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  • What the Brandon Woodruff Injury News Means for the Brewers' Playoff Hopes

    Jake McKibbin

    The question is on everyone’s lips: how serious is Brandon Woodruff’s shoulder injury? Will he return later in the playoffs? How big of a loss is he? I’ll try and answer all of these questions, as well as who might now find themselves on the postseason roster as a result.

    Image courtesy of © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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    On Monday afternoon, the Brewers announced that Brandon Woodruff would be unable to pitch in the Wild Card Series. He has a shoulder problem, but it’s distinct from (though surely related to) the one he suffered in the spring.

    What is a Shoulder Capsular Injury?
    The capsule in the shoulder is the tough lining of the shoulder joint, which, when tightened or stretched excessively, can increase pressure on the rotator cuff. It often occurs after previous injuries and trauma to the shoulder, which fits right in with Woodruff’s issues this year. It usually happens in throwing athletes in their thirties, presenting with an inability to throw and pain in the anterior (rear) side of the shoulder.

    Will he return after this round, should the Brewers advance? 
    As with all injuries, no two are quite the same, and there is a chance (while he garners a second opinion) that Woodruff might be told he can get back on the mound soon. Initially the Brewers thought rest and rehab after his last start would do the trick, and were somewhat surprised by the prognosis. 

    However, the fact that this second opinion is necessary indicates that the first opinion he got was not to his liking. What I can say is that, in a survey conducted in 2014, a study was done of the five baseball players to suffer tears in the anterior capsule, with all five trying to recover with rest. All five players required surgery. Cubs righthander Kyle Hendricks had a capsular tear in 2022, and avoided surgery. That’s the good news. The bad news is, the injury ended his season in July that year, and he didn’t re-join Chicago’s rotation until May 2023.

    The main reason surgery is often required is because of the complexity of the shoulder joint, meaning the capsular tissue needs to be re-attached at the right point to the shoulder joint, rather than merely repairing itself where it sits. Ball and socket joints are the most complex in the body, and it seems unlikely Woodruff will play a part in the rest of the playoffs. 

    Recovery period, should surgery be required, could be anywhere in the region of eight to nine months. Most pitchers who undergo the procedure do return to their former potential, which is a bonus, but of little comfort to Woodruff–who has, likely, significantly damaged his free agency value with the shoulder issues this season, and may only have half of next season to right the ship before hitting the market.

    The Brewers will hope that this is merely inflammation that needs to settle. That’s the only way Woodruff will be back in time to throw in the postseason, but at this point, it seems unlikely that he’ll manage to do so.

    How will it affect the Wild Card Series?

    The Brewers’ odds have dropped notably from the 56.3% estimated by FanGraphs prior to the news, a significant alteration, although the Brewers’ depth here will be absolutely key.

    In the month of September, Adrian Houser had five starts and pitched to a 2.14 ERA, while Wade Miley recorded the best ERA of the starting pitchers with over 100 innings (3.14), with all the nous and experience to manipulate hitters into weakly contacted balls. Both could be used, in a piggyback role, to cover six or seven innings, with their ground-ball tendencies from the right and left side a tough matchup for opposing hitters. In all likelihood, Miley’s experience will win out, giving him the start in Game Three, should they need it.

    Before Woodruff went down, the plan would have been to use Miley and Hoby Milner as the left-handed relievers, with Miley also giving length (should it be needed) out of the bullpen. If Miley moves to start Game Three, Counsell may go one of two ways (look away now, Brewers fans):

    1. Bring in the dependable, solid Colin Rea to eat innings where required.

    2. Andrew Chafin

    Rea has pitched remarkably well this year, but his big issue has been the home run ball when under pressure with men on base. This could be exacerbated in a playoff situation, and his propensity to serve up meatballs under pressure could hold him back. Meanwhile, Chafin has led to some serious squirming for the Brewers since they acquired him from the Diamondbacks, with his slider not generating its usual movement and getting him into trouble. That being said, he’s held teams scoreless in his last five appearances, and Counsell loves his matchups, so make of that what you will.

    All in all, you cannot replace a player of Woodruff’s undeniable quality. In his absence, the Brewers will need their offense to get hot in a way that they maybe didn’t need before. Miley and Houser are more than capable of keeping you in a game, but would face a recently dominant Merrill Kelly if it came to that deciding game.

    The key to this will be Freddy Peralta. Matthew Trueblood wrote last week of how he’s become a genuine ace of the staff, and he’ll need to be the version of himself that dominated through August and September to carry the Brewers through the Wild Card Series. He has, at times, struggled in high-pressure games. In others, he’s risen to the task and been lights-out. The newfound consistency in recent months would suggest he’s more than capable of shutting down the Diamondbacks, along with Corbin Burnes, rendering a Game Three unnecessary. 

    The series just got a whole lot tighter. Can the one-two punch of the Brewers’ remaining aces carry the weight of the entire state into the Division Series?

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