As we kick off our week of previewing NL Central teams here at Beyond the Box Score, giving final outlooks of these clubs won’t be an easy task. Why? Well, there might not be a more competitive division in baseball this season. Looking to last year, the first team we’ll preview is the reigning division champions, the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was quite the hectic finish for the Brewers last year, as a busy trade deadline and a late run pushed them to a game 163 with the Cubs, which later resulted in a triumphant divisional win. They later walked by the Rockies in the NLDS and went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line, ultimately falling in seven games.
That exciting finish didn’t really result in an exciting offseason. The Brewers were middle of the pack in free agency spending, resigning Mike Moustakas and adding Yasmani Grandal.
While those two moves could prove to be substantial, they failed to address a much of their biggest weakness, starting pitching. For a team that already finished 17th in starting pitcher fWAR last season, they’re losing Wade Miley (1.5 fWAR), Brent Suter (1.1), and Gio Gonzalez (0.5). Add that up and they’re projected to finish with the 22nd best starting rotation, with young pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes leading the way, adding help from Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, and Chase Anderson.
There’s good news though. Milwaukee’s bullpen looks terrifying from an opponents perspective. Only the Yankees and Astros are projected for a better relief corps. They look deep and versatile with quite possibly a handful of multi-inning relief studs in Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Junior Guerra.
On the offensive side of the things, they’re bringing back to legit MVP candidates in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain in the outfield, complemented with former-MVP Ryan Braun in left. They added Grandal to the mix and he figures to provide a boost to the pitching staff with elite framing numbers and help out with the bat (his wRC+ ranked second among catchers last year, Brewers catchers ranked 23rd).
The infield should be interesting with Travis Shaw moving back to third and Mike Moustakas manning a position that he’s never played. If Jesus Aguilar can avoid regression mixed in with a little BABIP progression from Shaw and a Miller Park power-boost finds Moustakas, this could be one of the better hitting-infields in the league.
Like every NL Central team, the Brewers are expected to be right in the thick of things. If they can manage to avoid any strong regression and the rest of the division beats up on each other, they could be well poised to be playing into October.