Death of José Fernández felt on the Brewers two years later

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Milwaukee Brewers are in a terrific position with the end of the 2018 regular season nearing.

“Don’t overthink it.”

That’s what Christian Yelich said about this late season series that the Milwaukee Brewers began with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept 24.

Yelich has had a tremendous season, is a favorite for the 2018 National League MVP, which can easily be pointed to as the biggest reason as to why the Brewers are on the verge of clinching their first postseason appearance since 2011. He, along with fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain have powered the Brewers this far after the disappointing finish of 2017 in Milwaukee.

They’ve been the two best players on the team this season, by far. Yelich is sporting a National League best 6.6 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and Cain is in third place in that category with an fWAR of 5.6. Travis Shaw is third on the Brewers and 17th in the National League a 3.5 fWAR (0.1 higher than Bryce Harper, for what it’s worth).

So, yeah, Yelich and Cain have been the biggest reasons that Milwaukee is looking to head into October this year.

That pair was acquired on the same day. Cain was a free agent signing and Yelich arrived in Milwaukee via trade.

For Cain, the writing was on the wall in Kansas City, where he had spent most of his career after a trade in late-2010 sent him from Milwaukee to the Royals. The Royals had their run. They reached the World Series twice, including a title in 2015, and had expiring contracts of Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Cain. There was no way they would be able to retain all four of those free agents. It was time for them to rebuild.

Yelich, however, was a different story. Just two years ago, no one would have thought that the outfielder would be on the move from Miami. He was a budding superstar that signed a 7-year, $49.57M contract extension with the Marlins shortly before the 2015 season began. There was no reason to think that he would be leaving South Beach anytime soon.

Then, on a late September morning in 2016, everything changed.

——

“It was like a movie.”

That’s how Yelich described the death of former Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández on September 25, 2016.

“I found out on social media, and then we all got a text that just said, ‘Game cancelled, come to the stadium.”

That day shifted the course of not only the Miami Marlins, but baseball as a whole. The 2016 Marlins were all but eliminated from the playoff race at that time, but the effects have been felt league-wide ever since.

Yelich wasn’t the only talented player on that Marlins team. 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and Justin Bour all were on that squad and no longer are. Stanton, Ozuna, and Yelich are all on teams either in or near the playoffs in 2018, and if not for the death of Fernández, they’d likely still be in Miami according to Yelich.

And in Miami, after the death of Fernández, they weren’t competing for much.

In 2017 the team finished 77-85, missing the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season and had an ownership situation in flux.

When the team was sold, it was also gutted as Stanton, Gordon, and Ozuna were all dealt. Yelich was the last of the big pieces remaining in Miami, and he wanted out, too. With the direction that the franchise was heading and him entering the prime of his career, it’s hard for anyone to blame him for wanting a change of scenery. The Marlins weren’t going to be competitive anytime soon. By the time Miami would’ve been competitive again after this rebuilding period, Yelich would be able to leave via free agency, and he probably would have.

There’s no question that other teams have benefitted from those events. The Yankees are a legitimate threat to win the World Series behind Stanton’s 35 home runs, the Cardinals are enjoying a second half resurgence that has them on the verge of a wild card spot with Ozuna in the lineup every day, and the Brewers may have the MVP in Yelich.

——

On a warm September week in St. Louis, the Brewers are trying to put the finishing touches on their bid for a playoff appearance. It would mark the first of Yelich’s career which is fitting considering the season he’s wrapping up.

The Brewers wouldn’t have written this script any other way. The big moves they made this past offseason worked out better than just about anyone could have imagined. General manager David Stearns deserves credit, manager Craig Counsell has pressed the right buttons, and the organization should be praised for the way the season has gone.

Yelich is at the center of it and both him and the Brewers are hoping for a fairytale ending.

Almost like a movie.

Brewers victorious in Miami

Milwaukee outfielder Christian Yelich spent the first five seasons of his major league career in Miami with the Marlins. On Tuesday night he looked right at home.

Yelich went 3-for-5 at the plate with a pair of doubles and four runs driven in during Milwaukee’s 8-4 win over Miami. His two-run double in the top of the ninth inning gave the Brewers some extra insurance as they closed out the Marlins in the bottom half of the frame.

Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin was credited with the win on the night. He pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing four runs on seven hits while striking out three. Reliever Corbin Burnes made his MLB debut by pitching two perfect innings with a strikeout. He earned the first save of his career.

Miami starter Pablo Lopez was roughed up early on as he allowed five runs in six innings on the mound. All five runs were earned and given up within the first two innings of the game. Lopez allowed five hits and struck out six on the night.

Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw also had a pair of runs batted in one Tuesday. He had a solo home run in the eighth inning that pushed Milwaukee’s lead to 6-4.

Milwaukee and Miami close out the three-game series on Wednesday night at Marlins Park. Freddy Peralta (4-1, 2.14 ERA) will start for the Brewers while Dan Straily (3-4, 4.55 ERA) will take the mound for the Marlins. First pitch is set for 6:10 p.m. CT.

NL All-Star ballot first return released

Major League Baseball released the first return for voting for the 2018 MLB All-Star Game on Monday. The news was not good for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite having the second-best record in the National League as of Tuesday, Milwaukee only had two players appear to be in the running for starting spots on the team.

Outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain were the two Brewers to make the list, coming in at 11th and 15th among National League outfielders, respectively.

Yelich had 163,575 votes as of Monday while Cain had 104,948. Bryce Harper was the leader among outfielders in the National League with 498,189 votes. The top three vote-getters among outfielders are selected as starters in the game. Atlanta’s Nick Markakis is currently second and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers is in third.

The 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is July 17 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Last strikes: Brewers 17, Mets 6

MILWAUKEE – Seventeen last strikes for the 17 runs scored by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 17-6 win over the New York Mets on Saturday evening at Miller Park.

1. The game started about as poorly as possible for the Brewers. Starting pitcher Chase Anderson didn’t record his first out until his 29th pitch of the game, and the Crew trailed 3-0 before they came to bat.

2. Anderson was forced to make 46 pitches in the first inning and only lasted 3.2 innings before being pulled in favor of reliever Dan Jennings after allowing a Wilmer Flores single in the fourth. The final line on Anderson wasn’t great as he allowed five runs in the time he spent on the mound.

3. Luckily for Anderson, Milwaukee’s lineup certainly came to play on Saturday afternoon. After allowing three runs in the top half of the first, the Crew quickly struck back for three runs in the home half of the frame. They started putting up crooked numbers in the first inning and didn’t stop.

4. The Brewers scored a pair of runs in both the third and fourth innings, three runs in the fifth, and finally exploded for seven runs in the seventh inning to take a 17-6 lead.

5. The top of the lineup for Milwaukee did quite a bit of damage. Lorenzo Cain finished the day 3-for-4 with a double as well as a pair of walks, three runs scored and an RBI. He grounded out in the first inning and then reached base in his next five plate appearances.

6. Cain now holds a six-game hitting streak in which he has batted .417 (10-for-24). Reaching base five times on Saturday also tied a career-high for the outfielder.

7. Christian Yelich was also outstanding for the Brewers. He was a home run short of the cycle, finishing 3-for-5 with a walk, three runs scored, and three driven in.

8. It wasn’t just the top of the lineup that was productive, however. Every batter in Milwaukee’s lineup – with the exception of starting pitcher Anderson – finished the day with at least one hit and one run batted in.

9. Offensive outbursts like this don’t happen often, before Saturday Milwaukee’s season-high for runs in a game was 12. In fact, 17 or more runs had only been scored in two games in all of Major League Baseball this season prior to Saturday.

10. Milwaukee is now 8-2 in the last 10 games and 12-4 in the last 16. This marks the first time that the Brewers have been 13 games over .500 since August 27, 2014 when they were 73-60.

11. The Brewers have been playing great baseball as of late. There’s no questioning that. The best part for this team is that it all seems sustainable. Teams are going to go through peaks and valleys during the course of the 162-game season.

12. There will be a point again this season when Milwaukee losses two-of-three or three-of-four. Regardless of that, the Brewers certainly look like they’re for real.

13. The early season qualms about Milwaukee was that the team had feasted on weak competition and struggled against above .500 teams. At the time, that was true. Since the month of May started – the month that was littered with games against above .500 teams and playoff contenders – the Brewers have played their best baseball. Milwaukee has gone 16-7 in the month, with all but six of the games coming against teams that entered the day at or above the .500 mark.

14. This team is going to almost certainly finish the month in first place in the National League Central Division, which is arguably the best in baseball. Four of the five teams in the division are above .500. But the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates all trail Milwaukee by four games.

15. Any of those four teams would be the division leaders in other divisions across baseball. Instead, they’re trying to chase down the Brewers.

16. It’s a long season, that’s not something that’s to be forgotten. With that being said, the Brewers are here for the long haul.

17. The Brewers and Mets will wrap up this four-game series on Sunday afternoon at 1:10 p.m. CT. Milwaukee will send right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (3-1, 3.32 ERA) to the mound and the Mets will counter with righty Zack Wheeler (2-4, 5.32 ERA).

Brewers place Yelich on DL

The Milwaukee Brewers have placed outfielder Christian Yelich on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to April 5. The team has recalled pitcher Taylor Williams from AAA-Colorado Springs.

Yelich last played in Wednesday’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He made a sliding catch in foul territory into the wall at Miller Park and was later removed from the game for precautionary reasons. He was on the bench for the first three games against the Chicago Cubs before being placed on the disabled list Sunday morning.

On the season Yelich has 10 hits in 26 at-bats for the Brewers. That includes one home run and five runs batted in.

Williams pitched 4.2 innings for the Brewers last year, posting a 1.93 ERA in five appearances.

Yelich is eligible to be activated from the disabled list on April 15.

Last strikes: Cardinals 6, Brewers 0

MILWAUKEE – Fourteen last strikes for the 14 total hits in Milwaukee’s 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

1. Things didn’t get off to a good start for the Milwaukee Brewers for the second night in a row. Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler laced Jhoulys Chacin’s second pitch of the game into the left-center gap for a leadoff double. Chacin then attempted to pick off Fowler at second and the ball got past Milwaukee second baseman Jonathan Villar into centerfield. Villar was charged with an error on the play as Fowler moved up to third. A few pitches later Tommy Pham hit an RBI-groundout to third base and St. Louis took a 1-0 lead.

2. On the bright side for Milwaukee fans, the Cardinals didn’t open the game with back-to-back home runs as they did on Tuesday night.

3. Just because that was the case didn’t mean things weren’t difficult for Chacin against the top of the Cardinals order. In the third inning Fowler led off with a walk, Pham hit a ground rule double, and both eventually scored to make it 3-0. Fowler scored on a ground out for the second time, and Pham was able to cross the plate on a Marcell Ozuna RBI-single.

4. That didn’t mean that the bottom of the order didn’t do damage as well. Catcher Yadier Molina hit his third home run of the season off Chacin in the fourth inning. He later drove in another run on a sacrifice fly to left field in the sixth inning.

5. The sacrifice fly was potentially the best defensive play of the game. Leftfielder Christian Yelich tracked the ball into foul territory before making a sliding catch up against the wall. It was a really impressive play, even though a run scored on the play. Yelich later left the game in what was described by manager Craig Counsell as “oblique stiffness.” Counsell also said it’s likely Yelich is held out of the lineup on Thursday against Chicago lefty Jon Lester.

6. The same could not be said about the rest of the sixth inning, however. Villar made his second error of the game. St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong reached base on an infield single that deflected off the glove of Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames right to Villar. There was no play at first, however Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong attempted to each third base on the play.

7. Villar had the opportunity to try and throw DeJong out, but the bail got past third baseman Travis Shaw. That allowed DeJong to score and Wong to move up to second base.

8. That display was also the end of the night for Chacin. He finished with a final line of 5.2 innings pitched, seven hits, six runs (three earned), a pair of walks, and the home run to Molina allowed.

9. “Thought [Chacin] pitched much better tonight than he did in San Diego,” Counsell said of Chacin’s performance. “I thought his breaking ball was very effective tonight. I thought the first inning we gave him a run and I thought we were a little sloppy in the sixth inning and gave up a couple runs. I was encouraged by this outing. He needs his breaking ball and his breaking ball was sharp tonight.”

10. “I felt that I was throwing more strikes today,” Chacin said. “I was trying to keep the ball down. There was a couple pitches, the one for the homer for Molina, I felt I put it where I wanted but he put a good swing on it. I’m disappointed in my first two starts this year, but I won’t put my head down. I’m going to keep working on all my pitches.”

11. Milwaukee’s first scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the second as Domingo Santana and Villar reached base on consecutive pitches. Santana was hit by a Carlos Martinez slider to start things off and Villar followed with a single to centerfield. Santana later reached third on a Manny Piña sacrifice fly to medium-deep center but was unable to advance any further. Both men were stranded due to Eric Sogard and Chacin both going down on strikes to close the inning.

12. The next scoring chance for the Crew didn’t come until the bottom of the seventh inning. Martinez was lights out for the Cardinals, finishing with a final line of 8.1 innings pitched, four hits, two walks, and 10 strike outs. Martinez didn’t allow a base running from the second inning until the seventh when Santana knocked a single into left field. Piña also reached base with a two-out walk, but the Brewers were unable to do anything else as Sogard lined out to center to end the threat.

13. The Brewers tried to make things interesting in the ninth inning, but the 6-0 St. Louis lead was too much to overcome. Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out in the inning. Piña then knocked a weakly hit bouncer back to the mound, resulting in a 1-2-3 double play to finish the game.

14. The loss drops the Brewers to 4-2 on the young season. Milwaukee welcomes the Chicago Cubs to Miller Park on Thursday evening for the first game of a four-game series.

Brewers use Braun’s heroics to beat Cardinals 5-4

The Milwaukee Brewers entered the bottom of the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals trailing for the second consecutive day. Tuesday’s outcome was much different than Monday’s however.

While St. Louis opened the game with back-to-back home runs from Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham, the Brewers closed the game with back-to-back home runs from Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun. A game that started and ended with back-to-back home runs had never happened in Major League Baseball history, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Yelich was facing a 2-2 count with two outs in the ninth when he crushed a Dominic Leone pitch to center field to tie the game at four. The very next pitch thrown by Leone ended the game, courtesy of Braun depositing it over the left field wall.

Newly acquired reliever Dan Jennings is credited with the win. He pitched one scoreless inning, striking out a batter. Leone is tagged with the loss after attempted to complete a five-out save, he did strikeout two.

The Brewers and Cardinals will square off in the rubber match of a three game series on Wednesday at Miller Park. First pitch is set for 6:40 CT.

The position to pay attention to for the upcoming Brewers season

The trade for outfielder Christian Yelich, the signing of former All-Star outfielder Lorenzo Cain, the experiment of moving Ryan Braun from the outfield to first base and the push for another starting pitcher have dominated the offseason storylines for the Milwaukee Brewers. But it’s another position that’s not garnering headlines that fans of the team should be keeping an eye on — second base.

Why? Well, the Brewers were one of the worst teams in baseball when it came to production out of that position in 2017. The push to fix it has left Milwaukee with a lot of options as well as question marks. The players who are poised to see time at second base this season are Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, Hernan Perez, and Mauricio Dubon.

A name missing there is Neil Walker. The Brewers traded for the veteran last season, but in the wake of the Yelich trade and Cain singing, it’s unlikely Milwaukee brings him back.

The first option, and the one with the most upside, is Jonathan Villar. The switch-hitting Villar is coming off a disappointing season in 2017 after a big year during the 2016 campaign. At 26 years olf, Villar is relatively young and still learning how to play the game at the major league level.

Some of his errors in the field and on the bases were head-scratching, but can be manageable when he produces like he did in 2016. That season, Villar hit .285 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs from the lead-off spot. He also added 63 stolen bases, which led Major League Baseball.

Last season, Villar hit .241 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. His numbers were down pretty much across the board, but took significant hits in stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Overall, Villar had a lot more swings and misses in 2017, which didn’t allow him to get on base, and ultimately steal bases. Milwaukee already has a scary lineup, but if it gets the 2016 version of Villar, it could field one of the best offenses in baseball.

Eric Sogard is coming off one of his best seasons as a professional, and is another candidate to get time at second base. Sogard has had injury issues that have plagued his career, but stayed relatively healthy for the Brewers last season. He signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee right after the season and should be a heavily used utility player.

Hernan Perez, like Sogard, should be used as a utility player once again this season and should see spot starts at second. Perez is the most versatile player on the Brewers roster and potentially in the major leagues. He played every position beside catcher last season, including getting one inning on the mound.

Perez will find playing time at many positions this season, and could find a permanent spot at second base if Villar doesn’t produce and Sogard doesn’t stay healthy.

The biggest wildcard of all the players is Mauricio Dubon. The 23-year-old from Honduras is practically a spitting image of the team’s shortstop — Orlando Arcia. He came up playing the same spot, but the Brewers moved him to second base due to Arcia playing at such a high level. Dubon like Arcia, is a slick fielding infielder with a cannon for an arm.

He’s a player that will hit for average, steal bases, and play gold glove caliber defense. Dubon won’t bring the power that Villar or Perez will, but the Brewers lineup might not need that from him. He appeared in the MLB Futures Game last season and had a nice performance. It’s unlikely that he’ll start the season in the big leagues, but should see some time with the major league club.

For my money, I think Brewers fans should hope for a bounce back season from Villar, as he has the highest ceiling of any of the potential second base candidates this season. I like having guys like Sogard and Perez as key utility players, who can play multiple positions and are a reliable bat off the bench. I’ve been a Dubon advocate for a couple of years now, and am looking forward to see what he can do when he arrives in the big leagues. I don’t think he will have a huge impact on the team this season, but could be the second baseman of the future.

Here’s why the Brewers should hold on to OF Domingo Santana

With the trade for Christian Yelich and the signing of Lorenzo Cain last week, the Brewers now have a surplus of outfielders. Besides Yelich and Cain, Milwaukee also has Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, and Brett Phillips, all who primarily play the three outfield positions.

Undoubtedly, the Brewers will have to move some of the outfielders on their roster, but should hold on to Domingo Santana, who had a breakout season in 2017. Santana’s name has come up  in multiple reports as a player the Brewers are currently shopping. Many have speculated that Milwaukee will be likely looking to trade Santana for a high-end starting pitcher.

The Brewers and Santana have been linked to teams and players such as the Tampa Bay Rays with Chris Archer and the Cleveland Indians with most notably Danny Salazar. It makes sense that Milwaukee would look into potential trade partners for Santana, but should at least think about holding on to a player of his caliber.

Since coming to Milwaukee as part of the trade that sent Carlos Gomez to the Houston Astros, Santana’s numbers have shown continued improvement. His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS, were all up in each of the last three seasons. Not only has his batting production increased, but his defensive runs saved and adjusted range statistics have also improved. He also has a cannon for an arm out in right field. MLB Network ranked Santana as the 8th best right fielder heading into 2018.

The Brewers have also talked about moving Ryan Braun to first base, which would make sense since he took a step back in the outfield last season, but is still a bat you want in the lineup. Braun used to be an above-average outfielder, but age and injuries have started to take its toll. Of the five outfielders listed above, Braun is the worst outfielder of the group.

Santana’s contract goes right along with both Yelich and Cain’s deals. Cain will be under contract through the 2022 season making an average of $16 million a year. Yelich is under club control through 2022, making an average of just over $7 million per year, while Santana is under contract through 2021 and is eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2019. Overall the outfield of Cain, Yelich, and Santana will be under contract for the next four to five years at a reasonable price.

The Brewers also still have a good enough farm system to trade for a top-end starter. Prior to the Yelich trade, a move in which Milwaukee sent three top 100 prospect to the Marlins, the team’s farm system was ranked eighth by Baseball America. On Monday, the outlet had Milwaukee at No. 11. The Brewers still have three prospects ranked in the top 100 and two more who just narrowly missed the cut. The cupboard definitely isn’t bare in Milwaukee.

Overall, if the Brewers hold on to Santana, they would have one of the most productive outfields in MLB both offensively and defensively. Santana also has a very team-friendly deal and would be under contract for another four years, which would give Milwaukee financial flexibility. The Brewers also have a good enough farm system to go out and acquire top-end talent with the prospects they still have in the minor leagues.