30 Clubs in 30 Days: Milwaukee Brewers

The deadline for the franchise tag has come and gone and here are the guys getting tagged: Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, Lions edge rusher Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner, Steelers runningback Le’Veon Bell, and the Bears hit corner Kyle Fuller with the Transition Tag. Out of all of these guys, we know the Dolphins are going to shop Landry. Everyone else is unclear. But with that, let’s get to this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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2017 Results:

Record: 86-76, 6 games behind Chicago Cubs, 1 game behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: CF Lorenzo Cain, LF Christian Yelich, SS Nick Franklin, SP Wade Miley, SP Yovani Gallardo, RP Matt Albers, SP Jhoulys Chacin, RP JJ Hoover, RP Boone Logan

Notable Offseason Subtractions: CF Lewis Brinson, SP Matt Garza, 2B Neil Walker, RP Jared Hughes, RP Anthony Swarzak, SP Wily Peralta

Best Offensive Player: CF Lorenzo Cain

Best Pitcher: CP Corey Knebel

Depth Chart:

C-Stephen Vogt, Manny Pina

1B-Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar

2B-Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard

3B-Travis Shaw, Hernan Perez

SS-Orlando Arcia

LF-Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun

CF-Lorenzo Cain, Keon Broxton

RF-Domingo Santana

SP-Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin

Bullpen-Corey Knebel (CP), Junior Guerra, Oliver Drake, Matt Albers, Boone Logan, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, Jacob Barnes

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Craig Counsell (4th season with Brewers)

Hitting Coach-Darnell Coles

Pitching Coach-Derek Johnson

1st Base Coach-Carlos Subero

3rd Base Coach-Ed Sedar

Bench Coach-Pat Murphy

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The Brewers were SO close to returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011 when they lost the NLCS to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. It would’ve been as a Wild Card team, sure, but the opportunity was there. They were arguably the biggest breakout team in 2017, as they led the NL Central at the All Star break and really kept the Cubs at bay for much of the season before Chicago got hot at the right time. However, the Brewers decided that they were ready for the next step as they signed Lorenzo Cain away from the Royals and acquired Christian Yelich from the Marlins on the same day to bolster their already impressive lineup. Here’s how they’re projected to look in 2018.

1. Lorenzo Cain/Keon Broxton-CF

2. Eric Thames/Jesus Aguilar-1B

3. Christian Yelich-LF

4. Travis Shaw/Hernan Perez-3B

5. Domingo Santana/Ryan Braun-RF

6. Stephen Vogt/Manny Pina-C

7. Orlando Arcia-SS

8. Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard-2B

9. Pitcher’s Spot

You might notice that basically every position in this lineup has a second player that could get significant playing time at that spot. Well that’s because offensively the Brewers might have the best depth in all of baseball. There are simply too many mouths to feed, which is a good problem for manager Craig Counsell to have. If Cain needs a breather, you have Keon Broxton to replace him, a guy who hit 20 home runs last season. If Travis Shaw twists his ankle, Hernan Perez can take over the hot corner. I mean this lineup is so deep that they don’t even have a guaranteed spot in the order for 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. Braun’s 2017 wasn’t great as he dealt with injuries, but people forget he hit .300 and hit 30 home runs in 2016 so there’s still pop for the Brewers’ franchise home run king. So many guys broke out for the Brewers at the plate last season, too. Eric Thames returned to the Majors from overseas and set the baseball world on fire for the first month of the season, hitting 11 home runs in April (8 of which were against the Cincinnati Reds) and finishing with 31 on the year. Travis Shaw was dumped by the Red Sox for a reliever that has yet to pitch an inning for them and he exploded with his power stroke, as he hit .273 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI. If it weren’t for Rafael Devers’ emergence, I’d be very depressed as a Red Sox fan watching Shaw rake for the Brewers. Top to bottom this is a strong lineup that shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. The one major concern will be whether this lineup is full of one-hit wonders and if that’s the case, then this could be a disaster. But I saw enough improvements made by this group to feel comfortable in their ability to continue their progress.

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Pitching might be a little tricky for the Brewers this season. Their best starter from last season, Jimmy Nelson, underwent shoulder surgery in September and it’s unknown when he’ll return, if at all. In the meantime there’s a lot of question marks. New acquisitions Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin, and the returning Yovani Gallardo have been very inconsistent these last few years. Miley has not been very good since he finished runner-up to Bryce Harper for 2012 NL Rookie of the Year while Chacin was at one point the ace of the Colorado Rockies and was inconsistent as the ace of the San Diego Padres last season. Gallardo was once the ace of the Brewers however he hasn’t had an ERA under 5.4 since 2015 and it doesn’t appear he’s really improved on anything. Chase Anderson was quietly very good for the Brewers last season, though, as he went 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA and opponents only hit .220 against him. He may have to be the ace in Nelson’s absence. If the Brewers hope to contend for the postseason in 2018, this unit will need to step up.

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The Brewers did lose several good relievers in the offseason, such as Anthony Swarzak and Jared Hughes, however they replaced the departed with quality arms like Matt Albers and JJ Hoover. However the biggest story for the Brewers’ bullpen is Corey Knebel. Knebel was one of the best closers in the Majors last season as he saved 39 games while sporting a 1.78 ERA and struck out nearly 15 batters per 9 innings. I have to say that’s pretty good for a closer who had 2 career saves coming into last season. Setting him up might get a little tricky though. Albers was excellent with the Nationals last season but that came a year after posting an ERA over 6 so who knows what the Brewers are going to get with him. Josh Hader also burst onto the scene for the Brewers, posting a 2.08 ERA and struck out over 12 batters per 9 innings. But my favorite of the bunch is Oliver Drake, not for anything he does in particular, but because we went to the same high school (not at the same time, Drake’s about 8 years older than me). Yes, we’re both Northfield Mount Hermon Hoggers. He throws about 93 mph and he has a VICIOUS splitter, though his problem is that it seems like he has no idea where that pitch is going half the time. If he can gain some control, watch out.

Overall I think there’s a lot to like about the Brewers and I think they have a legitimate chance to reach the postseason. I don’t think they did enough to unseat the Cubs in the NL Central, but I do think they’re going to make them sweat. Last season the pitching was actually pretty good despite my criticism of them in this blog, as they posted the 9th best team ERA in the Majors at an even 4. However there’s a lot of uncertainty in their rotation especially with Jimmy Nelson’s injury status. Given how much pop there is in their lineup, though, I think finishing in the top half of the Majors in team ERA will be good enough to obtain a Wild Card berth.

Projected Record: 88-74, win 2nd Wild Card Spot, face Arizona Diamondbacks in Wild Card Round

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I discuss the Minnesota Twins, who went from worst record in baseball in 2016 to a playoff team in 2017. Let me know what you think of the Brewers’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

Some NFL news to talk about before I get into the Tribe. The Lions are going to place the franchise tag on defensive end Ziggy Ansah, which is a smart move as there aren’t a ton of pass rushers for Detroit to pursue and they’re already thin at the position as it is. It was also announced that the Vikings would not tag Case Keenum, which would suggest that they may be holding out hope that they can land Kirk Cousins. Jarvis Landry and DeMarcus Lawrence will be getting tagged if they aren’t signed by the Dolphins and Cowboys, respectively, so that’s two more names off the market. At some point after the deadline to franchise tag, I’ll post a Top 10 NFL free agents blog in addition to that day’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Also, in baseball news, Tim Lincecum will be signing with the Texas Rangers. It’ll be interesting to see if he even has anything left in the tank at this stage in his career. Let’s get into the Cleveland Indians.

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2017 Results:

Record: 102-60, Won AL Central by 17 games over Minnesota Twins, lost to New York Yankees in ALDS

Notable Offseason Additions: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Rajai Davis, 1B Mike Napoli, RP Matt Belisle, RP Adam Wilk, RP Evan Marshall

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Jay Bruce, RP Bryan Shaw, RP Joe Smith, RP Craig Breslow, OF Austin Jackson, RP Boone Logan

Best Offensive Player: SS Francisco Lindor

Best Pitcher: Corey Kluber

Depth Chart:

C-Roberto Perez, Yan Gomes

1B-Yonder Alonso, Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Mike Napoli

2B-Jason Kipnis, Michael Martinez

3B-Jose Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela

SS-Francisco Lindor

LF-Michael Brantley, Rajai Davis

CF-Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte

RF-Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer

SP-Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger

Bullpen-Cody Allen (CP), Andrew Miller, Matt Belisle, Adam Wilk, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Evan Marshall

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Terry Francona (6th season with Indians)

Hitting Coach-Ty Van Burkleo

Pitching Coach-Carl Willis

1st Base Coach-Sandy Alomar Jr

3rd Base Coach-Mike Sarbaugh

Bench Coach-Brad Mills

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I really thought for sure that last season was the Indians’ year. They won 102 games, including an American League (and debatably Major League) record 22 in a row. I say debatably for Major League record because the actual record of 26 held by the 1916 New York Giants included a tie due to darkness, since this was before any stadiums had any lights installed. But the Indians entered the postseason as arguably the hottest team in baseball and they even got out to a 2-0 lead in a best-of-5 ALDS against the Yankees. However, they blew that lead much like they blew their 3-1 World Series lead against the Cubs in 2016 and had to watch the Astros win their first ever World Series from their couches. But the Indians are in prime position to make another run this year as a loaded roster combined with a weak division (I believe the 3 worst teams in the American League all hail from the AL Central) should point to an easy path to another division crown. Let’s take a look at how the Indians could stack up.

1. Jason Kipnis-2B

2. Jose Ramirez-3B

3. Francisco Lindor-SS

4. Edwin Encarnacion-DH

5. Michael Brantley-LF

6. Yonder Alonso-1B

7. Lonnie Chisenhall-RF

8. Roberto Perez/Yan Gomes-C

9. Bradley Zimmer-CF

That’s a pretty dangerous lineup. While Kipnis had a down year in 2017, I fully expect him to return to form because when he’s on, he’s one of the best second basemen in the game. And I expect he’s going to get more opportunities to do so because following him in the lineup is some pretty dangerous company. Jose Ramirez was a beast last season as he hit .318 with 29 home runs, 83 RBI, slugged .583, and was worth 6.6 WAR en route to finishing third in AL MVP voting. After him is Francisco Lindor, whom many would argue is the best shortstop in all of baseball. Last season Lindor hit .273, clubbed 33 home runs, drove in 89 RBI and was worth 5.9 WAR while playing exceptional defense at shortstop. Then there’s Edwin Encarnacion, who may be the biggest right-handed power threat in the game outside of New York. Encarnacion has slugged at least .500 in every season since his breakout 2012 campaign and there’s no reason to think he won’t keep up that trend. And if Michael Brantley can finally get healthy and return to form, look out. The only position that’s not really set here is centerfield but they’ve been testing out their young talent. Bradley Zimmer has the most potential between him and Tyler Naquin and it helps that he has blazing speed to go along with some pretty good pop. If he ends up breaking out this year, the Indians could be challenging the 2001 Mariners’ 116 wins.

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One could argue that the Indians’ pitching is just as good, if not better, than their hitting. They ranked #1 in all of Major League Baseball in team ERA and were the only pitching staff to collectively strike out 10 batters per 9 innings all season. They’re spearheaded by reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who was once again dominant in 2017 as he pitched to a record of 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and struck out 11.71 batters per 9 innings. His sinker and breaking ball are two of the filthiest pitches in the Majors and will likely make him one of the favorites to win the Cy Young once again. Behind him is Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and while Salazar is injured and likely to miss the start of the season, there’s still Carrasco, a guy who would likely be the ace of most staffs. Last season, Carrasco went 18-6 with a 3.29 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are two other guys who could be big contributors to this rotation. Bauer went 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA and struck out 10 batters per 9 innings but his skill is so much greater than that when he’s not slicing his finger open on drones. If he can realize his potential, there’s a 4-headed monster in Cleveland’s rotation.

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The Indians also have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Cody Allen has been one of the better closers in in the game for the last three years, as he has had at least 30 saves, struck out 11 batters per 9 innings, and a sub-3 ERA in all three seasons. However despite being the closer, he’s not even the best reliever in their ‘pen. That distinction belongs to the left-handed Andrew Miller. Manager Terry Francona and his staff have carved out a unique role for Miller in today’s game. Miller will often set up Allen for at least 2 innings at a time and is probably the only reliever in the game who typically pitches more than one inning in any given outing. It hasn’t hurt his numbers either. Last season he had a 1.44 ERA while striking out over 13 batters per 9 innings. Absolute dominance. They did lose a quality reliever in Bryan Shaw to the Colorado Rockies in the offseason, but there is still plenty of depth in the Indians bullpen that ought to make Francona comfortable with a lead late in games.

Overall I would say that the Indians are the favorites to win the American League, maybe even the World Series. It will likely be a dogfight in the American League this season as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros all look like dangerous threats to the Tribe’s title hopes. The Yankees added the biggest slugger in baseball in Giancarlo Stanton, the Red Sox added a guy who rivals Stanton’s power in JD Martinez, and the Astros lost nothing from a team that won the 2017 World Series. In fact, they added another ace to their already stellar rotation in Gerrit Cole. It’s going to be a tough road to the top for the Indians but they are more than well-equipped to try and win their first World Series since 1948.

Projected Record: 99-63, Win AL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I discuss the Colorado Rockies, who look to build on their breakthrough 2017 season, which was a surprise to everyone except me (as you may have known, I had the Rockies as my darkhorse team last season in a paper I wrote for a column-writing class). Let me know what you think of the Indians’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.