Milwaukee Brewers starters by and large have had their share of ups and downs so far this year. But with Milwaukee currently owning the longest winning streak in the Majors, the starting rotation has been largely responsible for much of the team’s recent success.
On April 24th, the Milwaukee Brewers lost on the road to the St Louis Cardinals, 5-2. That loss gave the Cardinals a sweep of the series and would drop the Brewers’ record to 13-13, 4th in the NL Central.
What was the problem?
It wasn’t hard to figure out where a huge portion of the blame lied. Over that time period, Milwaukee Brewers starters had a 5.84 ERA, dead last in the National League. The rotation had allowed batters to hit for a .285 batting average and gave up 31 home runs, also worst in the NL. On top of that, young starter Corbin Burnes had already gotten demoted to Triple-A on April 19th as a result of multiple rocky starts. Fellow starter Freddy Peralta found himself on the injured list just three days earlier after a similar start to the season.
Since then, however, both the team and the rotation have seen much greener pastures. Milwaukee has gone 10-3 over their last 13 games and are currently in the midst of a 6-game winning streak after consecutive sweeps of the Mets and Nationals. That stretch put the Brewers just a half game out of the division league behind the rival Cubs going into Thursday’s games.
If the starters bore much of the burden for the team’s early struggles, they deserve as much credit for the rebound as well. Brewer starters have a 3.05 ERA over the time period after that sweep at St. Louis, good for 4th in the NL among starting pitchers. Their 0.7 HR/9 is tied for 2nd lowest over that time period and their K/BB ratio of 2.4 is tied for 5th best.
How did they fix the issues?
There are several factors that have gone into the rotation’s turnaround – steady veterans, a timely free agent signing, a young pitcher improving with each start, and an unconventional idea.
If anyone thought Zach Davies would slow down after his surprisingly strong start, he’s certainly not showing any signs of it. The two earned runs he’s given up over the Milwaukee Brewers’ 13-game stretch have actually lowered his ERA to a team-leading 1.56. Meanwhile, notoriously slow-starting Jhoulys Chacin has seen better days lately, sporting a 1.64 ERA over his last two starts and holding batters to just a .143 batting average.
Just three days after the Cardinals sweep, the Brewers officially announced the signing of old friend Gio Gonzalez to try to help jump-start the rotation. The lefty picked up right where he left off during Milwaukee’s 2018 playoff push. In his first two starts with the team, Gonzalez has given up just three runs and struck out nine while walking just one.
Some fans wondered if Brandon Woodruff would suffer the same fate as Burnes and Peralta and find himself out of the rotation as well. Things appear to have clicked for the third member of the young trio though as he has a 1.69 ERA over his last 16 innings of work and an impressive 22 strikeouts. That gives him a 12.4 K/9. He easily leads Brewer starters over the aforementioned stretch of games.
What’s next for the Brewers rotation?
Both Burnes and Peralta had opportunities to regain spots in the rotation. Burnes was unable to take advantage and is now working out of the bullpen for the time being. Peralta had another rough outing in his return from the injured list, but instead of being demoted, manager Craig Counsell had a different plan.
When Peralta’s most recent turn came around, the team decided to deploy an “opener,” having Adrian Houser start the game but only throw a couple of innings before Peralta would enter in the third. Apparently the plan worked because Peralta would go on to throw five scoreless innings in a game in which the Brewers cruised to an easy victory. Counsell has since stated that he is open to utilizing the “opener” with Peralta again in the future.
Now the Milwaukee Brewers schedule has certainly gotten easier as of late. After the brutal early season schedule that led to the team’s 13-13 start, Milwaukee has played the Mets, Rockes, and Nationals over the last 13 games, teams that are in the middle of their respective divisions and have a combined record of 47-62.
However it is still impressive to see such a drastic turnaround from multiple starters and moves were clearly made to facilitate just that. And knowing that the Brewers have depth in Burnes, Chase Anderson who pitched well in limited starting duty, and a potential eventual return of Jimmy Nelson bodes well if any starters go south again later in the year.
The Milwaukee Brewers are about to enter a long, 10-game road trip against the Cubs, Phillies, and Braves – teams all at or near the top of their divisions. The starting rotation continuing its recent hot streak will give Milwaukee the best chance to come back home in as good a state as it left.