I haven’t been asked to produce a season preview for four years.
My last effort, a team-by-team dissection of League One, English football’s third tier of professional soccer achieved a little notoriety owing to its reliance on stretching the norms of idiom and metaphor far beyond breaking point. Let’s just say it split opinion.
So, when I was asked to contribute to BttP’s preview series I was a little taken aback. The inquisitor, knowing my predilection for concept and deadline limbo, took your interests into my hand. This is on him.
Anyway, here are some ideas…
The Brewers are the most British team going
Hear me out.
I need to explain a bit here – I’m English. I’m sorry. Forgive my colonial past; my interest in your national pastime; my thirst for knowledge; my insistence on calling a game where the participants actually use their bloody feet ‘football’.
Anyway, Milwaukee is really cold and unseasonal. In this it is essentially the entirety of the UK.
The team is called the Brewers. In case you didn’t know we have these things in England called ‘pubs’, which are kind of a big deal. We basically love beer.
We invented cheese.
Where I’m from in the North of England, Cumberland, the delicacy is sausage. Honestly, there are so many regions of the UK where the delicacy is sausage and none of these places has their own sausage race. Milwaukee does. My God.
Their first baseman is called Thames. I mean, come on guys!
Anyway, I reckon that’s why I’m here. Not because I frequently ask people to explain TAv to me like I’m Michael Scott asking someone to explain TAv to him ‘like I’m five’.
The First Baseman is Called Thames
Yeah, him. Internet sensation and WWE superstar, Eric Thames aka Neptune, the River God, aka Big Eck aka Eric Hardman aka the Southbank Slugger.
Is he actually any good, though? He doesn’t walk, his splits against lefties are appalling (.182), he doesn’t hit with runners in scoring position (.180) and my – let’s not talk about June or August 2017.
Following Thames’ torrid start to 2017 there was genuine speculation as to whether he’d be mid-season trade bait. The team’s surprising success, and Thames’ awful June, put paid to that, but there must be a question about whether the Brewers might’ve been better selling high on the former KBO sensation.
Because Ryan Braun is not the answer at first base. The guy has crumbling knees, and his last season in a ‘crouchy position’ at 3rd base was, famously, the worst of all time -28.5 UZR.
While we’re here ‘signing all the outfielders’ is one strategy for building a winning team, but when your infield includes a Braun/Thames platoon, a light-hitting whiz at shortstop in Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw, fresh off a first real season of sustained production, it seems a little off-beam. Still, Eric Sogard wears glasses, I guess.
Milwaukee’s seeming abstinence towards Neil Walker, who provided a shot-in-the-arm and clubhouse presence at last year’s deadline, is one of the offseason’s most baffling sub-plots.
I do not write about Brewers catchers, for which you can thank Darius Austin, of this parish.
About that Outfield
Yeah, the Brewers have a load of good outfielders.
They added Marlins stud Christian Yelich and Royals Gold Glover Lorenzo Cain to an already stacked unit assembled from Rule 5 picks and sneaky secondary trade pieces. Although the strikeout-prone Keon Broxton was a glove-first option for most of 2017, Domingo Santana was an offensive sensation and Brett Phillips flashed promise on both sides of the ball. Roster Resource has both Phillips and Broxton starting the season in AAA – which is to say the team has a logjam at the position.
Yelich and Cain add both legitimacy and production to the club, and perhaps give away some of the organisation’s internal views on the highly regarded farm outfielders who many saw as the core of the next great Brewers team. Lewis Brinson will likely learn his trade in Miami’s wretched 2018 team, whilst Corey Ray has struggled to fulfil his draft-time potential.
The trade wire has linked the Brewers all offseason to a move switching one of their outfielders – usually Santana, often Broxton – for a reliable starter. It might still happen but time is becoming tight, and there is a genuine question of need.
I’m picking up good rotation
For all of the hullabaloo surrounding Thames, and the outfield sluggers, the quiet success of the Brewers’ 2017 campaign – and the real reason for the longevity to the Cubs supremacy – was their ability to piece together quality starts and strong bullpen support.
That isn’t a paragraph I thought I’d be typing about a side who ran out 31-year-old Junior Guerra on opening day – for reference, Guerra’s last opening day start was in the Italian Baseball League with T&A San Marino.
More to the point, Guerra didn’t even play – going down with an arm injury, he appeared in only 21 games (several from the pen) offering up an eye-watering 5.43 xFIP.
Luckily, his role as the team’s workhorse was taken on by Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. Nelson especially took a leap forward – posting an eye-catching 3.15 xFIP and K/9 of above 10 (a step up of three Ks per set) despite nasty BABIP luck. A freak shoulder injury in September, suffered whilst diving back to first base as a runner, puts Nelson’s future in doubt, but if he can make a full recovery he has ace potential. Whilst Anderson’s peripherals were less impressive, he made for a serviceable front-end hurler, with a wipeout slider and should provide ballast in the middle of the rotation.
Behind them is a list of options and lottery tickets. Jhoulys Chacin comes off a good showing in front of baseball’s worst defense in San Diego and Wade Miley is likely to make another opening day rotation, protected from the short porches and big sluggers of the AL East who put paid to his previously effective, steady groundball style.
The wildcard is the returning Yovani Gallardo. A Brewers legend, Gallardo comes back to Wisconsin following a rough few years in Baltimore and Seattle. Even a return to the 2014 vintage Gallardo would provide the Brewers with another serviceable arm to bridge to a high-upside bullpen capped by last year’s breakout star Corey Knebel and featuring former closer Jeremy Jeffress and ex-Indians lefty Boone Logan.
The 2018 Brewers are going to be a good baseball team, just as they were in 2017.
Their outfield will mash bombs, and make lots of highlight plays even with Yelich and Cain replacing Broxton.
The question remains whether there are too many fliers in both the rotation and the infield to best not only the Cubs, but divisional rivals St. Louis. If 2017 isn’t the club’s upside in terms of luck, the next great Brewers team will have a rotation led by Yovani Gallardo – like the last one.
I’ll leave you with three predictions…
Baseball analyst – 84 wins
Metaphorical chancer – Raspberry Saison; quaffable, with a sharp kick in the tail; boozy, will leave you with a sore head.
Englishman – now or never to get us on board before it curdles. We only support underdogs.
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