So far this year, the top tier of the Brewers bullpen has been magnificent. Elvis Peguero, Joel Payamps and Devin Williams have vastly exceeded expectations, and been lights out in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The “B Squad” of Bryse Wilson (occasionally in long/middle relief) and Hoby Milner (the fireman) have been fantastic, as well, recording ERAs of 2.70 and 2.50, respectively. The only issue has been at the bottom of the hierarchy, a group which has cost the Brewers several games so far–sometimes by fully imploding, and sometimes by not-quite meeting the challenge of being called upon for emergency late-game, high-leverage work.
Currently the Brewers are using a six-man rotation (which, intriguingly, has coincided with a small uptick in performance from both Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta) leaving seven pitching roster spots for the bullpen, and the last two are occupied by Abner Uribe and JC Mejia. Before that however, here’s a list of the Brewers that filled those spots:
- Javy Guerra – 8 1/3 innings pitched, eight earned runs (8.64 ERA)
- Gus Varland – 8 2/3 innings pitched, 11 earned runs, 15 hits, eight walks (11.42 ERA)
- Bennett Sousa – 2 2/3 innings pitched, four earned runs (13.50 ERA)
- Tyson Miller – 9 1/3 innings pitched, six earned runs (5.79 ERA)
- Trevor Megill – 14 2/3 innings pitched, eight earned runs, 20 strikeouts (4.91 ERA)
- Jake Cousins – 9 1/3 innings pitched, five earned runs, 2.14 WHIP (4.82 ERA)
- Ethan Small – 3 innings pitched, five earned runs (15 ERA)
- Matt Bush – 12 Games, 10 1/3 innings pitched, 11 earned runs, 1.65 WHIP and three blown saves (9.58 ERA)
While I could argue Megill actually looked okay, and that Clayton Andrews (I couldn’t include him above with 1 ⅔ innings pitched) has potential but just struggled with nerves in his first MLB stint, the long and short of it all is that the back end has been a leaky dam for most of the season. Even Cousins was lucky to only have a 4.82 ERA with a WHIP that high
It’s a large part of the reason why the Brewers have struggled to come back in games, and also why they have been involved in so many blowout losses, as well as some agonizing losses with a tired bullpen (see: the 8-7 loss to the Pirates a week before the break).
Improvements could be on the way, however, and one might already be here.
Abner Uribe is, quite simply, someone who can get outs. He showed in his first inning of work how filthy his stuff is, with a wipeout slider at 89 miles per hour and a 100-mph fastball. He’s shown an ability to get outs with ease at each level of the minors, with high strikeout totals and stuff that will obviously play at any level. His command isn’t all there, and he hasn’t had a lot of exposure to professional baseball due to a checkered injury history, but his first inning against the Cubs showed exactly what he can bring to the table.
If the Brewers go to a five-man rotation, Peter Strzelecki may come back into the mix, and although he hasn’t been as dominant as he was last season, he still gets outs and has looked more than capable in a big-league bullpen, whilst also battling some batted-ball misfortune, with his 1.18 WHIP and an xERA of 4.00. He’s above-average for the muddle in the middle of a bullpen, and will definitely contribute once the Brewers select their starters going forward. I would expect one of Teheran or Rea to get dealt to someone for a prospect we wouldn’t have expected.
Finally, to add another lefty into the mix, the team will soon give a look to Justin Wilson. The veteran free-agent signee has looked very sharp from the get-go in his rehab stints, and is currently working away in Nashville. He has a career 3.41 ERA, with 510 strikeouts to his name, another veteran presence that can and will get outs. He’s had just one season since 2016 with an ERA above 3.66, where he struggled for a short time in the Bronx.
So far in the minors, Wilson has pitched in five innings (three in rookie ball, two in Triple A) with three hits and two strikeouts. He may not need much more than another couple of innings before he’s ready to contribute to the Brewers bullpen, and he could be invaluable for what is a relatively inexperienced setup.
What the likes of Uribe and Wilson (if they perform as expected) can do is allow Craig Counsell to mix and match for hitters as he sees fit depending on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as giving the likes of Payamps and Peguero more rest. With the likely regression in Rea, Teheran and Miley in the second half, a shutdown bullpen with this improved offense of recent weeks could carry the Brewers all the way to the playoffs.
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