In an offseason where most organizations played it safe and stayed away from making big commitments, the Milwaukee Brewers went all in. With more than a third of the season gone, the Brew Crew has a commanding lead in the NL Central and seems set to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) May 27, 2018
Most of the publicity has gone to that one monumental January day, where they first sent four of their best youngsters to the Marlins in exchange for 26-year-old Christian Yelich. Then, they inked 32-year-old Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract. So far, both deals have done a lot to carry the Brewers to the top of the National League.
Yelich is batting .305/.371/.467 with five home runs, eight doubles and 23 RBI. He leads the team in batting average and has been their third-most valuable (1.1 WAR) everyday player.
Cain has been even better. He has a slash line of .295/.401/.454 with six home runs, 11 doubles and 16 RBI. He’s added 11 stolen bases in 14 attempts and stellar defense to be Milwaukee’s most valuable player (2.7 WAR), period. If the season were to end today, he would almost certainly garner some league MVP buzz.
A signing that went under the radar at the time it happened was the two-year, $15.5 million contract given to left-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin. The starter was coming off of a solid season with the Padres, but it wasn’t clear if his fly ball tendencies would play as well away from Petco Park.
It turns out that Chacin was just the man to lead the Milwaukee starting staff. So far, the southpaw paces the team in starts, innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA among qualifiers. Add in a WAR or 0.6 and Milwaukee is already close to getting their money’s worth less than half of a season in.
But the real calling card of the Brew Crew in 2018 has been their stellar bullpen. The unit leads MLB with a 2.49 ERA. Josh Hader’s ridiculous strikeout rate (17.81 K/9) and Jeremy Jeffress’ miniscule 0.33 ERA grab most of the attention. But it takes depth to be an effective relief corps. A couple of key free agent additions this winter have made the difference.
Matt Albers is turning in another steady season (1.17 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 93.8 percent left on base). He will make just $2.5 million in the first of two years in Milwaukee. Dan Jennings and his 2.19 ERA have been a major help too. Jennings was picked off of the scrap him in March after the Rays released him towards the end of spring training. To have four reliable, shut down relievers like that makes life tough on opposing hitters. They have to rely on their ability to gauge the starter for a few runs, because hits will be tough to come by in the late innings.
The Brewers need to maintain this aggressiveness as the trade deadline approaches. The rotation desperately needs reinforcements. It’s never a bad idea to add to a strength, so more arms in the bullpen could help as well. And while the offense has been steady, they could use assistance behind the plate and in the middle of the infield.
The trouble is that they don’t have a ton to offer opposing teams. The Yelich trade has left their farm system a bit barren, but they still have two top 100 prospects coming up through the minors. That may not be enough to nab them any of the elite players made available for trade, but it gives them a starting point.
Milwaukee is a tough place to build a team. They don’t have the sort of financial resources as their rivals, and it’s not the most attractive location for potential free agents to sign. The Brewers front office deserves a ton of credit for the work they have done so far, but they need to see the job through to the finish line. This is a good team, and they need to do what they can to solidify them in time for the playoffs.