The Milwaukee Brewers squeaked into the playoffs last season with a 29-31 record. They were promptly bounced in two games by the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Craig Counsell has done an excellent job since taking over a 7-18 team in 2015. The Brew Crew will be looking to make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row in 2021. To do that, they are going to need a couple of players to bounce back from tough years in 2020.
Christian Yelich is the most obvious. While Milwaukee’s left fielder wasn’t awful last year, he didn’t perform up to his MVP-caliber expectations. Youngster Keston Hiura also hit a bit of a sophomore slump after a solid 2019. Omar Narvaez is also a better hitter than his putrid .562 OPS last season.
On the pitching side, the starting rotation looks fairly solid albeit with questions surrounding how they will last through a 162-game season. At least Counsell has the best righty-lefty bullpen combo in the game with Josh Hader and Devin Williams. They will be relied on heavily throughout the season and hopefully for Brewers fans in the playoffs as well.
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Narvaez will get most of the time behind the plate. Last year was an anomaly for the 29-year-old catcher who is just a year removed from a 22-HR season in Seattle. His defense improved as well. A bounceback is definitely in the cards for Narvaez. Hiura will man first base with the Brewers bringing in back-to-back Gold Glove winner Wong to play second. Hiura had a major sophomore slump last season but will likely get back to his hitting ways. He has four bombs in spring training and is looking more and more comfortable at the plate.
The aforementioned Wong signed a two-year/ $18 million contract with a team option for a third year. Honestly, it’s a bargain for the 30-year-old who is one of the best defensive second basemen in the league and pretty good with the bat and on the bases. Shaw returns to where he had his most success. The big lefty hit 31 and 32 HRs in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Injuries and struggles have plagued Shaw over the past two seasons, but if he can turn the clock back a few years, the Brewers infield will be dangerous.
Urias was acquired in a 2019 trade with the San Diego Padres. He is slated to start at shortstop and will be given a chance to improve his bat enough to stick there. Arcia is likely a utility guy and may wind up at shortstop if Urias struggles or is moved to another position. Both Arcia and Urias offer Milwaukee some versatility so it will be interesting how their playing time shakes out.
Many people believe Yelich will bounce back this season. As mentioned before, he had a pretty decent year last season with a 111 OPS+ but obviously, it doesn’t compare to the Yelich the Brewers are used to leading the league in that category in 2018 and ’19. Cain called it a season after five games last year. He may come back refreshed to have a couple of good years left. The soon-to-be 35-year-old will start the season in center but…
The signing of Bradley Jr. means that spot may be short-lived for Cain. JBJ is an excellent defensive outfielder and was brought in for two years at $24 million. The outfield defense overall would be better with Cain moving to right field. Garcia will be the fourth man and could see enough playing time if JBJ doesn’t hit enough or Cain starts showing his age early in the season.
Starting Rotation Projection:
Woodruff is a fantasy darling this year and maybe rightfully so. On the surface, he has been improving and has had an excellent run. In 2019-2020 combined, Woodruff has started 35 games. He’s thrown 195.1 innings and has an impressive 234/48 K/BB rate. He’s also pitched to a 3.41 ERA with a 1.085 WHIP. He should continue to improve and is the ace of the staff. Burnes went down late last year with an injury but was a big part of getting the Brewers to the playoffs. The 26-year-old is poised to have another good season but how many innings he will throw is the question. He hasn’t had over 100 IP in a season since 2018 and that was combined between Triple-A and the majors.
After looking good in 2019, Houser took a step back in 2020. Milwaukee will slot him in and see which is the real Houser. Anderson is a well-traveled lefty who has shown glimpses of solid performance throughout his career. Not a strikeout artist by any means, Anderson will look to be at least durable as he also tries to get back his form from 2019. Peralta is the kid on the staff. He, like Burnes, will be looking to prove he can handle a season’s worth of innings in the starting role.
Hader and Williams will be Counsell’s one-two punch and are the best lefty-righty combo in the majors. Hader has been a top reliever for a few years now and although he struggled a little with control last season, he was just as unhittable as always. When Colin Moran hit a solo HR off of Williams on July 27, no one could’ve known that that would be the only earned run Williams would give up all season. After that outing, the 26-year-old appeared in 20 games and gave up six hits, seven walks, and struck out 49 batters as they hit .076 against him.
Suter and Lindblom will basically be the Brewers’ sixth and seventh starters. Both have experience and Counsell will likely find a way to mitigate the overuse of Burnes and Peralta by piggybacking these two. The other four mentioned will be used in specific matchups with Yardley likely to get higher-leverage work when Williams and/or Hader is unavailable.
Players to Watch for:
Brice Turang – The shortstop position is kind of up in the air right now. Urias and Arcia will be battling it out. Both can play other positions in the infield though and depending on their performance, along with the performance of the re-acquired Shaw at third, we could see some new blood brought into American Family Field. Turang has the tools and the bat to stick at shortstop. If Milwaukee has designs on a fourth straight playoff appearance, they may not wait long to bring up their second-best prospect.
Ethan Small – The starting rotation, especially after Woodruff and Burnes, is not necessarily seasoned. Although Lindblom and Suter can mix in to limit innings, the Brewers may choose to bring up their first-round pick from 2019. Small struggled a bit with command this spring with the big club but could find his groove and give Counsell another lefty to work into games.
The NL Central is up for grabs this year except for the Pittsburgh Pirates. With expected bouncebacks from a few key bats, the progression of their starters, and a nasty backend of the bullpen, the Brewers should compete. Flexibility has been a key for Counsell over the past seven years. He is an excellent game manager. With extra options in the infield with the signings of Wong and Shaw and the depth in the outfield with the signing of JBJ, the Brewers can mix and match with anyone in the division.
2021 Record: 90-72, 1st in the NL Central
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