With five weeks left in the season, the Milwaukee Brewers have an 8 1/2-game lead in the NL Central. It seems a pretty sure thing they win the division and the projections bear that out, with SportsLine giving them a 98.5 percent chance to take the NL Central for the first time since 2018. The team itself can't do this, but I have the luxury of thinking down the road. The Brewers have one pennant in franchise history and have never won the World Series. Can this group be the one that finally does it?
The way I see it, there's a huge burden on the Brewers' trio of aces here. If Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are still firing on all cylinders throughout the entire playoffs, the Brewers have a legitimate chance to win it all. If not, they likely don't.
This isn't a knock on the rest of the Brewers but instead a heaping of praise because they could ride these three all the way to a parade. It's possible Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta all finish in the top five of NL Cy Young voting. It's an incredible stable of starters.
As such, over the course of the next five weeks, Craig Counsell and company have the task of trying to keep these arms both in shape and healthy. For now, the workload seems a bit concerning.
Woodruff, 28, iis currently at 151 1/3 innings. His career high in professional innings is 158 and that came in 2016 between High-A and Double-A. He worked 73 2/3 innings last year and 121 2/3 in 2019. He doesn't appear to be hitting a wall. His Aug. 19 start was the worst of the season in several respects, but he bounced back with six scoreless innings, 10 strikeouts and no walks against the Reds last time out. The question is if he does hit that proverbial wall at some point in the next month. And he's probably the least worrisome here.
Burnes, 26, is currently at 133 innings. This follows 59 2/3 last season and 71 1/3 in 2019 between Triple-A and the majors. His professional career high is 145 2/3 innings and that came in 2017 between High-A and Double-A. As with Woodruff, it's unclear if Burnes is showing any signs of season-long fatigue. He had a sort of rough outing last time out (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), but was amazing his previous three outings. He'll soon hit his career high in workload and, like Woodruff, is a pretty big and strong guy. Will he hold up?
Peralta, 25, is already having issues. He's on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. He's at 121 1/3 innings right now. Last season, he only threw 29 1/3 and in 2019 it was 96 2/3 between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. He's already at his professional career high for innings in a year.
Woodruff has a 2.38 ERA and the Brewers are 15-10 when he starts. Burnes has a 2.30 ERA and the Brewers are 14-8 in his starts. Peralta? 2.45 and 16-6. And yet none of this does justice to what kind of a playoff rotation the trio could form. All three are high-volume strikeout guys who can completely neutralize the opposing lineups they'd face in the playoffs before handing the ball to the very-adept-at-bullpen-management Counsell.
Coming off the pandemic-shortened 60-game season, pitcher workloads were going to be a concern on every single team in baseball. With these young power arms, though, the Brewers are perhaps the team under the biggest microscope on this front.
Can Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta pitch at their best level through October? As noted, if they do, a Brewers championship is very plausible. If even one of the group falls apart down the stretch, however, and an early October exit seems the likeliest outcome. The most fun part about this -- from an outside observer, that is -- is that we have no real way of knowing how they'll hold up. It's a completely unpredictable situation. They could end up being aces until Nov. 3 or melt down by the second week of September. Stay tuned.