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Pitchers and Catchers Report: Expectations remain high for the Milwaukee Brewers heading into 2019

Coming off of a postseason run in 2018, how will the Brewers follow it up?

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

While expectations were high going into the 2018 season, not many were prepared for the run that the Brewers were about to make. In fact, it didn’t look like the run was going to happen. At 76-61 and 5 games back in the division at the start of September, the Brewers were trending downward rather than up. A wild card berth looked like the only way into the postseason, and the Brewers were reinforcing the roster with waiver trade additions to hopefully get there. What followed was 20 wins in the final 26 regular-season games, propelling the Brewers not only into the playoffs, but to a division championship. The run continued with a sweep of the Rockies in the NLDS, and a series against the Dodgers that was pushed to seven games before the Brewers season finally ended.

That leaves a big question going into the 2019 season: How can the Brewers top that? There’s definitely still room to go up, but beating last year’s expectations will be tough. 96 wins was tied for the best in franchise history, and the overall 102 wins (regular season plus postseason) was the most in franchise history. At this point, the only way to have a better season would be 100 wins or make it to the World Series.

The Brewers don’t necessarily need to hit either of those marks for this 2019 to be called a success, but the postseason is definitely the goal for the 2019 team. Most of the core of the team is back and ready to make a run at it. Christian Yelich is coming off of a near-unanimous MVP award in 2018 and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun also solidify one of the top outfields in the game. The Brewers made a major addition in the offseason with the signing of Yasmani Grandal, further improving their offensive lineup. The infield is in good shape with Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, and Travis Shaw all back. This year’s batting order could be one of the deepest the Brewers have seen, with the only position in question being second base.

Of course, there are still plenty of concerns going into the 2019 season. The starting rotation is wide open right now, with only one player (Jhoulys Chacin) locked into a rotation spot. At least 10 other pitchers could factor into the rotation in 2019, and the competition to make it into the rotation will be fierce. The bullpen is in better shape, with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel set to lead the relief corps once again. After that is still up in the air, but the Brewers have enough candidates to set up a formidable 'pen once again. There’s also the question of second base, with three players (Hernan Perez, Cory Spangenberg, Tyler Saladino) competing for playing time, biding time for top prospect Keston Hiura, who is also waiting in the wings.

In addition, the rest of the division and the National League is going to make it tough to make a postseason run again. In the NL Central, PECOTA predicts all five teams to finish with 80 wins or more, making it the most competitive division in baseball. In fact, PECOTA sees the NL as a whole as competitive, with 12 teams predicted for 80+ wins. Compare that to the AL, which has a more even distribution of teams with winning/losing records (8 to 7). While predictions are generally more conservative on standings as a whole, the fact that 12 teams could be in play shows how deep the National League can be in 2019. In this case, the Brewers are still seen as the favorite in the division with an initial projection of 89 wins.

Of course, there are some non-believers in the Brewers as well, who see 2018 as an exception. FanGraphs early Steamer projections put the Brewers at 79 wins, finishing last in the NL Central. Early win total lines from Caesar’s put the Brewers at 83.5 wins, which would be third in the NL Central and tied for sixth in the NL. Some of the skepticism is understandable. The Brewers were very unconventional with their pitching staff in the last month of the season and they didn’t add a big name starter, which many saw as their biggest need. There are a lot of question marks on the pitching staff despite all the players who are returning. The Brewers still have to prove that they can do this again to many people.

There’s plenty of questions going into 2019 for the Milwaukee Brewers, and plenty that will have to be figured out in spring training. Putting together a rotation is the top concern, and will be one of the primary battles to watchin spring training. Figuring out the second base position will be important as well. However, the Brewers are the defending champion in the NL Central and still have a solid core of players to work with. They will be competing for the playoffs again this year and there’s no reason to think that they can’t go further. The win total might not be as impressive as 2018, but everything is still looking very good for the Milwaukee Brewers.