A Season-By-Season Look At The Milwaukee Brewers Under David Stearns

Though they’ve yet to return to the World Series for the first time since 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers have reached unprecedented heights under David Stearns, who resigned Tuesday morning after serving as the team’s general manager and president of baseball operations for the past seven seasons.

Prior to Stearns’ arrival, the Brewers had made the playoffs just four times in franchise history: 1981, when they were the AL East champs in the second half of a season interrupted by a midseason players’ strike; ‘82, when they won the AL East on the final day of the regular season and made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals; 2008, when the team snapped a 26-year postseason drought and lost to the Phillis in the NLDS; and 2011, when they won the NL Central but fell again to the Cardinals, this time in a six-game NL Championship Series.

Milwaukee went to the playoffs four times during Stearns’ tenure, winning a pair of NL Central titles in 2018 and ‘21 while qualifying two more times as a Wild Card team.

Overall, the team won 554 games duding his seven seasons, more than all but two National League teams and produced a handful of major award winners including an MVP (Christian Yelich, 2018), a Rookie of the Year (Devin Williams, 2020), a Cy Young Award winner (Corbin Burnes, 2021) and four Relievers of the Year (Josh Hader, 2018-19, ‘21; Devin Williams, 2020).

As Stearns steps back and hands the keys to the operation over to Matt Arnold, here’s a look back at the Brewers’ season-by-season performance under Stearns:

2016: 73-89 (4th, NL Central)

Postseason: None

Given the freedom to under go a full-blown rebuild by principal owner Mark Attanasio, Stearns got right to work and had replaced more than half of the team’s 40-man roster by the time spring training got underway.

Milwaukee still finished with a losing record but showed a 15-game improvement from the year before and opened eyes around baseball .with strong play over the final month

2017: 86-76 (2nd, 6.0 GB)

Postseason: None

Picked my most to finish at the bottom of the NL Central standings, the Brewers burst out of rebuild mode well ahead of schedule. After a red-hot April fueled by 11 home runs from newcomer Eric Thames, Milwaukee surged into first place in the Central and led the defending World Series champion Cubs by 5 1/2 games at the All-Star break.

The lead disappeared in late July when the Brewers dropped 11 of 14 including six in a row but they remained in contention for a playoff berth until the penultimate game of the season.

2018: 96-67 (1st)

Postseason: Beat Cubs in NL Central tiebreaker; Beat Rockies (3-0), NLDS; Lost to Dodgers (4-3) in NLCS

In what would turn out to be the high-water mark of Stearns’ tenure, the Brewers put together one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history.

It began on a January night, when Stearns pulled off a pair of stunning moves by acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich from Miami in exchange for four prospects then, signing free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a franchise-record five-year, $80 million contract.

After spending much of the first half leading the division, a six-game skid heading into and out of the All-Star break slowed the Brewers’ roll and Milwaukee sat six games back in the Central after a 9-7 loss to Cincinnati on Aug. 28 but won 22 of its next 29 games, including seven in a row to close out the regular season and tie Chicago for first place.

That forced a winner-take-all Game 163 for the division title which the Brewers won, 3-1, at Wrigley Field. They stretched their winning streak to 11 games by sweeping Colorado in the NLCS and made it 12 in a row after rallying for a 6-5 victory in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

2019: 89-73 (2nd)

Postseason: Lost to Nationals in NL Wild Card Game

Expectations were at an all-time high after the previous season’s unexpected run and even more so after Stearns signed free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to a one-year contract and brought Mike Moustakas back on a similar one-year deal at the start of spring training.

Milwaukee started the season 8-2 but went 9-12 after that in large part due to the struggles of starting Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta.

Again, though, the Brewers turned things around in a hurry. They won 18 of 20 games heading into the final weekend of the regular season just a game out of first in the division but landed in the Wild Card game after getting swept by the Rockies.

2020: 29-31 (4th)

Postseason: Lost to Dodgers (2-0) in NL Wild Card Series

After a flurry of off-season moves designed to increase the Brewers’ depth and flexibility, Stearns locked in a big piece of the team’s future by signing right-hander Freddy Peralta to a five-year, $15.5 million contract then negotiated the biggest contract in franchise history when he signed Yelich to a nine-year, $215 million extension in spring training.

Looking to bounce back from their stunning loss the previous fall, the Brewers instead had to sit and wait three months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut baseball down. Once the season finally got underway, the Brewers never got into a rhythm but still managed to qualify for an expanded postseason field but were swept in two games by the eventual World Series champion Dodgers.

2021: 95-67 (1st)

Postseason: Lost to Braves (3-1) in NLDS

A bright side to the otherwise-forgettable 2020 campaign was the emergence of Milwaukee’s starting rotation as Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff all began to come into their own and show flashes of dominance.

All three built on that foundation in 2021 but none more so than Burnes who became Milwaukee’s first Cy Young winner since 1982 after going 11-5 with an MLB-best 2.43 ERA.

The pitching staff was so good that, despite a season-long offensive slump, the Brewers still had a commanding lead of the division for nearly the entire season. Milwaukee locked up its second NL Central crown of the Stearns era with more than a week to play but after dropping five of six to close out the season, was knocked out of the playoffs in four games by the Braves when the bats again fell silent.

2022: 86-76 (2nd)

Postseason: None

As high as expectations had been the previous few seasons, they were through the roof in 2022. With one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball and a bullpen anchored by Devin Williams at Hader, the Brewers went into the year with perhaps their most legitimate World Series chances ever.

They got off to a franchise-best 32-18 start and after navigating a series of injuries and slumps, held a four-game lead over the NL Central after winning seven of eight coming out of the All-Star break.

Everything changed, though, at the trade deadline when Stearns dealt Hader to San Diego for four players — two prospects and two big-league pitchers, one of whom would never pitch for Milwaukee — then picked up two more relievers — including another who’d never throw a pitch — without adding a bat to help a slumping offense.

Things were never the same after that. The Brewers went 29-31 the rest of the way and though they remained in the mix for a Wild Card berth heading into the final series of the season, their streak of four straight postseason appearances came to an end after finishing a game back of the Phillies for the third and final playoff spot.

“We came into a season with very high expectations, and we did not meet those expectations,” Stearns said at his annual end-of-the-season press conference. “At various points in the season, we felt like we had chances to really solidify ourselves as a playoff team, and we were unable to do that.

“So this definitely stings and it’s going to sting for a little while for all of us.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewwagner/2022/10/27/a-season-by-season-look-at-the-milwaukee-brewers-under-david-stearns/