Milwaukee Brewers: Big picture look at the starting rotation

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 20: Jhoulys Chacin
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 20: Jhoulys Chacin /

The Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise to this point, but will it be enough for a playoff run? What could GM David Stearns do to improve the staff, while not blocking young talent in 2019 and beyond?

What were the expectations from the off-season?

There was a lot of chatter prior to the season about the overall strength of the Milwaukee Brewers roster. The general consensus was that the offense was improved, but the starting rotation could hold them back. Jimmy Nelson was not expected to return until mid-season after an arm injury cut short his 2017 season. The only significant move was signing Jhoulys Chacin to a team friendly two-year contract.

As camp neared, the Brewers were linked to several free agent pitchers. From various reports, it seemed like David Stearns was trying to find stopgap for the 2018 campaign. At the end of the day, he ended up only with a Minor League contract for veteran Wade Miley.

What’s the current situation?

The initial out-getters have not been the Achilles heel that many thought through two months. The Milwaukee Brewers have weathered injuries to Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Miley, but overall the starters have fashioned a fairly respectable 4.17 ERA. The main cogs for that success are definitely surprises for most fans.

After his first three starts, many had already seen enough of Chacin. His ERA sat at 6.59 and he did not look sharp. Since then, he has only gone on to lower his ERA to 3.39. This has included a stellar 2.29 ERA since the calendar turned to May. During that time he has also averaged five strikeouts an outing. He is not going to be missing bats like Josh Hader, but that stat shows his effectiveness of late.

After a breakthrough campaign in 2016, injuries and ineffectiveness cost Junior Guerra last season. After not making the squad out of Spring Training, he has been nothing short of amazing since injuries paved the way for his return. His numbers are remarkably similar to 2016. He started 20 games, went 9-3, had a 2.81 ERA, and struck out 100 batters in 121 2/3 innings. In his first 11 starts this season, Guerra has a 2.83 ERA with 56 K’s in 60 1/3 innings. He stabilized the staff in seemingly out of nowhere in both years.

Do they need an ace?

The Milwaukee Brewers certainly have some organizational depth with the starting rotation, with many young arms in Colorado Springs chomping at the bit for the next opportunity. That being said, there is still some thought that they will not match up well in the playoffs without a true ace.

Doug Melvin obviously headed this advice, acquiring CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke to strengthen the top of the rotation in the last two Brewers playoff pushes. Guerra and Chacin have pitched wonderfully, but they are not viewed as top of the rotation hurlers.

Nelson looked like one last season, but the jury is still out how effective he will be when he returns. Anderson was an ace in 2017, but not so much this year. He was solid his last time out, but is ERA in May was an alarming 7.08. More than that, he has already given up 13 home runs this season–after surrendering only 14 all of last year.

How do they balance 2018 with the future?

An optimal subjective starting rotation for the playoff push this season could be the following. All of these guys would return in 2019, as well.

  1. Chase Anderson
  2. Junior Guerra
  3. Jimmy Nelson
  4. Jhoulys Chacin
  5. Zach Davies
  6. Brent Suter

Brent Suter will be valuable to cover for injuries. Obviously a playoff rotation likely would be shorter, as well. Who would you kick out at this point? What prospects would you be willing to give up to get a front line rental? Those are tough questions to answer without dealing with the elephant in the room. The next wave of talent.

Paving the path for youth

The sensational 13-strikeout performance by Freddy Peralta in Colorado on May 13th was not just a transcendent start to a career. It could also signal that the future is not too far away. Many would argue that Corbin Burnes is the better prospect. They are both ready to start in the majors. And soon.

If the Milwaukee Brewers end up trading for more than just a rental, there likely would not be room for some of their youth–barring a trade from their current staff. We have not even mentioned the fact that many think Hader could be moved back to a starting slot next year, as well.  Brandon Woodruff has already made 11 starts for the Brewers, and is still thought of highly for a future spot too.

We did not even mention other guys moving up the system that could be in Milwaukee in the next couple of years. They include the likes of Luis Ortiz, Zack Brown, Trey Supak, and Marcos Diplan, among other young arms.

How can they solve their ‘problem’?

The Milwaukee Brewers are positioned quite nicely with their starting rotation. Stearns has gone on record stating he would prefer not to block the path of young players. This rings true even more in a small market like Milwaukee.

However, there is still the issue of a front-line starter. Sabathia and Greinke are not walking through that door at this point. How will you know if one of the young guys can be that guy if you do not allow them to prove it?

Next: Are the Brewers leading the NL Central because of their depth?

It is an extremely difficult call. You never know how many opportunities you will get, so the Milwaukee Brewers may want to make a big move at the deadline. It is just not as easy as you may think when you also are trying to balance for the immediate future. It is a problem that Stearns is likely happy to have.