Half the roster — including two starting outfielders and a potential Cy Young Award candidate — is on the injured list and the offense has yet to get going yet somehow, the Milwaukee Brewers have finished the first month of the 2021 Major League Baseball season with the best record in the National League Central Division.
“So far, so good,” outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said after Milwaukee closed out the month with a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers Friday night at American Family Field. “I don’t look at it as a surprise because we have a lot of talented guys on this team. We have guys who are able to step in and get the job done. We’re all accepting our roles, and doing it quite nicely so early in the season but we have a long ways to go.”
Starting pitching: The Brewers’ rotation has been nothing short of phenomenal in April, posting a 2.59 ERA through 11 games that’s second only to the San Francisco Giants (2.20) in all of baseball. Brandon Woodruff (2-0, 1.55 ERA) and Corbin Burnes (2-2, 1.53) have led the way as well as attracted most of the attention — especially Burnes, who struck out 49 without walking a batter through five starts before landing on the injured list last week — but the success is a true team effort.
Defense: President of Baseball Operations David Stearns put an emphasis on run prevention with his offseason acquisition of free agents Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr and those moves have paid off handsomely through the first month with both players making a handful of highlight-reel plays that not just saved runs or preserved victories, but also helped Counsell manage his bullpen more effectively while also helping keep pressure of both the pitching staff and the slumping offense.
Health: Starting with Wong’s strained oblique on April 10, the Brewers have placed 10 different players on the injured list — a number that could grow to 11 depending on the severity of Omar Narvaez’s sprained left ankle that forced him from Saturday’s victory over the Dodgers.
Among those missing time: outfielders Lorenzo Cain (strained quad) and Christian Yelich (sore back); starting pitchers Brett Anderson (Strained hamstring) and Josh Lindblom (sore right knee); catcher Manny Pina (fractured toe) and versatile utility men Daniel Robertson (concussion) and Jace Peterson (thumb).
“We’ve been struck by some injuries for sure,” Counsell said. “It happens every year, it happens to every team and there are points in the season that are worse than others so you do the best you can.
“It takes more than 26 guys. We know that. I think that’s coming true.”
Offense: The rash of injuries to key players has had a noticeable impact on the Brewers’ offense.
Milwaukee’s bats were red hot during spring training, reinforcing Stearns’ and Counsell’s belief that the batting woes that plagued the team in 2020 were merely an aberration during an overall goofy year.
But proving again that spring numbers mean nothing, the Brewers’ offense compiled an NL-worst .215 batting average in April while also finishing last with a .666 OPS (both of which ranked 26th among all MLB teams).
The good news, though, is there’s still plenty of time for the bats to snap out of their funk and, more importantly, many of the key contributors who’ve been sidelined for much of the month are expected back as early as next week.
“We don’t have any firm dates right now, and we got to see how the next couple of days go but I think during the road trip, you’re gonna see several of them come off,” Counsell said.
After playing 15 of their first 26 games against NL Central rivals — including nine against the Cubs — the Brewers will see plenty of new faces in May with 13 games against NL East squads, three each against the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, a four-game rematch with the Padres and four interleague contests against the Royals and Tigers.
They’ll play 15 games on the road, starting with four games in Philadelphia and three in Miami before returning home for three each against the Cardinals and Braves.
“Every day you show up and it’s a new challenge so that’s how we treat it,” Counsell said.