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MLB Opening Day: Milwaukee Brewers 2021 Season Preview

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Run prevention is the strategy for 2021, but don’t sleep on the bats

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Milwaukee Brewers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers finished the COVID-19 shortened season with a record of 29-31. Even with a record below .500, they were able to make the playoffs for a team-record third time in a row. Obviously the Brewers needed expanded playoffs to do it, but they accomplished the feat nonetheless. The Los Angeles Dodgers took care of them in short order as they marched to a World Series Championship.

Now the Brew Crew look to make it four straight trips to the postseason. Their focus looks will be all about run prevention as their two biggest acquisitions are noted their defensive excellence. The Brewers pitching should be pretty good too. The top of their rotation and bullpen are as good as any in baseball. The only question is, how good will the rest of the staff be?

This Brewers’ squad is apt to be a strong offensive club as well. Hitting more home runs during Spring Training than all but one team demonstrates that Milwaukee’s bats could be ready to break out. And why would that be surprising? The players that had down years at the plate last season played well below their normal offensive output. They should bounce back, and the Brewers should have a playoff caliber team as a result.

Generally projection systems do not like the Milwaukee Brewers, but entering into this season, PECOTA as Milwaukee winning the N.L. Central. With the Cubs and Reds subtracting more they have added, and the Cardinals in the unusual position of being suspect in their starting rotation, it will be no surprise to see the Brewers take the N.L. Central crown.

Position Player Group

The 2021 version of the Milwaukee Brewers could really surprise folks. First of all, they will be vastly improved defensively over the 2020 version. The additions of Kolten Wong at second base and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield along with the return of Lorenzo Cain means three Gold Glove caliber players on the roster that were not there last season.

The defensive alignment for the Brewers should have the fanbase excited. The outfield has three Gold Glove winners. Obviously there is Christian Yelich, who coming off a down year, has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. A highly motivated Yelich (not that he is ever not highly motivated) should be really fun to watch. Expect big things from him this year.

LoCain is back. After opting out of 2020, he enters 2021 ready to patrol center field for the Brewers. The question is will he return to the on-base machine he was in 2018 or hit like he did in 2019? He is older, so injuries are a concern, but a healthy LoCain should be pretty good at the plate and the base paths.

Jackie Bradley Jr. comes to Milwaukee with a stellar reputation, and as many highlight reel catches in centerfield as Lorenzo Cain. He will man right field and centerfield this season. He is also coming off a season that saw him produce offensively in Boston. Even if he is a league average hitter, his skill with the glove makes his signing well worth it. With this outfield, look for the Brew Crew to run down everything.

Oh and they also have Avisail Garcia. Garcia is coming off a season to forget, and he probably will not get the same number of at-bats as he did in previous seasons. Nonetheless, Garcia is a very capable hitter and decent outfielder. With four outfielders of this caliber, the Brewers are really good shape.

The infield should be defensively sound as well, especially up-the-middle. Kolten Wong epitomizes exceptional defense at the keystone. Arguably the best defensive second baseman in the game, he pairs with Luis Urias or Orlando Arcia at shortstop. Both sports some defensive chops of their own. While Arcia often grades lower than one might imagine for a player of his skill set, it is hard to deny his range and ability. Urias comes with a high ceiling with both the bat and the glove. Can realize his potential beginning this season?

It looks like Arcia will be playing third base as well. He certainly played a lot of it in Spring Training. Whether he hits enough to play that position is the question, and the hot corner could be a problem spot for Milwaukee. The Brewers also brought in Travis Shaw in hopes that he can find the 2017 and 2018 versions of himself. If he is able to, then things get really exciting. Also don’t sleep on Daniel Robertson. He will get reps all over the field and there is some untapped potential the former first rounder brings.

Shaw and Robertson could spend some time at first base as well, but most of those reps will go to Keston Hiura. Proving to be one of the worst defenders at second base in MLB, the Brewers brought in Wong and converted Hiura to first. He has shown growing pains in Spring Training defensively. The bat has played though, and that is why Hiura is on a major league roster. He must hit for the Brewers to be serious contenders. If he can be the hitter that most of us think and hope he can be, he is the most dangerous hitter in this lineup not named Christian Yelich. Contact is often his issue, especially with the fastball up in the zone. He has gotten to the pitch in a big way late in Spring Training. Let’s hope that continues.

Daniel Vogelbach will get some time at first base as well, and be a potent bat off the bench. Craig Counsell has said that he will be looking to get Vogelbach an important at-bat every night. That type of bat off the bench could be a vital piece to a playoff run.

The catching situation is in good hands too. Coming to Milwaukee in 2020, Omar Narvaez was reputed for his bat and not his ability behind the plate. Becoming one of the best framers in the game in 2020 changed that, but he forgot his bat in Seattle. Hopefully he finds it in 2021. Manny Pina brings elite level defense and a decent bat. The longest tenured Brewer is vastly underrated, and will split time with Narvaez.

Pitching

Milwaukee’s pitching is really good. Brandon Woodruff has been the top-of-the-rotation work horse for this team for a couple of years now. Woodruff has come into his own, and should be considered one of the better starting pitchers in the game. Barring injury, look for a big season out of him.

Corbin Burnes took his big step last season and was a challenger for Cy Young votes prior to an injury that derailed his final start of the season against St. Louis. There is nothing to suggest that Burnes will regress coming out of Spring Training. If he is able to put up a full season like he did in 2020, Milwaukee has a 1-2 punch in their rotation as good as anyone in baseball.

Brett Anderson signed with the Brew Crew for another season. The left-hander does not throw hard, but he keeps hitters off balance and commands the strike zone. One could say he just gets the job done. There will be nights that he does not have it, but for the most part Anderson is going to keep the Brewers in games. He is just the type of veteran pitcher that Milwaukee likes to have on their staff and is a very nice contrast to the two flame throwers mentioned above.

Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser are the wild cards for this rotation. If one or both can effectively claim a spot in the Brewers’ rotation, this pitching staff goes to another level. Peralta has amazing stuff. The question remains should he start or pitch out of the bullpen. His track record says that he should pitch out of the bullpen, but his stuff says he could be a really good starting pitcher. He gets another chance at the rotation as he was named as the fifth starter for the first round of starts. Can he take it and run with it?

Houser was dominant in the bullpen and was eventually moved to the rotation. His performance as a starter has been a mixed bag. If he can put it together, he should has the makings of a solid starting pitcher.

Drew Rasmussen, Brent Suter, Eric Lauer, and Josh Lindblom could all get a shot at starting baseball games on the mound for the Brewers this season. Pitching depth will be key for any contending team this season. Rasmussen has the most potential of this group. Lindblom has swing-and-miss stuff, but has had trouble with command since coming from the KBO. Suter is the Brewers’ super-utility pitcher. Lauer needs to gets things right in the minors, but has demonstrated that he can competently pitch at the major league level before.

Everyone of these guys will log innings in the bullpen and should do a good job for the most part. Rasmussen in particular could take a Devin Williams/Josh Hader step in the bullpen. Beyond the pitchers already mentioned, the Brewers sport arguably the best 1-2 punch of relievers in all of baseball.

The 2020 Rookie of the Year, Devin Williams brings his “airbender” changeup and 98 mph fastball back to the Crew for 2021. He was the most dominant relief pitcher in the game last season. If he can replicate his performance , the Brewers are going to control virtually every late-inning, high leverage situation encounter they encounter. That means the Brewers are going to win a lot of baseball games.

Josh Hader has been named the closer for the Brewers in 2021. While Williams takes over Hader’s old role, the left-hander takes on the more traditional role. Hader has been working on a change up in Spring Training. With a 3-pitch mix, Hader might be a new form of dominant at the end of games.

Unfortunately Justin Topa will spend much of the first half of the season on the IL. There was hope he would take on a significant role in the bullpen. Eric Yardley pitched well last season with his funky delivery. Can he replicate 2020? J.P. Feyereisen has had a nice Spring and could be a presence in the Brewers’ bullpen. As is the case in most years with the Brewers under David Stearns, Craig Counsell, and company, the Brewers’ bullpen should be a real asset for the team.

Conclusion

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves were the best teams in the National League last season and should be considered that again this year. Many believe that the San Diego Padres are ready to challenge and with their talent, that is probably accurate. The New York Mets brought in high-impact talent as well. These are the teams the pundits are picking, and the thought process is the teams in the National League Central are mediocre.

Maybe mediocrity is the case in the N.L. Central, yet four of the six teams in the N.L. playoffs last year were from the central. The Cubs still have their core. The Cardinals still have their devil magic. The Reds still have good pitching and a strong group of position players. And this baseball will continue to sleep on Milwaukee. Kolten Wong, JBJ, and even Brett Anderson have the potential to be the savviest acquisitions of the offseason, and where this comes most into play is run prevention.

What is being missed is that the Brewers are ripe for an offensive explosion as well. Christian Yelich will return to one of the best hitters in baseball. Avisail Garcia and Omar Narvaez are apt to hit better than they did in 2020. LoCain, Wong, and JBJ are all additions that were not here in 2020. Those six players will make up for a lot that was not present in 2020. And if Keston Hiura can hit at a high level make that seven players. Urias and Shaw might take positive steps offensively too.

Don’t write off this offense because 2020 was an offensive cluster. This Brewers team is going to produce a lot of runs, and Spring Training was a window into that. Couple that with outstanding defense, and you have a real contender. Not just for the NL Central, but for the National League itself.