rotations are a push although I like the 2018 collection more than the 2017 collection.

    I believe the Q trade was the in season replacement for Arrieta.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I was thinking more of the end of the 2017 year rotation. I think the rotations for the start of 2017 and what we have now for the 2018 rotations are pretty even. But, like I said I do not think the Cubs are done.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    I'm always happy when a professional athlete in Free Agency gets the best possible deal for themselves and their family regardless of location.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Ive never seen a pitcher whose primary out pitches are sinkers or breaking balls (like a cut fastball, Davis most trusted pitch) who has ever did well in Colorado. Remember Mike Hampton, good in Atlanta, good in Houston, horryfying in Colorado.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Maybe as a closer, pitching 1 inning, he can get by up there in CO, & be really good on the road... But I agree for the most part.

    Also, I cannot argue with Wade wanting to get paid. He’s been really good & deserved to be rewarded. I think he was good for the younger guys to emulate his professional attitude & work ethic. I even think some of Lackey rubbed off on the younger guys, too. Edwards touched on it a little bit.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Totally agree. From what I've heard Wade Davis was nothing but a positive addition on the field and in the clubhouse. People often overlook the influence a grizzled veteran can have on a toolsy youngster. Mr. Davis seems to be a good man, and I am happy to have rooted for him on my team and am happy he cashed in.

  • After watching the Nelson video of him getting hurt I just don’t understand how it could have been that serious.....it just didn’t look like he was jarred that badly, but, that is also why I am not in medicine.....
    Our Cubs played BAD baseball the first half last year.....at least badly in regards to the talent level.....this is a 90+ win team, closer to 95+ if they just play to their capability.
    The Brewers or Cardinals won’t win 95 individually.....one or the other gets consumned by the schedule of 38 games against each other among the 3.....
    Theo isn’t done yet either putting together the roster.
    Division crown to the Cubs again in ‘18.....not going away but slowly and steadily....

  • "They might be poised to seize control of the division at nearly the same time when the Cubs will be potentially trending down."

    Jared, when do you see the Cubs trending down? Cause, given how young their everyday players are, I see them kicking arse for several more years. I expect them to continue to improve and dominate for several more years -- Schwarbs, Almora, Happ, KB, Russell, Baez, Rizz and Contreras. Now just imagine adding Harper to that lineup in 2019. And I have confidence in Theo adding or subtracting when appropriate and retooling the pitching staff when necessary as well. Not to mention two or three of the top pitching prospects hitting it big in two or three years. I just don't see a downward trend for a long time.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I agree with you. I don't see the Cubs trending down for the foreseeable future.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TTP:

    Agreed.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I agree too.
    The Cubs don't go down until they lose the kids to FA.
    That ain't happening in this decade.

  • fb_avatar

    Milwaukee has a very good team, but as we know it's hard to repeat, both as a team or as a player. Who is Eric Thames? Is he pre-AS game or poset AS-game. Jonathan Villar is another question mark, as is their pitching.
    The team I always am concerned with is StL. They always seem to come up with players from their system and they know how to compete.
    However, I still see the Cubs winning the division. Our position players are still coming into their prime and I see them getting better. We are strong up the middle, especially if AA plays CF most of the time. Who else has the equal of Contreras, Russell, Baez and Almora defensively? Our pitching is at least as good, our bullpen is better--especially if Maples continues as last year.
    First prediction--95 wins, and that's before we know whatever happens this winter or spring.
    Go Cubs!!

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