Going into the All-Star break in 2018, the Brewers had lost six straight games, but were 55-43 and just 2½ games out of first place in the NL Central.
And they came within one victory of playing in the World Series.
One year later, the Brewers lost five of their last six and 15 of their last 23 before the break despite having five All-Stars and are 47-44. Yet, they’re just a half game out of first place in a division no one seems to want.
There’s no reason not to expect the Brewers to make a similar run this year
OK, Jhoulys Chacin, the ace last season, has regressed back into the journeyman he used to be. There’s no Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress hasn’t approached what he was last season and Jesus Aguilar has only been starting to return to his 2018 form. Plus, reliable lefty Wade Miley, who was allowed to leave via free agency, would look real nice in a Brewers uniform these days.
But there’s also this:
- Christian Yelich has been even more impressive than last season, when he was the NL MVP.
- Mike Moustakas is just 13 homers from matching his career high of 38.
- The addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal has been huge.
- Brandon Woodruff is emerging into a genuine staff ace.
- Zach Davies has made a nice comeback.
- Josh Hader is still the bullpen.
Meanwhile, the rival Cubs still appear to be dysfunctional. Could Joe Maddon be fired? Well, that’s a subject for another column.
Yes, the Brewers have also been underachieving. But this team has the personnel to produce a strong second half. And if general manager David Stearns can swing a trade for Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, maybe he will do for the Brewers what Justin Verlander did for the Astros in 2017.
Meanwhile, here are my picks at midseason for Cy Young and MVP awards:
AL Cy Young Award
Justin Verlander is always on the radar with his still electric stuff, but my vote at the moment goes for the remarkable Charlie Morton. He’ll be 36 in November and he has an 85-83 career record, but a reborn fastball has helped him go 10-2 with a league-best 2.32 earned run average. And how about his sensational 142-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio?
The Rays fans are coming out in such few numbers these days that it appears Montreal might be getting a re-do as a major league city. Those fans are missing someone special in Morton.
He reminds me of Mike Scott, who went from journeyman to the 1986 NL Cy Young Award winner for the Astros. In 1982, he was 7-13 with a 5.14 ERA and had 63 strikeouts in 147 innings for the Mets. Just four years later, he was 18-10, with a 2.22 ERA and 306 strikeouts in 275⅓ innings.
That’s still one of the most remarkable transformations in major league history.
NL Cy Young Award
I’ll take the Nationals’ amazing Max Scherzer to win his fourth Cy Young Award. He’ll be 35 later this month, but he remains the most overpowering pitcher in baseball. And with 181 strikeouts at the break, he’s on pace to reach 329. That would be the most in baseball since Randy Johnson had 334 in 2002.
Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will start for the NL in today’s All-Star game, is right there with a 10-2 record 1.73 ERA. But Scherzer, who has gone 8-1 after a 1-4 start, remains the best pitcher in either league.
Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu is a tempting choice. After joining the Yankees this season, he’s hitting .336 with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 63 RBIs. What’s more, the Yankees are looking a lot like the World Series champion Red Sox last season.
But the choice is Mike Trout, who is already one of the best hitters in baseball history at the age of 27. In six of his seven full seasons with the Angels, Trout has finished in the top two in AL MVP voting. And he’s only getting better with age, as evidenced by his on-base average progression during the last six seasons (.377, .402, ,441, .442, .460, .453).
The Angels were never got much of a return on their investment with Albert Pujols, who has been a disappointment since signing a 10-year contract for $240 million in 2011. After finishing in the top five of NL MVP voting 10 of his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he has only finished as high as 17th twice in the AL voting with the Angels.
Trout will prove to be worth every penny of the $429 million over 12 years the Angels gave him earlier this season.
Oh, this one is tough. It seemed like a no-brainer that Yelich would repeat for this award. But Cody Bellinger has come back strongly for the Dodgers after regressing in 2018. And the Dodgers have the best record in baseball.
And let’s not forget about the Pirates’ Josh Bell, who is having a crazy season with 30 doubles, three triples, 27 homers and 84 RBIs. With 57 extra-base hits, Bell has the most by an NL player through 83 games since Henry Aaron had that many with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959.
So who is the pick? I’ll take Bellinger who leads baseball with a 6.6 WAR — Trout is second with a 5.7. He’s doing that playing half of his games in Dodger Stadium, a pitcher’s haven, and, defensively, he has been a plus both as a right fielder and first baseman.