The Milwaukee Brewers enter the 2018 season as one of baseball’s highly-anticipated teams. After their surprising run last year that nearly took them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Milwaukee added some key pieces this offseason and are poised to take the next step.
The team is fully capable of scoring runs, with big bats balanced out by consistent hitters across the roster. However, questions of the team’s pitching will remain unanswered until the team really settles in closer to the middle of the season. The team failed to bring in any marquee starters and did not make major changes to their sometimes-lackluster bullpen.
With Corey Knebel sidelined for six to eight weeks with a hamstring injury, the already worrisome team of relief pitchers for the Brewers took an early hit. Perhaps the injury will allow for some early season growth for other pitchers who will see a bump in playing time or a switch in roles, but it is certainly something for team executives and fans to pay attention to.
With Knebel out for the first month or two, here are some of the important names to know that will look to step up in relief of the starters:
Albers appeared in 63 games with the Nationals last season, accumulating a 7-2 record with a 1.62 ERA. The Brewers signed him to a 2-year, $5 million dollar deal prior to the 2018 season, and he has appeared in five games so far. Albers closed on Monday against the Cardinals, allowing a run in the ninth before sealing the victory in the tenth inning. The right-handed 35-year old will be an important veteran coming out of the bullpen for the season, especially while Knebel is out.
Barnes has been with the Brewers each of his two seasons in the major league, but had a rocky season last year. After a promising first stint in 2016, Barnes appeared in 73 games last season. He posted a 4.00 ERA with a 3-4 record and 80 strikeouts, but had some clear struggles allowing opponents to score in chunks at times. The 27-year old has a big arm and the potential to be a vital piece to the Brewers relief team this season if he can stay locked in and avoid waves of lackluster play.
A product of the 2015 Carlos Gomez trade with the Astros, Hader is one of the most exciting prospects the Brewers have when it comes to pitching. The lefty has a cannon arm and showcased his talents in the big leagues for the first time last year at age 23. The youngest member of the bullpen might just provide the bright spot the Brewers will need over the grudgingly long season. He proved he could act as a closer during spring ball, and showed last year he is capable of filling in extended innings when a starter is struggling early on in games. After posting a 2.08 ERA last year in 35 games, Hader will look to continue to improve in 2018.
The 30-year old has bounced around a good amount since his MLB debut in 2010, but rejoined the Brewers last year during the team’s playoff push. He has gone through some of the trials and tribulations the best players in baseball can put pitchers through, and has a career ERA of 3.29. Jeffress saved 27 games for Milwaukee in 2016, but will likely look to be a setup man for Knebel and his teammates this season. In six appearances so far this year he has allowed just one run, and that type of play will be crucial for Milwaukee to keep games in hand.
There are sure to be adjustments and roster changes as the season unfolds, but early on in 2018 the performance of the Brewers’ bullpen could be a sign of what is to come by next fall.