Brewers hope improved lineup leads to longer postseason run

MILWAUKEE (AP) — With Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes heading the rotation and three-time All-Star Josh Hader leading the bullpen, the Milwaukee Brewers believe they have a championship-caliber pitching staff.

Whether they contend for the World Series title that has eluded this franchise throughout its existence could depend on how much help that staff gets from its lineup.

The Brewers have made four straight playoff appearances but haven’t reached a World Series since 1982 and have posted a 1-6 postseason record over the last three years.

“Going four years in a row, I feel like eventually we’ve got to get over the hump of winning a World Series,” pitcher Brandon Woodruff said. “I think that’s a realistic goal.”

The Brewers went 95-67 and won the NL Central last season before scoring just four runs in a 3-1 NL Division Series loss to the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves.

Now they want to take the next step.

“We know we’re going to be a run prevention-oriented team,” president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “We’re still built around our pitching staff. We’re built around our defense. That’s not going to change. But we also want to score a few more runs than we did last year, and we think some of the moves we’ve made will help us to do that.”

Those moves included acquiring power-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe from the Boston Red Sox and signing 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Brewers fired Andy Haines as hitting coach and replaced him with Connor Dawson and Ozzie Timmons.

“This is a pretty laid-back crew,” McCutchen said. “Seems like I fit in pretty well. Guys come in, they know what they need to do to get ready. That lets you know the type of team that we have. They have expectations of things they need to accomplish.”

The Brewers also need 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich to approach the form he showed his first two seasons in Milwaukee. After leading the NL in OPS in 2018 and 2019, Yelich hit .205 in 2020 and batted .248 with just nine homers and 51 RBIs last season.

While the strength of Milwaukee’s lineup is uncertain, the Brewers know they have quality pitching.

Their rotation features three All-Stars in Burnes (11-5, 2.43), Woodruff (9-10, 2.56) and Freddy Peralta (10-5, 2.81). Hader had 34 saves in 35 opportunities last season.

“The guys who are going to pitch most of our innings this year have done some pretty incredible things already,” manager Craig Counsell said.

The Brewers open the season April 7 in Chicago against the Cubs.

NEW LOOK

The Brewers acquired Renfroe in a trade that sent Jackie Bradley Jr. to Boston. The Brewers will put Renfroe in right field and hope he at least matches the production of Avisaíl García, who signed with the Miami Marlins after homering 29 times and driving in 86 runs last season.

McCutchen, who batted .222 with 27 homers and 80 RBIs for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, will be the Brewers’ primary designated hitter but also can play the outfield.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

LHP Ethan Small posted a 1.98 ERA in 18 minor-league games last season and figures to make his major-league debut at some point this year. LHP Aaron Ashby could have an even bigger impact, but he spent enough time on the Brewers’ roster last season that he no longer qualifies as a rookie.

WHO’S ON FIRST

Rowdy Tellez has never had more than 370 at bats in a season, but that could change this year. Tellez figures to get the majority of the Brewers’ starts at first base. The 27-year-old Tellez hit .272 with seven homers and 28 RBI in 56 games for the Brewers last year after they acquired him from Toronto at midseason.

MILESTONE WITHIN REACH

Counsell is set to become the franchise record-holder for career managerial victories this season. He enters his eighth season with a 529-479 mark. The record is held by Phil Garner, who went 563-617 from 1992-99.

MAKING HISTORY

The Brewers are seeking their fifth straight playoff berth. Before this stretch, they never had reached the playoffs in as many as three consecutive seasons.

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AP freelance writer Jack Thompson contributed to this report.

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