As 2019 dawns, it is important to reflect on the past 365 days. 2018 will go down as one of the best years in franchise history for the Milwaukee Brewers. The club made its first playoff appearance since 2011 and was one game short of its first World Series since 1982. 2018 bookended by acquiring outfielders, with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain prior to the season and Ben Gamel in December. Here’s a look back at the top moments from everything in between.
Brewers invest in Winning in 2018
The Milwaukee Brewers shocked the baseball world by igniting the notoriously cool hot stove in January of 2018, by adding former Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain out of free agency and trading for Christian Yelich. The moves were made hours apart, the day before the Brewers annual fan festival weekend, Brewers on Deck. Following the 2017 season where the Brewers fell one game short of the postseason, fans were excited for the offensive boost the duo would bring. Cain had played in Milwaukee early in his career before being traded to Kansas City for Zack Grienke, where he blossomed into an MVP candidate in his own right. Yelich had flashed a lot of potential in Miami, hitting for both average and power, while also commanding the outfield. Both Cain and Yelich also brought lower strikeout rates than Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana and Eric Thames, who had all split time in Center Field and Right Field. The Brewers also brought in pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley to anchor a young and budding rotation.
Best Brewers Moments
In a 162 game season (163 for Milwaukee) and the postseason, there are certain to be some excellent moments. The Brewers won a total of 102 games. These are the 10 defining moments of the 2018 season.
10. Nate Orf hits first career home run
The Milwaukee Brewers dynamic offense had some hiccups throughout 2018, most notably at the second base position. These struggles led to Brewers fans clamoring for the hard-hitting prospect Nate Orf. Orf had an unusual rise to the big leagues, going undrafted and signing with the Brewers for a mere $500 when he was originally offered $1000 and said he would play for a Snickers. Orf paid his dues and finally rose to the majors, six years after being signed. On July 4th, Nate Orf notched his first career hit and home run in the same swing, on a dinger to left field. The Milwaukee faithful went nuts and teammates had to carry the youngster on their shoulders for a curtain call.
9. Brandon Woodruff goes yard on Kershaw in the NLCS
Down the stretch of the 2018 season, Craig Counsell proved you didn’t need a dominant rotation for postseason success, or even a true starting pitcher. Often going with “out-getters,” the Brewers would trot two or three pitchers to get through the first 5-6 innings before allowing the dominant bullpen to slam the door shut on opponents. Game 1 of the NLCS was no different. Woodruff, who had hit a home run in Pittsburgh during the regular season, came in the game to lead off the third inning off Clayton Kershaw. On a 2-2 pitch, Woodruff brought the Miller Park crowd to its feet with a 407-foot home run to tie the game at 1-1. Woodruff would pitch perfect third and fourth innings in relief, and earn the win in Game 1.
8. Brewers Viral Videos
One of the things that makes the Brewers a really fun team to watch is the antics of the players. This team loves playing together and has fun doing it. Starting in Spring Training, the Brewers remade a scene of The Sandlot to the delight of many. Starring Stephen Vogt as Ham Porter and Christian Yelich as Benny “The Jet” among others, the Brewers recreated the scene where Ham launches a home run over the wall to the Beast. And Brett Phillips, I mean Scotty Smalls, attempts to retrieve the balls so they can continue playing. The scene ends with Smalls sneaking a peak at “The Beast” to see the ferocious, unofficial mascot Hank. That was not the only Hollywood flick the Brewers would pay homage this season. To promote the upcoming mini bullpen cart giveaway, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Brent Suter recreated the hitchhiker scene from Dumb and Dumber. If the whole baseball thing doesn’t work out, it’s good to know most of these guys have something to fall back on.
7. Jonathan Schoop hits a clutch grand slam
To say that Jonathan Schoop had a rough tenure with the Brewers would be a gross understatement. Schoop fell short of many expectations held for the middle infielder. That being said, in a season where it felt like every player on the roster contributed at some point this season, including Schoop, his shining moment came in mid September when the Brewers were trailing the Giants by 1 run in the 6th. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had loaded the bases after plunking Ryan Braun, leading to words being exchanged, benches clearing and the ejections of Brewers skipper Craig Counsell, pitcher Wade Miley, and catcher Jacob Nottingham. Schoop got ahead of the count 2-1 when Schoop took a cutter over the wall, bringing the Miller Park crowd to its feet and the Brewers dugout onto the field. It can be argued that this Brewers win was a crucial spark for Milwaukee down the stretch.
6. Ryan Braun turns back the clock
When Christian Yelich won his MVP award, he was joined by teammate Ryan Braun, Milwaukee’s last MVP, who took home the award in 2011. While it was Yelich who was undoubtedly the MVP this season, it’s hard to imagine where this team would have been without Braun. Braun had 20 home runs this season, including a few go-ahead/game winners. He also provided some veteran leadership for the team, having been on the Brewers last two playoff teams and serving as the vocal leader. It’s crazy to think he almost was not on the team after nearly being dealt for Yasiel Puig a few years back. Braun’s iconic moment happened September 28th, against the Detroit Tigers. The Brewers still one game back of the Cubs at that point, were tied with the Tigers in the 8th inning, until Ryan Braun came to the plate. Braun hit a wall-scraping homer off the glove of a Tiger outfielder to give the Brewers the lead going into the final frame. What makes this moment iconic is that it occurred 10 years to the date after Braun had hit an 8th inning go-ahead home run in 2008, when the Brewers were hunting the Wild Card position. As if this couldn’t be any more poetic, Milwaukee was wearing its Retro Friday jerseys.
5. Freddy Peralta nearly perfect in debut
Freddy Peralta had been one of the top pitching prospects in the Brewers organization prior to making his MLB debut on Mother’s Day 2018. The Brewers had traveled to Colorado to play the Rockies when they were in need of a starting pitcher. The 21-year-old Peralta had been slated to start for the Brewers Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the night before and had flown his family in from the Dominican Republic so they could see him pitch professionally for the first time. When the family showed up at the Sky Sox ballpark on Saturday night to find out he had been scratched from the lineup, there was disappointment, until they learned Freddy would make his MLB debut the next day. Freddy made the family’s patience worthwhile, with an absolute gem of a game for any pitcher. Peralta had thrown a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings and struck out 13 Rockies batters, the most in franchise history for a pitcher’s debut.
4. Cardiac Crew
With a dominant offense, it never seemed like the Brewers were out of a game. En route to a 96 win regular season, Milwaukee certainly had its fair share of late inning magic. Starting with the first game of the season, when Orlando Arcia singled in Ji-Man Choi in the 12th inning, a five-run 9th inning in the second, Jesus Aguilar’s walk-off homers, Christian Yelich’s walk-off fielders choice against the Cubs, Arcia’s walk-off single in the 15th inning on Player’s Weekend or Mike Moustakas’s walk-off single in the NLDS, opposing teams had a hard time beating the Brewers.
3. Dominant Bullpen
As previously mentioned, the Brewers bullpen was fantastic all year long. Headlined by the three-headed monster of 2018 All Stars Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, they gave opposing hitters nightmares all season. Josh Hader had a particularly memorable night when he pitched 2 2/3 innings and every out was a strikeout. All three pitchers notched 10-plus saves, with Hader and Jeffress also combining for 39 holds. With Hader’s capability to go multiple innings when opposing teams trailed after the 5th or 6th innings, the game was just about over.
2. Christian Yelich MVP
Christian Yelich did just about everything right in 2018. Yelich led the NL in average and was top-3 in home runs, RBI and just about every other statistical category. Yelich was acquired prior to the 2018 season from three of the Brewers top-30 prospects and another pitching prospect. He also flashed lots of leather with diving catches, gunning down runners and showing off his own wheels with 22 stolen bases. Yelich hit for the cycle twice this season, both against the Reds, on the way to his first career MVP award. Perhaps Yeli’s biggest shining moment came in the last series of the regular season, when Christian’s younger brother, Cameron, who hadn’t seen Christian play in 4+ years, was in attendance after being honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corp. The brothers reunited for a ceremonial first pitch and in his first at bat of the game, the elder Yelich brother left the yard for a two-run home run.
1. Champagne Showers
The Brewers returned to the MLB Postseason for the first time since 2011. From the confetti showers in the Home Run Gauntlet, to clinching a postseason birth in St. Louis, to winning the NL Central in Game 163 and defeating the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, Milwaukee had plenty of fun. The team came together with young faces like Arcia and Yelich, and seasoned vets like Cain, Braun and Moose, which led to plenty of champagne popping, beer guzzling and some Bob Uecker dance moves. While the team was two champagne showers short of the ultimate goal this year, there is plenty of reason to be excited for the 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Keon Broxton robs a July 4th home run by Brian Dozier, the emergence of veteran journeyman catcher Erik Kratz, Lorenzo Cain returns to KC, Arcia web gems at short, #BelieveInJesus campaign.
So, what’s next?
The NL Central remains as competitive as ever. The Cubs still have most of the same core players that won the 2016 World Series. The Cardinals picked up Paul Goldschmidt. The Reds have been as busy as ever. Some work needs to be done if the Brewers are expected to compete in 2019.
2019 Wish List
1. A top of the rotation starter
While the Brewers have plenty of starting pitching options, there isn’t a true #1 guy. While it wasn’t necessary in 2018, it would be a welcome relief to have that “it guy” in big games. Milwaukee has been rumored to have been interested in names such as Corey Kluber, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Dallas Kuechel and Sonny Gray, but there hasn’t been any sort of push one way or the other. It is possible the Brewers are content with the current options plus the return of Jimmy Nelson.
2. A solid second baseman
The Brewers’ biggest weakness of 2018 was second base. The remedy was a trade for Mike Moustakas to play third and move Travis Shaw to second, a fine band-aid, but not ideal long term. After the 2018 season ended, Moustakas declined a mutual option to make him an unrestricted free agent. It certainly is possible Milwaukee rolls with another year of the combination, as prospects Mauricio Dubon is still recovering from a torn ACL and Keston Hiura has not played above Double-A yet. In-house options would include utilityman Hernan Perez and infielder Tyler Saladino, who both had decent years in 2018.
3. Go all in
Teams like Milwaukee have short windows to succeed due to a lack of capital compared to teams like the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees. A prime example is the Kansas City Royals, who are only three seasons removed from its World Championship. Milwaukee is loaded with prospects to sell, and it’s time to go all in. The Brewers very quietly traded outfielder Domingo Santana to Seattle for Ben Gamel and a pitching prospect. This is a solid trade for the Brewers, as Santana had been out of Minor League options and truthfully did not fit into the crowded outfield in Milwaukee. Gamel has one more year of options and can platoon Left Field with Ryan Braun if needed. I would expect to see names like Eric Thames and Keon Broxton also being dangled as trade bait.
What was your favorite part of the 2018 Brewers season? What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
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