Last season, the Chicago Cubs were the team to beat in the NL Central and the Milwaukee Brewers were one of the teams chasing them.
This season, the Brewers may be less of a tagalong in the division race and more of a direct threat to the Cubs.
Milwaukee made a pair of major moves for outfielders on Thursday night. First, the Brewers dealt a bevy of prospects to the Miami Marlins for Christian Yelich. Within the next couple hours, they added free agent Lorenzo Cain with a five-year, $80 million deal.
Interestingly enough, Cain started his career with Milwaukee as a high-level prospect, before he was sent to Kansas City in a trade for Zack Greinke.
These two moves, along with a rumor that the Brewers are still looking to make a trade for a starting pitcher, show that they are entering win-now mode.
For the Cubs, it’s another sign that there is a target on their backs, as if that wasn’t well-known already. The St. Louis Cardinals have done what they can to close the gap between them and them and the Cubs, specifically with their acquisition of Marcell Ozuna, and now the Brewers are doing the same.
The pair of moves by the Brewers should invoke two thoughts for Cubs fans: First, this is a legitimate threat. Both Yelich and Cain are difference-making players. Yelich is a former Silver Slugger award winner with a .290/.369/.432 career slash line, while Cain has a very similar slash line and is a good defensive player.
Secondly, the Cubs can still counteract this.
Starting pitching is still the area to watch for the Cubs, but with their supposed top three targets still available (Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb), they can still get a top-of-the-rotation starter to combat the new Brewers bats.
Plus, the Cubs offense is still a juggernaut, and the retooled bullpen will also help.
The Cubs are still the team to beat in the NL Central, but the Brewers can’t be overlooked after adding Yelich and Cain. Milwaukee has gone full steam into win-now mode, and now the onus is on Chicago to fight to keep its place atop the division.