In a year of many uncertainties and never-before-seen circumstances across baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers will be looking to accomplish a first of their own.
Never before have the Brewers qualified for the Postseason in three consecutive years. In fact, heading into their 50th season on the heels of back-to-back trips to the playoffs, they’ve only accomplished that feat one other time (1981-82).
But will the Brewers — who saw a bevy of players come and go this past winter — have what it takes to edge out the rest of the pack in what looks like a very competitive National League Central in a 60-game season?
Former Tampa Bay Rays (and Chicago White Sox) outfielder Avisail Garcia headlines the list of new faces acquired via free agency, followed by pitcher Brett Anderson, first baseman Justin Smoak and infielders Brock Holt, Eric Sogard and Jedd Gyorko.
Also entering the fold by way of trade is second baseman Luis Urias and left-hander Eric Lauer. The pair of Urias and Lauer was acquired from the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Zach Davies and outfielder Trent Grisham.
The Brewers also acquired pitcher Josh Lindblom this winter. Lindblom spent each of the last five seasons pitching South Korea, and will join Anderson in the Milwaukee starting rotation this season.
Obviously losing a player like Yasmani Grandal, who posted a .380 OBP in 632 plate appearances (both career-highs) for Milwaukee in 2019 is a major hit to the Brewers aspirations to secure a third-consecutive trip to the Postseason, but they’re hoping that the new faces that they acquired during a winter of musical roster chairs will soften — or alleviate — the blow.
Where do the Brewers fit into a Competitive N.L. Central?
Looking up and down the N.L. Central landscape, you find a division that looks as competitive as we’ve seen in years.
The Cardinals finished with 91 wins in 2019 and won the division, the Cubs finished right behind the Brewers with 84 wins, and the Cincinnati Reds — who won 75 games in 2019 — are vastly improved after a big offseason of spending.
The Brewers will have their work cut out for them, and a hot start will be especially imperative for Milwaukee according to outfielder Christian Yelich.
”If your team gets off to a bad start if you take that 1-10 start or 2-10, you’re in a tough position because you don’t have an extended period of time to make that up,” Yelich said. ”During a normal season, you’re going to go through the 2-10 or 2-8 or 1-9. It’s going to happen. But if it happens this season right off the bat, it’s going to be tough to make up that ground.”
The Brewers open their season on July 24 under the lights at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, and aside from a three-game trip to Pittsburgh after the Cubs series, the schedule makers did Milwaukee no favors.
The Brewers play the Cubs (7), Twins (6), Cardinals (3), and the White Sox (4) in 20 of their first 23 games. We know how good the Cubs and Cardinals can be, and the Twins won 101 games in 2019 and then added Josh Donaldson to their lineup this winter. The White Sox will be no walk in the park either, boasting one of the best young rosters in all of baseball in 2020.
While the schedule makers weren’t kind to Milwaukee, one thing that they have working for them — that has played a huge role in their consecutive trips to the Postseason — is the culture that skipper Craig Counsell has built there along with veterans like Ryan Braun.
Culture and attitude so strong, that when I was talking to Central Michigan head coach Jordan Bischel about Brewers’ third-rounder Zavier Warren last month, Bischel — a lifelong Brewers fan himself — highlighted what Counsell has built as a reason he believes his former star will thrive in Milwaukee one day soon.
“What I love about the Brewers, and what Craig does with that team, is he’s incredibly innovative. If you watched what they did with Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas, people thought that he was completely nuts, but it worked just fine and helped put them in the playoffs.”
The longest-tenured Brewer of them all, Ryan Braun believes that that cohesiveness will be all the more important during the abbreviated 2020 season.
”This year we’ll have to be more connected than we’ve ever been,” Braun said. ”There’s no other choice. I think it’s something we’ve embraced over the last couple of years – something that’s allowed us to probably exceed outside expectations.”
Obviously, grit and determination alone aren’t going to save the Brewers, so they’ll need a starting rotation that holds many unknowns, to be good enough to help their talented offense in 2020.
The lineup is loaded with firepower and the bullpen led by Corey Knebel and Josh Hader will be strong, but can that starting pitching staff that features only two players (Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser) who made more than 10 starts for the Brewers in 2019, keep them in ballgames?
For me, it’s that simple for the Brewers in 2020. Can the pitching be good enough to give the offense a shot?