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Most Valuable Player: Willy Adames

“From the sky-touching high-fives, to the absurdly cool bat flips and chest pounds and the joy he injects into the ball club daily, Adames has epitomized what being the team’s MVP is all about.” That’s what we wrote at the All-Star break when we dished Adames this same award. It still rings true three months later. Milwaukee’s early-season acquisition led the team in batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.366) and slugging percentage (.521). He played in 99 games for the Brewers and helped the Crew overcome a 21-23 start to handily clinch the NL Central Division and end the regular season one win shy from matching the franchise’s record for wins in a season, 96 (originally set in 2011 and again in 2018). Adames was clutch at the plate and skilled at short, but it was his spirit that routinely set the tone and stole the show. Charismatic, vivacious, influential, a bundle of energy … Adames embodied it all.

Some of our favorite “Willy-waukee” moments: June 15 -- Adames raced to his right to backhand a grounder versus the Reds, floated off his feet, levitated in mid-air, and whistled a throw that Big Dan Vogelbach picked perfectly at first base. June 30 -- Adames buried rival Chicago with a grand salami to right-center field, the Brewers first slam of the year. Aug. 7 -- in true MVP form, Adames crushed a game-tying solo home run to center in the bottom of the 10th inning versus NL-leading San Francisco.

Gold Glove: Kolten Wong

“To see a magical defender play every day, and see him do the things that make him great, it’s one of the reasons why you love the game. … It gives me chills, honestly. … He does it in such a graceful way, and [in a] really unique way. … Sometimes it’s hard to describe.” -- manager Craig Counsell on Wong’s defense.

Jackie Bradley Jr. was awarded the highest dWAR (1.3) on the Brewers by Baseball Reference, but Wong wasn’t far behind (0.9), plus his .995 fielding percentage topped his last two seasons in St. Louis when he actually received Gold Glove distinction. Wong committed two errors in 937 innings this year -- for what’s it worth, he committed the same number of errors in 540 fewer innings in 2020. As of Aug. 22, Wong ranked in the top 25 of all NL fielders in the SABR Defensive Index and posted the sixth-best mark of all second basemen in baseball. Like Counsell said, he defended with grace. We say he defended with honor. Wong rigorously showcased his range and habitually turned double-plays into highlight clips.

Cy Young: Corbin Burnes

Cy Burnes. Not only is the 26-year-old right-hander our pick for this distinguished Brewers honor, but he also deserves to be the real-life National League winner. Burnes put together a special season -- he led Milwaukee’s fearsome starting rotation with 234 strikeouts, a 2.43 ERA (the top mark in MLB) and a .940 WHIP. In 28 starts, Burnes racked up double-digit Ks eight times. He started the year by stringing together 58 strikeouts without a walk -- the most to start a season in MLB history. He fanned 15 against the Cubbies on Aug. 11, a game where he matched Aaron Nola’s and Tom Seaver’s MLB record for most consecutive punchouts (10). And, went eight strong in Milwaukee’s second no-hitter (closed by Josh Hader) against Cleveland on Sept. 11. Burnes was taken deep just seven times all season. Nasty. Filthy. Cy Young worthy.

Best Offseason Move: Signing Wong

More like stealing Wong. Milwaukee expected the ex-Cards two-time Gold Glove second baseman to rectify defensive inconsistencies in the middle infield -- former Brewers 2B Keston Hiura ranked in the 5th and 14th percentile in outs above average in 2019 and 2020 per Baseball Savant -- which he did magnificently. The Brewers got more than a fix in the field, though. Wong packed his big bat and crushed 14 home runs, a career best, and drove in 50 RBI (his third-highest total in nine seasons). He also earned 45 free passes, smacked 32 doubles (four more than in any other year of his career) and hit above .270 for just the third time since he debuted in 2013. Yeah, we think two years, $18 million qualifies as a steal.

Mr. Unexpected: Luis Urías

Urías whacked the second-most big flies for the Brewers, 23, and finished second on the team with 75 RBI. He ranked fifth, third and fourth on Milwaukee in the following categories: AVG (.249), OBP (.345) and SLG (.445). Not bad for someone who lost his job as the club’s everyday shortstop to Adames. Remember, that’s the role Urías was expected to play when Milwaukee dealt Orlando Arcia to the Braves one week into the season. He wound up starting just as many games at third base (68) as he did at short. Urías also filled in 25 times at second whenever Wong was unavailable and pinch hit in 10 contests. He had some lapses in the field, errors or shall we say, growing pains, but made up for them by displaying ridiculous athleticism on countless occasions. How unexpected was his performance this season? “Wicho” entered the year with six career dingers in 124 career games. His versatility was invaluable.

Most Improved: Eric Lauer

Omar Narváez, an All-Star selection, was considered here, but Lauer’s body of work this season was irrefutable. After an embarrassing 2020 that featured 16 earned runs across 11 innings, Lauer was a pleasant surprise on baseball’s best staff. The 26-year-old lefty made 20 starts for the Brewers (24 appearances) and posted a 3.19 ERA, which trailed only the three-headed monster of Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta among Milwaukee starters. Lauer began the year strong, pitching five scoreless frames in a 2-1 win against the Dodgers. He took some bumps and bruises at different patches but hit a really impressive stride from June 27 to Sept. 24, where he allowed 14 runs across 13 starts. Lauer didn’t fare all that well in Game 4 of the NLDS, but Counsell’s preference to start him over Burnes on three days’ rest or fellow rotation mate Adrian Houser speaks volumes about how much he improved this season to last. It’s time to rethink who won that Brewers-Padres trade in 2019 -- dontcha think?

Rookie of the Year: Jake Cousins

Cousins fanned 44, walked 19 and allowed just nine runs across 30 innings (2.70 ERA) for Milwaukee. A 20th-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2017, Cousins made his MLB debut June 21 on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He whiffed five in his first two innings of major-league work and went 18 scoreless frames from June 21 to Aug. 18. He allowed just six hits in that same stretch.

Cousins was out of commission for parts of the season -- he had a bout with COVID-19 and finished the regular season on the injured list with a biceps strain -- but often found himself on the hill in high-stress moments. He escaped a bases-loaded situation in a tight ball game against the Cubs on June 29, struck out five batters combined in single-inning performances against San Francisco on back-to-back nights (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1) and added playoff experience to his résumé with a scoreless eighth inning in Game 3 of the NLDS. The 27-year-old was a forceful addition to Milwaukee’s bullpen in his rookie campaign.

Other Brewers we considered: Outfielder Tyrone Taylor, who slashed .247/.321/.457 with nine doubles, three triples and 12 home runs in 93 games. Taylor also stole six bases and made some nifty defensive plays. Also, pitcher Aaron Ashby, Milwaukee’s fourth-round pick in 2018, who lasted 2/3 of an inning in his MLB debut June 30. Ashby collected himself and whiffed 39 in 13 appearances and held hitters to a .210 AVG. If you exclude his first and last appearances of the year, Ashby allowed six runs in 30 1/3 frames (1.78 ERA). He pitched in Games 2 and 4 of the NLDS, though he was nicked up in the latter.

Can’t Wait For: Ethan Small

Another hitter absolutely will make a bigger impact in the grand scheme of things, but most are a couple levels away and 2020 top pick Garrett Mitchell had his struggles at the plate and with injuries this year. It’s fun to anticipate the left-handed Small, who is polished and possesses fine command, joining Milwaukee’s pitching staff next season. The Brewers’ fifth-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline received a minor-league promotion after he compiled eight or more strikeouts in five consecutive starts from May 26- June 18 with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. In nine starts for the Nashville Sounds, Small won a pair of games and posted a 2.06 ERA.

Perhaps we see Milwaukee employ Small in 2022 in similar fashion as they broke in Ashby -- with spot starts and middle-relief action. MLB.com raved about his surprising whiff rates despite a lower-velocity fastball: “It plays up thanks to Small’s command, his deceptive and varied delivery with crossfire action, the extension from his 6-foot-3 frame, and his knack for going right after hitters.” He also throws a curveball and a late-fading changeup in the mid-70s. Sounds like another weapon for coach Chris Hook.

Low Point: Christian Yelich striking out to lose NLDS

Yelich didn’t even put a swing on the final pitch he and the Brewers saw this season. Sadly, his swing might not have made a difference. That’s the type of frustrating year Yelich endured in 2021 -- his swing just seemed broken. The 2018 NL MVP went 99-for-399 (.248) with 30 extra-base knocks and 51 RBI. He slugged .373 -- a career worst -- with only nine home runs, his lowest total since launching seven for Miami in 2015. Yelich had spurts of strong at-bats but never sustained a groove. Two years ago, opponents may have opted to intentionally walk Yelich in potential game-ending scenarios. Atlanta closer Will Smith, instead, attacked him with an 84 mph low-leg kick slider that froze Yelich in time.

High Point: Daniel Vogelbach’s walk-off grand slam

Vogey hobbled home on one leg June 22 against Arizona. His discomfort was obvious, his pain instant after rounding third base. The next game the Brewers first baseman appeared in was Sept. 1 -- he spent most of that time in between on the injured list with a significant hamstring strain. In the meanwhile, Milwaukee moved on, which was expected, but crummy for a player whose bat was beginning to pop and was hurt scoring a run. The Brewers traded for Toronto slugger Rowdy Tellez then acquired Diamondbacks’ switch-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar days before the trade deadline. The latter had played nearly every position aside from first base in his MLB career, yet sparingly was used there to spell Tellez and let Urías man duties on the hot corner. Vogelbach’s clearest path to rejoin the lineup was as a pinch hitter. He relished the chance. In the fourth game of his return, he delivered a magical swing as the Brewers were down three in the bottom of the ninth versus St. Louis. Big Dan barrelled an Alex Reyes fastball down the heart of the plate, it sailed to deep right field into the Cardinals bullpen for a walk-off grand slam -- one of just 11 ultimate slams since the turn of the century. The entire Brewers team stuck around in the dugout until after Vogelbach completed his postgame interview with Sophia Minnaert to celebrate his first career walk-off. The scene summed up the Crew’s special season.