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Christian Yelich. Milwaukee Brewers, Brewers Central, National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers: 3 keys to winning the National League Central division

  • CLUTCH SUMMARY: The Milwaukee Brewers are still in contention for the National League Central Division, but it’s a work in progress.
  • To entertain the idea of winning the National League Central Division for the second consecutive season, the Milwaukee Brewers will need to tighten the ship.
  • A Brewers central core of Christian Yelich can only take this team so far can only take this team so far alone.

Sitting as far back as four games from the division lead, the Milwaukee Brewers have some work to do if they want to entertain the thought of winning the National League Central division for the second consecutive season. While this year could result in another game 163 due to how poorly the top three teams are playing, odds are that one of these teams, between the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Brewers, will pull away and leave the rest of their division mates in the dust.

For the Brewers, the outlook is pretty clear: what is happening now is not going to work for the rest of the season. Having starting pitcher after starting pitcher get injured is not a good look for this team, especially after they decided to bypass addressing the rotation at the trade deadline, except for bringing back former Brewer Jordan Lyles.

Relying on offensive juggernaut and reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich can only take this team so far, as other parts like Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Keston Hiura are all undergoing various forms of a drought at the plate. In the field, this team has been relatively smart with the baseball, ranking 14th in the entire league with 63 errors committed across 113 games, boasting a .984 fielding percentage.

As the outlook seems to become a bit murky as August gets going, here are some keys that the Brewers should implement and take advantage of if they want to get back into the divisional race.

Get Yelich some lineup protection

On his way to vying for his second consecutive MVP award, Yelich has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball, not even having gone into a slump after his MVP-winning campaign in 2018 that saw the Brewers fall one game short of a World Series berth.

Hitting .335 with 38 home runs and 83 runs driven in is a sight in itself that you normally see on the final stat line for a regular season. Having already bested his career-high in long balls in one season, Yelich looks to be doing everything that he humanely can to will this team back towards the top of the division and back into the conversation.

Rookie second baseman Hiura has been a great piece for this team in lieu of Travis Shaw, as Shaw has been a very disappointing bat and has spent a good chunk of time down in the minors working on his swing. For Hiura, his NL Rookie of the Month award from July speaks to the impact that he has made on this team in a very short notice.

Both Moose and Grandal have been plugged into various spots in the lineup, with Yaz even hitting leadoff for a time this season. Both have been mired in recent slumps at the plate, but with both being the above-average players that they are, they are still going to be counted on heavily to help this team at the plate.

Pray that the pitchers figure it out

Acquiring Drew Pomeranz, Ray Black, Jacob Faria, and Lyles before the trade deadline passed does not necessarily represent big moves made by general manager David Stearns, so the team is stuck with what they currently have. With the likes of Brandon Woodruff, Corey Knebel, Brent Suter, Jimmy Nelson, Jhoulys Chacin and now Zach Davies falling on the injury list, the cupboard is getting mighty thin at the big-league level.

Faria and Devin Williams were recently called up to the big leagues to help shore up the Brewers relief department, and this marks Faria’s Brewers debut and Williams’ MLB debut, which falls in line with outfielder Trent Grisham making his majors debut last week.

While there does not seem to be that big-time addition waiting in the wings, this team has enough decent pieces to patch up any gaps and keep themselves in games. Gio Gonzalez, Chase Anderson, Adrian Houser, and Lyles are what the Brewers have left in terms of their rotation, and with both Anderson and Houser having bounced between the bullpen and the rotation earlier in the season, their roles seem to be based on production and healthy bodies at this point.

Josh Hader has been susceptible to giving up the long ball this season, and with no Knebel to fall back on for the pen, the team has had to rely on new bullpen arm Freddy Peralta in late innings, with mixed results. Jeremy Jeffress looks to not be even close to the dominant, shutdown pitcher that he was last year, thus making him a no-go in clutch situations.

As a bright spot, lefty Alex Claudio and the veteran Matt Albers both are having quality seasons, as Claudio leads the majors in appearances and Albers seems to have shaken off the rollercoaster ride that was 2018 to make a great impression on this team’s pen in 2019.

If the arms situation can be worked out, then this team has the offensive pieces to put together a run.

Make that famous September run – again

Last season, the Brewers were able to make it back into the playoffs due to a clutch run in the month of September that saw them not only close the gap with the Chicago Cubs for the divisional lead but tie them in the final series of the season, resulting in the cause for game 163.

Needing that final game to decide who won the division, the Brewers pushed through at Wrigley, defeating the Cubs and relegating their southern neighbors to play in the Wild Card round instead of getting time off to rest up for the NLDS. Having lost that one-game playoff to the Rockies, the Cubs were sent home much, much earlier than predicted, much to the joy of the Brewers and their fans.

Flashing forward to 2019, and they need another one of those runs this year if they want to sniff the playoffs again. While as difficult as it looks with how the current roster is constructed, this team has shown time and time again that even with the odds stacked against them, that they have the ability to pull out some clutch wins.

With having more than 10 games remaining against the Cardinals and Cubs in total, there is a decent amount of time to play catch up and make those moves to get themselves back into the hunt. With the NL Central being looked at as the toughest division in the league before the 2019 season began, the Brewers have the cards to make that statement come true and make it a true three-horse race as the dog days of summer shine upon the game of baseball.