MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching could improve this year better because of two new bats in the lineup: Outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich are just as capable of changing games with their gloves, too.
Think fewer bloopers dropping in for hits, or a hard liner into the gap cut off in time to prevent extra bases. Any edge will help the Brewers in what should be a competitive race in the NL Central.
“We had a great outfield before; I know I benefited from it, too,” starter Zach Davies said. “But it’s shoring up spots that the front office wanted to. Both guys are great defensively.”
The offseason acquisitions are each Gold Glove-winning outfielders, in fact. Yelich arrived in a deal with the Miami Marlins on Jan. 25, one day before the Brewers signed former farmhand Cain as a free agent from the Kansas City Royals.
The additions led to speculation that Milwaukee might deal one of their quality outfielders to bring in another starter, especially with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss the first couple months as he recovers from shoulder surgery in September.
But general manager David Stearns was quiet as spring training wound down. He could have trade chips to use later in the season, but for now, a stockpile of outfielders and first basemen should help keep the sluggers fresh.
Ryan Braun may be the biggest beneficiary after being limited last year to 104 games, batting .268 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs, because of nagging injuries. Normally a left fielder, Braun has also been playing some first base this spring.
If Braun is comfortable enough to play first once in a while, the move might allow more playing time for Domingo Santana after his 30-homer campaign in 2017.
The outfield constants in any scenario are Cain and Yelich, power-speed threats who should spice up the top of what was already a dangerous lineup. First baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Travis Shaw add left-handed heft to the middle of the order.
“Our lineup has a chance to really be special, really be a strength,” Braun said. “It’s a good mix of right-handed and left-handed hitters, a lot of guys who can do damage, so they just can’t pitch around one or two guys. … We have a chance to have a really dynamic offense.”
Some things to know about the Brewers, who open the season March 29 at San Diego:
After finishing a game out of the playoffs in a surprising 2017 season, the Brewers prove it wasn’t a fluke. They challenge the Cubs again for NL Central supremacy while sitting in comfortable position to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 as a wild card.
A pitching staff without a true ace takes a step back, especially after good seasons last year from right-handers Davies, Nelson and Chase Anderson. Standing pat at the trade deadline, Milwaukee limps down the stretch and is never a real factor in the playoff race.
Anderson draws his first opening day assignment after a 12-4 season. Davies and free agent signee Jhoulys Chacin (Padres) were the other rotation locks with Nelson sidelined to open the season. The Brewers hope they have enough depth to hold down the last two spots in the rotation for now, with candidates including left-hander Brent Suter, along with righties Brandon Woodruff and Junior Guerra.
Besides Cain, Yelich and Chacin, the Brewers brought in right-hander Matt Albers (Nationals) and left-hander Boone Logan (Indians) to fortify a bullpen headlined by All-Star closer Corey Knebel. Albers and promising lefty Josh Hader figure to be the bridges to the flame-throwing Knebel. … Logan (triceps/shoulder) and LHP Wade Miley (groin) were hurt Wednesday during a game against Oakland. Manager Craig Counsell said Logan would start the year on the disabled list. Miley, a non-roster invitee who was faring well in a bid for a spot in the rotation, will be shut down for two weeks. Counsell said general manager David Stearns and Miley’s agent were discussing options.
Second base remains the only unsettled position. The Brewers didn’t re-sign free agent Neil Walker, a midseason acquisition last year, so Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard and utility man Hernan Perez figure to split time at the position.