The Milwaukee Brewers hope to leave behind a disappointing 2022 finish and return to the postseason.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, added some established contributors to their young talent, sparking optimism for 2023.
The quest for both begins Thursday, when Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes aims to put his personal issues with the Brewers aside while facing the Cubs in Chicago.
On Aug. 1, the Brewers led the NL Central by three games when traded star closer Josh Hader. They then went 29-31 to finish 86-76 and miss the postseason for the first time since 2017.
"Each year is its own year," star Christian Yelich, who hit a combined .243 the past three seasons, told the Brewers' official website. "We have a great opportunity in front of us, and we'll see what we can do with it."
There certainly is reason to believe Milwaukee can return to prominence. Shortstop Willy Adames wants more after setting career highs for homers (31) and RBIs (98) last season, while Rowdy Tellez also recorded personal bests with 35 home runs and 89 RBIs. In addition, All-Star catcher William Contreras (20 homers in 97 games last year) was a major acquisition from the Atlanta Braves.
Milwaukee also boasts one of the majors' best rotations after opponents hit .229 last year, the third-lowest figure in the National League.
Following his Cy Young Award-winning 2021 season, Burnes went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA last year while setting career highs in starts (33), innings (202) and strikeouts (NL-best 243). However, after losing his arbitration case, Burnes admitted he harbors hard feelings toward the Brewers, although he won't carry that over to his pitching.
"When I'm out on the field, I'm going to do what I do. That hasn't changed," the right-hander said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Despite going 0-1 in three starts versus the Cubs in 2022, Burnes posted a 2.37 ERA in those games.
Chicago finished 74-88 last year, its second straight losing campaign. However, the Cubs went 10-9 against Milwaukee, including 6-4 at home.
Star catcher Willson Conteras joined the rival St. Louis Cardinals, but 28-year-old All-Star outfielder Ian Happ returns after setting career bests in RBIs (72), doubles (42) and batting (.271) while also winning his first Gold Glove. Meanwhile, 25-year-old second baseman Nico Hoerner posted 10 homers and 55 RBIs.
He will make up half of Chicago's middle infield with Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson, who signed a seven-year, $177 million deal. Meanwhile, 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger looks for a revival after batting a combined .203 for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past three seasons.
Veteran newcomers Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, Jameson Taillon, Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer will all try to help Chicago contend for a postseason spot. However, second-year outfielder Seiya Suzuki (14 homers, .262 average in 2022) is expected to open on the injured list with a strained oblique.
"Whether the hardware is here, the championship things are here, the Gold Gloves, winning players all around. We still have to go out and prove it in 2023," Cubs manager David Ross said, according to MLB.com.
Chicago's Marcus Stroman takes the ball after going 6-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 25 starts last season. The right-hander allowed two runs over 20 innings to win his final three home starts.
Stroman was 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts vs. Milwaukee last season.
--Field Level Media