Dominant rotation leads Crew into '22 (2024)

April 5th, 2022

Dominant rotation leads Crew into '22 (1)

Adam McCalvy


PHOENIX -- Brandon Woodruff has always been the kind of guy to let his pitching do the talking, so he demurs when someone asks whether he believes the Brewers have the National League’s top pitching staff. But Woodruff is also as competitive as they come, so he offers an honest answer.

“I feel like it’s a trap question,” he said with a smile. “You know, in my mind I think we are. I think we’ve proven that over the past couple of years. It’s not really talked about, I guess, nationally, in the media. But that’s kind of what has fueled us to do our own thing and worry about ourselves in here. I think that’s what makes us good.”

The Dodgers and Giants both love their returning pitching after finishing first and second among NL clubs in staff ERA last season, just ahead of the Brewers in third with a 3.50 ERA. The Braves were fourth and shut down the Brewers in the NL Division Series on the way to winning the World Series. The Mets were fifth and added Max Scherzer in free agency.

The Brewers’ staff is returning mostly intact and is the strength of a team with World Series aspirations. Corbin Burnes, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, is scheduled to start Opening Day against the Cubs. Woodruff comes next after starting each of the past two Opening Days and finishing fifth in Cy Young Award balloting. Freddy Peralta is aiming to top his 144 1/3 innings from 2021 and would love to repeat his 2.81 ERA. Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer want more of the same after each delivered the best season of his career. Aaron Ashby, the young left-hander with a terrific slider, is aiming to establish himself whether that means making starts or pitching in relief.

The bullpen is anchored by Devin Williams and Josh Hader at the back end, a duo that accounts for each of the last four NL Reliever of the Year Awards.

“I think we could be even better,” Burnes said. “Whenever you get more experience on the mound, even those little bit of postseason games, it goes a long way. To be returning pretty much the same group is huge. … If not [number] one, we're up there for sure.”

What Needs to Go Right?
The Brewers are fairly certain that the pitching that carried them last season is positioned to carry them again, but the position player group will have to be better for the Brewers to truly content for a World Series championship. President of baseball operations David Stearns did add slugging, laser-armed right fielder Hunter Renfroe in a trade before the lockout and veteran free agent Andrew McCutchen this spring, but otherwise the offense that collapsed on the Brewers late last season is returning largely intact. The team would like more of the same from infielders Willy Adames and Luis Urías, more of last year’s first half and less of the second from All-Star catcher Omar Narváez, more games played for center fielder Lorenzo Cain and second baseman Kolten Wong and more, period, from Christian Yelich. There’s the talent to be a very capable offense, and remember, with special pitching, “capable” would work just fine.

Great Unknown
What will they get from Yelich? He is the Brewers’ ultimate difference-maker, for better or worse. In 2018 and ’19 Yelich authored two of the best seasons in franchise history, elevating from “very good player” status in Miami to superstar in Milwaukee, and earning a contract extension that obliterated anything the Brewers had ever awarded a player. But then came the pandemic and the shortened season in 2020, which negatively impacted many a big-time hitter around MLB, including Yelich. In 2021, he fought back problems in April and May and fell into a bad place that persisted in June and beyond, even though Yelich and club officials all said he was completely healthy. Of the 161 Major Leaguers who got at least 450 plate appearances last season, Yelich was 113th in wRC+ (101), 118th in fWAR (1.5) and 143rd in slugging percentage (.373). Yelich is known for keeping a cool head and offers regular reminders that hitting in Major League Baseball is very hard, even if some players in some seasons make it look easy. He’s intent on returning to a high level of production.

Team MVP Will Be …
Yelich. Why overthink it? Adames plays a premium position well and was in the National League MVP Award conversation for much of last season despite playing the first six weeks in the American League. He loves hitting at American Family Field and has a chance to repeat as Brewers club MVP. But Yelich is still the Brewers’ best player, and even if he doesn’t get back to his production from 2018, when he was NL MVP, or ’19, when he was even better statistically but finished runner-up to the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, Yelich has every opportunity to be the Brewers’ offensive leader.

Team Cy Young Will Be ...
Peralta. Surprised? Burnes is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and is starting Opening Day. Woodruff is the Brewers’ workhorse and finished fifth in Cy Young balloting last season. Both could easily lead Milwaukee’s staff in 2022. But Peralta, with those especially long fingers creating special movement on his fastball, and his long extension making it appear to the hitter that the pitch is on him immediately, is especially electric. Peralta led the Brewers last season in carrying no-hit bids into the late innings, allowing only one hit in six of his starts, two or fewer hits 13 times and three or fewer hits 17 times in 27 starts. He’s confident in his slider now and is no longer just “Fastball Freddy.” Peralta spent the winter and spring strengthening his legs and is aiming to build on last year’s career-high 144 1/3 innings.

Bold Prediction
The Brewers will break their franchise record for regular season victories. Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke and the 2011 Brewers set the club mark with 96 wins, and the 2018 club matched it thanks to a win over the Cubs in a Game 163. FanGraphs projects the ’22 Brewers to win 95 games and PECOTA projects 93 wins, putting the record within reach. The Brewers will benefit from a division in flux; the Cardinals are competitive but may be without ace Jack Flaherty for a time, the Cubs traded a slew of their stars last season and the Reds and Pirates are clearly in a rebuilding phase. With MLB’s schedule heavy on intra-divisional games for one more season, it gives the Brewers a chance to compile victories against their NL Central foes.

Dominant rotation leads Crew into '22 (2024)


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