They didn’t have the same record. Nor did they have the same playoff seeding. They weren’t even in the same league. But the Milwaukee Brewers’ rise to prominence is eerily similar to the 2014 Kansas City Royals.
Sunday afternoon, the Brewers finished off an impressive sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series. Outscoring the Rockies 13-2, the Brewers didn’t do anything special; it was quiet and utter domination from all aspects. Their starting pitching didn’t give up a single run, their bullpen, for the most part, was lockdown, and their offense got runners across home plate when they had to. Now, it’s on to the NLCS where the Brewers will face off with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Going into the regular season, it wasn’t far-fetched to think the Brewers could make the playoffs. They were coming off an 86-win season and made some significant offseason transactions, most notably trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain — who have each been vital elements to their success. But it was hard to envision the Brewers playing this deep into the postseason.
Yelich was two home runs and an RBI short of winning the triple crown, and Cain hit over .300 for the fourth time in the last five years. First baseman Jesus Aguilar blasted 35 home runs and totaled 108 RBIs, Travis Shaw had a second consecutive 30-plus home run season, Ryan Braun drove in 64 runs in 125 games, and Mike Moustakas came up with some clutch hits in the NLDS. All in all, the Brewers finished the regular season fourth in Major League Baseball in home runs (218).
There is still no bonafide ace on this pitching staff. Sure, Jhoulys Chacin, Gio Gonzalez, and Wade Miley have been impactful veteran starters, but none of them pose an overpowering presence on the rubber. Meanwhile, Chacin was phenomenal in the Brewers’ divisional tiebreaker win against the Chicago Cubs and in his Game 2 outing against the Rockies; Miley didn’t surrender a run in Game 3, and the Brewers sweeping the Rockies meant Gonzalez didn’t have to make a start.
Then, there’s manager Craig Counsell‘s bullpen. Whether it be Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria, Corbin Burnes, or Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers have several relievers who can come into any situation and get the job done. When you take into account the all-around domination of their pitching staff, from top-to-bottom, one can’t help but wonder whether the Brewers could rip their way through the NLCS given how their high-octane offense hasn’t yet broken out for an outpouring of runs?
A similar situation presented itself with the 2014 Royals.
Back in 2014, the Royals went on a second-half run and made it to the American League Wild Card Game. After winning the one-game playoff in dramatic fashion, the Royals swept the one-seeded Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS and the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS. Although they lost the World Series in an epic seven-game battle to the San Francisco Giants, the Royals’ convincing ride to the Fall Classic and improving young core offered hope that the future could feature a World Series title — and it did.
The ensuing season, the Royals made it back to the World Series and beat the New York Mets in five games. In 2013, the year before they first made the playoffs, the Royals finished with 86 wins and were in the Wild Card hunt through the last week of the season. Then, they made it to and won the AL Wild Card Game in 2014 and eventually advanced to the World Series. Then, they won the Fall Classic in 2015, ending any nagging fears that they were too inexperienced to win the big game. Last season, the Brewers finished with 86 wins and just one game out of a Wild Card seeding. This year, they beat the Cubs in a tiebreaker game to win the National League Central and swept their first round opponent with conviction, ending any fears that they’d fade and miss the playoffs like they did in 2017.
Look at how the 2014 Royals and 2018 Brewers are constructed.
The featured part of the Royals was their lineup. Whether it be Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Cain, or Moustakas (who are now both with the Brewers, ironically), the Royals had a fearsome young lineup that could compete with any team in the sport. Another driving force to the Royals’ success was their bullpen. Headlined by Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland (before he got hurt in 2015), the Royals had one of the most shutdown pens in the game for a four-year period.
While they were proven starters, James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and Danny Duffy were never viewed as unhittable pitchers. But they were productive enough for the Royals to reach the World Series in 2014. In the middle of the 2015 season, the Royals were the best team in the American League, if not the sport, and they decided to make themselves formidable. Acquiring the flamethrowing Johnny Cueto and the versatile Ben Zobrist via trade, as well as signing power-hitting first baseman Kendrys Morales in the offseason, the Royals filled the holes that existed on their roster. And those additions put them over the top, as they were all crucial elements to the Royals’ World Series run; when you smell a title, you chase it.
Today, the Brewers have the likes of Yelich, Cain, Aguilar, Shaw, Braun, and Moustakas in their order. And they were able to sweep their opponent without those bats having an offensive surge. On the other hand, the Brewers have respectable arms, but not a true ace, yet are still finding ways to win playoff games. And their pen is lethal. Imagine how dangerous they would be in 2019 if they signed Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel to plot at the top of their rotation?
Will the Brewers win the pennant? Maybe get to the World Series? At some point, win the World Series? Only time will tell, but the Brewers are rising much like the 2014 Royals did. And no one wants anything to do with this ballclub in the coming weeks and the not too distant future.