With fewer than 30 games to play, an NL Central crown in sight, and three huge games against the Chicago Cubs looming, it appears the Milwaukee Brewers are realigning their rotation to have their top three starters on the hill at Wrigley Field next weekend. If the Brewers are looking at an ideal design, they would have Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies all lined up for starts in the franchise’s biggest series in years.
September call-ups allow for a host of possible scenarios for Milwaukee’s starting staff, but the recent decisions give the appearance of some strategic shuffling for the upcoming week. Trailing the Cubs by 3.5 games (as of Friday morning), the Brewers know how big each head-to-head contest will be for them. Thus, the first three games, of seven remaining with Chicago, may be factoring into their rotation plans.
Brandon Woodruff, who has been in AAA Colorado Springs since August 20, will get the start Saturday at Miller Park. He had been sent down as the Brewers didn’t need a fifth starter thanks to a couple off-days to work with near the end of August.
Matt Garza then was scheduled to pitch Sunday versus the Washington Nationals. However, manager Craig Counsell said Garza will not be starting the home finale, but will still have a spot in the rotation. As of Friday morning, a starter hadn’t been announced. One possibility would be Opening Day starter Junior Guerra, expected to be summoned from the minors. Another potential fill-in could be Brent Suter who is also ready to be activated off the DL. There’s even some thought to those two “piggybacking” each other for the day.
Regardless of who gets the start on Sunday, it’s the series in Cincinnati next week that may determine the Brewers’ plans heading into the showdown in Chicago. Anderson and Davies are slated to pitch the first two games against the Reds, and there would be no reason to expect a change with that pair.
The final game of the series on Wednesday is where the “fluid rotation” comes into play. That is supposed be Nelson’s next start on his regular four days of rest; however, even with Milwaukee’s off-day on Thursday, that would mean Nelson would miss the Cubs’ series. In theory, he could pitch on short rest next week Sunday, but that isn’t worth the risk at this point.
Thus, it’s reasonable to expect Garza to take the ball on Wednesday against the Reds. With no game the following day, Counsell could have a short leash with Garza and utilize his bullpen to cover as many innings as necessary – especially with additional arms thanks to September call-ups. Guys like Taylor Williams, Wei-Chung Wang, and Guerra could all provide relief for extended innings, on top of the regular group.
Garza has had some success at Great American Ballpark, posting a career 3.83 ERA on the Reds’ diamond. Though he took the loss there in a September start last season, Garza gave up one earned run through five innings, striking out three without a walk that day. Even if it’s not Garza who takes the hill for the third contest against the Reds, if it’s anyone besides Nelson, that would be a clear sign of the Brewers’ intentions for the Cubs’ series.
The one potential issue could be uncertainty when it comes to Nelson getting extra rest. Most starters thrive off the routine of pitching every fifth day (four days of rest). Sometimes the additional time off causes a pitcher to be a bit rusty and lose some of his “feel” for pitches, affecting command especially. In this case Nelson would have six days of rest. At the same time, giving Nelson’s arm a brief respite this week could be more positive than negative in terms of strength to close the season. Entering Friday’s start, Nelson is at 163.1 innings this season, just 16 frames shy of his Major League high of 179.1 innings pitched in 2016.
If the Milwaukee Brewers set things up this way, they would have Nelson, Anderson, and Davies all starting in the pivotal three-game series in Chicago next weekend. This isn’t a new concept, but rearranging the rotation to get your best trio of hurlers on the hill against the team you’re chasing is fantastic gamesmanship. This is one of the many intricate joys of being in a pennant race, along with scoreboard watching and high intensity games, just to name a few.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference