How Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation can carry them in National League

Are the Milwaukee Brewers' starting pitching woes a problem of the past? So far in 2021, there are signs that their staff might be their ticket to contention.

Apr 19, 2021; San Diego, California, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff (53) pitches against the San Diego Padres during the second inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes appear to be the Milwaukee Brewers new one-two pitching punch. If manager Craig Counsell’s club is going to contend for the National League pennant this season, they’ll need their rotation to maintain the high standard of pitching established in the first three weeks of the 2021 MLB season.

Starting pitching has been the Brewers’ chronic weakness in recent memory. They’ve been devoid of a true ace and have struggled to field a well-rounded rotation. It appears their fortunes are changing for the better.

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Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation has never looked better

Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation has never looked better
Apr 3, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes (39) throws a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Woodruff has continued to fire on all cylinders. Across his last three starts, Woodruff has thrown at least six innings and owns a 1.96 ERA on the season. He makes efficient work of hitters, gets considerable movement on his sinker and has been one of the best right-handed starting pitchers in MLB since 2019.

Burnes has been one of the best stories of the young 2021 season. Across his four starts, Burnes owns an 0.37 ERA, an 0.33 WHIP and 40 strikeouts. By the way, he hasn’t recorded a walk. Burnes is sweeping through lineups, deceiving hitters with his cutter and has picked up where he left off last season (he recorded a 2.11 ERA and 88 strikeouts across 12 appearances, nine of which were starts in 2020).

While Woodruff’s success and Burnes’ heroics rightfully spark the attention that surrounds The Brew Crew, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson have also pitched well.

In his return to the rotation, Peralta is striking out hitters at a high clip and owns a 2.00 ERA. The 24-year-old is getting the job done while severely relying on his fastball and slider. Like Peralta, Houser is finding success in a presumed rotation role, albeit he has put a lot of runners on base (Houser sports a 3.32 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP this season).

Anderson had pitched well this season, inducing weak contact with his sinker. Unfortunately, he got rocked in Friday’s 15-2 blowout loss to the Chicago Cubs, lasting just a third of an inning. It served as a reminder of the demons of yesteryear.

But overall, the Brewers pitching staff has been as good as any in the sport.

Elite staff would be long-needed complement to Milwaukee Brewers bullpen

Counsell’s bullpen has been the identity of this ball club since their 2018 playoff appearance. It helped them advance to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and reach the playoffs in each of the last three seasons given its versatility and power pitching. The same remains the case in the present.

The likes of Josh Hader, Devin Williams, J.P. Feyereisen, Brent Suter and Brad Boxberger form a dynamic bullpen. With their rotation performing at an elite level, the long-featured aspect of the Brewers is finally getting the complement it has so desperately needed.

Having a bullpen of power throwers capable of holding down different roles (closing, setup, middle and long relief spots) sounds nice, but when it’s overworked they yield underwhelming results.

For instance, if the Brewers get just five innings from their starters on a nightly basis their bullpen is forced to get 12 outs. If they get an extra inning or more from their starter on a consistent basis, their bullpen will be fresh, like it is now.

In the scenario their starting pitcher for a particular game gets rocked, the bullpen will be rested enough to the point where they can afford to get 15 outs, if need be. There’s always going to be a rough night every couple weeks. It’s a matter of being in a situation as a pitching staff where you’re rested enough to pick each other up. Currently, the Brewers rotation and bullpen have an ideal balance.

Milwaukee Brewers’ National League pennant hopes rest on starting rotation

Milwaukee Brewers’ National League pennant hopes rest on starting rotation
Apr 18, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Freddy Peralta (51) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unrealistic to expect the Brewers rotation to perform precisely to the degree it has to date. With that said, this unit continuing to perform at a high level makes the Brewers a legitimate player in the NL, rather than just their division.

As for the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are the Brewers’ most fierce competitor, as they have a veteran roster that now includes Nolan Arenado. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds are off to an up-and-down start, the Chicago Cubs are stagnated and the Pittsburgh Pirates are rebuilding.

The Brewers offense is a unit of high-profile players who are middle-of-the-pack from a collective production standpoint. At the same time, the likes of Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Omar Narvaez, Avisail Garcia, Jackie Bradley Jr. and a healthy Kolten Wong are more than capable of getting in a groove at the plate, the first two in particular. All the while, they have a defensively sound depth chart.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are going to be a hassle, and the NL East figures to produce a team or two that will be the same. There’s no margin for error if the Milwaukee Brewers are going to win the NL.

There have been many constants over the last four years for the Brewers, which is why they have continually come up short. Now there’s a deviation, and it’s one that can lead them to the promised land if it can be sustained.

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