On opening day 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers are better than the team that walked off the field in St. Louis with 86 wins ending the 2017 season. That judgement of the Brewers being better, doesn't mean they'll win more games than last year, or play in the post season for the first time since 2011. The roster is better offensively and defensively--pitching is another story. So let's break it down.
in 2017, the Brewers finished in the bottom 1/3 of the league in runs scored. Despite breakout years from Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw and the 1st base platoon of Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee's offense didn't produce enough runs. Offensively, Milwaukee ranked 20th in runs scored (4th in the NL Central), and dead last in strikeouts. Both of those stat lines needed to change in the off season.
The Brewers lineup is built on power. That's a function of 81-games at Miller Park which rewards BIG hitters. An unfair constant criticism of the Brewers over the past three seasons with Craig Counsell as the Manager, has been the lack of "small ball." WRONG! The Brewers were top-10 in sacrifice bunts in 2017. In addition, Milwaukee was 2nd in all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases. Although I don't love the sacrifice bunt (giving up an out), the Brewers should absolutely be better and more aggressive on the bases. The addition of Christian Yelich, and Lorenzo Cain and the promise of Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar in a 2nd base platoon should make the Brewers faster and better on the bases. There is also the promise of fewer strikeouts with some of those lineup changes. The combination of changes should move the Brewers up the charts in runs scored.
There is also, little doubt that the Brewers will be better defensively. They have to be, after finishing next to last in all of baseball with 115-errors (only Oakland was worse). Cain and Yelich are outstanding defensive outfielders. Shaw was better than advertised at 3rd base, Orlando Arcia is a future Gold Glove winner at Shortstop, and Manny Pina is an outstanding defensive Catcher. Defensive run prevention is almost guaranteed to be better. Which brings us to pitching.
The loss of Jimmy Nelson in the final month of 2017, has carried over into 2018 with no absolute timetable on the return of the Brewers top starter. Chase Anderson is the opening day starter, scheduled to be followed by Jhoulys Chacin, Brent Suter, Zach Davies, and Brandon Woodruff. On paper that doesn't stack up with the Chicago Cubs. It didn't last year either, yet the Brewers pitchers allowed just 2-more runs than the Cubs in 2017. Pitching was Milwaukee's strength a year ago. If they can match their numbers from a year ago, the Brewers will play in October. Perhaps the biggest strength is what they can do to finish games. Josh Hader and "closer" Corey Knebel can combine to be among the best finishing tandems in all of baseball.
So here's the bottom line. The over/under win total is set at 84.5 wins...it will likely take 89 wins or so to make the post season. The Brewers are capable. To get there, they need the mid-season effective return of Jimmy Nelson. To get there, the Brewers will need a mid-season acquisition at the trade deadline. To get there, Milwaukee needs more than 104 games, 102 hits, 17-HR's and 52-RBI's from Ryan Braun. To get there, Yelich and Cain will need to deliver.
The Brewers will get there...or?