After the Chicago Cubs ended the St. Louis Cardinals’ reign of terror three years ago, they assumed the throne in the Central. Now, they have a new foe to fear.
Make no mistake. The Chicago Cubs control their own destiny when it comes to the National League Central. But they have a particularly potent enemy in their neighbors to the north in the Milwaukee Brewers.
After loading up with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich this winter, followed by Jonathan Schoop at the deadline, Milwaukee is doing everything in their power to knock the Cubs off their throne. (Everything, that is, except adding needed starting pitching reinforcements).
Milwaukee enters play Sunday at 67-53, in control of the first Wild Card spot in the National League. In a weekend series against the Atlanta Braves, who hold the other berth, they’re looking to put some distance between themselves and the field.
With the second-best record in the league, the the Brewers have a young core of players, in Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Yelich – to name just a few. These guys aren’t necessarily young in age but are still under team control through 2021 and beyond. Add these guys to veterans Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain and throw a dominant bullpen. You quickly understand how they have become a bonafide contender.
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Looking at the offensive numbers, nothing really jumps out at you from a metrics standpoint, but this team just slugs their way to victory with the formula of “get a lead, and let the bullpen pitch the final three innings.” No matter how close the game is, getting runs consistently off Josh Hader and Corey Knebel is a really tough task night-in and night-out.
As for the pitching rotation, the Brewers are missing their ace, Jimmy Nelson. Nelson has been out all season after injuring himself in a game against the Cubs late last year, ironically. Another starter, Zach Davies, has had a few different DL stints this season as well and has only been able to make eight starts.
Based on everything above, it’s a wonder the Brewers are where they are. A lot of this is supplanted by good defense, which the Brewers rank near the top of the league. Orlando Arcia, Yelich and Cain are all Gold Glove-caliber fielders. Manny Pina is one of the best throwing-catchers in baseball and utilityman Hernan Perez will play average to above average defense in most areas of the field.
There are a lot of similarities in the Cubs and Brewers’ philosophies. Good defense, slugging and exceptional bullpens. When fully healthy and performing to their standards, the Cubs’ rotation is miles better, but they have had their struggles. With the roster make up and philosophies of these two teams, expect them to compete for the division crown for years to come.