Feel-good story – A Milwaukee Brewers preview

Sometimes, when a team takes a big swing by trading a package of players for a star, it gives them just what they need to get over the hump to greatness (think of the Red Sox acquiring Chris Sale). Sometimes, the acquired piece doesn’t quite live up to the cost, but turns in an adequate performance anyway (think of the Cubs acquiring Jose Quintana). Sometimes, the whole affair devolves into a disaster that has long-lasting ramifications (think of the White Sox acquiring Nick Swisher or Jeff Samardzija).

And sometimes, the trade pays off beyond all of a team’s wildest dreams.

The Brewers were a middling team in a tank-happy baseball landscape heading into the 2017-18 offseason. They had little star power and were multiple tiers below the division-favorite Chicago Cubs, who appeared set up to win for years. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that a team in this situation should not be mortgaging the future to make an ill-fated push to win now. Yet, Milwaukee bucked baseball’s trend and made a big play by sending a package headlined by highly-regarded prospect Lewis Brinson (in case you needed more evidence of how quickly things can change) to Miami for Christian Yelich.

At the time of the trade, Yelich was something of an underrated star. He had become reliable at turning in 4-WAR seasons, but had never made an All-Star Game. There was no warning that he was about to turn into a slugging monster that would lead the NL in OPS and finish top-two in the MVP voting in back-to-back seasons. Yelich’s greatness in Milwaukee has directly led to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the early-80s, and they would have accomplished neither feat without him.

Despite that spurt of success, the future in Milwaukee is somewhat murky. For one thing, Yelich has endured a start to the 2020 season so horrid that it would make Nicky Delmonico cringe a little bit. For another, the Brewers have been so active in trading for short-term help these last couple of years that it has masked the thinness of their core. Ryan Braun has become but a platoon bat, and shortstop Orlando Arcia is about as punchless as they come. With guys like Eric Thames, Yasmani Grandal, Jesus Aguilar, and Mike Moustakas moving on, the Brewers have had to paste together their lineup from external spare parts.

Two such faces — Omar Narvaez and Avisail Garcia — are quite familiar to White Sox fans. Last year in Seattle, Narvaez posted yet another strong offensive season and while he still wasn’t any good behind the plate, a lefty catcher who can hit will always have value. Shocking absolutely no one, Garcia hit well upon leaving Chicago and going to Tampa Bay. He finally crossed the 20-homer threshold in his first season out of town, and looks like he should be an adequate starting outfielder. It took Justin Smoak eight years, but he finally figured out how to hit major league pitching in Toronto back in 2017. The shift may have gobbled up his BABIP last season, as his batted ball profile leans heavily pull-side regardless of which side of the plate he stands on.

Eric Sogard is smaller than me, wears glasses, and (after being a noodlebat for his whole career) posted by far career-best power numbers at the age of 33 in Major League Baseball. These are the kinds of developments that make us love the game. Keston Hiura went 9th overall in the 2017 amateur draft, and he’s the most important young player to know on the Brewers. He debuted last season and showed uncommon power from the keystone, but defense was a problem, as he committed 16 errors in just 84 games and would have blown past Tim Anderson‘s league-leading total at that rate over a full season. With Lorenzo Cain opting out of the 2020 season, the Brewers have brought back Keon Broxton from off the roster to patrol center. Giving Broxton plate appearances leads to a truly upsetting number of strikeouts.

On the mound, Brett Anderson is in line to start the first game of this series for Milwaukee, and he’s fresh off of a successful and (rare for him) healthy season in Oakland. Anderson’s a soft-tossing lefty who doesn’t strike players out and relies on hitters beating his sinker into the dirt. We’ll see if the new-look White Sox are able to solve this familiar, frightening profile. The Brewers’ weekend of rest will allow them to give under-the-radar ace Brandon Woodruff his third start before any other Milwaukee pitcher makes his second. Woodruff’s the rare ace who still mixes sinkers and fourseams, but both 97 mph offerings are outstanding. After several seasons as a reliever, Adrian Houser got his chance in the rotation late last season and was excellent down the stretch. Similar to Woodruff, Houser’s fourseam and sinker are his strongest offerings, and while his breaking pitches are better for racking up whiffs, he’s more prone to mistakes with those.

Rather than speculate on the Brewers’ not-yet-announced fourth starter for the series, it seems more productive to talk about the Milwaukee bullpen, as it’s been top-10 in the league in Win Probability Added and has been a key factor in what many would call the “overperformance” of the last two Brewer teams. Josh Hader is the most famous and important name in the Milwaukee pen. He throws mostly 95 mph fourseams from the left side, while mixing in the occasional lethal slider. That simple arsenal has struck out nearly half the batters its faced over the last two seasons. Corey Knebel used to close games for the Brewers before missing all of 2019 to Tommy John surgery. His swing-and-miss stuff is still intact, and he should be a tough setup man.

33-year-old David Phelps is on his sixth team of high-leverage relief work and has yet to allow a hit in 3.2 innings so far this season, tallying five strikeouts. 25-year-old Devin Williams gradually earned Craig Counsell‘s trust down the stretch last season and appears to be third in the pecking order for bullpen righties. Alex Claudio joined longtime Brewer Brent Suter from the left side in the pen last season and the LOOGY led all of baseball in pitching appearances; the three-batter minimum might be problematic for him this season as righties own a .306/.357/.444 line against him in 776 career appearances.

* * * * * * * * *

The Brewers’ strategy of zigging while everyone else zagged helped them become a nice feel-good story over the last couple of seasons. They’ve been a great argument against resigning your team to a particular fate in January. The expansion of the playoffs figures to help them more than most this year, and a third straight playoff appearance (albeit one with an asterisk) seems quite within reach. Without any significant free agents departing this offseason, the Brewers should be able to stay competitive through at least another couple of years of Yelich’s prime. History suggests that at least they’ll try.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Eric Sogard – 3B
  2. Christian Yelich – LF
  3. Keston Hiura – 2B
  4. Justin Smoak – 1B
  5. Ryan Braun – DH
  6. Avisail Garcia – RF
  7. Omar Narvaez – DH
  8. Keon Broxton – CF
  9. Orlando Arcia – SS


  • SP1: Brandon Woodruff – RHP
  • SP2: Adrian Houser – RHP
  • SP3: Freddy Peralta – RHP
  • SP4: Brett Anderson – LHP
  • SP5: Corbin Burnes – RHP
  • CL: Josh Hader – LHP
  • RP1: Corey Knebel – RHP
  • RP2: Brent Suter – LHP
  • RP3: David Phelps – RHP
Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
Articles: 91
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

They optioned Mercedes today to make room for Mazara. It is concerning that they left Nicky in Chicago because I could see Ricky inserting him into the lineup for no good reason at some point.


They also put Jimmy Lambert on the 45-day IL, which means the news about his arm injury is not good.


I think the lesson to be learned here is that 30 players are too many for an active roster.

We’ve had year’s long conversations in the past about the 25th man (Konerko, Escobar, Lillibridge, others) and I think it was Jim who pointed out if you’re worried about the 25th man it must mean there are a lot of problems 1-24. If we’re now splitting hairs between 30th men, then managers really need to be saved from themselves.

Eagle Bones

I know MLBPA is pushing to keep the 30 man roster all year and I understand why, but I was just thinking today it might be best for the Sox to have to cut down the roster a bit. With this many guys sitting around, I can almost guarantee Ricky is going to have us pulling our hair out with the amount of PT some of these guys would get because he just can’t stand to leave them on the bench.