By Chris Terlop
Opening day 2013 has come with little fanfare in Northeast Wisconsin, but that does not mean it hasn’t been highly anticipated. With the weather, NFL free agency, Marquette’s run in the Big Dance, majority of people have not been in a baseball state of mind.
The Brewers tried to snap everyone out of their winter haze by signing veteran pitcher Kyle Lohse, and to a lesser extent, veteran utility player Yuniesky Betanourt, a few days before the season kicks off. The signing of Lohse speaks to the importance of the pitching staff headed into the season and the lack in confidence Ron Roenicke had in the six guys vying for the starting rotation.
Milwaukee is ready to compete now and anything less will be a failure. If you need anymore convincing that this season is resting on the arms of a pitching staff that had more downs than ups last year, take a look back in history. “We are in a position where we want to win. In 2011 the rotation was certainly why we won the National League Central. We only used six starters,” said Roenicke.
The importance of having a dependable rotation is even more crucial when the bullpen backing them up was last in Major League Baseball last season with a 4.66 Earned Run Average, and was at least partially responsible for 33 of the Brewers’ 79 losses.
To put all the blame on the bullpen would be ignorant. The rotation did have 3.99 ERA, 13th in MLB, but were only one of two teams to not record a complete game. The inability of the starters to shorten games and take some stress off the bullpen cannot be overlooked. The Brewer pen threw 512.1 innings last season, ninth most in all of baseball. It is almost impossible for a bullpen to be successful from start to finish throwing that many innings; few teams have enough quality arms to not buckle under that demand.
That being said, the starting five to start out the season will be Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, and Mike Fiers. Lohse is expected to make his first start in the second series of the year, as he needs a little more time to feel ready to start games. Chris Narveson has been sent to the bullpen and could be used as a spot starter in different situations or a replacement if any of the five struggles. Mark Rogers will start the season on the 15-day Designated List, to build up arm strength.
Gallardo will be expected to improve as the ace of the staff after recording a 3.66 ERA last season, 19th in the National League. If this team wants to make the next step and win the division or grab a wild card, they need Gallardo to be a more dominant and consistent pitcher. The Giants and Nationals had three pitchers with better ERA’s than Gallardo, the Red had two. The success that those two teams had is no coincidence.
Past Gallardo, Lohse will not repeat his 2.86 ERA season, if he stays between three and four and throws 200 plus innings, his season will be a success. If the Brewers can have that one-two punch combine for 400-plus innings, with a low-three ERA, Milwaukee should be in it at the end.
Estrada and Fiers will be asked for consistency in the third and fifth spot in the rotation. Estrada had a good year last year, posting a 3.64 ERA over 138.1 innings. If he could give the Brewers 180 innings this year with around a 3.80 or lower, they would have to be happy with that. Fiers posted a 3.74 over 127.2 innings last season. If he could get up to 160 innings and keep his ERA in the low four range, he could bring a ton of stability to the rotation.
The wild card will be 23-year old Wily Peralta. Peralta is slotted for the fourth spot in the rotation and is the highest prospect in the Brewers’ system. Between the bigs and minors he threw 175 innings last season, asking for 180 would not be out of the question.
While up he showed off his electric stuff and the pitcher that he could be. A star. Expecting him to go his full first season without growing pains would be delusional, but letting him work through jams and grow from it will benefit him as early as August.
The players are not the only ones that need to grow for the staff to be successful. Manager Ron Roenicke needs to trust his guys to work out of jams and take some pressure off the bullpen. This is his third season as top man and he needs to grow and allow the staff to grow.
Bottom line, this staff has the tools to be very good. Their success can cover up a lot of flaws on this team throughout the year. If the Brewers are going to make a playoff push, it will be because of the five arms mentioned here. So strap in and get ready for a heck of a ride this season.
You can hear Chris M-F 4-6pm on Sportsline and 8-9 am Saturdays. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisTerlop.