Can Brew­ers take an­other step to reach World Series? The play­ers think so.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Tom Hau­dri­court

One more vic­tory.

When the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers gath­ered a few weeks ago for their an­nual “On Deck” fan fes­ti­val at the down­town Wis­con­sin Cen­ter, that was the talk among the play­ers. Af­ter bow­ing out in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers last fall, the mo­ti­va­tion is there to take it one step fur­ther.

“We were close,” said Chris­tian Yelich, who car­ried the club down the stretch to run away with the Na­tional League most valu­able player award. “We got re­ally close to what we wanted to ac­com­plish as a team.

“We have had some time to sit back and re­flect on the sea­son and those feel­ings. You want those feel­ings again. You want to see the en­ergy in the sta­dium, es­pe­cially the way it felt down the stretch and in the playoffs. You want to get back to that. I think that hunger and that drive should be there for ev­ery­body.

“It’s not fun sit­ting there af­ter a Game 7 loss af­ter be­ing so close. I think it will re­ally drive us as a team.”

If that sounds as if the Brew­ers have a lit­tle ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion as they gather this week in Phoenix for the start of spring train­ing, they do. With most of the team re­turn­ing in­tact, there is ev­ery rea­son to ex­pect a win­ning prod­uct on the field. A huge fin­ish­ing piece was added in mid-Jan­uary when free-agent catcher Yas­mani Gran­dal signed a $18.5 mil­lion deal with an op­tion for 2020.

Be­yond that ad­di­tion, the Brew­ers have many key play­ers in the prime of their ca­reers, with years of con­trol for the club. In other words, they should be com­pet­i­tive for the post­sea­son for at least a few years, bar­ring un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances.

“This is the win­dow we’re in right now,” third base­man Travis Shaw said. “We have a nice lit­tle win­dow right here where ev­ery­one is un­der con­trol and we can go for it here the

next cou­ple of years. That’s what ev­ery­one is shoot­ing for.

“You were so close; one game away. At the same time, we ac­com­plished a lot of things last year, and with ev­ery­one we have com­ing back, there is no rea­son to think we can’t get back there and hope­fully get over that hump this time.

“Ob­vi­ously, we have to get there first. It’s a long sea­son be­fore that but I think ev­ery­one has the same goal this year and that’s to get one game fur­ther than we did last year and get to the World Series. Then, any­thing can hap­pen.”

First things, first. To win the NL Cen­tral last year, the Brew­ers had to win their fi­nal eight reg­u­lar-sea­son games, in­clud­ing a Game No. 163 show­down with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. And, by all ac­counts, the di­vi­sion should be even stronger this year.

The Cubs are still loaded with tal­ent. The St. Louis Car­di­nals, un­happy with three straight sea­sons of miss­ing the post­sea­son, added slug­ger Paul Gold­schmidt and re­liever An­drew Miller. The Pitts­burgh Pirates still have some of the best pitch­ing in the di­vi­sion. And even the Cincin­nati Reds are try­ing now af­ter an off-sea­son of changes, in­clud­ing a new man­ager, coaches and player ac­qui­si­tions such as Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Sonny Gray, Tan­ner Roark and Alex Wood.

“The Cen­tral is go­ing to be re­ally good,” Shaw said. “There is no slouch­ing in the di­vi­sion any­more. There is no­body you are go­ing to roll into a three-game set and ex­pect to sweep. We are go­ing to beat up on each other, and hope­fully we come out on top.”

When the Brew­ers em­barked on their large-scale re­build­ing process in 2015, there was no way to know they’d jump back in the thick of things so soon. Af­ter the team fell one game short of the NL’s sec­ond wild-card berth in 2017, prin­ci­pal owner Mark At­tana­sio and gen­eral man­ager David Stearns de­cided to go all-in by ac­quir­ing out­field­ers Lorenzo Cain and Yelich on the same day.

So, the Brew­ers are in full-on con­tend­ing mode, de­spite con­tin­ued cries from the out­side base­ball world to add a pitch­ing ace. The fact is they like the group they have and think it’s enough to get back to Oc­to­ber base­ball in 2019.

“There’s no rea­son to think we can’t get fur­ther,” Shaw said. “The front of­fice re­al­izes it. They’ve made the ac­qui­si­tions the last two years to make us bet­ter, to put us in the po­si­tion to be the best team in the Na­tional League.

“We were one game short of that last year. We had the most wins in the reg­u­lar sea­son (96), so they are push­ing all the right but­tons. We’ve just got to con­tinue to play well and stay healthy. It’s a long sea­son but I think we are in a good spot.”

It has been ob­vi­ous for some time that the ex­pec­ta­tion level of Brew­ers fans is sky high. The “On Deck” event sold out in ad­vance for the first time. Ticket sales for 2019 are boom­ing. The start of spring train­ing is a sub­ject of much ex­cite­ment, and not just be­cause it pro­vides dis­trac­tions from the Wis­con­sin win­ter, com­plete with po­lar vortex.

But ex­pec­ta­tions within the club­house are sim­i­larly high. Op­ti­mism is al­ways at its peak as teams re­port to spring train­ing, well-founded or not, but the Brew­ers le­git­i­mately are juiced about what could hap­pen if things break their way.

“We un­der­stand what we are ca­pa­ble of,” Yelich said. “It’s a long sea­son; things have to go right health-wise and per­for­mance-wise. We’ve got a great group here. We’ve got some ex­pe­ri­ence. Some guys got their beaks wet in big sit­u­a­tions.

“We’ve just got to build on it. We can’t take any steps back. We’ve got to grow as in­di­vid­ual play­ers and as a team. I think we are all go­ing to do that.

“Last year is last year. It’s all about this up­com­ing year, 2019. That drives you. That is what keeps you work­ing hard. We have to be fo­cused. Noth­ing is guar­an­teed. You have to earn ev­ery­thing.”

BENNY SIEU / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Travis Shaw is one of sev­eral Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers in the prime of their ca­reers. The Brew­ers were one game away from the World Series last sea­son, and the ma­jor­ity of the 2018 ros­ter re­turns this year.

ISA­IAH J. DOWN­ING / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Slug­ger Paul Gold­schmidt signed with St. Louis in the off­sea­son, mak­ing the NL Cen­tral Di­vi­sion even more chal­leng­ing.

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