2018 Record: 96-67
First Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 3.73 (5th)
Team OPS: .747 (9th)
What Went Right
The Brewers won the National League Central for just the second time since joining the senior circuit in 1998, beating the Cubs in a Game 163 on October 1 to seal the deal. They then took care of the Rockies in the NLDS before falling to the Dodgers in a hotly contested seven-game National League Championship Series. Christian Yelich, acquired from the Marlins in late January, had a breakout year at age 26 and will likely be named the National League MVP when the voting results are revealed next week. His contract, which can potentially run through 2022, calls for just $37.5 million in remaining guaranteed money -- making it one of the more team-friendly deals in the sport. Lorenzo Cain, inked to a five-year, $80 million free agent agreement over the winter, slashed .308/.395/.417 across 620 plate appearances and played elite-level defense in center field. He finished 12th among all major league position players in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement, with Yelich coming in sixth. Jesus Aguilar emerged as a National League All-Star at age 28, taking over starting first base duties from Eric Thames and ultimately putting up 35 home runs and 108 RBI in 149 total games alongside an .890 OPS. Jhoulys Chacin, a bargain-bin rotation addition at two years, $15.5 million, led all Milwaukee starters in wins (15) and innings pitched (192 2/3) while delivering a solid 3.50 ERA. Josh Hader struck out a whopping 143 batters in 81 1/3 innings of relief and held left-handed hitters to a .090/.186/.169 batting line. Jeremy Jeffress posted a 1.29 ERA in 76 2/3 innings and finished second on the team in saves with 15.
What Went Wrong
Falling one win shy of the World Series is certainly a downer, though nobody was predicting that this team would get that far before the season began. What makes the Brewers’ run in 2018 all the more impressive is that they got zero production from Jimmy Nelson, their most reliable starting pitcher a year ago. He suffered a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear when he dove hard into the first base bag last September and his rehab took months longer than anticipated, with management and the club’s medical staff ultimately deciding to shut him down three weeks before the end of the 2018 regular season. Zach Davies went from a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts last year to a 4.77 ERA in 13 starts this year, missing three months with a shoulder injury. Chase Anderson finished the 2018 season with a 3.93 ERA, after posting a 2.74 ERA in 2017. It was the bullpen that led the way for the division-champion Brewers, though Corey Knebel took a big step backward from his All-Star campaign in 2017 and setup man Matt Albers completely fell apart in the second half, turning in a 7.34 overall ERA. Orlando Arcia batted just .236 with a .576 OPS and three home runs in 119 regular-season games before slashing .333/.353/.606 with three home runs in 10 postseason games. Jonathan Schoop, acquired from the Orioles at the July 31 trade deadline, hit just .202/.246/.331 in 46 games for Milwaukee and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs.
** Brewers general manager David Stearns announced after the team’s NLCS ouster that Josh Hader will remain in the bullpen in 2019. The 24-year-old left-hander came up through the minors as a starter, but he’s been absolutely dominant in a relief role since making his MLB debut in 2017, boasting a 2.30 ERA and 211 strikeouts in 129 career innings. Corey Knebel will probably enter next season as the team’s primary closer, with Jeremy Jeffress perhaps second in line, but manager Craig Counsell likes to keep things flexible and Hader has the goods to again produce tremendous standalone fantasy value.
** Christian Yelich had an average draft position of 46.0 in Yahoo leagues last spring. 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 22 stolen bases, 118 runs scored, and a .326/.402/.598 batting line later, the 26-year-old outfielder finished as the fourth overall performer in standard scoring formats, behind only Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez. Career highs across the board for Yelich, who will probably be a consensus top-15 pick leading into 2019.
** Yelich was the most productive fantasy player on the Brewers this year, but Jesus Aguilar was the best value. He didn’t even register an ADP on Yahoo last spring because so few people drafted him, and yet the 28-year-old from Venezuela went on to finish as the sixth-best first-base-eligible player, behind only Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Rhys Hoskins, and Whit Merrifield.
** A bounceback from Jonathan Schoop is probably worth betting on considering how far his star has fallen. He was a top-70 pick last spring but might not even crack the top-150 leading into 2019. There’s not going to be much risk in seeing if he can rebound. Bear in mind that that the 27-year-old second baseman batted .293 with an .841 OPS, 32 home runs, and 105 RBI over 160 games with the Orioles in 2017.
** Consider spending a late-round pick on Brandon Woodruff next spring. The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 3.61 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 47/14 K/BB ratio over 42 1/3 regular-season innings (four starts, 15 relief appearances) in 2018 before delivering a 2.19 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 20/3 K/BB ratio in 12 1/3 postseason frames. He should have a good shot at cracking the Opening Day rotation in 2019.
Team Needs: Front-line starting pitching. Jhoulys Chacin was a nice pickup and Jimmy Nelson should be ready to contribute again in 2019, but the Brewers could use a real ace. They could also use an everyday catcher. Are there enough top prospects left in the system to make a serious play for J.T. Realmuto?