The Milwaukee Brewers didn’t lose to the Washington Nationals in the National League Wild Card Game because of their starting rotation. But if they’re ever going to win the NL pennant, they need to add two top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers.
After winning the NL Central and taking the Los Angeles Dodgers to seven games in the NL Championship Series, the Brewers finished the 2019 regular season 89-73 which warranted second place in their division and the second NL Wild Card seeding. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, they lost to the Nationals in the one-game playoff.
While blowing a two-run eighth inning lead with Josh Hader on the hill is going to sting for a while, it was remarkable that Craig Counsell‘s club even made the playoffs after 2018 NL Most Valuable Player Award recipient Christian Yelich went down for the year due to a knee cap injury. Meanwhile, their offense underperformed through August.
This team needs starting pitching. Yes, Brandon Woodruff had an impressive first season as a full-time starter, and Zach Davies had a plausible bounce-back season. At the same time, Counsell didn’t trust Woodruff to pitch past the fourth inning in the NL Wild Card Game, and they get little length from their starters as is. They also released one of their best pitchers from 2018, Jhoulys Chacin, in August after he put together a nightmare of a season.
It’s likely that the Brewers won’t pony up top dollar for premier free agents such as Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out of the remaining $100 million on his contract). Fortunately for their sake, there are other pitchers who, while not as potent as Cole, Ryu, and Strasburg, could significantly bolster their starting rotation.
- Madison Bumgarner: Yes, he’s the postseason whisperer, but the left-hander isn’t going to break the bank, so to speak, this offseason. If you’re the Brewers, Bumgarner, who recorded a 3.90 ERA and totaled 203 strikeouts this season, could be your ace from the get-go.
- Jake Odorizzi: The right-hander had a superb year with the Minnesota Twins. Recording a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts, he was one of few bright spots on manager Rocco Baldelli‘s pitching staff. Is Odorizzi the prototypical ace? No, but he’s a proven commodity who’s an efficient and effective groundball pitcher.
- Dallas Keuchel: The 2019 season hasn’t been Keuchel’s finest work. That’s an effect of not being present for spring training and not taking the hill in a major-league game until June 21. Meanwhile, he’s a reliable postseason pitcher who evades trouble.
- Cole Hamels: On his last leg? Perhaps, but Hamels is still an efficient 30-plus game starter. He’s deceptive, recorded a 3.81 ERA this season, and grinds through innings. Having a seasoned veteran who has pitched in big moments would benefit Milwaukee’s rotation.
- Zack Wheeler: The right-hander’s big-league career has been a rollercoaster, but he has put together back-to-back impressive seasons. He’s a strikeout machine, doesn’t labor through at-bats, and is a power pitcher. Wheeler could be a high upside signing for the Brewers.
The Brewers need two of the five aforementioned pitchers on their roster in 2020. A starting rotation of Woodruff, Davies, Chase Anderson, and two of those five pitchers gives the Brewers a reliable and well-versed rotation.
Couple that rotation with a bullpen that features the likes of Hader, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, and Adrian Houser, among others, and the Brewers have the makings of a well-rounded pitching staff that could do damage in October. Meanwhile, a lineup that includes a healthy Yelich, Keston Hiura, Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, and Orlando Arcia can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the sport.
So many playoff-caliber teams don’t roll the dice or make the move for the top-line starting pitcher; they always come up short in October. Find the last team to win the World Series without an ace.
The Brewers take the approach of you don’t need an ace to win, instead preaching that you need a deep bullpen. If you’re not going to have a true ace, you need to at least stack your rotation with proven pitchers who are at least capable of performing at a high level. It lessens the workload on your bullpen.
While the Brewers bullpen is usually lockdown, having to get nearly 12 outs a game takes it toll. Being able to consistently get the ball to your pen in the seventh inning keeps relievers fresh, ensures that no one gets overworked, and puts your manager in a position to go to his bullpen earlier in games in the postseason.
The Brewers have the bullpen and lineup to bounce back and contend. They need the rotation. If they get it, they can overcome the likes of the Nationals, Dodgers, and other NL contenders. If they continually don’t get it, they’ll be another team that didn’t seize the opportunity at hand.