Halfway through the season, the Brewers had shown that with their offseason moves, they were prepared to compete for the playoffs this season. They had a 1 1⁄2 game division lead at the end of June, and the lead had been as big as 4 1⁄2 games at one point during the year. However, the tough stretch was to come. The Brewers had shown that they could compete, now they needed to show that they could finish the season in the lead.
With the Brewers lead in the division down to 1 1⁄2 games entering July, the Brewers position was getting more and more troubling. They started the month with a loss, but then won five straight and seven of nine to stabilize their position. Unfortunately, the Cubs were also on a hot streak at that point, and they couldn’t gain any ground in the standings. After that hot streak by the Brewers, they followed it up with seven straight losses that went through the All-Star Break. Their division lead evaporated, and went from 1 1⁄2 games up to 3 games down in the standings.
The good performance of several players on the team did lead to several All-Star Game bids this season. On the initial All-Star Game roster, three Brewers made it: outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, and reliever Josh Hader. They would end up with another player on the roster after Jesus Aguilar won the Final Vote. It was tied for the most players the Brewers have had on a postseason roster.
As they came out of the All-Star Game, the Brewers were on the edge between being in the playoff hunt. They still had the Wild Card lead, but only by a game. With decisions to be made, the Brewers went 8-3 to finish the month of July. That pushed the Brewers back into a tie at the top of the standings, as well as a three game lead in the Wild Card race. Overall, it was a 15-13 month, which ended on a good note.
July was also filled with several injuries. Brent Suter and Junior Guerra both experienced some forearm tightness that put them on the DL. Eric Thames went on the DL with hamstring tightness, Jonathan Villar with a sprained thumb, and Ryan Braun with a back strain. Many of these were smaller injuries, but they each meant some lost time. The big injury came towards the end of the month, when Brent Suter tore his UCL and was lost for the rest of the season, and likely most (if not all) of 2019.
Despite that, the team worked through the month. Christian Yelich began to make his MVP case, hitting .400/.438/.657 with a 194 wRC+ in the month. Travis Shaw was also playing well at .275/.346/.473 with a 114 wRC+ However, many others on offense were struggling. Jesus Aguilar began to cool down, and even though he hit six home runs, his batting line fell to .202/.321/.449. Jonathan Villar and Eric Thames had some good performances but each lost time with their injuries.
Over on the pitching staff, the cracks began to show a little more. Jeremy Jeffress stepped up with a 2.38 ERA and 1.57 FIP, and Corbin Burnes made his debut with a 13.5 K/9 rate in 8.2 innings to start his major league career. However, Corey Knebel struggled through the month with a 5.25 ERA and 4.58 FIP. Josh Hader still was pitching well, but wasn’t as dominant as he had been before. The Brewers were getting by, but it wasn’t the same dominance they had to start the year.
The performance in July overall was enough to convince GM David Stearns to make some trade deadline moves to solidify the team. The Brewers had been in talks about several players in the two months leading up to the deadline, with the most prominent player of those being former Orioles shortstop Manny Machado. However, the Brewers lost out on him, so they looked for other upgrades.
The first came from the White Sox, as they acquired reliever Joakim Soria for prospects Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez. It was a bit unexpected as the bullpen wasn’t the Brewers biggest need for an upgrade, but was still a welcome addition. Relievers are always in demand and it did further solidify the bullpen for the Brewers.
The next day, the Brewers made another upgrade, this time in the infield. They acquired third baseman Mike Moustakas from the Royals for outfielder Brett Phillips and pitcher Jorge Lopez. It seemed like a strange upgrade at the time, as the Brewers had a good third baseman in Travis Shaw. However, with the middle infield struggling and the options for the middle infield not as good, the Brewers elected to grab Moustakas and move Shaw to second in an effort to at least provide some more offense.
The day of the trade deadline came, and the Brewers continued to pursue potential trade options to further help the team. They did make one more move, and this one just further added to the confusion. The Brewers acquired Jonathan Schoop from the Orioles for prospects Luis Ortiz, Jean Carmona, and Jonathan Villar. It was a big return for a position that the Brewers had seemed to solidify already. However, Schoop had been hot recently, and he did have team control available beyond 2018, so the hope was that he would still be a good addition to this team.
Unfortunately, the trade deadline acquisitions were not enough for the Brewers to keep up with the Cubs and the rest of baseball as they went into August. With a 13-13 month, the Brewers fell from 1 game behind in the divisions to as low as 6 games behind at one point. They managed to hold on to a playoff spot through the month, but confidence in the team was falling.
Some of the Brewers moves were paying off, and the offense was beginning to rebound. Christian Yelich continued his massive push with 11 home runs and a .307/.363/.667 line in August, and Lorenzo Cain was right up there as well at .356/.432/.510. Mike Moustakas stepped in and provided some power with 5 home runs and a 127 wRC+, and Travis Shaw was also solid with 7 home runs and 123 wRC+. In addition, Manny Pina (149 wRC+), Jesus Aguilar (136), and Ryan Braun (131) all had solid months. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for everyone. Eric Thames went ice cold and ended up on the Brewers bench. Meanwhile, Jonathan Schoop did not live up to his potential at all, hitting just .205/.256/.356 in August. The starting time he got was also taken as other members of the Brewers offense stepped up.
On the pitching staff, the struggles continued. Joakim Soria was solid for the bullpen with a 2.45 ERA and 2.48 FIP in the month. Beyond that, there were plenty of struggles. Josh Hader (4.73 ERA/2.71 FIP), Freddy Peralta (5.81/4.60), Corey Knebel (8.64/3.52), Junior Guerra (7.03/5.30), Jeremy Jeffress (1.88/4.42), Corbin Burns (4.70/5.18), and Chase Anderson (5.61/6.98) all struggled through the month. Peralta and Guerra lost their jobs in the rotation. Knebel was sent down to the minors. Davies also went back to the minors when he returned from the DL, though just until September. It wasn’t all bad, though. Wade Miley stepped up as a started, and Jhoulys Chacin provided some strong innings in the rotation. It ended up being more about survival as the month of August played out.
With the season on the brink of falling completely away, David Stearns made some more moves to get help at the waiver trade deadline, all on the last day before rosters had to be finalized. They acquired left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno from the White Sox first. Then, they acquired starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez from the Nationals. They finished the day off by acquiring outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Blue Jays, finalizing their roster for the playoff push in September.
The goal was simple entering September: Get into the playoffs. When the month started, it looked like it would be Wild Card or bust, as the Brewers deficit in the division was up to five games. The Brewers not only needed to put together a good month, but they would need the Cubs to collapse as well to get the division lead.
After a loss to start the month, the Brewers began to heat up. They went 9-2 in their next 11 games, which included a 4-2 record against the Cubs. That allowed the Brewers to close the gap in the division from 5 games to 1 1⁄2 games. Unfortunately, they flopped a little from there. They only went 4-3 over the next week, and entering the final week of the regular season, the deficit was up to 2 1⁄2 games. Their position in the Wild Card race was good with a 2 game lead, but with a 2 1⁄2 game deficit in the division, it looked like the Brewers were heading to the Wild Card game.
It was Christian Yelich who put the team on his back and ran to the finish. With 10 home runs, a .370/.508/.804 batting line, and a 240 wRC+, Christian Yelich went from in the MVP conversation to one of the front-runners to the favorite in the race. The rest of the team also stepped up on offense. Ryan Braun (148 wRC+) and Travis Shaw (123) also had strong months. Domingo Santana returned to the bench and was a key player with pinch hits. Curtis Granderson became a dependable bench bat and spot starter for the team. Lorenzo Cain was strong on defense. Overall, the lineup just stepped up. Unfortunately, a few players did drop out. Jonathan Schoop just didn’t live up to his potential and basically lost all of his playing time. The same happened to Eric Thames.
Meanwhile, the Brewers began to shift their strategy on the pitching side. With starters not as dependable, the Brewers relied more on short starts and heavy appearances from the bullpen. Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin were the two dependable starters in the rotation. Gio Gonzalez stepped in and also provided some quality innings. Corey Knebel returned and had an insane month, posting a 0.00 ERA, 0.04 FIP, and 18.18 K/9. Brandon Woodruff also stepped up and became a strong reliever, and Zach Davies and Junior Guerra provided some quality innings. Overall, the staff performed extremely well, and it allowed the Brewers to make their run.
With the final week of the season here, the Brewers faced a series against the Cardinals to start the week. In 2017, the Brewers playoff hopes ended in St. Louis, but this time, the result was much happier. They got a sweep over the Cardinals, and earned their postseason spot with a celebration in St. Louis. They came back to Miller Park, one game behind the Cubs with one series remaining against the Tigers. The Cubs went 2-1 against the Cardinals. The Brewers went 3-0 against the Tigers. It forced a tiebreaker after 162 games, with the Brewers going on a seven-game winning streak to force game 163.
The Brewers came into the month of October looking for one win in two games. With just one win, they would make it into the Division Series. It started in Chicago, with one game to decide the division. In a tight game in Chicago, the Brewers came out ahead, defeating the Cubs 3-1 to win the division. Not only did they win the division, but they also clinched the top seed in the National League. Meanwhile, the Cubs would lose to the Rockies in the Wild Card game, setting up a Brewers-Rockies matchup in the NLDS.
The postseason began in Milwaukee with a lot of excitement at home. In game one, the Brewers managed to get a 2-0 lead, and their pitching staff kept it there until the ninth inning. In the top of the ninth, Jeremy Jeffress allowed two runs to tie the game at 2-2. However, Mike Moustakas had a walk-off hit in the tenth, giving the Brewers their first postseason win since 2011.
Game two was much less dramatic for the Brewers. The game started with some tough pitching from both sides, but the Brewers broke through, getting a lead in the fourth and never looking back as they won 4-0. The series shifted to Colorado, and the Brewers didn’t stop. In game 3, they took the lead early and built it to a 6-0 advantage, holding it there to earn the sweep over the Rockies. It was a dominant performance by the Brewers, one that proved they were serious contenders for the World Series.
Game one of the NLCS came and it was just a preview of what we had to expect over the next week and a half. The Brewers built a 6-1 lead, but the bullpen faltered a bit and allowed the Dodgers to close the gap to 6-5. It would be held there though, as the Brewers finished off the Dodgers for the 1-0 series lead. Game two started similar, with the Brewers building an early lead, but then the pitching staff faltered a bit. However, this time the Dodgers were able to complete the comeback, winning the game 4-3 and tying the series at 1-1.
The series shifted to Los Angeles from there. In game 3, the dominant pitching staff returned, and the Brewers got a 4-0 win to take a 2-1 lead and guarantee another game at Miller Park. Then came game 4, which was one of the hardest played games of the postseason. The game went into extra innnings tied at 1-1, but the Brewers couldn’t keep the Dodgers at bay and lost in thirteen innings, and the series was tied 2-2. Game 5 came, and Craig Counsell pulled out all the stops. After announcing Wade Miley as the starter, he pulled Miley after just one batter and put in Brandon Woodruff. The move threw off everyone, but it didn’t mess up the Dodgers too much. The Dodgers pulled out a 5-2 win to take a 3-2 series lead, but the NLCS was coming back to Milwaukee.
With the season on the line, the Brewers made sure that there would be a Game 7. They got four runs in the first inning, giving them a lead that they would not relinquish. They won the game 7-2, and Game 7 was set. Miller Park was going crazy early as Christian Yelich got the Brewers a 1-0 lead. However, the Dodgers came back and scored two in the second, and Craig Counsell went right to the bullpen. The Brewers stayed within a run for most of the game, but could never add on to it. The Dodgers eventually did, pushing the lead to 5-1, and the Brewers season ended there in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Though the season ended with disappointment, there was still plenty to be excited about. The Brewers proved they would be contenders in the future, showing they they could play with the top teams in baseball. Christian Yelich took the MVP award, bringing it back to Milwaukee. Craig Counsell finished second in the Manager of the Year vote. Those were just the top two of several awards that the Brewers won this season, just a final note in what had been one of their best seasons in franchise history.
With the season over, many of the players that the Brewers brought in left the team. Joakim Soria, Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, and Curtis Granderson all became free agents. Later on, the Brewers would also choose to non-tender Jonathan Schoop, Xavier Cedeno, and Dan Jennings. Meanwhile, pitching coach Derek Johnson left for the Reds, hitting coach Darnell Coles resigned, and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell was not offered a new contract. The Brewers brought in Andy Haines as the new hittiing coach, Chris Hook at the new pitching coach, and Steve Karsay as the bullpen coach.
Though the Brewers lost several players from their NL Central Championship team, there was still a lot to look forward to. Most of the core was returning, which meant the Brewers could repeat this next season. It was only a question of who would come in to help support this core of players and build on the next season.
The offseason started off a bit slow for the Brewers, with the usual rumors and minor-league signing filling in the time during the offseason. The Brewers did make a few bigger moves during this time though. While at the Winter Meetings, the Brewers acquired Alex Claudio from the Rangers for their competitive balance pick. Though Claudio has struggled a bit lately, he has a lot of potential and a few years of control, making him a good pickup for the team.
The Brewers also traded away another outfielder, sending Domingo Santana to the Mariners for Ben Gamel and Noah Zavolas. It was a tough end to the Brewers career for Santana, who had shown plenty of offensive potential in his years with the team. However, the acquisition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain blocked him from regular playing time, and even though he was a key contributor to the playoff team, there just wasn’t a space for him with his limited defense in the outfield.
With that, the Brewers 2018 comes to a close. It was a successful year for the team, as they went from on the fringes of contention to a potential World Series contender in 2019. They have proven themselves in this league, and their rebuild is completely done now. The next step for them is to prove they can maintain their position in the league. Hopefully 2019 will be just as successful for the Brewers, if not even better.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.