Milwaukee Brewers 2020: Reasons for optimism

What happened in 2019?
The whole of the state of Wisconsin (and several areas of the UK inhabited by Brewers fans) yelped with despair on 11 September, when superstar and reigning MVP Christian Yelich dragged a slider into his leg, breaking his kneecap. Already trailing the Chicago Cubs for the second Wild Card spot, it appeared that the Brewers’ season was over.

With impressive resilience, Craig Counsell’s team only lost two of their next 12 games, leap-frogging the Cubs and putting real pressure on the St Louis Cardinals.

Don’t let anyone tell you that baseball isn’t the most exciting sport. Three games back, with six to play, the Brewers, the hottest team in the league, swept the Cincinnati Reds to move to just one game behind the Cardinals. But the final series in the altitude of Denver proved too much, and Milwaukee lost their final three games to finish second in the division.

Despite scoring three runs off Max Scherzer in the opening two innings in the NL Wild Card game, the Brewers succumbed to the tenacity of the Washington Nationals. If you’re going to lose a one-game playoff, you might as well lose to the eventual champions.

Since the defeat, the Brewers have undergone a significant transformation, with seven of the 15 players who played in the Wild Card game moving to pastures new.

Moves & shakes
OUT: Jimmy Nelson, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Chase Anderson, Eric Thames, Trent Grisham, Zach Davies, Hernan Perez, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles, Matt Albers, Drew Pomeranz
IN: Shelby Miller, Logan Morrison, Jedd Gyorko, Omar Narvaez, Keon Broxton, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, Ryon Healy, Jace Peterson, Avisail Garcia, Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Eric Lauer, Luis Urias

One to watch
Keston Hiura
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Former first-rounder from 2017, hit .313 with 38 home runs across all levels last season. Despite only 23 years old and fewer than 250 plate appearances at the major league level, the second baseman is probably the most potent offensive weapon and the most reliable on-base threat on the Brewers, outside of Yelich.

Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Over the last two seasons in the KBO, Josh Lindblom has made 56 starts with a 2.67 ERA. The Brewers rotation desperately needed strengthening, and the 32-year-old right-hander, acquired in a low-key deal, could be one of the best pickups of the offseason.

(2) In Josh Hader, the Brewers have the best relief pitcher in baseball, and he will be psyched to erase memories of the Wild Card game: One inning comprising two hits, one walk, one hit batsman and three runs, and just like that, Milwaukee was out. It was a cruel way to end the season for the left-hander who posted a 2.62 ERA with 0.81 WHIP and 16.4 SO/9.

(3) The task of assimilating so many new faces while keeping the team competitive is no easy task, but manager Craig Counsell appears up for the challenge. Dynamic and attentive, the runner-up in the last two NL Manager of the Year awards, has been rewarded with a new three-year contract extension.

(4) With only the Reds improving, the NL Central is wide open. The Pirates are in full rebuild mode, the Cardinals lost both Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna, and the Cubs will be without Nick Castellanos. The 2020 postseason beckons for Milwaukee.

(5) Despite injury cutting short his year, Christian Yelich’s finished the season with 7.1 WAR. It’s almost impossible to accumulate that much WAR in so few games. In fact, only Eric Davis and Jeff Bagwell have ever achieved it. Yelich led the majors with 1.100 OPS and, for the second straight year, was the NL batting champion. Expect Yelich to be battling it out with Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger for the 2020 NL MVP award.

Photo courtesy of Mark Brown/Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps

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