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USA Today projects Milwaukee Brewers to host Wild Card game in 2018

The voters believe they’ll finish with an 86-76 record.

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Milwaukee at St. Louis Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s long winter offseason is almost over, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. With dozens of free agents who remain unsigned - including almost all the top-rated players from when the offseason began - there is still plenty of unfinished business that needs to be taken care of before the season gets started. But pitchers and catchers report a week from today, so the folks over at USA Today decided that it was a good time to take a stab at predicting how the 2018 baseball regular season will play out:

Within the write up on these predictions, the author admits that these will likely have to be revised before the regular season begins “once all the free agent dust settles,” which doesn’t look like it’ll happen until at least mid-March. But the USA Today voters don’t believe that there will be much change at the top even after the rest of free agency plays out. USA Today correctly forecasted every division winner last season and believe that “the Tanking Era we’re in the heart of makes this job much easier.” These projections are based on the results of a panel of USA Today voters and aren’t necessarily based on statistical forecasts for the upcoming season. But at least in the eyes of the voting panel, there is reason for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers to be optimistic for next season.

Milwaukee is picked to finish with an 86-76 record during the upcoming season, which would match their win total from 2017. Perhaps more important than their specific win total is the fact that the team is projected to finish as the fourth-best in the National League and host the Wild Card game against either Colorado or divisional foe St. Louis. The Nationals and Dodgers are picked as runaway winners in their respective divisions while the panel believes that the Cubs will capture the NL Central for the third consecutive campaign. Here’s what they had to say about the rest of Milwaukee’s division:

It’s another three-horse race, but the Cubs should prevail again, even if their 103 wins in 2016 look like the high-water mark for this group…The Brewers should see a payoff from their aggressive January moves; one more starting pitcher should help them keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs…The Pirates are headed for a third straight losing season. Will this streak reach 20 years? … When will Reds fans get antsy? Year 3 of this rebuild doesn’t offer much more hope than the first two.

The apparent weakness of next year’s National League is something that has been discussed on a few occasions in this space throughout the winter, and it seems that the USA Today panel is in agreement with that perception. Only nine teams are projected to finish above .500, with six teams forecasted for between 82 and 86 victories. After their earlier offseason moves - most notably the trade for Christian Yelich and signing of Lorenzo Cain - the Brewers are believed to be the best of that bunched up second-tier of teams. But fret not, as there is still plenty of time for GM David Stearns to make another impactful addition or two to the roster and create some more separation from the rest of the pack before the season begins. Top-of-the-rotation targets like free agents Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta as well as trade candidates such as Chris Archer remain available for the right price, and bringing in another player of that caliber for the starting five would probably make the biggest positive difference on the roster as currently constructed.