The Milwaukee Brewers boast the same identity in 2020 as they have in each of the last three seasons: a high-profile offense, accompanied by a flashy bullpen and mediocre starting pitching. Fortunately for Milwaukee, their rotation’s chronic woes can be alleviated by a shortened 2020 Major League Baseball season.
Teams with dominant starting pitching will have an advantage in a 40-to-70-game season, as they can let their hurlers pitch a little deeper into games with less starts in the long run. Concurrently, teams with great bullpens can be in the clear as long as they have respectable starting rotations.
Milwaukee is adept at shuffling late-inning relievers throughout games. Typically, Counsell gets his bullpen loose when his starter is going though the order a third time. That’s due to his confidence in his bullpen but also his rotation leaving something to be desired.
Last season the Brewers rotation was 14th in MLB in ERA (4.40), 16th in FIP (4.59), 17th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.4), and 25th in innings pitched (788.2). Them being near the bottom of the sport in rotation length had an adverse effect on the bullpen. Last season the Brewers bullpen was 13th in FIP (4.31) and 18th in ERA (4.40).
They were overworked, struggled to keep runners off base, and were a far cry from their 2018 selves: one of the elite bullpens in the sport. This is a group that’s headlined by Josh Hader, Alex Claudio, and Corbin Burnes.
Milwaukee’s 2020 rotation features Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, and Eric Lauer. Woodruff is coming off an encouraging season as a primary starter, posting a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts across 22 starts; Houser was a steady force as both a starter and reliever last season, recording a combined 3.72 ERA; Anderson got his career back on track with the Oakland Athletics over the last two seasons; Lauer has been a respectable force on the hill across his first two seasons in the big leagues.
The downside of the aforementioned starters? Woodruff has made just 34 career starts; Houser has just three months of experience as a starter under his belt; Anderson is 32; Lauer was acquired in a trade that sent Zach Davies, one of the team’s best starters in recent memory, to the San Diego Padres. Meanwhile, right-hander Chase Anderson signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason.
The Brewers aren’t winning many games because of their rotation this season. They’re also not going to be losing many games because of their rotation.
Over a 162-game season and potential postseason play, having your bullpen sustain a burdensome workload will take its toll. Over 40-70 games? Completely different story. It actually enables a team to do what Counsell has done with his pitching staff.
Milwaukee was 24-16 through 40 games, 28-22 through 50 games, 34-26 through 60 games, and 39-31 through 70 games last season. If the status quo stays the same, the Brewers are a playoff participant this season, especially if the cast of teams is extended to seven per league.
The Brewers can be themselves. Their starters can go two-to-three times through an order, and their relievers can be ready to take the hill in the sixth inning. Of course, Counsell would be better off getting the ball to the pen in the later innings a couple times a week. That said, their rotation doesn’t have pitchers who have consistently been able to provide such length.
Woodruff and Housier were long relievers before becoming full-time starters; Anderson is a five-to-six inning starter. Maybe Woodruff continues to improve as a starter and Lauer makes considerable strides, but those developments aren’t a given.
The Brewers play in a stiff division, the National League Central. The St. Louis Cardinals have a stellar rotation and offense of high-profile hitters; the Chicago Cubs are, at the very least, a competitive bunch with proven players; the Cincinnati Reds have a deep depth chart and a compelling pitching staff.
At the same time, the Brewers have as good a chance as their divisional foes to win the NL Central. They’ve won 86-plus games in each of the last three seasons and made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Two seasons ago the Brewers took the Los Angeles Dodgers to seven games in the NL Championship Series. They lost that series because their offense performed below par. Their pitching was steady from top to bottom. In spite of their offense scoring 24 runs across seven games, they still got to that Game 7. Imagine if their pitching staff is fresh and their offense plays up to expectations this season?
Yelich, Keston Hiura, Avisail Garcia, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Orlando Arcia, and others should make for a fearsome offense. It was going to be the same million-dollar question as years past for the Brewers: can they get length from their starters? Now it’s a matter of whether they can sustain that level of play.
If their rotation improves/exceeds expectations, they further the Brewers chances of returning to the postseason.
The Brewers haven’t changed. They just so happen to be getting a little boost from a new format.