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.
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
C-Stephen Vogt, Manny Pina
1B-Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar
2B-Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard
3B-Travis Shaw, Hernan Perez
LF-Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun
CF-Lorenzo Cain, Keon Broxton
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
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
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.
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.
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.