The win on Monday night in Los Angeles was just one in a long season. However, this game against a potential playoff team is one similar to what Milwaukee Brewers fans could see in September and October. Especially in the bullpen.
A great start in L.A.
First of all, it is always a good feeling to win on the road, especially against a team that will likely be in the playoffs. It was a long game, filled with many tense moments. There were times where Brewers fans watching at home had to be sweating a bit, while thinking about how tired they would be the next day.
It was a roller coaster ride. The Milwaukee Brewers already had a run across and the bases loaded with no outs in the 1st against starter Kenta Maeda. A potential big inning turned into just a single tally. Ryan Braun struck out, Eric Thames just missed a Grand Slam before popping out, and Manny Pina meekly ended the inning.
Peralta was a high-wire act
Rookie Freddy Peralta was not exactly sharp himself. He had to battle to get out of huge jams in both the 3rd and 4th innings, before minimizing the damage. He only gave up one run, but he needed 98 pitches to get through only four innings. While you do not like the four walks, you have to admire the young man’s competitiveness to bear down and get through it.
This is where you could see this game be replicated down the stretch of the season. Sure, Manager Craig Counsell did not want to go to his bullpen in the 5th. It was certainly fascinating to see this blueprint unfold right before our eyes, however. All-Star Josh Hader started the fun, coming in to protect a 4-1 lead. He threw two scoreless innings, but a more efficient outing could have netted him a possible 3rd inning. The bullpen was not done there.
The bullpen shines again
The deadline is approaching while I write this blog, but at this point General Manager David Stearns has not acquired a starter. He did augment his bullpen with the move to trade for Joakim Soria from the White Sox last week. That move made a strong bullpen even stronger, paving the way for Counsell to manage like he did Monday night (and Tuesday morning in Wisconsin).
He was able to use all of his prime bullpen arms to cover the final 5 innings. Other than a blip of a home run from Manny Machado in the 9th off Corey Knebel to make the final score 5-2, those arms showed what could be possible later this season.
Hader went those two innings, striking out three in an effectively wild performance for his 4th win. Soria took the ball in the 7th for a clean inning, working around a walk and a base hit. The best reliever of the night was Jeremy Jeffress, who struck out two more Dodgers in a clean inning that took just 15 pitches. Finally, Knebel closed out the game with no other damage other than the home run.
The road map for September and October
Major League Baseball is turning into a bullpen game, especially the last few weeks of the regular season into the playoffs. The Brewers certainly now have the arms in the back end to shorten the game like they did on Monday night.
Think of this game from the Dodgers perspective. They did not convert against Peralta when they had the chance, but they had to feel good that they elevated his pitch count. They forced Freddy out of the game after only 4 frames. That good feeling must have turned sour pretty quickly when they saw Hader warming up behind the wall in left field. The newly minted All-Star has been nasty, but he also has proven he can go multiple innings.
The Dodgers suffered through Hader, but they still had three other big arms to face. Soria, Jeffress, and Knebel all have closed games at a high level in the major leagues. Knebel has not been as dominant as he was in 2017, but he has shown some signs of turning it around, the home run on Monday notwithstanding.
The Bullpen X factor
The arms in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen that closed out the game against the Dodgers are not the only capable arms they can go to. Matt Albers, Taylor Williams, and Dan Jennings have all had great moments this year. However, the X-factor on how good of a weapon this bullpen could be might be Corbin Burnes.
The rookie has been lights out in 6 outings in his young career. He has not been scored upon in his 8.2 innings of work, while striking out 13 opposing hitters. Counsell has mentioned that Burnes will go back to starting next year, but he is another power arm that could potentially go multiple frames. Since his innings are being curtailed in the bullpen, the young right-hander would seem to have a lot left in his arm down the stretch.
Rest of the season
Now, if the Milwaukee Brewers acquire an ace in the next few hours, some of what I wrote could change–but not too much. The plan should still be to maximize the strength of the team, and that is the bullpen. Now more than ever.
It was great for the team to beat the Dodgers in the opener. Winning 4 of your first 5 games on a road trip is always good. It was even better to see the possible blueprint of what could be if the Brewers put themselves in position to make the playoffs.
Will the Milwaukee Brewers try to shorten the game even more than they have this season? Will Monday night pave the way for more wins like this? We know this, the back end of the bullpen has been consistently fantastic thus far. It could be a beast for other teams to handle in October.