The Milwaukee Brewers were eliminated on Saturday in painful fashion. After valiantly winning home field advantage through the NL playoffs, they fell to the Dodgers in a decisive Game 7 at home. The NL’s best position player, Christian Yelich, hit a solo shot in the bottom of the first inning off of Walker Buehler, but that was the only scoring the Brewers achieved that night. Cody Bellinger answered with a two-run homer in the top of the second inning, and the Dodgers never looked back.
The Brewers were still very much in the game in the sixth inning until Yasiel Puig hit an impressive three-run home run that he followed with an epic bat flip. It wasn’t even a bad pitch, too. Jeremy Jeffress threw an outside slider, and somehow Puig was able to muscle it over the fence while off balance. The Brewers’ win probability dropped to under nine percent after that home run. Ryan Madson, Kenley Jansen, and Clayton Kershaw finished shutting down the Brewers.
Other than Yelich’s home run, the Brewers did not get much going on offense that night. They got seven hits, but the team had the misfortune of spreading them out. They also struck out 14 times without a single walk. For all the worries about the Brewers’ starting rotation, it was the offense that failed to produce. In the NLCS, Yelich hit just .179/.303/.321. Ryan Braun hit .241/.290/.310. Jesús Aguilar and Travis Shaw slugged at least .500, but they did not get on base much. The same can be said about Lorenzo Cain, except he slugged .424. Midseason acquisition Mike Moustakas was the worst of all, hitting a paltry .138/.194/.172. The offensive star of the series was the person one would least suspect: Orlando Arcia. He was awful at the plate during the regular season, hitting only .236/.268/.307. He hit .360/.385/.600 in the NLCS. Had the Brewers won, the NLCS MVP would have been between him and Josh Hader.
Speaking of, how awesome was Hader? Not just in the NLCS, but the entire postseason. He pitched only 10 innings, but he did not give up a single run. He struck out over 45 percent of hitters faced and walked just one of them. He gave up zero extra-base hits. Twice during the NLCS he went three innings, one of which was in Game 7. He was unreal.
Hader and the rest of the bullpen succeeded in propping up a starting rotation that was a major issue all year long. Manager Craig Counsell smartly limited their exposure to times through the order. Wade Miley did not give up any runs until Game 6. Jhoulys Chacín did not give up any runs until the worst time possible, Game 7. Brandon Woodruff started a game in the NLDS and went only one time through the order, giving up no runs while striking out three. Gio González was the only one to not benefit from Counsell’s caution with his starters. He pitched a total of just three innings and gave up two runs on three hits, one home run, two walks, and just one strikeout.
The Brewers’ offense is better than what they did in the playoffs, but it was far from elite during the regular season, ranking roughly middle of the pack. Jaymes L discussed their offense over at Brew Crew Ball. The good news is that they will be bringing back everyone, and Arcia showed how good he can be, so hopefully we will see a massive improvement in 2019. The defense should still be excellent as well.
The core of the bullpen will be back, too, though it is important to remember how volatile reliever performance can be. I am pretty confident in saying that Josh Hader will still be awesome.
The rotation obviously needs a lot of work. Chacín got a lot of attention this season, but he was nothing special. He had a 3.88 RA9 and struck out less than 20 percent of batters faced. González and Miley will be free agents, and quite frankly, the Brewers should consider bringing them back. They were solid pitchers during the regular season. Given their age, they should not cost much, and the Brewers need all the help they can get.
There will be some interesting options on the free agent market to address the rotation. Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, and Charlie Morton will available. Even veteran Clay Buchholz is worth taking a chance on after a shockingly good season. He had a 2.29 RA9 over 16 starts with excellent control, albeit with a sub-par strikeout rate. It is obviously unsustainable with a high strand rate and .255 BABIP. His 3.74 DRA is probably a more realistic expectation in terms of future run average.
Patrick Corbin had great timing in having his best season in a contract year. He had a 3.15 RA9, 30.8 K%, and 6.0 BB%. He was worth nearly six wins by DRA-based WARP. The 29-year-old might command the biggest contract of any pitcher this offseason, but I assure you that the Brewers can afford it. They can afford that and more. Don’t let ownership’s complaints of a small market fool you, especially after such a successful season that certainly earned the team more cash. Choosing not to spend is always a choice, not a necessity. This team has only made the playoffs five times in its history, and has never won a World Series. This is arguably the best team the Brewers have ever had (I would probably give the nod to the 1982 pennant winners, but this team is right up there). There is no excuse for not doing everything possible to improve this team as much as possible.
As for the farm system, it is not what it once was due to promotions and trades, but it still looks to be in fair shape. Keston Hiura should be a solid upgrade at second base even if he does not surpass the floor that scouts project for him. Corbin Burnes should be a helpful addition to the starting rotation, though he does not have a high ceiling.
The Brewers led the National League with 96 wins, but there are some important points to make about that. Everything broke right for the Brewers, and still they only beat the Cubs by one game, and even then that was the result of a one-game playoff. Furthermore, the Cubs likely played to their floor in 2018. Put another way, it was probably a high-percentage year for the Brewers and a low-percentage one for the Cubs. I am sure that GM David Stearns understands this. It is a matter of whether or not ownership lets him spend. Worst case scenario, the Brewers are likely to position themselves for a Wild Card next year. It is hard to imagine them not returning to the playoffs.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.