Photo via Dylan Buell/Getty Images
The Milwaukee Brewers had a season for the ages last year.
Spearheaded offensively by Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, and Lorenzo Cain, along with strong performances on the mound from Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, netted Milwaukee a division title and an NLCS appearance, only to falter in Game 7 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A 96-67 record, 1st Place in the NL Central after a tiebreaker win against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley, coming within one game of the World Series and their newly acquired star in Christian Yelich winning the National League MVP all qualify as a season to remember, and a season to build on.
And so, with the 2018 season in the books, 2019 comes along, a season bringing much adversity to the newly-minted team that could challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for supremacy in the National League.
The Brewers, over the course of the season, have been a slightly above average team. Throughout the entire season, Milwaukee has never been more than seven games over .500. A decent place to be in, but not the powerhouse that many thought Milwaukee would be. Definitely not reminiscent to the 2018 team. What happened?
To put it simply, underperformance and injuries. Starting with the offense, Aguilar, after a career year in 2018, in which he slugged 35 home runs last season and logged a .890 OPS, was not able to replicate the same production and had a paltry .694 OPS before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays at the Trade Deadline. Shaw, after posting an OPS over .800 over the last two seasons, was demoted several times and, while up, has only posted a .553 OPS. Cain, meanwhile, has started to show his age, with the 33-year-old showing declining speed and on-base capabilities.
On the pitching side of the diamond, Chacin, after starting a career-high 35 games and posting a 3.50 ERA in 2018, was released after putting up a 5.79 ERA and allowing 20 homeruns in only 88.2 innings pitched. Jeffress was also released after logging a 5.02 ERA in 2019 after posting a 1.29 ERA in a career-high 73 appearances in 2018. Corey Knebel, one of the key set-up relievers to Josh Hader in 2018, suffered an elbow injury in late Spring Training and underwent Tommy John Surgery, taking him out of the entire 2019 campaign. Burnes, one of the upcoming young arms in the entire league at the end of 2018 and expecting to knock down the door for one of Milwaukee’s top rotation spots going forward, did not perform as expected and just like Shaw has spent time in AAA San Antonio.
Despite these adversities, Milwaukee was able to stay in the playoff race. Going into play September 1st the Brewers sat three games out of the second Wild Card but were trending upward, taking two out of three from the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley, extremely significant as Chicago sat in that second spot in the Wild Card.
And then disaster struck. On September 10th, Christian Yelich suffered a knee injury, forcing the reigning NL MVP to miss the remainder of the season. To make matters worse, the reigning MVP was making a major case to be the first back-to-back NL MVP since Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and 2009.
For a team on the Wild Card fringe, not good.
But for the Milwaukee Brewers, instead of faltering from the injury to their impact player, they are thriving. Since September 11th, in their first game without Yelich, they have won 10 of their 12 games, including taking two out of three from the NL-Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals. While offensively Milwaukee has posted a pedestrian .729 OPS, they have gotten the offense they needed, led by young rookies in Trent Grisham and Keston Hiura, who have both posted an OPS over .960 in that span.
Even the starting pitching and bullpen have answered the call, with the starters collectively posting a 2.70 ERA, led by familiar faces Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, who have posted a 2.70 and 0.90 ERA since the injury. Trade Deadline acquisitions in Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz have both been mixed and matched in different roles, with both posting ERAs under 2.00 in that span. Even Josh Hader, the electric reliever from last year, has been able to find his groove and be the Hader from last season, posting an ERA under 3.00 and striking out over 17 batters per nine innings.
Going into play September 1st, the Brewers sat three games out of the Wild Card. Going into play September 11th, the Brewers sat tied for the second Wild Card spot with the Cubs. And now? Going into play September 24th, the Brewers sit in the second Wild Card spot, four games up on the Chicago Cubs, and looking to make the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time since 1981 and 1982 when they were in the American League.
For a team as talented and as resilient as the Milwaukee Brewers, their win-loss record does them no justice. Their run differential, which is negative, also does them no justice. While perhaps not as good as last year’s squad, this is still a good team. A gritty team. A team looking for redemption after being so close to the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance one year ago.
Injuries? Inconsistencies? Underperformance? No issue for Milwaukee. They are up for the challenge.
And it shows.