It’s hard for Brewers fans not to be optimistic for the upcoming season, which is exactly what makes a lot of Brewers fans worried. It’s so much easier to go into a season with low expectations, but after defying the odds in 2018 by winning the NL Central and making it to Game 7 of the NLCS, owner Mark Attanasio and GM David Stearns are all in, spending an unprecedented amount (for the franchise, that is) to make a run for the World Series. There’s reason to think the Crew can make it happen again. There are also a few reasons why they may not.
Offensively, the Brewers have the potential to score a helluva lot of runs, especially if shortstop Orlando Arcia can play up to 2017 levels. Looking at the likely regular starting lineup, there’s not an easy out in the bunch, and each player can do some damage with the longball, something fans should see plenty of with the addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal and the resigning of (this year) second baseman Mike Moustakas. The Brewers also have a lot of nice options to play matchups against righties and lefties with the aforementioned additions plus outfielder Ben Gamel. Yes, this roster is going to strike out a lot, and fans will slap their heads from time to time when guys like Shaw and Moustakas refuse to bunt against the shift (Don’t think this matters? Review Game 2 of the NLCS), but overall, expect to see an entertaining offense in 2019.
So why the worry? Pitching. It’s notable that most Brewers fans had the same worries last year, yet the Crew ended up with the fourth best ERA in the league, largely due to manager Counsell’s effective “out-getter” strategy, eschewing the traditional starter-closer roles in favor of getting outs where it mattered most by any means necessary. Generally, I liked this strategy, as I hate what the closer role has become and the Brewers can’t afford marque starters, but sometimes the strategy fell victim to overmanaging (taking Wide Miley out in the sixth inning of game 2 of the NLCS after only 74 very effective pitches).
But this year the Crew is going with a group of very young and unproven starters, including three who played important reliever roles last year: Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and 22 year-old Freddy Peralta. The success of the Brewers depends largely on whether this trio can pitch reasonably effectively for an entire season. Starter Jimmy Nelson is still trying to regain his strength after a 2017 shoulder injury that likely led to the Crew missing the playoffs that year. Whether he will ever pitch regularly in the MLB again is big question mark. To make matters more concerning, the Brewers recently discovered that reliever extraordinaire Corey Knebel has a UCL injury, and earlier in spring training it was deemed that Jeremy Jeffress would not start the season with the team, as he needs to build up arm strength after a shoulder injury.
So, a lot of question marks for sure, but it would be wise not to bet against Stearns and Counsell, who’ve managed to find a way to put a winning team on the field even when it seemed unlikely. So what’s my prediction? I would be surprised if the Brewers managed to win the NL Central again – it’s going to be a very good division this year, with the Cubs and Cardinals likely contending for the division crown – but I would be just as surprised if the Crew wasn’t at least in the September hunt for a wild card berth. Their 88-74 finish may get them into their first back-to-back playoff appearance since 1982.