The Milwaukee Brewers are the best team that you don’t know anything about. They will win the National League Central in 2018, and I’m here to tell you why.
Friday was a whirlwind day for the Brewers. In a matter of hours, the team traded for left fielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins, and signed free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain to a five year contract. Though there were some murmurs about the Brewers’ interest in Yelich, these moves together came as a surprise.
The Brewers have always been a small-market franchise. They build their teams through the draft, and shy away from doling out big contracts to free agents. The team usually doesn’t get much media attention, and that’s been for a fairly good reason. Over the last decade, they have been the epitome of mediocrity. They were a wild card team in 2008 and won their division in 2011, but hadn’t made a playoff push until last season. For a majority of the season, the Brew Crew was right there with the Cubs at the top of the Central. They fell off toward the end, but still finished within one game of the Rockies for the second wild-card spot. Ownership showed that it was willing to make sacrifices in order to make the playoffs, trading for second baseman Neil Walker and reliever Anthony Swarzak during the summer.
Last year’s playoff push was made possible by a deep lineup, consistent starting pitching, and a solid bullpen. But because they’re from a city with just under 600,000 people, nobody heard much about them. Their lineup consisted of SEVEN players with at least 15 home runs, and three players with at least 30. I doubt you have even heard the name Domingo Santana before, but the Brewers’ 24-year old right fielder slugged 30 homers with with a .378 on base percentage (OBP). I’d say those are easily All-Star numbers, and probably even deserving of some MVP votes. Their rotation is lead by the trio of Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies, and Chase Anderson- all pitchers who are far from household names. But Nelson and Anderson had ERAs of 3.49 and 2.74, and at 28 and 29 years old, are entering the primes of their careers. Davies posted a 3.90 ERA, but was a superb 2.50 in the second half. At just 24, he is sure to improve his consistency in 2018. Late season call-up Brent Suter had a 3.45 ERA in 14 starts, and the southpaw will definitely see more opportunities next season. Lastly, the pitching staff is backed up by lights-out closer Corey Knebel, who had a breakout season in 2017. Knebel notched 39 saves to the tune of a 1.78 ERA, and is one of the brightest young relievers in the game. He was supported by rookie southpaw Josh Hader, who had a phenomenal 2.08 ERA in 47.2 innings last season. In addition, the Brewers have already added established veterans Boone Logan and J.J. Hoover this offseason to shore up the bullpen.
Now take all of that, and add two of the most underrated, but best outfielders in the game. Yelich is a true five-tool player: he consistently hits at least .280, provides above average power and speed, and is a superb defender. Cain has the same profile, if not better. He always hits around .300 and is a 20-20 threat each year. These two make an already intimidating lineup even scarier.
On top of that, the Brewers have made some other underrated moves this winter. They brought back starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo on a one year deal. He has had a couple down years with the Orioles and Mariners, but besides those, he has a career 3.66 ERA. A return to Milwaukee could revive his career, and this is a low-risk move for the Brewers. They also signed ex-Padres starter Jhoulys Chacin, who posted a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts last year. He will provide consistency and innings at the back end of the rotation.
Now, you might be asking “What about the Cubs? They’ve made three NLCS in a row, won the World Series in 2016, and have a young core!” Well the Cubs aren’t actually as good as they seem. Last year, they barely skated by the Nationals in the NLDS. The Cubs’ series win was largely because, despite the Nationals being the far more talented team, they choked. The Cubs then went on to get absolutely demolished by the Dodgers. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are still elite players in this league, but what about Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Jason Heyward? Take a look at their numbers, and you’ll realize that they are truly mediocre players, despite all the love that the Cubs get from ESPN, Fox Sports, and others. Their lineup is decent at best, and their pitching staff will get worse. Jon Lester had an uninspiring 2017 and will continue to decline, and Jake Arrieta and John Lackey have packed their bags and left. They’ve still got Kyle Hendricks to lead the rotation, but do we expect Jose Quintana and his pedestrian 3.74 ERA to provide ample support? Additionally, does anyone remember how the Cubs bullpen completely collapsed in the playoffs? Joe Maddon could barely pitch his shutdown closer Wade Davis in the NLCS, and now Davis will be suiting up for the Rockies. Like I’ve already said, Brandon Morrow is not going to be able to fill that hole. They are certainly a quality team with great players, but at closer inspection, they’re not all that they are hyped up to be. Things might change if the Cubs make some big splashes during the remaining offseason, but for now, they’re still overrated.
The Brewers may have given the Cubs a scare last year, but with added experience and development, they are primed to take a real stab at the division crown in 2018. Yelich has been itching to win his entire career, and Cain has been there, done that, and knows how to win the important games down the stretch. After a mere taste of the pennant race last year, you better believe the young Brewers are hungry to show that they weren’t a fluke. They are now better than the Cubs on paper, but nobody wants to admit it. Don’t sleep on Milwaukee.