Tonight, as they kick off their series against the San Diego Padres, the Brewers will look to their ace to kick things off on the mound. Brandon Woodruff, the team’s Opening Day starter for each of the last two seasons, will look to set the tone for the series.
He will be followed by Corbin Burnes, who is thus far having an even better start to 2021 than Woodruff. Just yesterday, they were preceded by Freddy Peralta, who won the final rotation spot after a strong spring performance.
Two years ago, it felt like we might never reach this point.
That 2019 season, the Brewers took a chance with putting all three of the aforementioned pitchers in their starting rotation to begin the season. This was despite the fact that the trio owned a combined 26 starts between them.
The experiment, for the most part, did not go well.
The only one of the three to remain in the rotation by the end of that season was Woodruff. He shook off a rough start (5.81 ERA through his first six starts) to earn an All-Star bid and start the team’s Wild Card game against the Washington Nationals after finishing the year with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.142 WHIP.
Meanwhile, Peralta would end up in the bullpen for most of the remainder of the year after compiling a 8.31 ERA through his first five starts. Burnes not only would be removed from the rotation as well, he’d be removed from the team entirely, ending up all the way down in Double-A at one point after putting up a 8.82 ERA over 32 appearances (four starts).
Milwaukee’s vision for the rotation would become closer to a reality in 2020. Though Peralta would make just one start to begin his year before returning to the bullpen for the rest of the season, Burnes would complete an amazing turnaround, rejoining the rotation and finishing the season with a 2.11 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, and 13.3 K/9 on his way to garnering some Cy Young votes.
Now, in 2021, the Brewers are using the trio in the starting rotation once again. But this time, the experiment is working to perfection.
After the seasons they had in 2020, it was all but a foregone conclusion that Woodruff and Burnes would lead the rotation in 2021. It was less obvious whether Peralta would get the chance to join them, even with word that “Fastball Freddy” was expanding his breaking ball repertoire.
Peralta would go on to have an eye-opening spring for the Brewers prior to this season. And though he got touched up a bit in his last outing, a ratio of 23 strikeouts to 3 walks was hard to ignore. That, combined with Josh Lindblom‘s rough spring, earned Peralta the final rotation spot.
And this time, addition of the three to the rotation is paying huge dividends for Milwaukee. They are a huge part of the reason why Brewers starters lead all of MLB in ERA (2.07) and batting average allowed (.172) and are fourth in fWAR (2.2).
Burnes has had the best season of all three of the young pitchers. He has been putting up historic season-starting numbers and currently sits with a miniscule 0.49 ERA and 0.218 WHIP through his first three starts. Oh, and he hasn’t given up a walk yet in 2021.
Peralta has put up the type of numbers to stick around as a starter this go-round as he has a 2.00 ERA and 1.111 WHIP through four outings (three starts) and leads the trio with a 15.5 K/9. And Woodruff has remained his steady self, sporting a 2.12 ERA and 0.765 WHIP through his first three starts. He is also the only Brewer starter yet to give up a home run.
It’s been great seeing the trio finally gel at the same time as starters and showing just how important a homegrown rotation can be. But what’s even cooler is that the Brewers never gave up on their vision of seeing all three as key rotation pieces for the team. And now the team is reaping the rewards.
Sometimes experiments take multiple attempts to achieve the desired result. In this case, the Brewers might have finally stumbled upon the result they were looking for.