Today is an off day. In fact, it's the last off day the Brewers will have for three weeks. Starting tomorrow, the Brewers will play on 20 straight days. It's the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It's also a time when the Brewers will need everyone to get through these days.
If everything is going well, there's not a lot to worry about during these games. Position players can be rotated to give everyone a day out of the lineup as needed. Starting pitchers stick to their routines and get four days rest between starts. Bullpen pitchers are rotated as well to keep everyone as fresh as possible.
Of course, it rarely goes that well for a team. The reality is that problems will come up during the twenty game stretch. Several players will hit cold streaks all at once. A player or two will sustain an injury that keeps them out for a few days, thinning the bench. Two or three starters in a row can't go beyond the fourth inning, and the bullpen is now tired. A bullpen pitcher gets a cut or blister on a finger, and they're out until it's healed. Whatever the reason is, attrition will hit in some form during this stretch.
When an injury does hit, how the Brewers handle it will depend on their current status. For example, a twisted ankle by a position player could be endured for a few days if the rest of the bench is healthy. However, add another player with a bruised hand or one with a slightly tweaked leg muscle, and now depth is precariously short. Small injuries like this can result in DL trips, even if it would only keep the player out for a few days. When bench depth is needed, there's not much else that can be done.
The situation is even more precarious for the pitching staff, who have less of a margin for error. In theory, if starters are going six innings a day, a team only needs three relievers to finish up the game. In a 7-man bullpen, that provides opportunity to get everyone rest. When that doesn't happen, relievers are needed more often and for longer appearances. That exhausts the bullpen, which either results in rougher appearances or the need for reinforcements, likely from the minors.
Cold streaks are even tougher to navigate. Sometimes the team can just play through them, as long as the rest of the team can cover for the player(s) who are struggling. However, if the team starts losing multiple games in a row, the need for a hot player from the minors will grow. That could also force a roster move.
If replacements are needed, that means some players will be at risk for losing their roster spot. Which players are at the most risk of losing their roster spot entering this period? Here are a few candidates:
It seems odd to list these pitchers first, since they are in the rotation, but I included them for one simple reason: They have minor league options. Even with Matt Garza still several weeks away from returning, if the Brewers need a bullpen arm quick, they could be optioned for that purpose. What could happen is one can be optioned down to the minors right after their start for a minor-league pitcher (likely Tyler Cravy or David Goforth). Then, the day their spot in the rotation comes up, the Brewers make another roster move to send that pitcher back to the minors and pull up a different starter with options. Candidates for this would be Jorge Lopez, Adrian Houser, and Junior Guerra. Since Zach Davies has already burned an option this season, he would be the more likely choice, but with Chase Anderson and Taylor Jungmann's recent performance, they can't be excluded either. It's also important to note that they couldn't just be pulled right back up since they are required to spend 10 days in the minors (unless they are recalled as an injury replacement).
Another option for the Brewers would be to go with a short bench if other pitchers are needed. Unfortunately, most of their infielders do not have options, but one player with options is Yadiel Rivera. It's hard to see him getting optioned since he is one of a few players to back up in the infield, though. He still gets mentioned because he does have options available.
In the bullpen, the situation is less flexible, as only one pitcher (Michael Blazek) has an option available. That means if the Brewers wanted to make a change, someone will have to be exposed to waivers and potentially have the chance to refuse a minor-league assignment. Fortunately, most of the bullpen pitchers have pitched well enough that they will not be risked on waivers unless absolutely necessary. The one exception there is Sam Freeman. Since he was acquired in the first week of the season, he has not pitched well, compiling a 15.88 ERA in six appearances. He is the most likely candidate to be removed from the bullpen, but with his struggles so far, would have an easier time passing through waivers.
While Colin Walsh does have a full compliment of options available, the Brewers can't use them right now since he is a Rule 5 pick. That means he has to remain with the team all season or be offered back to the Athletics. The Brewers could offer a trade to the Athletics to keep Walsh, but if the Athletics are unwilling, Walsh will have to stay on the roster. The batting line isn't great so far at .053/.280/.105, but the OBP at least keeps him in the conversation for now.
This is the current triumvirate that is patrolling center field. None of the three have stood out this season, and all of them are out of options. With other options available in the minors, one could be exposed to waivers if necessary. It's hard to say which one would go first, though. Since Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Alex Presley have shown a little more at the plate, Ramon Flores might be the candidate here. At the same time, Flores is the youngest of the three and may want to be protected if there's hope for his development.
Roster health will be important as the Brewers navigate this stretch of 20 games in a row starting tomorrow. Hopefully they stay healthy and don't have to make any difficult decisions. However, the likelihood that they will make it through unscathed is low, and someone will likely find themselves back in the minors or out of the organization by the time this streak is over.