Milwaukee Brewers 2018 season preview: Looking to make playoffs ahead of schedule

The Brewers have undertaken a thus far very successful rebuild under GM David Stearns, and last season they arrived a bit ahead of schedule. Adding 14 wins to their 2016 total, the Brewers in 2017 remained in contention for a wild-card berth until the final day of the regular season. 

In 2018, they'll be looking to take that next step -- i.e., make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and for just the fifth time in franchise history. To that end, the Brewers still have work to do, but they've already had a praiseworthy offseason. Now let's have a closer look ... 

The vitals

  • 2017 record: 86-76, second place in NL Central (plus-35 run differential)
  • 2018 depth chart: Click here
  • 2018 schedule: Click here
  • 2018 fantasy outlook: Click here

Probable lineup

  1. Christian Yelich, LF
  2. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  3. Travis Shaw, 3B
  4. Eric Thames, 1B
  5. Domingo Santana, RF
  6. Manny Pina, C
  7. Orlando Arcia, SS
  8. Jonathan Villar, 2B

Bench: OF/1B Ryan Braun, INF/OF Hernan Perez, INF/OF Eric Sogard, C Stephen Vogt

(See below for more on the potential logjam in the outfield and at first base.)

Probable rotation

  1. Chase Anderson, RHP
  2. Zach Davies, RHP
  3. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
  4. Yovani Gallardo, RHP
  5. Wade Miley, LHP

Once Jimmy Nelson returns from shoulder surgery, ideally in late May or early June, he'll slot in at the front. 

Probable bullpen

Closer: Corey Knebel, RHP
Setup: Josh Hader, LHP; Jacob Barnes, RHP
Middle: Matt Albers, RHP; Jeremy Jeffress, RHP; Boone Logan, LHP; Oliver Drake, RHP
Long/spot starter: Junior Guerra, RHP

Rotation help needed

I'll heap deserved praise on the Brewers for their offseason work in a moment, but first let's address the glaring roster need. Last season, Milwaukee ranked fifth in the NL in rotation ERA, and that's respectable. However, this season they'll be without Nelson (as noted above) until perhaps June after he underwent major shoulder surgery. There's also no guarantee that he'll immediately resume pitching to a characteristic level upon his return. On another level, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, once you look at their supporting indicators and pre-2017 performance histories, look candidates for substantial regression in 2018. 

To address these concerns, the Brewers have brought in Chacin, Gallardo, and Miley on an NRI. Suffice it to say, none of the three is particularly inspiring by the standards of contenders. There's some depth options in Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, and Guerra, but even accounting for that the Brewers still need another needle-mover in the rotation. Fortunately for them, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb are still out there at this absurdly late hour. Milwaukee could add a two or more precious wins to the ledger by adding one of those names to the fold. 

The crowded outfield/first base situation

The additions of Yelich and Cain has created a bit of a logjam in the outfield and, by extension, first base. To be sure, there are worse problems to have, but absent other moves it's going to be something manager Craig Counsell must sort out all season. Yelich and Cain will obviously be lineup fixtures. Presumably, Santana -- coming off an age-24 campaign in which he hit 30 homers -- is in line to fill the vacant corner on a primary basis. That leaves Eric Thames and Ryan Braun to split duty at first base and occasionally in left. 

Based on handedness alone, Thames and Braun could make a devastating platoon arrangement, but it's hard to imagine Braun, still productive and owed $20 million for the upcoming season, being relegated to the right-handed half of a first-base platoon. If the Brewers decide to address their rotation needs via trade and wind up parting with Santana, then the situation is resolved. Otherwise, it's going to be on Counsell to find enough ABs to keep Thames and Braun both fresh and content. Oh, let's also not forget about Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips, who probably won't even crack the active roster when the team heads north. Like we said, it's crowded out there. 

Good for you, Mark Attanasio

Look around the league, and you've got perhaps 10 teams actively tanking, another handful paying heed to the luxury-tax threshold despite no real need to do so (the Dodgers and Yankees, for instance), and teams like the Mets not spending in line with their revenues and market size. The Brewers, though, stand out on the positive end of things. Despite playing in MLB's smallest media market, the Brewers under owner Mark Attanasio this offseason have committed roughly $150 million in free agent signings and the trade acquisition of Yelich. If Attanasio's recent comments are any guide, they may not be done. So in a market in which teams are hesitant to spend to the point of absurdity, all credit to the Brewers for realizing a contending core deserves investment. Since the death of Detroit's Mike Ilitch, MLB is lonely for an owner whose sole motivation is winning. Maybe Attanasio and the Brewers will step into that cavernous breach. 


So ... the state of the Brewers as we head toward Opening Day? There's still some space between them and the NL Central favorites in Chicago, but you should consider the Brewers to be squarely in the fray of NL wild-card contenders. An impact arm added to the rotation could push them to wild-card favorite status. 

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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