The MLB playoffs are upon us and soon teams will begin to fall by the wayside en route to the 2018 World Series. The Milwaukee Brewers are one of the favoured teams from the National League, but can they win the World Series? Read on to find out.
Making sense of the National League mess
No team has stood out as a consistent World Series contender throughout this season in the MLB National League. In truth, some records have been vastly inflated due to incredibly poor performances from the likes of the San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds.
The LA Dodgers may appear to be the best team on paper, but they’ve had to endure one of the worst seasons on record as timeliness goes. With runs scored/against that suggest they should be close to a 100-win team, LA is barely playoff-bound at all.
Boston, Houston and New York are the popular picks, but Milwaukee has home-field advantage all the way to the World Series and everything could be happening at the right time for them to get there and win it.
The Chicago Cubs - seemingly destined for greatness a couple of years ago - have featured starting pitching amongst the worst in MLB. An injured Kris Bryant struggled to get his season off the ground while the rest of the team is limping into the playoffs, missing closer/set-up man combo in Brandon Morrow and Pedro Stropp and a starting shortstop who seemingly won’t be participating in the playoffs because of his home life. The fact that the 2016 World Champions blew a five-game divisional lead in September should be more than enough to cause concern.
It could be argued that the Atlanta Braves, the only National League team to clinch a playoff spot before the last five days of the regular season, only won the National League East because their opponents were trying to outdo one another in their efforts to tank the season out.
Basically, there isn’t much to choose from in the National League. However, one team does stand out as the most likely to at least advance to the World Series and potentially put everything together when it matters most - the Milwaukee Brewers.
The influence of luck on a shrinking sample
Baseball is a large sample size sport. It takes 162 games to declare a champion and only a handful of teams in history have managed to win two-thirds of their games, which is why the short-term nature of MLB’s playoffs should get you to throw some elements out the window. The worst team can beat the best team on a given day, and Milwaukee isn’t the worst team by any stretch.
One thing we know about this year’s playoffs is that the American League is bound to be a bloodbath. The Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are obvious powerhouses, the Oakland A’s have been the league’s most-successful team in the second half and the Cleveland Indians have all the pieces to make a run. So, whoever emerges from that mess isn’t going to do so unscathed.
Given the disparity in quality between the two leagues at this moment in time, it’s reasonable to assume that the National League representative is probably going to be the underdog for the World Series. This means anyone who places value on a potential one-off series upset and the negative impact wear and tear can have on a team will most likely be tempted to oppose whoever makes it through from the American League.
Understanding the composition of the Brewers
In short, the Brewers are about big bats and a bullpen. During this past offseason, faced with a starting pitching deficit and a bevy of outfield options, General Manager David Stearns failed to find a starter. Instead, the Brewers traded for now-MVP candidate outfielder Christian Yelich and signed all-star centre fielder Lorenzo Cain as a free agent.
Then, in late July, faced with a starting pitching deficit and a bevy of infield options, Stearns again opted to ignore the starting staff, acquiring third baseman Mike Moustakas and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. In August, Milwaukee finally acquired a starter in Gio Gonzales, but by then, the message was clear - Milwaukee wants to hit the ball and will rely heavily upon its bullpen to protect what little the starters give them.
Anyone who places value on a potential one-off series upset and the negative impact wear and tear can have on a team will most likely be tempted to oppose whoever makes it through from the American League.
The lineup starts with Yelich, the hottest player in MLB entering the playoffs. Considered by many as the favourite to win the MVP, in September he hit .352/.500/.807. That’s good for a two-WAR month. Yelich’s spot in the order is well fortified, with surprise slugger Jesus Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, the suddenly resurgent Domingo Santana, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun providing extraordinary depth, regardless of which combination of players is playing on a given day.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been the team’s primary strength all season long. It starts with Josh Hader, the most dominant reliever in MLB this season. Hader set an all-time record for relief strikeouts by a lefty, registering an incredible 143 Ks while facing just 302 batters. Hader doesn’t fit the classic reliever mould: He’ll go two or even three innings at a time; opposing teams had better score at other times.
Milwaukee’s bullpen isn’t just the Hader show. Jeremy Jeffress has been an almost-2 WAR pitcher this season and Corey Knebel, the start-of-year closer who fell on hard times mid-season, has become simply Hader-esque in September, striking out 17.55/9 IP and giving up a grand total of zero runs.
Brandon Woodruff and late acquisitions Joakim Soria and Xavi Cedeno haven’t quite been as good as Hader, but they’ve been excellent in September nonetheless. Recent bullpen convert Junior Guerra seems to be taking to his surroundings. In a format where bullpen strength is highlighted, there is no National League team with a better bullpen than the Brewers.
It also should be said that with Cain as anchor, this is the third best-fielding runs team in MLB. Mediocre starting pitching is easier to carry if the gloves behind it catch everything in sight. This is a multi-dimensional club with tremendous depth everywhere except starting pitcher, and they’ve proved they don’t need to rely on the starters all season long.
Bettors are going to be a lot more excited about betting other teams. Boston, Houston and New York are the popular picks, but Milwaukee has home-field advantage all the way to the World Series and everything could be happening at the right time for them to get there and win it.