In the history of the franchise, the Brewers made the playoffs just four times from their inception in 1969 through the 2017 season, but have been in the postseason each of the last four seasons. The team is coming off a first-place finish in the National League Central division after which they lost to the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves three games to one in the National League Division Series.
Milwaukee Brewers Last Season Performance
The Brewers moved into a tie for first place on June 19th after a 6-5 win over the Colorado Rockies and took over the lead by themselves following a 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks on June 23, a position they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the season. They eventually ran the margin to 14 games over the Cardinals, but went 6-12 down the stretch, including five losses in their final six games, and won the NL Central by five games with a record of 95-67.
The pitching staff was the reason for Milwaukee’s success in 2021, with the third-best ERA in the National League at 3.50. The Brewers had five starting pitchers who sported ERA’s of less than 3.25 in an era when anything below 3.50 is considered to be very good.
Led by NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, who went 11-5 in 28 starts with an ERA of 2.43 and struck out 234 batters with just 34 walks surrendered in 167 innings pitched, the Brewers led the league in strikeouts with 1618, just under 10 a game. Closer Josh Hader was 4-2 with 34 saves and an ERA of 1.23, striking out 102 opposing hitters in just 58.2 innings pitched.
Offensively, the results weren’t as rosy, as Milwaukee struggled at the plate, with the next to last batting average in the league at .233 while also posting the fourth-highest strikeout total in the league. They somehow found a way to produce the sixth-most runs in the National League, partly due to their fifth-best NL total of 82 stolen bases and third highest walks total.
Right fielder Avisail Garcia was their most potent threat at the plate, with a .262 batting average with 29 home runs and 86 RBI who left via free agency in the offseason. In May, the Brewers acquired shortstop Willy Adames from the Tampa Bay Rays and the 25-year-old was a pleasant surprise, leading the team with a .285 batting average while hitting 20 home runs and posting 58 RBI in 99 games with the club.
Milwaukee Brewers Off-Season Changes
Between trades, free-agent signings, and departures along with successful efforts to keep some talent already on the roster, the Brewers were quite active prior to the lockout on December 2nd that paused all activity at the major league level. They also made a change at hitting the coach following the low batting averages of 2021.
Milwaukee retained reserve first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who played in 56 games in 2021 with a batting average of .272 with seven homers and 28 RBI. They also kept second baseman Jace Peterson who hit .247 with six home runs and 31 RBI in 94 appearances along with relief pitcher Jandel Gustave and his 1-2 record with a 3.44 ERA in 14 games in 2021.
The Brewers dismissed hitting coach Andy Haines and replaced him with Ozzie Timmons formerly with the Tampa Bay Rays and Connor Dawson, who comes to the franchise from the Seattle Mariners organization. Another addition to the coaching staff to assist with hitting is also likely in order to bring help to the part of the team that needs the most assistance.
Milwaukee Brewers Key Additions
Milwaukee acquired three-year veteran second baseman Mike Brousseau via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays and the 27-year-old is a career .245 hitter with 16 home runs and 46 RBI. The Brewers also traded for 29-year-old right fielder Hunter Renfroe from Boston, with the seven-year veteran coming off a season where he played in 144 games and hit .259 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI.
The only impact-free agent that the Brewers have signed so far in the offseason is catcher Pedro Severino, formerly with Baltimore, and the seven-year veteran brings a career .235 batting average to Milwaukee after hitting .248 with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 113 games with the Orioles in 2021.
Milwaukee Brewers Key Subtractions
The highest-profile defection so far has been Garcia, who signed with the Miami Marlins, potentially leaving a hole in the Brewers lineup, but Renfroe should be able to admirably fill that void for 2022. Renfroe actually brings more power and was a great acquisition for Milwaukee to upgrade their offense even after the departure of one of their biggest offensive weapons.
Milwaukee also lost their fifth starter, 33-year-old lefthander Brett Anderson, who posted a 4-9 record with an ERA of 4.22 with 58 strikeouts in 96 innings. His departure might actually create an opportunity for the team to add even more depth to an already stellar pitching staff that led the way to a division title in 2021.
In addition to Anderson, most of the free agents from the Brewers’ roster are also pitchers, including Hunter Strickland, who next to Hader had the lowest ERA on the staff at 1.73 and also posted a 3-2 record in 35 appearances.
Brad Boxberger had a 5-4 record with Milwaukee in 2021 and an ERA of 3.34 in 71 appearances. While the starting pitching rotation, even with the departure of Anderson, is solid, these free agents represent a significant hit to the Brewers’ bullpen.
Prior to the lockout, the Brewers weren’t particularly effective in replacing their free agents from the bullpen, unlike the move for Renfroe that created a replacement for Garcia. If the team is going to continue their four-year streak of postseason play, they’ll need to find a way to be more active in the free-agent market to build depth in the bullpen for the approaching season.
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Milwaukee Brewers Head Coach Analysis
Craig Counsell, who ended his 16-year playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, has been the manager of the team since 2015 and has led the franchise to four winning campaigns in five seasons of full play, including a pair of National League Central division titles. In 2018, the Brewers lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 in the National League Championship Series, finishing just short of making an appearance in the World Series.
In the 23 years prior to Counsell taking over at the helm of the Brewers, the team had just five winning seasons, so while the front office is clearly making positive changes, the manager needs to be given much of the credit. In baseball, postseason success can be fleeting, even for teams that are dominant during the regular season and the Atlanta Braves from 1991 to 2008 are a great example of that.
The change to the coaching staff to bring additional focus on hitting could help the Brewers continue their recent success in the NL Central, but Counsell will face a different challenge if the front office doesn’t fill the holes in the bullpen created by free agency. It’s very difficult to make long runs into the postseason and the Brewers will face headwinds to make it to the playoffs five years in a row.
One of the great questions in sports is just how much difference a baseball manager can really make, but so far Counsell is looking like a leader who seems to be able to push the right buttons. If he can guide the Brewers to a fifth consecutive berth in the postseason, Counsell will solidify himself as one of the best young managers in the game.
Milwaukee Brewers Injured Players at the Beginning of the Season
The highest-profile injury among the few the team is reporting is to relief pitcher Brent Suter who ended the 2021 season with an oblique injury. Suter led the team in wins, compiling a 12-5 record with a 3.07 ERA and making just one start.
According to the Brewers, Suter is expected to be ready to start the season, and that’s assuming opening day isn’t delayed due to the uncertainties created by the lockout. With the other losses to the lineup, it’s critical that Suter makes a full recovery and is available to contribute as he did in 2021.
Another critical piece of the bullpen, 26-year-old Devin Williams, has a hand injury but his 8-2 record, 2.50 ERA, and 87 strikeouts in 54 innings shouldn’t be in jeopardy come opening day. Like Suter, his ability to be at full strength when play resumes in the spring will be important to the Brewers’ chances of repeating as NL Central champions.
Milwaukee Brewers Prediction for 2022 Season
The Brewers made what could only be called minimal offseason moves prior to the lockout, but those that they made were sound and could help minimize the free-agent defections from the lineup. The trade for Renfroe brought in a replacement for the departed Garcia, possibly resulting in an upgrade for 2022.
The biggest concern for Milwaukee has to be in replacing the loss of bullpen depth because the starting rotation is among the best in the National League if not all of major league baseball. The pitching staff should be strong but the Brewers lost a lot of appearances from the relievers and many of those resulted in quality innings.
Prospects for the Brewers to win another division title are murky, especially given the traditional strength of the St. Louis Cardinals and their late run in 2021 that fell just five games short of a title. The NL Central was fairly weak last season, which benefitted the Brewers, especially with their offensive limitations.
A better Cardinals team and even an improved Cubs unit that might not be a contender could both diminish the Brewers’ win total relative to last season. The division will probably be more competitive so Milwaukee can’t expect to jump out to a 14 game lead and cruise to the NL Central title.
The Brewers are on an upward trajectory so the optimistic view is that they should continue to realize success even if they suffer some free-agent departures, which all teams ultimately experience because of the system. Milwaukee’s front office has shown the ability in the past several years to adjust to players leaving by replacing them with the talent using the same system.
The prediction here in the MLB odds is for the Brewers to seriously contend for the NL Central, but probably following short due to their uncertainty in the bullpen and the inability to avoid starting pitching injuries that Milwaukee largely avoided in 2021. It will be tough for the Brewers to replicate the performance they put up last year, primarily because baseball is so unpredictable, especially in the playoffs.
Look for the Brewers to finish second in the NL Central and make it into the postseason for the fifth season in a row. What happens following the end of the lockout and how well Milwaukee bolsters the bullpen will likely determine if the Brewers can legitimately make another run to win the division. You can check out the MLB lines for the season.
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