Fresh off the team’s second-straight playoff appearance, the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2019 season was an eventful and seemingly-endless roller-coaster ride. Though the team went 89-73, many problems arose that, at times, caused fans to worry about the longevity of the team’s success.
First-Half Highs and Lows:
Fans were excited to see the trio of right-handed pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes perform in 2019. Instead, they witnessed the full spectrum of prospect outcomes in a single season. Woodruff became the high-end starter many were hoping for and was one of the team’s top arms. Despite an injury midway through the season, he made 22 starts and threw to a 3.62 ERA with 143 strikeouts in just 121.2 innings. However, Peralta struggled in eight starts and was relegated to the bullpen. He found some success in relief and managed to find his groove in the final month. Burnes completely fell off and was sent to the organization’s pitching lab for a chunk of the season. The team’s hopes to depend on the trio in the rotation imploded, leading them to scramble and re-sign lefty Gio Gonzalez.
The mixed performances did not end there. Two major transactions of the offseason, catcher Yasmani Grandal infielder Mike Moustakas, managed to carry the middle of the offense. Newly-acquired outfielder Ben Gamel also performed well early
Finding Diamonds in the Rough:
Despite early-season worries, the Brewers managed to find production in unexpected places towards a 57-52 record entering August. With the weakening rotation, RHP Adrian Houser made an extended stay as a starter in late July. A swingman earlier in the season, Houser blossomed into an effective starter by pitching to the tune of a 3.28 ERA in 12 starts and a .220 opponent batting average in 57.2 innings (12 starts). Top prospect Keston Hiura also burst onto the scene in the middle of the season. He hit to a .308/.368/.938 slash line with a 139 wRC+ in 348 plate appearances. At the same time, organizational Minor League Player of the Year Trent Grisham was demolishing Triple-A pitching. The outfielder’s explosion prompted the team to call him up after Braun, Cain, and Yelich had all been nursing injuries. Though his production was somewhat slow to start, he managed to hit .235/.359/.747 in 103 plate appearances for September.
When it came time to make the decision on whether or not to buy at the July 31st trade deadline, the Brewers made low-end pitching moves that paid dividends. The first arrival came in RHP Jordan Lyles from a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sporting a 5.36 ERA in 17 starts with the Pirates, he returned to the Brewers in force, spinning a 2.45 ERA in a vital 11 starts. In two other trades, Milwaukee netted controllable righty Jake Faria from Tampa Bay alongside southpaw Drew Pomeranz and righty Ray Black from San Francisco. Though the former two pitched in a limited capacity, Pomeranz became a formidable weapon alongside Josh Hader in the bullpen. However, the moves came at a cost; both 1B Jesus Aguilar and intriguing SS-prospect Mauricio Dubon were dealt.
Final Month Surge in a Sea of Injuries:
Barreling towards a close finish in the standings with support from both unexpected performers and a patchwork of acquired arms, the Brewers made a historic run to the end of the season. Down four games behind the second wild-card spot, they finished with a 20-7 record in September. This run gave them the second wild-card spot. At one point, the Crew sat one game behind the Cardinals for the division lead. Unfortunately, after holding a late lead in the NL Wild Card Game, they fell to the Nationals and were eliminated.
Perhaps the biggest “what if” asked by fans was in the myriad of injuries at inopportune times. In a number of cases, injuries to players overlapped with one another, which made the playoff chase seem almost impossible at some points. Veteran CF Lorenzo Cain dealt with his health throughout the season, possibly attributing to his weakened offensive performance. Dominant RHP Corey Knebel went under the knife for Tommy John surgery before Spring Training, eliminating him for the entire season. LHP Brent Suter missed the majority of the season due to the same reasons, though he threw important innings down the stretch. Brandon Woodruff made his first all-star team, but suffered an oblique injury late in July, forcing him to sit out until mid-September. Lastly, in a freak accident, MVP-hopeful OF Christian Yelich fouled a ball into his knee, forcing him to miss the final 17 games of the season.
A Pivotal Off-Season:
The Brewers’ future still looks bright as a competitor in a difficult division, but the upcoming winter will be pivotal. Both Grandal and Moustakas could both be free agents, though GM David Stearns has made re-signing them a priority. Major second-half performers Jordan Lyles and Drew Pomeranz are also free agents. 15 total players will be arbitration-eligible, with some pundits projecting a $17.5 million payroll increase to keep them all. With little growing near the farm after this years’ graduations, the team won’t be able to make a large trade without giving major league talent.
With so much money left in limbo, the front office will have ample space to get creative. Re-signing Grandal and Moustakas could be a realistic option should the team commit to multi-year deals for both. However, there may be a significant need to shore up the rotation and add stability to its core. Shortstop may also be a place to upgrade as well. The farm is thin on SS prospects and the position is filled by an offensively-anemic Orlando Arcia. Either way, the team will need to find ways to keep the team’s playoff chances in the National League intact – something Stearns has been able to do thus far.
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