With the conclusion of the Super Bowl, baseball season is so close you can almost hear the crack of the bat and pop of the mitt. Pitchers and catchers report to camp in about a week’s time, so I decided to look back and find the last time the Brewers fielded the same starting pitcher on Opening Day two years in a row.
The result….well it speaks for itself.
I had to go all the way back to Monday, March 31, 2014. Lyle Overbay and Aramis Ramirez were the corner infielders. Khris “Krush” Davis was manning left field with the Energizer bunny himself, Carlos Gomez, in center. The reliable Jonathon Lucroy was behind the plate with Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett up the middle.
Current free agent Ryan Braun started in right field and it was former Brewer right-hander Yovani Gallardo on the bump. It would be Gallardo’s last Opening Day start with the club and start a trend that has yet to be broken.
That start would be the last time in a while that the Brewers had the same Opening Day starter as the previous season.
Prior to Gallardo’s arrival in Milwaukee, the Brewers had Ben Sheets take the mound on Opening Day in all but one season from 2002-2008. Sheets was a workhorse in the 2000s logging almost 1,500 innings pitched in a Brewers jersey.
Eventually, it was Gallardo who would be the ace for the first half of 2010s, starting on Opening Day in five consecutive seasons. After that, though, the latter half of the 2010s ended up being unkind to Milwaukee Opening Day starters in terms of longevity.
Prior to Game 1 of the 2020 season, the last handful of Opening Day starters were as follows: Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin. No disrespect to any of those guys because you need to have some good stuff to even be considered as a day one starter in the MLB, but they didn’t have “ace stuff”.
Those five pitchers went a combined 25-46 in their respective seasons as Opening Day starters for the Milwaukee Brewers. Chase Anderson was the only one out of that list to have a winning season as the ace back in 2018 where he went 9-8.
Enter Brandon Woodruff. That same season that Anderson went 9-8 was the season that Woodruff broke on to the scene with the Crew. He went 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA in a mostly relief role where he pitched just a tad over 42 innings.
He wasn’t quite yet ready to pitch on Opening Day, but that season was the beginning of Brandon Woodruff working his way toward that honor.
He did start four games that season and the Brewers coaching staff had seen enough – he was ready to take on a starter role going forward. He did just that in 2019 appearing and starting in 22 games, going 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA, 143 strikeouts and an All-Star Game nomination to his name.
Last season, Woodruff was tasked with opening up the 2020 Brewers campaign against the Cubs as the team’s Opening Day starter. That day, he gave up four hits and two earned runs in five innings pitched. He had a bit of a command problem throwing 32 balls in 85 total pitches but by no means pitched a poor outing.
That game would be a bit of a microcosm for many of the games he would pitch for the Brewers last season: he would get little run support, exactly zero runs in this case, and get saddled by an unfortunate loss. The trend resulted in an undeserved 3-5 record last year.
Now last year may not have been the season he was hoping for in terms of production on the surface but if you look deeper into his statistics, you’ll see it wasn’t a poor season by any means.
Woodruff posted the lowest earned run average of his career in 2020 at 3.05. But in the games that the Brewers lost when Woodruff was the starter, Milwaukee bats scored an abysmal average of 1.7 runs per game, hence the poor record. With that in mind, Woodruff deserves a second chance to get his first Opening Day victory this season if given the nod by his skipper.
Now it’s purely speculation as of right now that Brandon Woodruff will be the Day 1 starter for Craig Counsell as there has been no announcement on the matter. And given the fact that Corbin Burnes had a breakout 2020 season, there has to be a conversation on that front as well. There is far too much time between now and April 1st, but the reality of having two potential aces is a good problem to have.
Pitching wins games in this league and you can never have too many quality arms. Hopefully the curse of consecutive Opening Day starters can be a thing of the past soon as the Brewers look to have one of the best 1-2 starter punches in the MLB, with Woodruff in the lead as Milwaukee kicks off the 2021 season.