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Milwaukee Brewers 2019 Year in Review

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The 2019 season was an overall success, though the team is undergoing significant changes heading into 2020.

Texas Rangers v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 2019 season was a roller coaster ride for the Milwaukee Brewers. The team surprised many people, building from a rough start to make a postseason run that few expected. The season was a success as a whole, as the Brewers made their second straight postseason appearance and established themselves a team to watch for at least the next few years. However, many changes happened throughout the year, and while the core of the Brewers may be the same, many pieces have come and gone.

A New Year And a Big Bat

As 2019 began, the Brewers were still building their team coming off of their NLDS run in 2018. It had been a quiet offseason so far for the Brewers. They had non-tendered a few players and acquired Alex Claudio and Ben Gamel in trades, but that was about it. A trade of Keon Broxton led off the year, but it was the move that came about a week later that got everyone excited. Catcher Yasmani Grandal had been looking for a multi-year deal in free agency, but didn’t get any offers he liked, especially with a qualifying offer attached to him. As a result, the Brewers offered him a one-year deal, and he accepted. This was an immediate boost to the team, bringing a major offensive upgrade to the catcher position.

A month later, coming into Spring Training, the Brewers made their other big move of free agency. After a successful couple of months in Milwaukee, Mike Moustakas had hoped for a better deal on the open market as well. However, he wasn’t getting the offers that he wanted either, so the Brewers approached him with a one-year offer. Moustakas accepted, bringing back a strong player to bolster the infield.

It wasn’t all good news through the offseason, though. One piece of news got many fans angry, though it wasn’t in regards to the roster. It was about the naming rights for Miller Park. The Brewers announced that they had signed a deal with American Family Insurance to take over naming rights starting with the 2021 season. The name “Miller Park” had been a staple of the Brewers since the new stadium opened in 2001, so backlash was to be expected. No official plans have been announced for the new name, though AFI also took over naming rights of the spring training complex in Maryvale that spring.

Spring Training Brings an Injury Bug

As the Brewers reported to Maryvale in the spring, they were welcomed to a completely remodeled complex. Construction had been ongoing since the end of Spring Training 2018, and it officially opened in the spring of 2019. It was a massively needed upgrade for the Brewers, who had been looking at other options (including leaving Maryvale) before the deal was finalized.

The Spring Training season was okay for the Brewers. They put together a 19-14 record in the spring campaign, good for fifth in the Cactus League. However, the injury bug hit early and hit hard. Mauricio Dubon was hospitalized with an illness that set him back a few weeks. Bobby Wahl left a game limping and ended up being diagnosed with a torn ACL that kept him out for the year. Corey Knebel never got going as he had to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL that had been injured for a while. Jeremy Jeffress dealt with shoulder soreness. Jimmy Nelson’s return from shoulder surgery continued, but he would need to continue to work into the regular season in rehab. In addition, Brent Suter’s recovery from Tommy John surgery continued, putting several players on the pitching staff on the IL to start the season.

Despite all this, the Brewers pressed on to get ready for Opening Day. There was a strong battle for the starting rotation, but in the end, it was Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta who made up the initial rotation. Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra went to the bullpen, and the Brewers had their roster to attempt another playoff run.

2019 Starts Fast but Can’t Be Maintained

The 2019 season started off with a bang. A sold out crowd at Miller Park was treated to a dazzling Opening day game against the Cardinals, capped off by an incredible leaping catch by Lorenzo Cain to save an Opening Day win. The Brewers rode that momentum through the first week and a half of the season, starting off with an 8-2 record.

However, the team came back to earth pretty quick. The 8-2 start turned south as the Brewers finished April 9-12, good for a 17-14 record at the end of the month. Much of the blame was placed on the pitching staff, and in particular, the starting pitchers. The rotation had a 5.14 ERA (24th in MLB) and 5.31 FIP (27th) through the end of April. The bullpen wasn’t much better, posting a 4.70 ERA and 4.51 FIP. It got bad enough that the Brewers began looking for pitching help, and ended up bringing back Gio Gonzalez at the end of April. Freddy Peralta ended up on the IL. Chase Anderson followed soon behind. Corbin Burnes was optioned down to Triple-A. In the bullpen, Josh Hader was still dominant, but developed a problem allowing home runs that challenged many fans’ confidence in him. There were a few bright spots (Brandon Woodruff, Zach Davies), but other than that, the pitching staff was not good at all.

The offense ended up carrying the Brewers as they dealt with the pitching problems. Christian Yelich remained red hot from his MVP season and posted 14 HR in an amazing April. Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas quickly proved their value. It wasn’t all good, though. Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun, and Jesus Aguilar endured rough starts to the year. But overall, the offense kept the Brewers alive.

As May hit, the Brewers pitching staff began to stabilize. The addition of Gio Gonzalez paid off as he made an immediate impact on the rotation. Brandon Woodruff emerged as a top starter. Josh Hader got his home run problems in check for a bit. The pitching staff as a whole was much more respectable, with a 3.87 ERA (10th) and 4.06 FIP (9th). On offense, Ryan Braun got back on track, and while Christian Yelich did cool down, the offense as a whole was doing well.

The future also began to shine a bit in May. When Travis Shaw was placed on the IL with a wrist injury, it gave the Brewers a chance to look at a rising star in the minor league system. Keston Hiura had begun the year in San Antonio, but was continuing his hot play from the year before. It was enough to earn him a call up, and he delivered right away, hitting .296/.345/.537 in his first 20 games. While his plate discipline needed a lot of work, it was a very impressive debut for the rookie.

At the same time, another piece of the future became much less certain. Jimmy Nelson had worked through a rehab assignment, which came to an end as May came to a close. However, the Brewers did not think Nelson was ready to return to the majors and optioned him to San Antonio, It was a tough step back for Nelson, who was still trying to return from his shoulder injury.

Overall, the Brewers ended up going 15-12 in May, which included a 7-game winning streak near the start of the month. The Brewers still trailed in the division, but it was a close race as they were only a half game behind entering the month of June.

Pushing Through the Midseason Lull

While May was a positive month for the Brewers, June started off on a very rough note. Two starting pitchers went down, as both Gio Gonzalez and Jhoulys Chacin went on the IL. Then, one of the most controversial roster moves of the season happened, as Keston Hiura was optioned back to San Antonio when Travis Shaw was activated from the IL. Jimmy Nelson did make his return to the Brewers, somewhat out of necessity. Unfortunately it wasn’t a strong one, as he posted an 8.36 ERA and 6.14 FIP in his first four appearances.

The Brewers did manage a 13-13 June, which was good to keep them in a tie atop the division, thanks to a NL Central that no one seemed to want to win. The offense kept the team going with a new surging contributor, as Eric Thames came to life. At the same time, the return of Travis Shaw shook a lot of fans’ confidence, and his performance just continued to chip away at it, especially with Keston Hiura remaining red hot in Triple-A. On the pitching staff, Brandon Woodruff’s emergence continued, and a new name also stepped up in the bullpen, as Adrian Houser began to shine. Freddy Peralta also found some new life in the bullpen, and his results turned around.

As June came to an end, the Brewers made some tough decisions. Jimmy Nelson went back on the IL. Hernan Perez was designated for assignment. The most important of these moves was Travis Shaw being optioned to bring back Keston Hiura. Many fans were angry that Shaw had such a long leash while Hiura was playing well in the minors, so they were happy to see Hiura return.

Unfortunately, these moves didn’t help the team’s overall fortunes. July was another month of floating around .500, this time a game under at 12-13. Hiura’s return was a nice boost for the offense, who kept team going. This month also saw the debut of Mauricio Dubon, who had worked hard for a spot on the team. However, the pitching staff had another rough month. Hader’s home run problems hit hard again. Jeremy Jeffress was struggling quite a bit. Chacin’s return didn’t boost the pitching staff either. Chase Anderson did step up, and Gio Gonzalez’s return was a relief, but the pitching struggles continued.

A Quiet Trade Deadline Brings Unexpected Contributors

With the Brewers hanging around in the division, the trade deadline came and the Brewers had to decide how to handle the rest of the season. With changes to the trade deadline starting this season, there was no August waiver deadline to look to. If the Brewers wanted to make additions through trades, now would be the time.

They did end up making four trades in the month, though they weren’t the flashy trades that the Brewers had pulled off in recent years. It started with the return of Jordan Lyles, acquired from the Pirates for Cody Ponce. After sending Marcos Diplan to the Twins for cash, the Brewers also acquired Jake Faria from the Rays, sending struggling first baseman Jesus Aguilar in return. The deadline finished with the acquisition of Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black, with Mauricio Dubon heading to the Giants.

Though none of those names inspired confidence as previous trades at the deadline had, many of these players stepped in and contributed right away. Pomeranz became a trusted reliever in the bullpen. Lyles stepped right into the rotation that was desperate for solid starts. Both were huge additions for the team down the stretch. Tyler Austin was also added on a minor league contract, and he would come into play in September.

It wasn’t just additions through trades at the deadline that make a difference. The Brewers found some new contributors internally as well. Brent Suter returned from Tommy John surgery with the September call-ups, and became a key player in the bullpen over the last month. Trent Grisham also earned his first call to the majors, and he stepped into the outfield to help cover starts there on days off.

There were also a few key subtractions in the month. Opening Day starter Jhoulys Chacin ran out of time, and he ended up getting released at the end of the month after he never recovered from his struggles all year. Former All-Star Jeremy Jeffress also found himself off the roster, also getting let go at the beginning of September.

While the moves improved the team as a whole, they had begun to fall behind. A 12-14 record kept them hovering around .500, but that wasn’t good enough in the division anymore. The Cardinals had surged to take control of the Central, and the Cubs & Nationals had taken big leads in the Wild Card race. The Brewers chances to make the postseason were running out quick.

The Loss of an MVP and the Postseason Push

As September began, the Brewers had 4 games to make up in the Wild Card race and 6.5 games to make up in the division. They started the month with two critical series against the Cubs, the second of which was a four-game series at home. With the season hanging on the line, they went 3-1 in that first set to keep them right in the playoff race, and start a modest win streak.

However, all the positivity around the winning streak dissolved a couple of days later. On September 10, Christian Yelich fouled a ball off his knee in a completely freak accident. The end report was horrible for the Brewers: Yelich would miss the rest of the season with a fractured kneecap. Many hopes for the playoffs dissolved right there, as well as concerns for the future of Yelich came up. Thankfully, Yelich would eventually make a full recovery with no adverse long-term effects, but the Brewers still had to look towards the rest of the season without him.

Many expected the Brewers to fall out of the race shortly after this. However, the exact opposite happened. The Brewers kept winning. They put together a 7-game winning streak, a 4-game winning streak, and another 7-game winning streak, which was good for an 18-2 record between September 6 and 26. The Brewers took the Wild Card spot from the Cubs, who went into a free fall. They also caught up with the Cardinals, and the division was on the line with one series to go. Unfortunately, being swept in Colorado ended any hopes for the Brewers taking the division, but they still had a Wild Card spot and their second straight postseason appearance. The season wouldn’t go beyond that, though, as a very competitive game in Washington went against the Brewers, and they lost to the team who would eventually win the World Series.

Purging and Filling the 2020 Team

Following the Wild Card run to end the 2019 season, the Brewers had momentum to build on, but also several holes to fill. Several players moved into free agency, which included Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Drew Pomeranz, Jordan Lyles, Gio Gonzalez, and Jay Jackson. While there was interest in bringing each of those players back, all of them ended up signing with other teams. Moustakas went to the Reds and Grandal to the White Sox, each getting the long-term deals that they had sought when originally signing with the Brewers on one-year contracts to prove their value. Pomeranz went to San Diego, Lyles to Texas, Gonzalez to the White Sox, and Jackson went to Japan. That left the Brewers to find other options.

However, the Brewers purge did not end there. A few days into free agency, the Brewers traded Chase Anderson to the Blue Jays for Chad Spanberger. Then, the option on Eric Thames was declined, making him a free agent. The Brewers did sign a few minor-league players to start the offseason, but held on big decisions for now. They swung another big trade right before Thanksgiving, sending Zach Davies and Trent Grisham to the Padres for Luis Urias and Eric Lauer. It was the first major move of the offseason, but the decisions wouldn’t stop there.

The biggest shock of the offseason so far came at the non-tender deadline. While there were a few fringe cases that appeared to be up in the air on tender decisions, the Brewers went with a very strict approach to their tendered contracts. They chose to non-tender five players: Tyler Saladino, Travis Shaw, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, and Jimmy Nelson. It was a shocking move as a few of those players were coming off of strong seasons, but the Brewers decided to be tighter with their payroll. Claudio would return on a reduced deal, but the rest hit free agency, and Guerra found another home with the Diamondbacks very quickly. The remaining players are still looking for a new team in 2020.

While the departures were shocking, the Brewers did work on filling their roster, though it was with a steadier approach of solid players on lower deals. The Brewers brought in Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom to fill the rotation, and filled the infield with Ryon Healy, Justin Smoak, and Eric Sogard. Avisail Garcia also signed with the team, and will work in the outfield next season.

A New Logo for a New Decade

The one other major announcement came shortly after the 2019 season concluded. Rumors began coming out of a logo redesign for the Brewers. with images leaking from a few different sources. While the expectation of a return to a retro logo had been expected for a while, the new rumors gave more truth to it. It built ever more when the team store closed for remodeling at the end of October, and a special event was set for November 18.

At that event, the Brewers made the logo change official. A redesigned ball and glove logo was introduced as the Brewers new primary logo. The new uniforms combined retro elements with modern changes. Four new uniform designs also came with it, which included cream & pinstripe home uniforms, and grey & blue road uniforms. This comes as the Brewers head into their 50th anniversary season.

Overall, 2019 was a successful season for the Brewers. They made it to the playoffs and had their third straight winning season in a row. The team is also making a strong push into 2020 with a new logo and set of uniforms, hoping to make the 50th anniversary season a success. While there are questions about the construction of the team following the teardown and rebuilding of the 2019 team, the core of the team is still there and they are still in position to make another run. It may be a tough year as other teams in the division also build for their own runs, but the Brewers have a respected front office in place and a superstar player to build around that can help them be successful for years to come.