The Brewers lost one of the best relief weapons in the league just hours before game one of the Wild Card round against the Dodgers.
As the lowest seed in the National League side of the playoff bracket, the Milwaukee Brewers are already long shots to advance past the Wild Card round. Any hopes that they may have of doing so would have relied on the fact that they have some of the better bullpen pieces in the NL.
Of those pieces, the most dominant for the Brewers, and possibly the entire National League, had been Devin Williams. The NL Reliever of the Year and Rookie of the Year candidate just a single earned run over 27 innings in 2020, striking out 53 behind a wicked fastball-changeup combo.
But much to the dismay of Brewers fans, news broke the morning of their opening Wild Card game that Williams would be left off the roster due to a shoulder injury suffered over the weekend. The loss makes it much harder for Milwaukee to bridge the gap to NL saves leader Josh Hader.
All is not lost, though, as the Brewers still have talent in the bullpen to go around, not that any of the remaining arms were nearly as successful as Williams this year. So who might be most likely to get the call to help hold a potential lead late in a game before Milwaukee can get to Hader?
RHP – Eric Yardley
The side-arming Eric Yardley is probably the last style of pitcher many would think of when they think of high-leverage setup pitchers. But whether he seems like the prototypical setup guy or not, Yardley was one of the more steady arms out of manager Craig Counsell‘s bullpen in 2020.
Yardley pitched in 24 games this year, the most of any Brewer reliever, and had the team’s second-best ERA after Williams at 1.54. Though he doesn’t rack up the strikeouts (19), he only gave up two homers this year, a good quality to have versus a Dodgers lineup that led MLB in homers.
RHP – Corey Knebel
It definitely didn’t seem like Corey Knebel would be an option for setup man when he gave up seven earned runs over 6 2/3 innings before landing on the injured list with a hamstring healthy. He has looked much better since returning though (2 ER in 6 2/3 IP) and has shown some increased velocity in recent games as well.
Knebel is also one of the few options out of the bullpen who has experience working high-leverage situations late in games. Not only did he lead the Brewers in saves back in 2017, he already has late-game playoff experience as part of Milwaukee’s high-powered bullpen in their 2018 playoff run.
RHP – Justin Topa
2020 has already been crazy, so why not get super weird with it, right? Sometimes the playoffs are about riding the hot hand and there are actually few hands, or arms, who have been hotter out of the bullpen down the stretch than that of Justin Topa.
Topa had a rude greeting to the majors back on September 1st when he gave up two earned runs and a homer in his first career outing. After a stop back at the alternate training site, though, Topa returned to the Brewers to give up zero earned over 5 2/3 IP, striking out 10 of 22 batters faced. He pairs a high-90s heater with a nasty slider, a pitch combo that could play well late in games.
Just like winning their Wild Card series, it’ll take a herculean effort to replace someone like a Devin Williams. The Brewers will have to figure out a way if they have any hopes of moving on.