Published 10:53 AM EDT Oct 21, 2018
MILWAUKEE — This won’t be the last time the Milwaukee Brewers are seen this late in the season.
Next time, expect to see them celebrating the NL pennant.
The Brewers are young and deep. They’ve had a taste of the postseason and head into the offseason with the bitter taste of coming oh so agonizingly close. That’s a powerful combination, as we’ve seen in recent years with the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago Cubs.
The Royals lost the World Series in 2014, returned the next year and won it all. After the young Cubs lost to the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series in 2015, they reached the World Series in 2016. We all know how that turned out.
There’s no reason the Brewers can’t follow the same path. In fact, the bigger surprise now will be if they don’t.
“We made a lot of big steps as a team,” said Christian Yelich, whose emergence as the presumptive NL MVP is representative of Milwaukee’s rise. “We can be proud of that and take that into the offseason and use that as motivation for next year.
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“We feel like we’ve got a lot of talent here, and hopefully this is just the beginning.”
This was Milwaukee's first trip to the postseason since 2011, when it also reached the NLCS. But that team was never going to have staying power, with slugger Prince Fielder leaving in the offseason.
What makes this squad's future so bright, besides Yelich, is its pitching. Its very young, not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon pitching.
Much was made throughout the season of manager Craig Counsell turning convention on its head by “bullpenning,” using his relievers as quasi-starters. He even had a “bullpen day” in the NL Divisional Series.
But Counsell didn’t do that because he was trying to shake baseball from its stuffy roots. He did it because he had to. With options for his starting rotation limited by injuries, he had to cobble nine innings together with guys who could go multiple innings on multiple days.
Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta were dazzling in the role. But all three are starters, and that’s what you can expect to see them be next year. A starting rotation with those three and Jhoulys Chacin would be downright fearsome — and that’s without even considering the injured Jimmy Nelson and Brent Suter.
Speaking of fearsome, Josh Hader’s flamethrower of a left arm gives Counsell all kinds of options, none of which are good for opponents.
Oh, and with the exception of Nelson, the Brewers have all these guys locked up for the next several seasons.
Don’t mind that howling sound. That’s just the rest of the NL, the NL Central in particular.
“We have so many young players. So much good, young pitching that’s controllable for the foreseeable future, so there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about where we’re headed,” veteran Ryan Braun said. “But, again, it’s such a difficult place to get to. You don’t ever take this opportunity for granted.”
The Brewers only have to look down I-94 to know that.
The Cubs were supposed to be the New York Yankees of the 2010s, a young team with plenty of depth and even more in the farm system. They haven’t been able to sustain their spot atop the NL, however.
They were routed by the Dodgers in the NLCS last season. This year, they blew a five-game lead in the NL Central in the last month, lost to the Brewers in a 163rd game, and were out of the postseason after the wild-card game. There’s already talk of shedding some of the pieces of their core.
But the Brewers are built differently. Have I mentioned their pitching? They also have an established leadoff hitter in Lorenzo Cain. Aside from a new catcher, their lineup — and their batting order — should remain pretty consistent next year.
Milwaukee also has room to spend money — LOTS of room after having one of the lowest payrolls in the majors this season. Owner Mark Attanasio signaled his willingness to make a splash by pursuing Manny Machado at the trade deadline, and seeing the Brewers come this close might entice him to open the checkbook if there’s a free agent who can get them further next year.
So long as the Brewers can avoid major injuries, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be the team everyone else is chasing for the foreseeable future.
“This group of guys, we could move together for the next couple of years,” Burnes said. “To get to know them, get to play with them, the experience is going to help build the future, for sure.”
Milwaukee’s season is finished, but the Brewers are just getting started.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.