Brewers’ Success Sits in Bullpen

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The Milwaukee Brewers have emerged as clear winners of the offseason by acquiring Silver Slugger Award-winning outfielder Christian Yelich and signing former ALCS Most Valuable Player outfielder Lorenzo Cain.

However, the Brewers’ success will not be 100% dependent on their offense, particularly on Yelich and Cain. In fact, the Brewers managed to contend with the Chicago Cubs for control of the National League Central for most of their 2017 campaign despite ranking only 20th in runs and 22nd in hits.

While these acquisitions will certainly add firepower to a team that hopes to chase a pennant, they will only be the driving force on a team that relies heavily upon their pitching.

When asked about the 2017 season in a Winter Meetings interview, Brewers’ manager, Craig Counsell, stated (per Brew Crew Ball.com):

Well, as I say, putting innings together to put together a season is what our job is. That can be done in the bullpen. You can put innings together in the bullpen that maybe lessen the need for a guy that you can count on for the huge number of innings.  So I think really it was a big piece of our success.

If Milwaukee wants to continue to have success, the dominance out of the bullpen will have to sustain itself.

Every great bullpen is headlined by a great closer. In 2017, the Brewers found that in Corey Knebel.  Knebel, whom the Brewers acquired via trade from the Texas Rangers in 2016, had an extraordinary season, racking up 39 saves with a 1.79 ERA.

Knebel also added a whopping 126 strikeouts in just 76 innings pitched to his already impressive line. This, however, did come as a surprise as he had struggled to find his stride in his previous first three seasons as a big leaguer. This might raise some eyebrows as to if he will continue to perform like an elite closer amongst the likes of guys such as Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel.

Nonetheless, the Brewers can only hope for the best as his previously shown authority on the mound will be a key factor in taking down the reigning NL Central champion Chicago Cubs, as Milwaukee chases a return to the postseason in 2018.

In addition to Knebel’s success, the Brewers were also able to transform starting-pitching prospect, Josh Hader, into a consistent weapon out of the bullpen. Hader posted a mere 2.08 ERA while racking up 68 strikeouts in just 47 ⅔ innings pitched.

Not only are those numbers impressive for a guy with only a mid-90s fastball, but Hader did that as a rookie in a role he was not expecting — just proving that his stuff might just be more electric than his hair.  While all the signs point to the idea that he can only get better, Hader will have to prove it once again in 2018 as he is presumably going to have a much larger role.

All of this, however, does have to raise questions. While these numbers might look great on paper, the lack of experience for both of these pitchers, as for the rest of the Brewers’ bullpen, must be considered.

This does not necessarily mean that Milwaukee needs to add depth right now but take away last season’s bullpen success that the Brewers had, and they would have been an entirely different ballclub.

Again, if Milwaukee wants to keep winning games, it starts and ends in their bullpen.  Luckily for them, it does appear that they may have the next deadly 8-9 duo in Knebel and Hader, but for now, it is something to consider.

 

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