Full Rotation: The St. Louis Cardinals and starters in the NL-Central

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons /
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MILWAUKEE, WI – SEPTEMBER 28: Brent Suter of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park on September 28, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI – SEPTEMBER 28: Brent Suter of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park on September 28, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

Will the one-time threat to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers, return to form in 2018?

Anticipated Starters: Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, Yovani Gallardo, Jhoulys Chacin
In the Wings: Jimmy Nelson (recovering til ?), Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, Josh Hader, Corbin Burnes, Aaron Wilkerson

By any reasonable expectations, the Brewers had a successful 2017 campaign, beating out the St. Louis Cardinals for second place in the Central and finishing ten games over .500.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, this success wasn’t due to the team’s anticipated strong offense. No, Milwaukee’s pitching was every bit as good as that of the Redbirds. In fact, the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Brewers were within ten of each other on Runs Against.

With only a +35 Run Differential, the Brew Crew made fine use of their surprisingly meager offense, which finished 20th in MLB, seven slots and 29 runs behind St. Louis.

So how did Milwaukee’s pitching surprise? Well, it would be fair to say that fans and experts knew the potential was there, but that it would click on all cylinders was a bit surprising. The question is whether the team will have to add to the group, due to lack of depth and an injury to a key component. They’ve already made a couple of moves; are more in store?

In 2016, the Brewers fielded the following six starters for all but four games. They were (with ERAs): Jimmy Nelson (4.62); Zach Davies (3.97); Chase Anderson (4.39, remember this one!); Wily Peralta (4.86); Junior Guerra (2.81); and Matt Garza (4.51).

And now 2017: Davies (about the same, at 3.90); Jimmy Nelson (3,49, nice!); Matt Garza (4.94);
Brent Suter (3.42, 14 starts); Junior Guerra (5.12, and only 14 starts); and a smattering of others.

Oh, did I forget Chase Anderson? I’m sorry — a 2.74 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a 4.1 WAR, in only 141 innings. WOW!

Anderson had a very strange prospect life. He was drafted three separate times, in the 42nd, 40th and 9th rounds. The last time, as a college player, was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he made his MLB debut eight years after he was first drafted. So the fact that he is maturing at age 30 is perhaps not all that surprising. Whatever it is, he certainly figured it out last year.

The biggest question for this rotation, though, is, who will lead and who will support? Davies shows that he’s the most consistent of them all, varying nary a lick in ERA+ over two and a quarter seasons. Anderson is all full of what-if upside.

The big strapping Nelson, coming off September shoulder surgery and with no throwing expected til at least spring training, is a quality MLB pitcher but 2017 was his only true very good season, showing strikeout stuff for the first time in the bigs, over 10 per nine IP versus nothing above the 7s in prior years.

Regardless, those are the three horses, but with Nelson’s timing unknown, it’s really only two for sure. Garza is gone (for which I’m sure the Brewers are breathing a sigh of relief, $50M later), so that raises the question of where the other innings will come from.

Guerra may be there again, as our colleagues writing for ReviewingTheBrew indicate. And after Guerra, it really depends who you ask.

Enter Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo, recent free agent signings who have proven, in different ways and at different times, that they can be effective starters. Both have suffered from high expectations career due to their stuff, but each has had significant ups and downs. Still, to make up for Nelson’s absence and in case no other signings are realized, the team could have done a lot worse to secure the back end.

Beyond that? The two most likely culprits are Brandon Woodruff and Brent Suter. Woodruff, the righty, drafted in 2014, had a few starts in the majors last year and Craig Counsell has indicated he’s in the mix for 2018. Suter, the lefty from Harvard who doesn’t throw particularly hard, surprised with a 3.45 ERA in 14 starts.

And then even beyond that? it’s anyone’s guess. Burnes was lights out in the minors even though he wasn’t drafted (as a college prospect) til 2016. But later in 2018 he might get a shot. Wilkerson is 28, and while he may not have the upside of young Luis Ortiz, he’s closer to stepping in. And Taylor Jungmann. ‘Nuff said.

All this is to say that the Brewers continue to look on the free agent market to try to build on the strong promise that the Anderson-Davies tandem (along with Nelson, when he returns) provides. They’ve been linked to such names as Alex Cobb and Jake Arietta, and perhaps with Garza’s deal behind them and how well they performed last year, ownership will take the plunge.

For now, though, they’re a B- on the starting five, given the uncertainty of how the bottom of the rotation will perform. But with the signings of Chacin and Gallardo, I think they’re ensured a fair amount of depth in case of calamity, so I’d give them a B+ on that front.