Today begins the 2019 Championship Season, and according to most projections your Milwaukee Brewers should be in the thick of playoff contention once again throughout the regular season as they look to defend their division title. No one knows yet exactly how the season will shake out, but the Brew Crew Ball staff have picked out the following storylines that we’ll be following this year regarding the Menomonee Valley Nine:
-JP-: Can the Brewers survive a brutal schedule?
The National League is tough this season, with only a few teams with little hope to compete for the playoffs. In addition, the Brewers have to face the AL West this season, which is also a tough division. While the offense looks to be in good shape, the pitching staff still has plenty of questions, with a few injuries in the bullpen and an inexperienced rotation. There’s still plenty to be optimistic about going into this season, but competing could still be tricky, even if the team is playing well.
David Gibson: How effective will the three young guns in the rotation be?
Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes earned their way into the Brewers’ rotation. To expect the season to go seamlessly for the trio is likely a pipe dream. However, could the three young guns be the start of a run like Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz? Obviously that is unlikely, but worth dreaming on. As for the season, how will they handle adversity? Will Counsell hold them to 5-6 innings throughout or will he begin to nurture a more traditional rotation with these three pitchers in mind, ultimately letting them go further and further into the game as the season proceeds? How quick will the leash be, and how soon will a veteran starter takes one or two of the spots? Being in this window of winning might hinder their development, or it might just be the catalyst of something special. Their performances in the bullpen last season certainly accelerated their development curve. In the end, will the three young pitchers be starting important games in the postseason or will they be part of the reason Milwaukee sits at home in October?
Jaymes L: Will the Brewers be able to manage their bullpen the same way in 2019?
The critics said all year last season that the Brewers’ bullpen usage was unsustainable, but it carried them to Game 7 of the NLCS. And it wasn’t the bullpen failing that cost them the series, either, but rather an offense that couldn’t score. In a lot of ways, the team’s “27 outs” philosophy will be tested more in Year 2 than it was last year after the arms that were leaned on so heavily in 2018 will be asked to do the same thing — only after the extra mileage. Whether or not the injuries to Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel were the result of being used so frequently last year is up for debate — between the regular season and playoffs, Jeffress blew past his career high for innings pitched with 84.2, and Knebel’s elbow has always been a ticking time bomb with the UCL damage — but it will be interesting to see how Counsell manages his bullpen given those extra innings across the board and the absence of 2 of the 3 Electric Dudes.
Brad Ford: Who settles into what roles in the ‘pen?
The storyline I’m most interested in following is the progression of the bullpen. With the pre-season injuries of Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, the Crew is missing two of the biggest contributors in the bullpen to start the season. And now that Woodruff and Burnes are in the rotation, two of the big post-season contributors from the 2018 bullpen aren’t there to serve as backups. I believe Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams can take big steps to being big contributors, and that Junior Guerra will find success out of the pen, but it will be interesting to see if the Brewers’ most important asset can remain exceptional.
Kyle Lesniewski: The return of Jimmy Nelson
I spent most of last year trying to tell everyone not to get their hopes up for Jimmy Nelson’s return in 2018. It turns out that it didn’t end up happening, although it wasn’t a hindrance to Milwaukee’s NL Central title-winning season. Nelson definitely seems on track to return to active duty on a big league mound this season, though, after making a few Cactus League appearances and pitching in several other minor league games this spring. He had a minor setback with some elbow soreness, though the organization doesn’t think it is serious and that he’ll still be ready to open the year with Triple-A San Antonio when their season begins on April 4th. Nelson was up to 94-95 MPH at times this spring while flashing good breaking stuff, but hasn’t yet been able to sustain that type of velocity as he’s worked deeper into his outings. Will the stuff be as good as it was before he went down? Will the shoulder and elbow cooperate as Nelson continues to stretch back out into a starter’s role? If progress is slower than hoped, would a conversion to the bullpen be considered? On what date will we actually see Nelson on the mound at Miller Park?