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How Christian Yelich is holding back the Milwaukee Brewers

Robbie Stratakos
MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Milwaukee Brewers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers’ offense laid a collective egg in the playoffs. In fact, they laid two eggs in their National League Division Series matchup with the Atlanta Braves, scoring zero runs in their Game 2 and 3 losses.

At the end of the day, though, there’s one player whose continued offensive shortcomings loom largest and held the team back in the 2021 MLB season. That player is star outfielder Christian Yelich.

Here’s why Yelich is holding back the Brewers.

Christian Yelich has been a suspect hitter of late

milwaukee brewers christian yelich
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, one could’ve argued that Yelich was the best outfielder in MLB. He was that good.

Yelich was an elite hitter from 2018-19. He had a power swing which generated slug that led to him being the hitter that teams didn’t want to pitch to. All the while, he swiped bags at a high level and was superb in the field; Yelich has a knack for getting behind fly balls, gunning runners on the basepaths and has extensive experience starting at all three outfield positions.

When you combine the aforementioned seasons, which were Yelich’s first two campaigns with the Brewers, he posted a .327/.415/.631 slash line with 80 home runs, 207 RBIs and 52 stolen bases to his name. That’s MVP-level production and impact. By the way, he won the 2018 NL MVP.

Yelich suffered a season-ending knee injury in September of 2019. From that moment on, his impact and high-level play have vanished. From an availability standpoint, however, he appeared in 58 of the Brewers’ 60 regular season games in the condensed 2020 season and played the bulk of the 2021 season. The 2020 MLB season could be viewed as a free pass for anyone who struggled. This past season cannot.

  • Christian Yelich stats (2021): .248/.362/.373, nine home runs, 51 RBIs, nine stolen bases and 113 strikeouts across 399 at-bats

Christian Yelich isn’t the same player he was two years ago. While he moves around the field well and has noticeable speed, Yelich has become a mere respectable hitter with occasional pop. He’s striking out at a high clip, seldom putting the ball in play and making it difficult to justify manager Craig Counsell hitting him in the middle of the order. When he makes contact, he demolishes baseballs, but it has been few and far between of late.

Christian Yelich’s struggles hinder the Milwaukee Brewers’ offense

At face value, the Brewers should have a top-10 offense. Midseason pickup Willy Adames had the best season of his MLB career with the Brewers. Avisail Garcia is a proven run producer. Kolten Wong is a contact hitter. Omar Narvaez is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball.

Lorenzo Cain is a reliable, contact hitter. Luis Urias had a breakout season at the plate. Rowdy Tellez, Eduardo Escobar and Jackie Bradley Jr. are capable power hitters. Tyrone Taylor was a pleasant development this season. Yelich has been a premier hitter in the past. Him not being as such in the present is what negates the previously mentioned players.

This is an offense that’s supposed to have Yelich as its bedrock and a plethora of proven commodities who hit for both power and contact. It’s an offense with variety and a handful of players in their prime. Yet, despite encouraging seasons from select individuals, the Brewers’ offense finished the regular season 12th in MLB in runs (738), 20th in OPS (.713) and 27th in batting average (.233) and hits (1,251).

How did this offense fare in the postseason? Well, they scored a combined six runs in four games. Yes, a team that won its division and has appeared in the playoffs in each of the last four years averaged 1.5 runs per game. An intimidating hitter who clears the bases and can spark an offense with their high-octane bat can change that, which is precisely why the Brewers gave Yelich a $215 million extension.

Yelich is paid to be the star who those around him indirectly set up. He’s the lone player on their depth chart who has played at such a level at any point over the last five years. When that player becomes a pedestrian performer from both a production and impact standpoint, teams aren’t pitching around them: they’re blowing their offerings past them.

Opposing pitchers aren’t afraid of Yelich anymore. Furthermore, it has made the Brewers’ offense become one of parity. Yelich went 7-for-36 (.194 batting average) in the 2018 postseason, the year that the Brewers took the Los Angeles Dodgers to seven games in the NL Championship Series. As for the series the Brewers recently lost, Yelich went 3-for-15 (.200 batting average) against the Braves.

His postseason woes have become a nagging trend. The bulk of this team’s depth chart has minimal, if any room for improvement; they are what they are. A team’s best player, who in this case is 29, regressing is a nightmare scenario.

Milwaukee Brewers blew a splendid roster

MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Milwaukee Brewers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Brewers won 95 games with a roster that was the best and most compelling bunch in the Craig Counsell era. They blew it.

The offense is a group of capable players with a tenured past. What we haven’t yet discussed is how the Brewers had quite possibly the best pitching staff in the sport this season. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta were All-Stars. They struck out batters and kept runners off the basepaths at a high rate and were extremely efficient.

The trio of right-handers as well as Eric Lauer and Adrain Houser posted ERAs no higher than 3.22. That’s incredible. The rotation was accompanied by a lights-out bullpen, with the likes of Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Brent Suter, Brad Boxberger, Jake Cousins and others limiting opposing offenses.

In years past, the Brewers’ bullpen and offensive power were their strong suits while the starting rotation lacked. This season their pitching staff was invincible from top to bottom, and the offense was one of the worst units in baseball. If you combined what their offense was in 2018 and what their pitching staff was in 2021, the Brewers would’ve been the best team in MLB. Instead, they come up short again.

Yelich is capable of being an offensive mainstay, but if he’s going to be more of the player he has been from 2020-21 than the one he was from 2018-19, the Brewers’ contender status is in limbo. Their offense used to be a considerable threat because of him. Now, it’s a unit that leaves much to be desired, specifically one that can’t come through with a timely hit in the postseason.

Milwaukee pitching surrendered just three runs per game to a proven, deep and ever-improving Braves’ offense. There are few, if any playoff teams that would still lose a series with their pitching staff performing at that level.

A once unthinkable prospect, Christian Yelich is holding back the Milwaukee Brewers.