2021 Opening Series Preview: Brewers vs Twins

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Brewers' manager Craig Counsell takes a frustrated Brandon Woodruff out of the fifth inning of Game Two of the National League Wild Card Series
Brewers' manager Craig Counsell takes a frustrated Brandon Woodruff out of the fifth inning of Game Two of the National League Wild Card Series (Ashley Landis, AP)

It has been exactly six months since we last saw the Brewers take the field, but in some ways, it feels like longer. The 2020 season seems like a delusion, a figment of our imagination–a 60-game season, cardboard cutouts replacing flesh and blood in the stands, routine stoppages of play for many teams.

We’re still feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but with vaccinations on the rise, the surreal images from last year’s devastated baseball season appear to be somewhat behind us.

Fans will return to the stands in a limited capacity. MLB will attempt to play their full 162-game slate.

Of course, there are a few other “new normals” to which some are still adjusting: the newly renamed home ballpark and the absence of Ryan Braun. Gone are both the apt moniker of Miller Park and the stadium’s longest tenured resident. While Braun has left the door open for a potential midseason return, the Brewers haven’t indicated they will attempt to bring him back at any point.

In feed

Thus, a new, post-Braun and post-Miller Park era begins.

Season Outlook

If there’s one thing Brewers’ fans are hoping won’t become a “new normal” it’s the offensive production. The Crew ranked among the worst offenses in the league in 2020, spurred by an uncharacteristically atrocious season from Christian Yelich and several other subpar years from the likes of Keston Hiura, Avisaíl García, and Omar Narváez.

If you’ve read our season predictions article, you’ll know that most of the writers on this site don’t expect that to continue. (If you haven’t read it, shame on you.)

Run production was the obvious downfall for the team in 2020, as the pitching staff was superb. That staff remains almost fully intact and there’s no reason to believe it will regress at all.

Meanwhile, the offseason acquisitions of Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley, Jr. provided meaningful depth to a defense that could quietly be among the league’s best.

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

The Twins have won two straight AL Central titles, but that reign could soon come to an end, though, by no fault of their own. They’ve kept their lineup and pitching staff largely intact from a 2020 campaign in which they finished 12 games above .500.

However, the Chicago White Sox are nipping at their heels and seem poised to overtake Minnesota at any time.

Brewers’ pitchers likely won’t have to face ageless slugger Nelson Cruz much in the series, as he hasn’t played a game in the field since 2018 and will only be used as a pinch hitter.

The Twins pitching staff is about as underrated as they come and should keep this team in contention for a playoff spot at the end of the year, even if the Sox do usurp the Central crown.

Probable Pitchers

Game 1: Kenta Maeda (2020 stats: 6-1, 2.70 ERA, 80 Ks) vs. Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA, 91 Ks)

Maeda is coming off a breakout season. He led the league in WHIP (0.75) on his way to finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. He has worked on perfecting his off-speed pitches is reaping the benefits. In Spring Training, Maeda gave up only one run across 18.1 innings while striking out 22.

Woodruff will be making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Brewers. He is the first Brewer to do so since Yovani Gallardo made five straight from 2010-14. Since joining the big league club in 2017, the 28-year-old Woodruff has been a model of consistency. An All-Star in 2019, he posted a career-best 3.05 ERA in 2020. His strikeout numbers were down this spring (only 13 across 14.1 innings) but his ERA remained steady (3.77).

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – AUGUST 13: Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers during the game at Wrigley Field on August 13, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Game 2: José Berríos (5-4, 4.00 ERA, 68 Ks) vs. Corbin Burnes (4-1, 2.11 ERA, 88 Ks)

The 26-year-old Berríos struggled at times with command last season, walking 26 batters in 63 innings. His ERA swelled a bit from 3.68 in 2019 to 4.00, and he was removed as the Opening Day starter after two years in that role. Berríos reportedly worked on his mechanics in the offseason and in spring in hopes of regaining some of that lost effectiveness.

Fans finally got to see Corbin Burnes’ full potential on display last year. After an abysmal 2019 that saw him get sent back to the minors, Burnes responded in a big way. He battled for the ERA title and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. All signs point to him continuing his rise to stardom, as he posted a 1.65 ERA in Spring Training with 26 Ks across 16.1 innings.

Game 3: Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38 ERA, 25 Ks) vs. Adrian Houser (1-6, 5.30 ERA, 44 Ks)

Pineda was suspended for unknowing taking a banned substance at the end of 2019 and returned only briefly to close out 2020. Upon his return, he was sharp, posting his best ERA since 2014. The 32-year-old hopes to provide consistency in the middle of this Twins rotation.

Houser is a bit of an enigma for the Brewers. He pitched well enough to earn a spot in the rotation midway through 2019 but tanked in 2020 for no apparent reason. Even after a disappointing spring in which he posted a 5.60 ERA, the Brewers never wavered in including him in the rotation. If there’s a silver lining, he was brilliant in his final start of spring, allowing only two hits over 5.2 innings, striking out six.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – SEPTEMBER 20: Daniel Vogelbach #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds the bases after his three run home run against the Kansas City Royals at Miller Park on September 20, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Lineup Questions

The Brewers have built a roster that boasts a ton of versatility. With a manager like Craig Counsell pulling the strings, fans should expect a variety of lineups.

In this series, the Brewers face three right-handed pitchers, so don’t be surprised if Bradley, Jr. gets a couple starts ahead of either García or Lorenzo Cain, who is making his return after opting out of the 2020 season. It’s also possible that Daniel Vogelbach gets a start at first base with Keston Hiura still learning the position.

Similarly, Travis Shaw will almost certainly get the lion’s share of work at third base in his return to the Crew.

Opening Day Lineup Prediction:

  1. Kolten Wong, 2B
  2. Christian Yelich, LF
  3. Keston Hiura, 1B
  4. Avisaíl García, RF
  5. Travis Shaw, 3B
  6. Omar Narváez, C
  7. Jackie Bradley, Jr, CF
  8. Luis Urías, SS
  9. Brandon Woodruff, P

Looking for more great content on the Milwaukee Brewers? Follow me on Twitter at @chilidogsunday and follow us at @WiscoHeroics1! To read more of our articles and keep up to date on the latest on all things Wisconsin sports, click here.

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