The Brewers have a dominant Pitching staff in 2021, there’s no denying that. The 1, 2 and 5 spots in the starting rotation are all All-Star caliber pitchers. Not only that, the top two in the rotation are vying for the National League Cy Young Award. Of course, we cannot say whether this year’s staff is the best in franchise history, we need more time. However, we can look at others from the past in the mean time to compare.
Here’s a look at the most memorable and dominant pitching staffs in Brewers History.
Honorable Mention: 2011, 2019.
CC’s Late Season Dominance
Although the Brewers’ pitching lineup in 2008 wasn’t as dominant as most, it has to be on this list because of CC Sabathia.
The midseason trade for Sabathia is one of if not the greatest midseason acquisitions in Brewers History, if not baseball as a whole.
Sabathia was with the Cleveland Indians for 7 and a half years where he finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting in 2001 and won the 2007 Cy Young Award. In 2008, the Indians were out of playoff contention by the end of June, so he was traded to the up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewers, led by 24 year old Ryan Braun, fresh off of a 2007 rookie of the year campaign.
Sabathia was 6-8 with an ERA of 3.88 in 18 starts by the time he was traded. That isn’t great but they’re solid numbers for a team with no playoff chances by the all star break.
Even with those numbers, nobody could foresee what would happen next.
Sabathia would put on one of the most dominant second half performances in baseball history, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA as he willed the Brewers to the postseason. This performance came while pitching on short rest throughout almost all of September.
The only reason that Sabathia didn’t win the Cy Young Award is because he played half of his season each league. Doing so doesn’t automatically disqualify you but it makes it very difficult to win as it is a separate award for both leagues.
The Unsung Hero
Sabathia gets most of the glory but another hero of the 2008 season was Seth McClung. Although McClung’s moment in the spotlight was brief, it was critical in the Brewers’ first playoff appearance in 26 years.
Traded from the then Devil Rays to the Brewers in July of ’07, it took him a while to live up to his potential. That time finally came on September 26, 2008.
It was late in the season and the Brewers desperately needed a win against the Chicago Cubs. Jeff Suppan threw a decent 5 innings to start, giving up only one run on eight hits. After Suppan was pinch hit for in the 5th, McClung was given the ball in a tie game. He then went on to pitch the most dominant performance of his career as the offense would heat up with one run in the 6th and three in the 7th. McClung finished out the rest of the game throwing four innings of one hit, shutout ball as the Brewers would go on to win 5-1 on their way to a Wild Card birth.
That staff may not have been extremely dominant as a whole, but if it weren’t for Sabathia and McClung’s late season heroics, that team would not have made the postseason.
Fingers wins Cy Young in ’81
The Brewers seemed to be on the brink of greatness coming into 1981. In just over a decade of existence, the Brewers had begun to look like a dominant force in the American League for years to come.
In 1978 and 1979 the Brewers were 93-69 and 95-66 respectively. Unfortunately the best team in baseball was in their division both years. In 1980 they took a bit of a step back as they went 86-76. At this point, it looked as if they only needed a few more assets to really make a push towards a pennant.
This all built up to December 12, 1980 when the Brewers sent outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitchers Lary Sorensen and Dave LaPoint and top prospect David Green to St. Louis for all-star catcher Ted Simmons, starter Pete Vukovich and all-star closer Rollie Fingers in a blockbuster trade.
This move would pay dividends as Vukovich would lead the American League in Wins and Fingers would win both MVP and Cy Young at the ripe old age of 34, leading the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Sutton Leads Brewers Through Late-Season Scare
The Brewers bolstered their pitching staff by bringing in pitcher Don Sutton to add another veteran arm. Although Sutton would only pitch 7 games after being traded in late August, his time in the spotlight would come soon enough.
The Brewers were on their heels coming into game 162 in 1982. They were 3 games ahead of the Orioles coming into Baltimore for a 4 game series to end the season. All the Brewers needed to do was not get swept and they would punch their ticket to the postseason.
Sounds pretty easy right?
Three games later, it wasn’t so simple.
The Brewers would proceed to drop the next three, falling into a tie for first place in the AL East with one to play. The Brewers’ staff had given up eight, seven and eleven runs in the first three games of the series, things didn’t look great.
Don Sutton was called upon to pitch game 162 with the playoffs on the line.
Although he gave up eight hits and two earned runs, it was more than enough as the offense came to life and scored ten. Although they bent, they did not break as the Brewers made it to the postseason and won the American League Pennant. Sutton would pitch two games in the World Series as the Brewers would fall to the Cardinals in seven.
Rollie Fingers was injured for the ’82 World Series, he didn’t throw a single pitch. Many believe that if he were healthy, the Brewers would have won that series.
Bullpen Leads Brewers to Central Crown.
The Brewers had a lot of hype coming into 2018. In January, they had signed Lorenzo Cain and traded for Christian Yelich just hours apart. Coming off of a great 2017, the Brewers were set to take the NL Central by storm.
The 2017 team was a hot-and-cold hitting lineup with decent pitching, the 2018 team was not. Although the rotation was good (not great), the bullpen was, by far, the best in baseball. With Corey Knebel as the closer, Jeremy Jeffress as a setup man and all-star and reliever of the year winner Josh Hader as a swingman, this team dominated late in games. If you were down in the 7th inning or later, you might as well have given up against this bullpen.
The Brewers rode that dominance in the pen to their first NL Central title in 7 years and was just one win shy of their first pennant in 36.
How Does the 2021 Staff Stack Up?
Pretty well, actually.
Although the staff is very top heavy, this pitching staff has the potential to be better than them all. Right now the top two arms in the rotation have ERA’s of 1.58 (Woodruff), 1.79 (Burnes), with the next best man being Freddy Peralta at 2.58. All that comes along with the 8th and 9th inning duo of Devin Williams and Josh Hader.
All in all, if the 2021 pitching staff can keep its form, it will make a serious run at the title of best staff in franchise history.