The Milwaukee Brewers were arguably the best team in the National League this season. Their bullpen could easily have been the best in baseball, and they were carried down the stretch by the probably MVP winner Christian Yelich. Their lineup had few holes in it, and they were solid defensively as well. The only real problem that they ever encountered was their starting pitching, and that didn’t really show up when they can get four solid innings out of their ‘pen on a nightly basis. After winning the play-in game against Chicago, they finished first in the central, dominated the Rockies in the divisional round, and narrowly lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a tight seven game series. For most teams, that would be a successful season that left hopes for better ones in the future. For the Brewers, though, this may be their last chance for a long time to compete at this high a level.
The first red flag for the Brewer’s future hopes is their lack of starting pitching. While it didn’t show up a lot this season, it really was a problem for them. In fact, their inability to get a starter through any significant number of innings was probably what cost them the NLCS against the Dodgers. While their problem is easily identified, fixing it is going to be very difficult this off-season. There is not a strong class of free agent pitchers this winter, and they have few prospects who are going to be able to make any kind of a difference anytime soon. Their only hope would be to acquire a solid starter via the trademarked, but they may not have a deep enough team to be able to make that happen. it seems like this is a problem that could persist for years to come.
Another reason that the door may be closing in Milwaukee is how many of their contributors may not be able to repeat. The surging offense of Jesus Aguilar seems unlikely to happen again, as he came out of nowhere and slowed down in the second half as pitchers learned how to get him out. Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun are both getting up there in years, and may not have a lot of time left to play at their 2018 levels. While Yelich is young enough that he should still be a very solid player for a long time, the odds of him repeating his magical 2018 campaign seem rather low. They simply lack the sustainability to make me believe that they’ll be able to reach the level they played at this season offensively again.
Their future’s biggest problem, though, is how much they are built through their bullpen. While having a dominant bullpen almost always results in October baseball, it also has as many risks as rewards. Bullpen pitchers almost always have steep and sudden declines, and they can happen at anytime. Teams that build through their bullpens are typically very good for at least a year or two, but they also tend to implode once their bullpen stops being elite. The 2014 and 2015 Royals dominated baseball when they had the tandem of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland. However, almost all at once, that bullpen fell apart, and they haven’t reached the play-offs since capturing their 2015 championship. Unfortunately, that seems like a route the Brewers may end up taking as well. They relied very heavily on their bullpen this year, and if it takes even a slight step back, it could prove very costly for The Crew.
Nothing is a given. The Brewers may prove me wrong and string off a half decade of domination with these pieces. If their offense stays intact and they can improve their pitching staff, they may actually do just that. However, the way it is right now, it seems much more likely that they look back at 2018 as the one year that they really had a chance. Consistently winning is difficult, and too many teams that were built like MIlwuakee’s have fallen fast. It doesn’t seem too unlikely that the Brewers will follow suit.