Milwaukee Brewers’ moves do not push them past Chicago Cubs
By Tim Stebbins
Acquiring outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich will make the Milwaukee Brewers stronger. However, the moves do not signal a change in NL Central division power. It’s close, but the Chicago Cubs still rule the roost.
The Milwaukee Brewers surprised many in 2017, winning 86 games and nearly clinching the National League Central Division. They should not surprise many in 2018, should they succeed once again. But that didn’t move them ahead of the Chicago Cubs.
The Brewers made quite a splash Thursday, acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. Yelich, 26, is under contract through 2022 on a team-friendly seven-year, $49.57 million deal.
Big bats will bolster Brewers’ offense
Yelich is a career .290 hitter coming off a dominant 2017 campaign in which he hit .282 with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs in 156 games. His .997 field percentage led all MLB center fielders last season.
Shortly after acquiring Yelich, news broke that the Brewers signed free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year contract. Cain, who will turn 32 shortly after Opening Day, is a career .290 hitter. He hit .300 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 2017.
In a matter of hours, the Brewers’ outfield went from fair to possibly one of the best in the MLB. With Cain, Yelich and Ryan Braun, Milwaukee boasts an outfield with stars across the board.
These additions undoubtedly make the Brewers an improved team. However, they do not necessarily catapult them past the Chicago Cubs in National League Central division supremacy.
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Struggles to score
In 2017, the Brewers’ offense ranked 21st in the MLB in team batting average (.249) and 20th in runs scored (732). The Cubs, on the other hand, ranked 16th in team batting average (.255) and fourth in runs scored (822).
Cain and Yelich will likely help improve the Brewers offense in 2018. However, they have an even bigger issue to deal with: pitching.
Last season, the Brewers were 10th in the MLB in team starting pitching ERA (4.10) and ninth in bullpen ERA (3.83). For comparison’s sake, the Cubs ranked seventh in starting pitching ERA (4.05) and sixth in bullpen ERA (3.80).
These numbers are impressive for both teams, of course. However, projections do not expect the Brewers’ starting rotation to fare well in 2018.
Projections not looking pretty for Brew Crew
Fangraphs projects Chase Anderson to post a 4.86 ERA in 29 starts in 2018. He finished last season with a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts. They project Zach Davies to post a 4.80 ERA in 29 starts after a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts in 2017.
Fangraphs also projects Jhoulys Chacín to post a 4.67 ERA in 23 starts. He finished 2017 with a 3.89 ERA in 23 starts. Ultimately, Fangraphs projects every Brewers’ starting pitcher to post higher ERAs than Chacín.
The only exception to this is Jimmy Nelson, who is coming off of shoulder surgery. Fangraphs projects him to post a 4.28 ERA in 11 starts.
Cubs should fare better than Brewers
For the Cubs, Fangraphs projects Mike Montgomery to post the highest ERA of starting pitchers currently on the Cubs (4.27). Projections say that the Cubs’ rotation will perform far better than the Brewers’ in 2018.
Of course, projections are projections for a reason, and they are not definitive. After all, the Brewers were projected to struggle in 2017 but nearly made the postseason. Ultimately, projections are merely educated guesses that can go awry.
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All in all, the Brewers had a great 2017 and very well could surpass last season’s win total in 2018. However, one should not throw the Cubs aside as a reaction to two moves.