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2021 Record: 95-67
First Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 3.50 (3rd in MLB)
Team OPS: 713 (20th in MLB)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Brewers weren’t necessarily considered the crop of the NL Central to begin the season, but even with the Cardinals’ miraculous run to end the 2021 campaign, this was basically their division from the jump -- or at least from the middle of April on, anyway. A chief reason for that was their starting pitching, as the Milwaukee rotation was sensational. Corbin Burnes was even better than his impressive 2020 campaign with 234 strikeouts and a 2.43 ERA in 167 frames. Brandon Woodruff would have been the ace of most staffs with a 2.56 mark and 211 strikeouts over 30 starts. Freddy Peralta was sensational in his first full season as a starter with a 195/56 K/BB ratio and 2.81 ERA over 144 1/3 innings. And that’s not even mentioning Adrian Houser (3.22) and Eric Lauer (3.19). Add in another dominant season from Josh Hader with 34 saves and solid work behind him from relievers like Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger, and there were few staffs as good as Milwaukee’s was in 2021. And while we’ll focus on the offense in this next section, Willy Adames was outstanding with a .285/.366/.521 slash after a trade with the Rays, and appears to be the shortstop of the future.
WHAT WENT WRONG
As good as the pitching was, the hitting was, well, not. Four regulars finished with an OPS+ below 100 -- 100 being considered average -- and the Brewers below-average hitters were dominated in the NLDS by eventual World Champion Atlanta in four games. And by dominated, we’re talking six runs in those four contests with two consecutive shutouts in Games 2 and 3. Christian Yelich was particularly disappointing, finishing the year with a .248 average and just nine homers in 475 plate appearances. Jackie Bradley Jr. remains a defensive stalwart, but he also posted an OPS of .497, making it hard to be too excited about that defense. The biggest disappointment, however, was Keston Hiura. After showing tremendous potential in his 2019 rookie season, he followed up a clunker of a 2020 campaign with one that saw him slash .166/.256/.301 and make a few trips back to Triple-A. Simply put, the Brewers pitched like a team that could beat anyone, and hit like a team that needed good pitching to beat anyone.
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** Luis Urias made a name for himself as one of the top infield prospects in the sport because he looked to have a potential plus-plus (or 70, on the 20-80 scouting scale) hit tool, but there were questions about his power. Funny how things change. Urias hit just .249 in his 570 plate appearances with the Brew Crew, but he also socked 23 homers and posted a .345 on-base percentage with a .445 slugging mark. Considering he’s just 25-years-old, it’s not out of the question that Urias has a breakout campaign in 2022, and deserves to be on the radar.
** Williams was the 2020 Rookie of the Year for his unreal work out of the Milwaukee bullpen in 2020, but got off to a bit of a rough start. Things also ended roughly when he broke his hand punching a wall after the Brewers had clinched the division. He’s expected to be ready for the regular season, however, and he finished his campaign with 87 strikeouts over 54 innings with a 2.50 ERA. Even if he’s not the closer, there’s fantasy value in his ability to miss bats and limit scoring opportunities.
** Kolten Wong joined the Brew Crew from the division-rival Cardinals, and put together a solid season in his first year in Milwaukee. He homered 14 times, stole 12 bases, and put together a solid -- if unspectacular -- slash of .272/.335.447 while continuing to play solid defense up the middle. Wong will not be a name on the tips of tongues to start fantasy seasons, but with the likelihood of providing double digit homers and steals with an average that won’t hurt you? You can do a lot worse.
** The Milwaukee system is not one of the better ones in baseball, but there are some talented players on the way, and we got a brief glimpse of one in Aaron Ashby. His 4.55 ERA in 31 2/3 innings isn’t anything to write home about, but he struck out 39 hitters in that time frame and much of that damage was done in a couple of clunkers to begin and end his season. Ashby has swing-and-miss stuff, and is a great get in dynasty/keeper leagues. He might be worth a draft pick if he gets a chance to start for Milwaukee to begin 2022.
** In 2019, Hiura hit .303/.368/.570 with 19 homers and nine steals in 84 games, and looked like he was going to be a strong fantasy option for the foreseeable future. Over the last two years, he’s hit .192/.279/.362 with 162 strikeouts in 443 plate appearances. This is a former first-round pick that is still just 25 until August, so it’s absolutely possible that he turns things around. It’s just very hard to bet on it going into 2022.
Team Needs: The biggest need for the Brewers is they need a healthy Yelich to play back at the MVP level of the seasons prior to 2019. The starting pitching and bullpen -- for the most part on the latter -- seem to be set, but the offense can be upgraded in several spots, and will need to be if the Brewers are going to go from solid team to legitimate World Series contender. Even if that group is just average next year, they have a chance to play very deep into October.