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Know your enemy: Milwaukee Brewers

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The N.L. Central champs might find a repeat difficult.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough for me to write, “Milwaukee Brewers, defending N.L. Central champions,” but that’s what they are, having run through September faster than the Cubs could and defeating them in the tiebreaker game October 1. Credit, therefore, where credit is due. They won the division more than the Cubs lost it, going 20-7 after September 1 to the CUbs’ 16-13.

The Brewers had almost everything go right for them last year, including a fantastic MVP season from Christian Yelich, who hit .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs. In September 2018, Yelich was even better: .370/.508/.804 with 10 homers. It seemed every time you glanced toward Miller Park, Yelich was hitting a key home run.

There’s no doubt Yelich is a good player. But in five years in Miami, he had never come close to that 2018 level of production. I say it’s an open question as to whether he can repeat that perfect storm of a season.

Beyond that, the Brewers are essentially the same team as they were in 2018, with the addition of Yasmani Grandal on a one-year deal to catch for them. That will significantly increase the offense from the position. Grandal has a reputation as a good defensive catcher, but he was awful defensively last postseason. Erik Kratz and Manny Pina return to back up Grandal.

Mike Moustakas, acquired midseason from the Royals, is not on the Brewers roster at this point, but many think they will still re-sign him as a free agent. If not, Travis Shaw moves back to third base and Cory Spangenberg, acquired from the Padres, will play second.

The Brewers rotation will welcome back Jimmy Nelson, though he’s just begun throwing bullpens and they say they won’t rush him:

40 pitches, 45 pitches. What’s five pitches among friends? Nelson hasn’t appeared in a game since suffering this shoulder injury [VIDEO] on the bases at Wrigley Field in September 2017:

The Brewers bullpen has good depth with Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel leading it.

Which leads me to this conclusion: In addition to Yelich, a lot of Brewers had what could be seen as career years in 2018. Jeffress and Hader did. So did Shaw and Jesus Aguilar among position players.

Point is, I think the Brewers had a perfect storm type of season in 2018, where just about everything that could have gone right, did go right. The Cubs, meanwhile, had a 2018 from hell, where pretty much everything that could go wrong, did.

And yet, Milwaukee had to go to Game 163 to win the division. It says here that won’t be as easy in 2019.

The Brewers have upgraded the former Maryvale Baseball Park. It was rebuilt over the summer and is now corporately-named “American Family Fields of Phoenix.” The Cubs will play there March 10.

For regular-season play, the Cubs head to Miller Park to face the Brewers April 5-6-7, July 26-27-28 and September 5-6-7-8, and will host them at Wrigley Field May 10-11-12, August 2-3-4 and August 30-31-September 1. That means the two clubs will be done facing each other with three weeks remaining in the season. Could be interesting if both are still in contention for the division title at that point.