Despite the losses, the Brewers bullpen mostly held up their end of the bargain in the Wild Card series. They could be a unit to be feared in 2021.
In game one of their Wild Card series matchup against the Dodgers, the Brewers had their backs against the wall early. Normally reliable Brent Suter, who was pressed into starting duty due to the injury to starter Corbin Burnes, ended up having an outing to forget.
After starting four games in the regular season, of which Milwaukee won three, Suter just didn’t quite have it in his playoff start. He gave up more earned runs (three) than in his four regular season starts combined (two) and matched his entire season total for walks with five.
But despite being down 3-0 in just the second inning, the Brewers stayed within striking distance all the way until the end of that game. That’s because the bullpen, as they had pretty much done all year, allowed Milwaukee kept the team in it for as long as they could.
Five relievers combined to pitch the final 6 1/3 innings for the Crew, giving up an earned run on three hits and a walk while striking out five. The only run came off a Corey Seager solo homer that was given up by Freddy Peralta on a pitch that was on the outer part of the plate, but a little up in the zone.
Game two saw starter Brandon Woodruff go deeper in the game than Suter, but still get pulled in the fifth after putting the Brewers in another 3-0 hole. Again, the bullpen kept Milwaukee in the game with Josh Hader and Adrian Houser combining for 3 1/3 scoreless innings, though they would ultimately lose and end their 2021 season.
Usually, a two-game playoff sweep that ends your season in which you only score twice doesn’t provide much reason for optimism. But when you combine the bullpen’s performance in the series with what they did during the regular season, it’s hard not to be excited by what they’ll bring to the team in 2021.
Take some steady 2020 bullpen arms and add some impressive young relievers who came on late and you have a potentially dangerous 2021 Brewers bullpen.
As the offense struggled mightily during the 2020 season, it was the pitching staff that kept the Brewers in games and allowed them to finish at 29-31 and reach their third straight playoffs for the first time ever. The bullpen contributed heavily to the team’s pitching success.
Milwaukee relievers finished the regular season with a 4.17 ERA, 4th best in the National League and a 3.93 FIP that was third best in the NL. More than anything, they were good at blowing batters away, leading the NL with a 11.97 K/9 and a 31.4% strikeout percentage.
It helps when you have two of the best relievers in the game. Setup man Devin Williams emerged as a dominating force, who led all qualified relievers with a 0.33 ERA and 17.67 K/9. Though he missed the Wild Card round due to injury, his regular season performance has him in the running for both NL Rookie of the Year and NL Reliever of the Year awards.
The Brewers also had the luxury of Josh Hader. Though his ERA raised a bit to a career-high 3.79 as he played with his pitch mix a bit, he still finished 4th in the NL with a 14.68 K/9 and finished the season as the NL saves leader with 13.
You also had Eric Yardley, who led the team in appearances with 24 and finished with a surprising 1.54 ERA (but also a semi-concerning 4.09 FIP). He may not be the pitcher you’d envision in a dominant bullpen, but clearly manager Craig Counsell saw enough in him to lean on him heavily.
With those three as the base, two other young relievers got to show their stuff in 2020. Justin Topa, a surprise midseason add to the 40-man roster, bounced back from a rough first outing to go scoreless the rest of the way. Meanwhile Drew Rasmussen, who was cruising before two final bad outings, showed electric stuff at times and will surely play a big part next year.
Add to that veterans like Suter, who had a 3.13 ERA this season, and Corey Knebel, who improved as he got further removed from Tommy John surgery and should look even better next year, and that’s seven reliable bullpen arms for 2021. And that’s not even counting Freddy Peralta, who could transition to starter, or young potential arms J.P. Feyereisen, Ray Black or Bobby Wahl.
As general manager David Stearns looks to improve the team this offseason, having an already reliable bullpen will be huge. There needs to be much investment in improving the team’s stale offense, so not having to put money into the bullpen will be extremely helpful in that endeavor.
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Brewers fans have been used to their team having strong bullpens during their recent playoff seasons. It’s looking like 2021 could be shaping up to look the same.