The Brewers were one of the biggest surprises in 2017.
A team not many expected to be very good wound up leading the NL Central for most of the season before tailing off at the end of the season and finishing six games behind the Cubs for the division title.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell garnered Manager of the Year consideration following the 86-76 season and there is a lot of optimism heading into the 2018 campaign.
The Brewers have been aggressive this offseason. The biggest move was trading promising prospect Lewis Brinson to the Marlins for outfielder Christian Yelich. They signed former Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain on the same day to give Milwaukee a potent lineup that already included 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, third baseman Travis Shaw and first baseman Eric Thames, who had a breakout season last year.
Here are three things on the Brewers' to-do list this spring:
1. Solidify the starting rotation
The Brewers missed out on landing free-agent pitcher Yu Darvish, who signed with the rival Cubs. Darvish could have been a solid veteran on a young pitching staff. Milwaukee does have a pretty good trio in Zach Davies, who enters spring training as the No. 1 starter, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. That's where the rotation falls off as journeyman Jhoulys Chacin is penciled in as the No. 4 starter with Junior Guerra rounding out the rotation.
The staff should get a boost with the return of Nelson, who missed the final month of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury. Nelson had gone 12-6 with 199 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA. The Brewers have not had a 20-game winner since Teddy Higuera in 1986. Davies or Anderson have the potential this year, but those two alone won't be able to get the Brewers to the playoffs. If 31-year-old Yovani Gallardo, who is back with the Brewers after spending three seasons in the American League, can rediscover the form that made him an All-Star in 2010, Milwaukee just might have a rotation deep enough to contend.
2. Fix the bullpen
Corey Knebel took over closer duties for the Brewers last year after Neftali Feliz was demoted early in the season. Knebel wound up going to the All-Star Game and recorded 39 saves. But he also blew six saves and several other games were more stressful than they needed to be because of Knebel's inconsistency. While Knebel will enter the season as the closer, Milwaukee's biggest problem is the middle relief.
The Brewers bullpen had a solid ERA of 3.83, but posted a 27-36 record and had 25 total blown saves. Those were games that cost the Brewers a division title and resulted in a second-place finish six games back of the Cubs.
3. Play better defense
Only Oakland committed more errors than Milwaukee in 2017. As much as the bullpen was an issue last year, so was the defense. Adding a Gold Glove winner like Yelich in the outfield will help some, but the Brewers cannot be sloppy in the infield. Of the four worst defenses in baseball last year, only the Brewers had a winning record thanks to the offense. If Milwaukee is going to be a contender in the NL Central this year, players like shortstop Orlando Arcia — who had an NL-high 20 errors — must play with better focus.