For any baseball team with real postseason aspirations, having a solid and reliable bullpen is imperative. Luckily, the Brewers’ bullpen has shined this season after being mediocre for most of 2017. It is a huge reason why they have enjoyed overall success in 2018. Although with that being said, not all bullpen arms have been as dominant as Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress, most notably 2017 All-Star Corey Knebel, which has raised some concerns, especially towards the end of the first half. Some of that, understandably, can be attributed to the fact that the Brewers had to play 21 games in 20 days leading up to the current All-Star break. A deeper dive into the status of the Milwaukee bullpen will reveal real issues as well as real, sustainable successes.
Will Hader and Jeffress be able to keep up their success?
Any discussion regarding the 2018 Brewers bullpen, or pitching staff as a whole, begins and ends with the 24-year-old, flame-throwing, All-Star lefty phenom Josh Hader. He’s been absolutely terrific and near untouchable across 48 innings of work in the season’s first half with a .122 opponent batting average and 89 strikeouts, which leads all MLB relief pitchers. On the field, there is nothing that would suggest that Hader wouldn’t have continued ascendancy in the second half of the season, but some off the field issues that recently unearthed from his past may cause him to be distracted and lose focus and thus hamper his performance on the field. Here’s hoping he can bounce back quickly and avoid that circumstance.
In the case of Jeremy Jeffress, it would make sense if his numbers dipped slightly in the second half, simply because of just how dominant he’s been. Before giving up an earned run against Pittsburgh last weekend, Jeffress’ ERA sat at a staggering 0.99. It would be extremely hard to maintain that over the course of a full season, however Jeffress could be the man to do it. Jeremy has thrived under pressure this season as well, which is perhaps his best attribute. He inherits many runners late in games while the team clings to small leads, and has escaped those jams masterfully.
Is it time to worry about Corey Knebel?
2018 hasn’t gone as planned for Brewers closer Corey Knebel. He suffered a scary hamstring injury in early April and really hasn’t gotten his old groove back since. His struggles have gotten to the point where some Brewers fans think he should no longer occupy the closer’s role. I would disagree. I think that notion is rooted in recency bias, because it is important to remember how much he thrived just a season ago in the closer’s role. And if Knebel isn’t closing games, that would likely mean Hader or Jeffress would, which is not their natural role, and likely nothing would improve. It is important to stick to the plan in place. Corey’s numbers and performance will improve.
What about the other guys?
It will be pivotal for other members of the Brewers bullpen to contribute positively aside from the Big 3 of Hader, Jeffress, and Knebel. Those guys could use some of the pressure lifted off their shoulders, and some of the “other guys” like Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers, Dan Jennings, Corbin Burnes, or perhaps an outside addition could provide a spark to a bullpen that could potentially lose some of its firepower due to fatigue as the season progresses.
Going forward, the Brewers’ bullpen is overall in a very good spot. Is it perfect? No. But is it balanced and workable? Absolutely. It remains to be seen whether or not the pen can hold up their end of the bargain in the team’s effort to secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2011, but they’ve got 3 all-star caliber hurlers to go along with a good mixture of established veterans and young, up-and-coming pitchers seeking to prove their worth. If managed well, this group will help, not hurt, the Crew’s bid for the playoffs.