When the 2019 season began, the Milwaukee Brewers could very easily make the case to fans that they were comfortable with their starting pitching depth. The club was returning 2018 ace Jhoulys Chacin after he worked 190+ innings with a 3.50 ERA, earning the assignment as Opening Day starter. Behind him were three exciting, young hurlers who all recently ranked among the league’s top-100 prospects and had just played significant roles during the team’s playoff run — Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes. Zach Davies rounded out the season-opening quintet, a pitcher who posted sub-4.00 ERAs in each season from 2015-17 before an injury plagued 2018. Chase Anderson began the year in the ‘pen as the “sixth starter” after a 3.93 ERA in 30 starts in 2018. In the minors, top prospects Adrian Houser and Zack Brown figured to be fighting for roles at some point, and veteran journeyman like Aaron Wilkerson and Burch Smith were around at the bottom of the depth chart. The wild card in all the equation was Jimmy Nelson, who was expected to return from shoulder reconstruction sometime in the first half. David Stearns could reasonably say this his rotation was 11 arms deep.
Now, more than 100 games into the regular season schedule, we can say that things have worked out in about the absolute worst way possible for Milwaukee’s group of initial out-getters. There have been positives, surely, like Woodruff’s ascension to All-Star status and Davies’ return to form. Anderson, too, has regained his role as a steady contributor for the starting staff. But Burnes and Peralta quickly faltered, losing hold on their starting spots within the first month of the season before eventually transitioning back to bullpen roles. Peralta, at least, has earned a spot among Craig Counsell’s high-leverage options; Burnes has become basically unusable while posting a 9.00 ERA in 46.0 innings before hitting the injured list. Chacin has lost control of the strike zone on his way to an ERA near six. Houser struggled in his rotation audition but like Peralta, has become a valuable late-inning reliever. Nelson returned in June but showed diminished velocity and poor location in three starts before getting moved to the ‘pen and eventually going back on the IL. Brown has struggled so much in Triple-A that he hasn’t even been considered for a big league shot. Wilkerson and Smith have been used as shuttle arms, but neither has been deemed worthy to make any MLB starts. The Brewers lucked into a Gio Gonzalez addition in late April and he’s pitched well when healthy (a 3.48 ERA in eight starts) but he missed nearly two months of action himself shoulder inflammation and a ‘dead arm.’
It has all added up to a 4.78 ERA through 105 games, which is the third-worst cumulative total on the Senior Circuit. And with Burnes, Peralta, Nelson, Houser, Brown, Smith, and Wilkerson essentially removed from the equation, the club began this past week with only five legitimate in-house options to pitch at the outset of games. But then Brandon Woodruff was beset with an oblique strain in his latest outing, and will now be out six weeks. Jhoulys Chacin strained his lat three days later and now miss may up to a month of action. Gio was in the middle of his finest start of the season last night against the Cubs when he was pulled from the game in the seventh inning with left shoulder soreness. He is considered day-to-day right now and may still be ready to make his next scheduled start, but we don’t know that yet for certain. That leaves just two hurlers left intact — Chase Anderson and Zach Davies.
Arguments can be made about which player(s) should be targeted or just how much of his prospect capital Slingin’ Stearns should be willing to part with, but one thing is certain — the aggressive executive needs to add at least one starting pitcher to the fold from the trade market before the Wednesday afternoon’s single deadline.
At the very least, the Brewers have to find someone to come in and eat up some innings. The Orioles accepted two teenage prospects in exchange for steady-but-unspectacular Andrew Cashner, and other similarly-priced, albeit unexciting options should be available to Stearns and company. Mike Leake, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, Tanner Roark, Jordan Lyles, and Dylan Bundy are some examples of veterans hanging out there with obvious sellers. The club has also been connected to higher-impact arms like Zack Wheeler, Matthew Boyd, Mike Minor, Noah Syndergaard, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman; in fact, the Blue Jays had a scout in attendance during last night’s tilt at Miller Park.
The Blue Jays are among the teams with a scout at Miller Park tonight for Cubs-Brewers. Jays trade candidates include Marcus Stroman, Ken Giles, Daniel Hudson, Eric Sogard.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) July 27, 2019
They may be down to three (possibly two?) healthy starting pitchers, but our beloved local nine remains ensconced in a pennant race. Last night’s triumph leaves the team one game back of the Cubs and two games behind the Cardinals in the race of the NL Central, and the Brewers now sit one game behind in the National League Wild Card standings. But the club is in desperate need of help in the rotation if they hope to make the playoffs for back-to-back season for the first time since 1981-82. There are plenty of options for David Stearns and his brain trust to parse through during the next four days, and he should have enough ammunition in his minor league arsenal to tempt some selling squad. It is imperative that Stearns swings a deal for at least additional one hurler to lend a hand to his team as they attempt to achieve their postseason dreams. And if he could land two new starting pitchers, well then that would be even better.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs