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Milwaukee Brewers 2020 Year in Review

An experiment goes mildly wrong but the team still makes the playoffs.

Wild Card Round - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The 2020 season was historic for many reasons. It was pandemic shortened, filled with underperformance across the league, featured significant rule changes and so much more. The Milwaukee Brewers had one of the crazier seasons, from the highest of highs, to pretty low lows. Let’s take a look back at the season that was as the year comes to an end.

Making Up for Lost Talent

The 2020 season really started at the end of 2019. The Brewers started retooling a roster that was left with a number of holes after parting ways with Yasmani Grandal through free agency and losing players like Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas.

The first big move was sending rookie standout Trent Grisham and reliable changeup specialist Zach Davies to the San Diego Padres for Luis Urias, Eric Lauer and a player to be named later/cash.

A few weeks later, the team would try to replace the offense lost from Yasmani Grandal’s departure by acquiring Omar Narvaez from the Seattle Mariners for Adam Hill and Milwaukee’s 2020 competitive balance draft pick. Narvaez was one of the few catchers who have an offensive history as good as Grandal’s, although the two were miles apart defensively.

Then, the crew signed their best offseason addition: Brett Anderson. They followed it up by signing KBO MVP Josh Lindblom to a three-year deal. After Lindblom, they added outfielder Avi Garcia to a two-year deal with an option that could be mutual if he hits certain milestones. Then, started the platoon signings...

The Milwaukee Brewers added a few of their players on one-year deals, each with an option. That includes Justin Smoak, Jedd Gyorko, Eric Sogard, David Phelps, and, in February, Brock Holt. There was also a Logan Morrison signing to a minor league deal.

That was how the 2020 roster got put together.

The Extension

Before the world fell apart, the Brewers got some GREAT news. The team agreed to a nine-year, $215 million deal with superstar Christian Yelich. It’s the biggest deal Milwaukee has ever agreed to and keeps him in the Cream City throughout the best years of his career. It mostly functioned as a seven-year extension on the already existing contract Yelich signed with a $20 million mutual option (with $6.5 million buyout) in 2029.

And then...

The World Shuts Down

About a week after the Yelich extension, the coronavirus pandemic hit America hard. A certain player licked a microphone in the NBA, got COVID-19 and the NBA shut down. Then baseball followed suit, shuttering Spring Training facilities and putting the 2020 season on pause.

The Fight Between Players and Owners

Once we knew that, if a season happened, it’d be without fans, it started a big debate. How many games would teams play in 2020? How much would players get paid? That was basically it, and we were stuck with months not really knowing what was happening.

After they finally agreed to something, we were left with a 60-game season and a bunch of new rules, including expanded rosters, the DH in the National League, runners starting on second in extra innings, and eventually expanded playoffs.

The shortened season also introduced a weird schedule. It involved playing 10 games each against teams in their division and a handful of games against all of the AL Central opponents. It was especially stupid because it resulted in some teams getting more home games against certain opponents, when the league could have just have scheduled five-game series at home and away.

Summer Camp

When the players and owners FINALLY agreed on playing, everyone headed back to their home stadiums for Spring Training 2.0, soon to be known as “Summer Camp.” It started in early July and ran for a few weeks. The team got ready for the season by playing scrimmage games against each other at Miller Park.

To make it somewhat interesting, the Brewers chose captains and held a draft, separating the squad into two teams. It did what they could to make it interesting, but it was just a bunch of players playing unofficial games in Miller Park without fans.

The make up Spring Training ended with a scrimmage against the Chicago White Sox. It was fine.

The Cardinals Immediately Ruin Things

The Brewers started the season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley. They lost two of the games, then headed to Pittsburgh. They got back to .500 against the awful, awful Pirates. Then, the St. Louis Cardinals ruined everything.

After a huge chunk of Cardinals players tested positive for COVID, the league canceled the Brewers’ home opener. It was the league’s second COVID outbreak in the first week of the season. The Miami Marlins came first, but the Cardinals followed shortly after.

With the scare came some difficult decisions for a lot of the players. Although the organization was working diligently to take the pandemic seriously, players became scared by the idea of other teams exposing them to the disease. This caused Lorenzo Cain to opt out, taking away one of the team’s most important players early in the season.

An August of Mediocrity

Once the Brewers could finally play again, their August didn’t meet high expectations. The team went 13-15 with almost all offensive players heavily underperforming. Christian Yelich struck out a ton and wasn’t hitting like the MVP he’d been in 2018 and 2019. Keston Hiura wasn’t continuing his success from his 2019 rookie debut. Really, the only thing going well was Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams.

Eventually, the Brewers cut Brock Holt, an offseason addition that excited a lot of fans. It was disappointing, but the team decided that changing things up would be best for all. Skipping ahead a bit, they did the same thing with Justin Smoak in early September.

The Trade Deadline

With the team around .500 and the playoffs expanded to basically include every team with players that could breathe, the Brewers were in an interesting spot at the trade deadline. They could buy, the could sell or they could hedge their bets that things would eventually start working the way they expected.

David Stearns and company ended up making just one move, sending David Phelps to the Philadelphia Phillies for three low-level pitching prospects. It would actually pay dividends for the Crew, as David Phelps operated as a sleeper agent that cost the Phillies several games and a spot in the playoffs, opening the door for the Brewers.

Big Dan Arrives

As previously mentioned, the Brewers cut Justin Smoak early in September. To replace him, the team claimed Daniel Vogelbach from the Toronto Blue Jays. Big Dan had an awful season leading up to his arrival in Milwaukee, but in just three weeks he would end up being the team’s best hitter. Vogelbach slashed .328/.418/.569 with four homers in only 19 games.

He ended the season with a 0.5 bWAR, second behind Jedd Gyorko on the team.

The Playoff Chase

With eight teams from the NL headed to the playoffs, the Brewers had a big shot to make it into the playoffs for the third-straight season, despite under performing. Milwaukee was fighting for the spot against the Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants and a few others.

Long story short, the got in but pretty anticlimactically. A huge part of it was the performances of Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams and Big Dan. Also, because some other teams did a pretty awful job at winning (Phillies).

The Milwaukee Nine made it into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, getting the 8th seed and going against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Playoffs

The Brewers took on the best team in the National League in the first round of the playoffs, but they did it without two of their best players — Burnes and Williams — and immediately lost Ryan Braun.

Game one of the three game series started with everyone’s favorite, Brent Suter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t The Raptor we all know. The lefty walked a TON of players, something that's extremely uncharacteristic. His struggles in the first and second innings put the Brewers in a three-run deficit. The Crew only scored two runs, not enough to challenge the Dodgers.

Game two was the Clayton Kershaw show. Brandon Woodruff allowed three runs, which was WAY too much against the dominant Kershaw. Clayton struck out 13 Brewers over eight shutout innings, eliminating the Brewers and sending them home with nothing.

Offseason Awards

While Christian Yelich had been the offseason star for the Brewer in 2018 and 2019, the end of the 2020 season belonged to Devin Williams. Williams started by winning Reliever of the Year, an award won by Josh Hader the last two season. He then won Rookie of the Year, becoming one of only three Brewers to win the award in franchise history and the first since Ryan Braun in 2007. Finally, Williams was named to the second All-MLB team for reliever.

That’s it! A frustrating, weird season that still had its great moments. Here’s to a 2021 season that’s at least somewhat normal.