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Know your enemy: Milwaukee Brewers

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The first in a series on all the teams the Cubs will play this year.

Maryvale Baseball Park, spring home of the Brewers
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — It’s a little bit of an odd feeling to write this series this year, at least at this time.

Why? Because there are still many top free agents still unsigned and several of these teams are quite possibly going to sign one of them.

I have a strong sense, for example, that the Milwaukee Brewers are still seeking another starting pitcher, and thus one of Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, the three top remaining free agent starters, could wind up wearing a Brewers uniform this year.

That would make my analysis of this team quite different. While the Brewers clearly upgraded their offense with the acquisition of outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, their rotation still looks a bit shaky.

Chase Anderson and Zach Davies are the top returning starters. Jimmy Nelson would be, but he hurt his shoulder diving back into first base at a game at Wrigley Field last September and had surgery on a torn labrum. Nelson could be back at midseason:

Incidentally, here’s the play on which Nelson was injured [VIDEO]. He shows immediate discomfort after diving back to the bag, but it didn’t look nearly as serious as it turned out to be.

(Getting on my soapbox a bit, right there is a really good argument for not having pitchers bat.)

The rest of the Brewers rotation consists of Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra and whatever they can get out of the return of Yovani Gallardo. Anderson and Davies were good in 2017, no question, but one has to wonder if they were a bit over their heads.

The Brewers have a good bullpen led by Corey Knebel, who was lights-out most of last year, and Josh Hader, who the Cubs could not solve at all (3-for-24, nine strikeouts).

The fact that the Brewers signed two outfielders and didn’t trade any of the ones they had creates a bit of a logjam. Ryan Braun might be tried at first base; Domingo Santana, who had a good year in 2017, really doesn’t have a position unless Braun plays first, in which case what do they do with Eric Thames? Other Brewers who have moved around the field include Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar. Villar had an awful 2017 after a very good 2016, so who knows about him?

Travis Shaw had a breakout year at third base after being acquired for Tyler Thornburg, who was injured and didn’t pitch at all in 2017, a big win for Milwaukee.

The Brewers held first place in the N.L. Central for much of the first half of 2017 while the Cubs were floundering around. The All-Star break rejuvenated the Cubs and while Milwaukee hung around the wild-card race till the season’s last week, they were just 36-35 after the break, 11½ games worse than the Cubs’ 49-25 post-All-Star record.

One thing is for sure: I don’t ever want to hear any more comments from anyone connected with the Brewers about schedule changes. Ever.

Curiously, there is an Ed Sheeran concert scheduled for Miller Park October 23. Barring weather issues, that will be the date of Game 1 of this year’s World Series. Are the Brewers trying to tell us something?

The Cubs will face the Brewers 19 times this year, beginning April 5-8 at Miller Park. Other Cubs/Brewers series in 2018: April 26-29 at Wrigley Field, June 11-13 at Miller Park, August 14-15 at Wrigley Field, September 3-5 at Miller Park and September 10-12 at Wrigley Field.