By Brian Foley, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Oct 30, 2018 at 3:01 PM

The baseball season is officially over – which means it's now awards season!

The Milwaukee Brewers suffered a disappointing loss in the NLCS, but after a quick World Series and over a week of reflection following the Crew’s Game 7 exit, we can clearly look back and hand out several honors for the players who made 2018 one of the most electrifying campaigns in franchise history.

Most Valuable Player Award: Christian Yelich

In his first few months in Milwaukee, Yelich lived up to the all-around reputation that he formed during his five years in Miami. He was 27 percent better than the league average hitter through mid-July – nearly identical to the 21 percent mark he posted with the Marlins – which left the Brewers more than satisfied after their blockbuster winter deal.

But in the second half of the season, just when it appeared that Yelich had officially settled into his role as a good-not-great player, he busted free from any shackles on his game, flipped the switch and suddenly became the best player in the sport. In 65 games after the All-Star break, Yelich slugged 25 home runs – which would have easily been a career high over a full season – and reached base in nearly 45 percent of his plate appearances. As the Brewers hunted and eventually overtook the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the California native posted a ludicrous stat line that was 128 percent better than the league-average hitter.

For the season, Yelich led the NL in wins above replacement (7.6), batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.598), OPS (1.000) and total bases (343) while coming just short of the winning the league’s triple crown. Without his heroics, the Brewers certainly don’t catch the Cubs, and they might not even reach the postseason in the crowded NL Wild Card race. It’s not hyperbole to say that Yelich just posted the greatest season by a Brewer since Hall of Famer Robin Yount in 1982.

Cy Young Award: Josh Hader

Typically, a starter is the best pitcher on the team that leads the league in wins, but Milwaukee is no typical team – and Hader is no typical pitcher.

The fire-breathing lefty shut down all opponents who dared cross his path. Among NLers who tossed at least 60 innings this year, Hader finished first in strikeout rate (15.8), WHIP (0.81) and batting average allowed (.131). Hader basically turned opposing hitters into Eric Sogard – who provided a .134 batting average in 113 plate appearances for Milwaukee this year – for an entire season. Lefties were even worse against Hader, managing just a .088/.186/.169 slash line – lefthanders likely would have fared better if they had simply stood in the box without a bat in their hands and prayed to draw a walk or hit by pitch. Needless to say, no pitcher was tougher against lefties this season (minimum of 20 innings pitched).

As long as he maintains his command (easier said than done with his chaotic delivery), Hader should stick as one of baseball’s most dynamic weapons for years to come.

Mop Top Award for Best Hair: Orlando Arcia

Arcia’s age-23 season did not go exactly as planned, as his .576 OPS ranked dead last among the 32 shortstops to receive at least 350 plate appearances this season, resulting in a brief demotion to the minor leagues. However, his hair was on point and a fun little bonus for this charismatic team. Arcia went with the wild and wispy frosted tips that often peaked out beneath his baseball cap when he was on the diamond. When Arcia is in a groove, the youthful infielder plays the game with a certain je ne sais quoi – both in the field and at the plate – and his unique hairstyle perfectly encapsulates that flair.

(And yes, even though this is called the Mop Top Award, and Hader does in fact look like a mop with his lengthy hair garnishing his rail-thin body, simply refusing to cut your hair does not mean you have the best hair.)

Gold Glove Award: Lorenzo Cain

The Brewers are well represented among the Gold Glove finalists, the award handed out to the best defender at each position in the respective leagues. Still, even on a team that recorded 112 defensive runs saved – good for second in baseball – Cain stands above the rest as a superstar with the leather.

Cain ranked fourth in the majors in defensive runs saved with 20 and was tied for first among all outfielders (Boston’s Mookie Betts). Defensive metrics can be a little fickle from year to year, but after acquiring Cain and Yelich in the offseason, the Brewers’ outfield group saved 79 more runs in 2018 than their counterparts did in 2017. Milwaukee’s fly-ball prone rotation seemed to punch above their weight all year long, so it’s easy to make the connection between the All-Star outfield duo and the Brewers’ surprisingly solid run prevention.

Players Weekend Award for Best Nickname: Travis Shaw

In each of the past two seasons, Major League Baseball has deemed one weekend as the "Players Weekend," which, among other things, allows each MLBer to don a nickname on the back of their jersey.

Thankfully, these past two years have given the Brewers faithful an excuse to fully embrace the Mayor of Ding Dong City, Shaw’s wonderfully absurd title that dates back to his days in Boston. And as strange as it seems to give a player of Shaw’s caliber – a solid every day starter, but still someone who will likely never make an All-Star game – a nickname of such preposterous proportions, he has actually lived up to the designation in Milwaukee. Shaw is second among NL third basemen with 63 home runs since the start of 2017. Our unofficial mayor could reach triple digits in dingers by Cinco de Mayo in 2019 – he is just eight homers short of 100 for his career.

Welcome Aboard Award for Best Midseason Acquisition: Mike Moustakas

General manager David Stearns went on a shopping spree this summer, bringing in pieces like Gio Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, Joakim Soria, Curtis Granderson and Xavier Cedeno to round out the playoff roster. But no trade addition made a bigger impact than Moustakas, who helped lock down the infield and lengthen a veteran lineup. Moustakas boosted his batting average and on-base percentage with the Brewers and tallied 20 extra-base hits in 54 games following the trade.

Of course, like his teammates, Moose was spectacular at the plate in the NLDS before scuffling offensively in the NLCS against Los Angeles. Still, his walk-off single in the 10th inning of Game 1 in the division series sparked one of the best October baseball runs this town has ever seen – and easily made the trade worth the modest midseason price.

Breakout Star Award for Most Improved: Jesus Aguilar

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Aguilar has always had an impressive hit tool, but he seemingly never found the right opportunity to find consistent playing time. But after Eric Thames struggled with several maladies in April, Aguilar became the everyday first baseman and never looked back, earning his first All-Star appearance via the Final Vote. He bopped 35 home runs for the season and posted an .890 OPS, both top-four finishes among the loaded NL first basemen class that features stalwarts such as Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Matt Carpenter, Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman.

Next season, Aguilar will need to shore up some holes in his swing and prove he can keep up his torrid pace over a full season. (His second-half OPS was 235 points worse than his first-half mark.) Still, the Brewers appear to have found an above-average first baseman on offense, a far cry from the mishmash of one-baggers the Brewers have rostered since Prince Fielder left town. Aguilar also has some room to grow; even though he turns 29 in June, he still is yet to crack 1,000 career plate appearances. The league adjusted to him after his hot start, but it’s not unreasonable to think Aguilar can adjust over the offseason as he enters just his third full year.