MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers have had baseball’s best closing kick in each of the past two years. Now they are entering a season unlike any other, a relative sprint in which that knack for finishing strong would prove quite an asset.
Following a hiatus of more than three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday announced the framework of a 60-game regular season following confirmation that the MLB Players Association had accepted health and safety protocols. A three-week training camp is set to begin next week, a reintroduction to a retooled Brewers roster featuring newcomers throughout the lineup (right fielder Avisaíl García, catcher Omar Narváez, infielders Luis Urías, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko and Brock Holt), the starting rotation (Brett Anderson, Josh Lindbloom, Eric Lauer) and even the bullpen (David Phelps). Add those names to a core that starts with Christian Yelich, who signed a new nine-year contract with Milwaukee less than a week before baseball pressed pause.
• Play Ball: MLB announces 2020 regular season
Now they are all back, bidding for what would be the first set of back-to-back-to-back postseason appearances in franchise history. The Brewers reached October in each of the past two years on the strength of strong finishes, going 20-7 from Sept. 1 through the end of the season each year, with manager Craig Counsell making the most of extra players at his disposal. The numbers will be different in this upcoming season, but the aim will be the same.
• FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season
“Milwaukee,” wrote Brewers closer Josh Hader on Instagram, “we’re coming for you!”
For now, here is what we know about the plan.
When will camp start, and where?
Players will be able to report for training by Tuesday, July 1. The location was to be determined as of Tuesday night, but principal owner Mark Attanasio indicated earlier this month that a “Spring Training 2.0” would likely take place in Wisconsin. Miller Park’s dome would help alleviate weather concerns, and there are a number of other high-quality fields in the area should they be called upon to satisfy the needs of a larger number of players, including facilities at Concordia University (home of the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks) and Class A Wisconsin, which is 104 miles north of Miller Park in Grand Chute, Wis.
When is Opening Day?
MLB anticipates beginning its 2020 regular season in approximately one month, on July 23 or 24. The Brewers’ opponent and the venue are to be determined.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
The league has submitted a 60-game regular season schedule to the Players Association for review. The proposed schedule features largely intra-divisional play, with the remaining games against the opposite league’s corresponding division in an effort to minimize travel. In the Brewers’ case, that is the American League Central. So, in addition to the usual heavy dose of games against the Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Reds, the Brewers would play the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins and White Sox.
The same goes for teams in the other divisions. Looking at some of the Brewers’ recent rivals in the postseason, that means the Nationals will play more games than usual against AL East teams including the Yankees and Rays, and the Dodgers will play more games than usual against AL West foes like the A’s, Angels, Astros and Rangers.
How are the Brewers’ injured players doing?
In March, the Brewers were preparing to be without reliever Corey Knebel for the first month-plus of the regular season, and to be without left-hander Lauer for at least the very start of the season as he recovered from a minor shoulder injury. Urías was questionable for the start of the season while recovering from surgery to remove a broken bone in his left hand, though he was scheduled to play in an exhibition game the day that Spring Training was put on hold. And outfield prospect Tyrone Taylor, who made his MLB debut late last year, was to miss all of Spring Training and the start of the season while he completed a recovery from left wrist surgery. In a much more minor matter, reliever Ray Black was dealing with a bout of back stiffness when the shutdown occurred.
At the start of June, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said all of those players had healed. They should be in position to be part of an expanded roster when play resumes.
“Pretty much everyone has done a great job of finding ways to stay in shape, even if it’s just in backyards and garages,” Stearns said. “I do think a vast majority of our players would come to whatever scenario unfolds here in good shape and ready to play baseball.”
What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
With Urías healthy again, the Brewers presumably are in position to choose between him and incumbent Orlando Arcia at shortstop. That was expected to be the most spirited Spring Training competition before Urías was injured playing winter ball in Mexico. The other decisions are on the pitching staff, though the blurring of roles between starters and relievers in recent Crew seasons has removed much of the edge from such battles. For example, assuming Milwaukee goes with Brandon Woodruff, Anderson, Lindblom and Adrian Houser atop the rotation in some order, as Counsell forecast in February, it would mean Lauer, Freddy Peralta and spring star Corbin Burnes would vie for one remaining starter’s spot, with the others beginning the season in the bullpen and surely getting starts as needs arose.
Who will serve as the DH?
The Brewers are arguably the NL team most suited for the implementation of a universal DH for the 2020 season and postseason thanks to Ryan Braun, who suddenly has an everyday spot in the lineup instead of vying for at-bats in right field with García, and at first base with Smoak and perhaps Logan Morrison. The Crew found in recent years that Braun is most productive when given regular rest, and serving as DH will help keep him off his feet. At 36, Braun remains an offensive force when healthy, coming off a '19 season in which he posted an .849 OPS and 22 home runs in 459 at-bats. Braun is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. Another DH option is second baseman Keston Hiura, whose defense last season was suspect. Additions of Sogard, Gyorko and Holt would give the Brewers plenty of options to man second base.
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How will rosters be different? How will those changes affect the Brewers?
Generally speaking, the Brewers were built for depth. Whether that benefits them or works against them in a 60-game season relative to other teams remains to be seen, and it will probably hinge on health.
Here’s what we know so far about rosters: By Sunday, teams must submit a list of 60 players, including members of the current 40-man roster, from which to draw this season. Active rosters will be set at 30 players on Opening Day. After two weeks, they will be reduced to 28, and after four weeks, to 26. At that point, teams will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders. Since there are no Minor League rosters to pull from in the event a callup is required, a system will be in place to keep the “extra” players ready.
The injured list will be 10 days for both pitchers and position players. There will also be a COVID-19 IL with no minimum or maximum length. A player may be placed on that list based on a positive COVID-19 test, confirmed exposure, or if a player exhibits symptoms requiring self-isolation for further assessment. Teams will be permitted to bring up to three taxi-squad players on all road trips, though if they choose to bring three, one must be a catcher. Taxi-squad players will not receive MLB service time, though they can work out with the team. Taxi-squad catchers can also serve as bullpen catchers.
“We build rosters under the assumption that we’re going to be playing a six-month marathon and that’s not the case [in 2020],” Stearns said on June 3. “So it would certainly be different, and we’ll have to adjust. I do think we have the ability to do that. I think we would still be a very competitive team in a shorter season. But you’re right that some of the ways we’ve managed our roster would probably look a little bit different.”
What are they saying?
“We’re ready. Are you?” -- Burnes, via Instagram
How can I watch and listen to the games?
Broadcast information has yet to be set, but Tuesday’s announcement means that Bob Uecker’s 50th season calling Brewers games on radio is back on. Uecker, 86, and Milwaukee will have to decide whether that means participating in broadcasts remotely or at Miller Park. Stream out-of-market Brewers games LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices, and listen to every Crew game LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.