The Milwaukee Brewers captured their first postseason victory in seven years last night, outlasting the Colorado Rockies for a thrilling 3-2 victory in 10 innings. Once again, the presumptive National League MVP had his fingerprints all over this game. Christian Yelich launched a two-run homer to left-center field in the third inning to get the scoring started, and then crossed the plate as the winning run in the bottom of the 10th on Mike Moustakas’ RBI single to right field. There is little doubt that right now, Yelich is the most impactful player on the Senior Circuit.
But Milwaukee’s surprisingly astute pitching staff has been what has carried the team for most of the season, and that was true once again in game one of the NLDS. Even though veteran starters Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley were rested and ready to go for this contest, Craig Counsell instead chose to entrust the task of navigating through the first five innings to two young right-handers with fewer than 150 MLB innings between them. With the postseason spotlight shining brightly, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes proved that they were up to the task.
Toeing the slab to begin the affair was the red-bearded Woodruff. A bit of nerves may have been present for the 25 year old, as he worked around some loud contact and issued a free pass during his first inning of work. Thanks to the cannon-armed Manny Pina, however, that walk was undone by a caught stealing to end the frame. From there, Woodruff had little issue setting down Colorado’s lineup. Innings two and three were both spotless and included three strikeouts. Woodruff was on the shuttle back-and-forth to Colorado Springs for most of the season, which probably wasn’t what he had in mind for the 2018 campaign back in March when he made the Opening Day roster. At that time, management said something to the effect of “it’s time for Brandon to be pitching in the big leagues.” Yesterday, he delivered three scoreless, hitless innings in the franchise’s first postseason contest since Adele’s “Someone like You” was atop the charts.
With Woodruff’s task complete, Corbin Burnes was summoned to take over in the fourth inning. 13 pitches later, the Rockies had been retired in order, with both DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado flailing at strike three. Carlos Gonzalez broke up the no-hit bid in the fifth inning with a two-out triple off Burnes that got caught under the lip of the padding in the right field corner, but he was stranded as the 23 year old delivered another scoreless frame and added his third whiff of the outing.
The outside additions - guys like Yelich, Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Shaw, etc - have gotten plenty of attention and credit for all the success in the Cream City this year. But the Menomonee Valley Nine have also gotten some significant contributions from homegrown players along the way, which was more apparent than ever during yesterday’s tilt. The organization’s Minor League Pitchers of the Year in 2016 and 2017 combined to deliver five scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk between the two of them, while striking out six. Not a single fastball thrown by either righty registered lower than 95 MPH.
Woodruff capped off his 2018 regular season by allowing one run in 12.1 September innings, and he posted a full-season Deserved Run Average across his 42.1 MLB innings that was 30% better than league average. Corbin Burnes finished his rookie year with a 2.61 ERA in 38.0 innings, a DRA that was 25% better than league average, and he has elite spin rates on all four of his pitches. I think it’s fair to be excited about the present and future ahead of this duo, regardless of what roles they ultimately fill within Milwaukee’s nebulous pitching system that continues to move ever closer to eschewing the labels of “starter” and “reliever.”
Any team in baseball could have had Brandon Woodruff (11th round, 2014) or Corbin Burnes (4th round, 2016) several times over, but it was the Milwaukee Brewers who selected both hurlers in the later rounds of the draft. It was this organization’s coaching staff who suggested the delivery adjustments that expedited each player’s arrival in the major leagues. And it was this manager and GM - Craig Counsell and David Stearns - who felt confident enough in these young flamethrowers to put them on the grand stage that is the MLB postseason and allow them to thrive.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus