The pitching staff no one should want to face in the playoffs

September 22nd, 2023

The Braves and Dodgers are the NLCS favorites, having already locked up their respective divisions. The Phillies are poised to return to the playoffs after making the World Series a year ago. And the rest of the NL Wild Card race is, well, wild, with five teams (six, if you count the streaking Padres) battling for two spots. As a result, there’s not much attention on the NL’s other division leader, the Brewers, right now.

That could change come October.

Though they rank eighth in the NL in runs scored (686) and last in OPS (.702) through Thursday, the Brewers aren't going to be an easy postseason draw thanks to their pitching.

No matter the matchup, Milwaukee is going to have the arms advantage throughout the NL side of the playoff bracket, giving the team the potential to go on a deep postseason run.

The Brewers’ pitching staff was merely average in the first half of the season, but the club is peaking at the right time, yielding an MLB-low 219 runs (3.53 RA/G) in the second half.

There’s been nothing fluky about it, either. Milwaukee also has allowed MLB's lowest expected wOBA, a Statcast metric based on quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle), plus strikeouts and walks, since the All-Star break.

The team’s rotation and bullpen have been equally impressive in that span.

Lowest xwOBA allowed, SP, since All-Star break:

1. Brewers: .287
2. Rays: .300
3. Twins: .302
4. Red Sox: .306
5. Blue Jays: .307

Lowest xwOBA allowed, RP, since All-Star break:

1. Rays: .274
2. Dodgers: .280
3. Brewers: .286
4. Yankees: .290
5. Mariners: .298

Here’s why the Brewers’ pitching staff has become a unit no team should want to face in the playoffs.

1. Their ace trio is surging

When the Brewers won the NL Central in 2021, they did it on the strength of an outstanding rotation led by NL Cy Young Award winner , and .

Over the past two seasons, Milwaukee has rarely had those three healthy and pitching well at the same time. But it’s looking a lot like 2021 lately.

Burnes posted a 4.10 ERA and a 8.5 K/9 in his first 16 starts this season, but he has been closer to his old self since the start of July, notching a 2.99 ERA and a 10.1 K/9 in his past 14 starts. The right-hander continues to battle inconsistency -- he’s allowed four runs or more in four of his past eight starts -- but when he’s on, he can be unhittable.

Peralta, too, has rebounded from a poor start to this season. He had a 4.72 ERA over his first 19 starts, but he has recorded a 1.96 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP and 88 K’s in 59 2/3 innings in his past 10 outings. He’s issued just 11 walks in that span (1.66 BB/9), a stark improvement from his first 19 starts (3.76 BB/9).

Then there’s Woodruff, who missed four months with a right shoulder injury before returning on Aug. 6. He has been dominant since coming off the IL, recording a 2.13 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP in 50 2/3 innings over eight starts. Woodruff has allowed just four runs in his past five starts (1.06 ERA), including his first career shutout on Sept. 11.

All three pitchers rank among the top 11 starters in xwOBA allowed since the All-Star break (min. 150 batters faced).

Lowest xwOBA allowed, SP, since All-Star break
Min. 150 batters faced

1. Freddy Peralta (MIL): .231
2. Tarik Skubal (DET): .242
3. Cole Ragans (KC): .246
4. Max Scherzer (TEX): .258
5. Brandon Woodruff (MIL): .259
6. Spencer Strider (ATL): .260
7. Pablo López (MIN): .263
8. Zack Wheeler (PHI): .264
9-T. Gerrit Cole (NYY): .265
9-T. Max Fried (ATL): .265
11. Corbin Burnes (MIL): .266

MLB average xwOBA for SP in 2023: .327

2. They can make it an eight-inning game

For the most part this season, when the Brewers have been able to hand a lead to closer , it’s been game over.

In his first full season as closer after Milwaukee traded last year, Williams has collected 35 saves in 39 chances, posting a 1.59 ERA with 84 K’s in 56 2/3 innings. Armed with his otherworldly “airbender” changeup, Williams ranks in the 98th percentile or better in whiff rate, strikeout rate, expected BA and expected ERA.

His role may be different, but this level of dominance is nothing new for the right-hander, who has put together an unbelievable four-year stretch going back to his NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning campaign in the shortened 2020 season.

Williams’ stats and MLB ranks since 2020 (min. 750 batters faced)

  • 1.77 ERA: 1st
  • 14.5 K/9: 1st
  • .148 BAA: 1st
  • 2.25 FIP: 2nd
  • 0.98 WHIP: T-3rd

Williams was left off the Brewers’ NL Wild Card Series roster in 2020 due to right shoulder soreness, and he missed the club’s NLDS loss to the Braves in 2021 after breaking his right hand punching a wall, so this will be his first opportunity to pitch in the postseason.

He should be up to the challenge.

3. Their setup crew is coming together

The Brewers have their vaunted rotation trio, and they have one of baseball’s best closers, but who is going to be bridging the gap between them? It’s the biggest question mark for this pitching staff heading into the playoffs.

That said, the club’s setup crew has started to coalesce in the second half, thanks in part to the emergence of rookie righty .

The 23-year-old debuted on July 8 and has proceeded to record a 1.29 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Uribe has electric stuff, featuring a sinker that averages 99.4 mph and a slider that has generated a whiff rate of 59.6%, the third highest on a single pitch type (min. 50 swings on that pitch type) across MLB this season.

While Williams leads all pitchers (min. 75 batters faced) with a .113 opponents’ batting average in the second half, Uribe isn’t far behind at .128.

Lowest opponents’ batting average since All-Star break
Min. 75 batters faced

1. Devin Williams (MIL): .113
2. Robert Stephenson (TB): .123
3. Emilio Pagán (MIN): .125
4. Abner Uribe (MIL): .128
5. Jeff Hoffman (PHI): .131

Since the start of September, Williams and Uribe -- the duo the Brewers will lean on to finish games in the playoffs -- have combined to hold opponents to four hits in 51 at-bats, a .078 average.

When it comes to missing bats, Uribe is second only to Williams among Brewers relievers with a 33.5% whiff rate. In third? (32.8%), another late-arriving pitcher who has become a key member of the club's relief corps.

Acquired from the Twins for a player to be named later on April 30, the 6-foot-8 righty has notched a 2.50 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 18 innings since the All-Star break, pitching his way into a higher-leverage role.

Uribe and Megill have helped Milwaukee's bullpen go from MLB's 20th-best strikeout rate (22.6%) in the first half to the second best (26.7%) since the All-Star break, something that could prove pivotal in the postseason.

With those two pitchers in the fold alongside (2.51 ERA, 9.7 K/9) and (1.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), Milwaukee certainly has more options to get the ball to Williams in the ninth inning than it did a few months ago.


Of course, an elite pitching staff isn't everything, as the Brewers found out the last time they were in the postseason. Facing the Braves in the 2021 NLDS, Milwaukee posted a 3.18 ERA but scored just six total runs over four games (including two shutouts) in a 3-1 series loss to the eventual World Series champions.

If the Brewers' offense doesn't show up, the team could be facing another early October exit. But if Milwaukee's bats can do their part, the team's pitching should be able to handle the rest.