The shortened 2020 regular season begins today for the Milwaukee Brewers, and it will be a year unlike any other that we’ve ever seen or experienced before. A shortened 60-game regional schedule, an expanded postseason including 16 teams, and the fact that it’s being played in empty stadiums (with the Blue Jays not even allowed to play at home in Canada) in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. There are going to be so many factors that affect how our big league Cream City Nine fairs this summer, both on the field and off, and here are some storylines to follow as the 2020 season plays out:
David Gibson: How will the starting rotation emerge behind Woodruff?
I think we can feel pretty confident about Brandon Woodruff at the top of the starting rotation. But with Brett Anderson on the Injured List and Eric Lauer still working his way towards readiness, the Brewers are short on experienced depth behind their emerging ace. Can Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, and Eric Lauer take the next step and continue on the way to being a top level staff for the foreseeable future?
Jaymes L: Who ends up pitching the middle innings?
The Brewers are starting the year with 16 pitchers, and frankly, it’s a surprise it’s not 17. Craig Counsell is going to use the early season roster to his full advantage, and that might mean “starters” only going for 50 or 60 pitches before the changes start. With starters possibly only going 4 innings or twice through an order, that leaves a lot of middle innings to fill. Do the Brewers lean on multi-inning guys like Brent Suter to “piggyback” some starts? Do guys like J.P. Feyereisen and Bobby Wahl become go-to guys to get the game to Josh Hader and Corey Knebel? Can David Phelps, who has a history of late-inning success, become a secondary option at the end of games or be the “third closer” in the mold of Joakim Soria?
-JP-: How does Keston Hiura perform in his second season?
Last season, Keston Hiura added some excitement to the Brewers when he made his MLB debut. In just 84 games, he was one of the most valuable members of the lineup, finishing second on the team with a 138 OPS+. One of the few downsides was his strikeout rate, posting 107 strikeouts to just 25 walks. Now that the league has had an offseason to analyze him, will he be able to replicate his results from 2019? How will opposing pitchers handle him in his second season? If Hiura does struggle, can he make adjustments and break out of a slump? Another strong season from Hiura will be key for the Brewers to succeed in 2020.
Brad Ford: The fight for third base
The Brewers have a host of players who will be competing for time at third base, and who is penciled in the lineup on a given day will be determined by matchups and who is hot and when. It will be interesting to see which of the four guys fighting for time at that position end up coming out ahead. Like everyone else, I’m betting on Brock Holt.
Jack Stern: Will the pitching staff live up to its potential?
Through both internal development and outside acquisitions, David Stearns and company have put together a staff filled with upside. Milwaukee’s 60-man player pool is loaded with powerful arms both in the rotation and the bullpen. Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Ray Black, Angel Perdomo, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, J.P. Feyereisen — they all throw hard with excellent swing-and-miss stuff. The problem is that they provide little to no certainty due to inconsistency (Burnes and Peralta), control problems (Black and Perdomo), and minimal big-league experience (Wahl, Williams, Feyereisen).
Each of the arms listed above has the potential to perform well year, and the Brewers know that. That’s why these guys are in the player pool. Brandon Woodruff’s 2019 breakout looks legitimate, and Adrian Houser had a solid rookie showing as well. While these two will be counted on to anchor the staff, the true fate of Milwaukee’s pitching rests in the hands of talented hurlers looking to prove themselves.
Kyle Lesniewski: What happens if/when a player on the Brewers tests positive for COVID-19?
The elephant in the room this year is the fact that Major League Baseball is playing in the middle of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which doesn’t seem to be letting up in the United States. Unlike the NBA, MLB teams will still be making road trips to opposing stadiums and players will not be strictly quarantined inside a so-called “bubble.” There is inherently more risk in virus transmission by simply trusting the players to adhere to best safety practices on their own, and we already saw the Washington Nationals lose Juan Soto just hours before their Opening Day game after a positive COVID-19 result came back from a test that was taken a few days ago. He and those who were in close contact with him were retested yesterday but the Nationals don’t have the results yet, so it’s not known if Soto transmitted the virus to any teammates or if anyone else will have to miss any time, creating an awful lot of uncertainty for the defending World Series champs on the first day of the season.
The Brewers currently have three players on the COVID-19 Injured List — Eric Lauer, Angel Perdomo, and Luis Urias. Lauer never tested positive but was required to quarantine after coming in close contact with someone, and is now building up towards being ready for the season after being delayed in Summer Camp. Perdomo was optioned to the Alternate Training Site before getting placed on the IL. Urias’ positive test was reported 18 days ago and he is asymptomatic, yet he remains unable to record the required two negative tests in 24 hours in order to get cleared.
Will the Brewers be able to avoid any virus breakouts in the clubhouse this year? What happens if a star player like Christian Yelich or Josh Hader tests positive and just can’t shake the virus, like has been the case with Urias? If a player gets seriously ill, will the effects of the virus be detrimental on his short-term or long-term performance? What happens if a player winds up in the hospital? There is just so much uncertainty surrounding all of this.