Crew feels no pressure as crucial campaign kicks off

March 30th, 2023

CHICAGO -- didn’t get hit hard, but he didn’t miss many bats and he didn’t get help from the defense. Brewers hitters tallied four singles and no runs. The highlights of the 55th Opening Day in franchise history were showing up at the ballpark in a suit and tie and legging out an infield single in his first at-bat in the big leagues, and Rule 5 reliever  stranding the bases loaded in his own Major League debut during a 4-0 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. 

As season openers go, this wasn’t the Brewers’ best. 

“Opening Day, the lights turn on and it’s time to go,” Burnes said. “[The Cubs] played a good game today. Offensively they did some things, made some changes and made it happen when we couldn’t.” 

There is a long way to go, but there may be a particular sense of urgency in the early part of this Brewers season, with manager Craig Counsell in the final year of his contract and the team’s two best pitchers (Burnes and Brandon Woodruff) and its two-time club MVP (Willy Adames) two seasons shy of free agency. As they attempt to extend the best run of regular-season success this franchise has seen since Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were in their primes, there’s much riding on the run-up to this year’s Trade Deadline.

As Counsell sees it, the present sense of urgency is nothing unique. 

“I would hope not. Major League seasons are sacred,” Counsell said. “If you’re a great player, you get 15 shots at winning a World Series.” 

“The story of this team's untold,” said , now the Brewers’ old veteran going into his sixth season with the team. 

Of the players on Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster, only Woodruff has been with the Brewers longer. 

“It's a long season, and the way it starts off isn't necessarily the way it ends,” Yelich said. “You have to play the entire six months. We've been on both ends. We've had really good starts and bad finishes and OK starts and great finishes. In 2021, everybody was acting like the world was ending when we were .500 or a game under .500 in the middle of May, and we won 96 games that year and ran away with the division. It's just a really long year and you can't ride the ups and downs. … If you have 26 guys all pulling in that direction, you can survive a lot of adversity. So, we'll see what the story of this team is at the end of the year.”

The Brewers think they have a shot this season if their starting pitching stays healthier than it did last year, when a run of five consecutive postseason appearances came to an end. Burnes was first out of the chute for the second straight season, and just like last year, his Opening Day performance against the Cubs was relatively forgettable.

Pitching mostly off his slider, the only pitch he felt was sharp during a cold Thursday on Chicago’s North Side, in a game with no extra-base hits, Burnes was charged with four earned runs on four hits and three walks in five innings. His three strikeouts matched his career low in a start. 

All four Cubs runs scored in a third inning that was ragged for the Brewers defense. One of Chicago's runs scored when Adames threw the ball over first base, and another scored when the shortstop was a half-step too slow to tag second base. All of the runs, however, were earned against Burnes. 

“We didn’t have the best stuff today, that was for sure,” Burnes said. “I was proud of how I was able to get outs early on the ground. We knew they were going to be swinging. In that third inning, you could see they made a change there. They shortened up and got the ball in play and got a couple of singles and got that thing going.” 

Said Counsell: “The Cubs, their offense is meant to put the ball in play. We half expected that, really. It was a day that offense was going to be difficult.”

The Brewers believe they have better days ahead. Their window to reach the World Series with this group won’t stay open forever.

“Whatever happens in the past is in the past. We can't dictate what's going to happen in the future,” Burnes said this week. “‘Oh, you guys were on this run of making the postseason,' and that ended last year. It's all about this year, it's all about where our feet are at and what we can do this year.”