MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers understand a repeat of last year’s performance won’t earn them a fourth straight playoff berth.
Milwaukee went 29-31 last year and never was above .500 throughout the pandemic-shortened season but reached the post-season thanks to Major League Baseball’s expanded 16-team playoff format. MLB since has returned to its typical 10-team playoff system.
The Brewers aren’t making any apologies for last year but know they can’t afford to finish below .500 again.
“Yeah, we didn’t come steamrolling in the playoffs by any means but we got there, and a lot of teams didn’t get there,” outfielder Christian Yelich said from the Brewers' spring training site in Phoenix. “I think that’s something that you should be proud of, and especially in a year like that.
“I definitely think there’s room for improvement. I think everybody who was here last year acknowledges that we didn’t play our best as a team and that wasn’t the best showing all-around. I think we’re going to be better this year.”
The Brewers will need bounce-back seasons from Yelich and all the other hitters up and down their lineup who slumped last year.
Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, batted just .205 after winning batting titles in 2018 and 2019. Keston Hiura hit .212 and had an NL-high 85 strikeouts last year after hitting .303 with a .938 OPS in 2019. Avisaíl García’s average fell from .282 in 2019 to .238 in 2020. Omar Narváez saw his average plunge from .278 in 2019 to .176 last year.
“I think everybody feels like, ‘I need to show something,’ because last year was a disappointing year for a lot of people,” García said. “This year we’re coming with everything, man. Like I said, I’m telling you right now, everybody’s coming with 500% this year to show what they know, what we know to do.”
Milwaukee’s off-season moves focused more on defence than offence .
The Brewers have four former Gold Glove winners on their roster in Yelich, second baseman Kolten Wong and centre fielders Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr.
That should boost a pitching staff that features two potential aces in right-handers Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. The presence of Josh Hader and 2020 NL Rookie of the Year Devin Wiliams in the bullpen will make it tough for opponents to rally against the Brewers in the late innings.
But none of that will matter much unless the Brewers get more punch from their lineup.
“We’re ready,” García said. “Every player’s ready. Everyone. I see the intensity. I see the energy. I see everything. I like what I see and I feel comfortable with it.”
The Brewers made two big moves late in the off-season by signing Wong and Bradley.
Wong takes over as Milwaukee’s starting second baseman, with Hiura shifting from second to first base.
The addition of Bradley gives the Brewers four former All-Stars for the three outfield spots: Bradley, Cain, García and Yelich.
The most notable absence from the Brewers’ roster is Ryan Braun, who has a franchise-record 352 career homers. The Brewers declined to exercise a mutual $15 million option on his contract.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
After going through two elbow surgeries and pitching in independent leagues, Justin Topa made his major-league debut at the age of 29 last season and posted a 2.35 ERA in six games before pitching two scoreless innings in the playoffs. The 30-year-old Topa should be part of the Brewers’ bullpen this season.
Cain played just five games last season before opting out. The two-time All-Star and 2019 Gold Glove centre fielder is back this season and should add punch to the Brewers’ lineup.
The front of the Brewers’ rotation is solid with Woodruff and Burnes, but the Brewers need better performances from the rest of their starters. The rest of Milwaukee’s rotation figures to include Brett Anderson (4-4, 4.21 ERA last season), Josh Lindblom (2-4, 5.16) and Adrian Houser (1-6, 5.30).
WELCOMING BACK FANS
Milwaukee health officials have approved a plan enabling the Brewers to have fans fill 25% of the seating capacity at American Family Field, the stadium formerly known as Miller Park, at the start of the season.
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Steve Megargee, The Associated Press