Already without their best 2020 starting pitcher, Corbin Burnes, for the National League Wild Card Series against the Dodgers, Wednesday’s roster release brought more bad news for the Brewers: They will also play without right-hander Devin Williams, who has been on a short list of the best relievers in baseball this season.
Williams, the NL’s Reliever of the Month for September and a leading candidate to succeed Josh Hader as NL Reliever of the Year, has a sore right shoulder, the Brewers said in a surprise announcement while unveiling their 28-man roster for the first round of the postseason.
“Just to finally contribute and help us get to this point,” Williams said, “and not be able to help now and just be stuck on the bench, it’s really crushing, honestly.”
Left-handed starter Brett Anderson is also out for the first round after exiting Sunday's regular-season finale with a blister issue.
Designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach is active after coming off the field in Sunday’s regular-season finale with a right quad issue, and outfielder Ben Gamel was added back to the active roster after finishing the regular season on the 10-day injured list with a left quad strain.
Here is the Brewers’ full Wild Card Series roster:
Pitchers (12): Ray Black, Alex Claudio, Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Corey Knebel, Josh Lindblom, Freddy Peralta, Drew Rasmussen, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley
Catchers (3): David Freitas, Omar Narváez, Jacob Nottingham
Infielders (7): Orlando Arcia, Jedd Gyorko, Ryon Healy, Keston Hiura, Eric Sogard, Luis Urías, Daniel Vogelbach
Outfielders (6): Ryan Braun, Ben Gamel, Avisaíl García, Jace Peterson, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich
Burnes, Williams and Anderson represented the Brewers' first-, third- and fourth-most valuable pitchers in 2020 by the Baseball-Reference version of wins above replacement. All were injured during the Brewers' final series against the Cardinals.
No Brewers pitcher was as dominant as Williams, who faced 100 batters in 2020 and struck out 53 for the highest strikeout rate in Major League history for a pitcher who worked at least six innings. He allowed one earned run in 27 innings, and none in his last 20 outings, thanks to a fastball that got up to 98.8 mph and a high-spin changeup sitting around 84 mph that held opponents 2-for-62 with 41 strikeouts. With Williams sidelined, 30-year-old rookie right-hander Eric Yardley (1.54 ERA in 23 1/3 innings) is most likely next in line to Hader in the Brewers’ bullpen pecking order for Game 1.
“A guy like [Williams], it wasn’t even video game numbers,” Yardley said. “It was just completely ‘stupid’ all year, to do what he did. It’s a big shock to us, but I think we have the arms.”
“It’s going to hurt” not having Williams, Knebel said. “What he’s done is something that has not been done, honestly, I feel like for any reliever. He was definitely a huge part this entire year of getting us here. Not having him is definitely a big blow to the bullpen. But now, all year, he’s been taking over. Now we’re going to have to step up and fill his shoes.”
Williams said he felt discomfort on Friday night after throwing 22 pitches in his third consecutive two-inning outing. When he wasn’t in the bullpen the next day, Knebel chalked it up as just a day off. But when Williams wasn’t there on Sunday, when the Brewers needed either a win over the Cardinals or losses by the Giants and Phillies to clinch a playoff spot, Knebel knew something was wrong.
Just because Williams was off the Wild Card Series roster does not mean he cannot pitch later in the postseason, should the Brewers get past the Dodgers. Teams submit new 28-man rosters prior to each round of the postseason.
“I think if we make it to the next round, I should be back,” Williams said. “With the progress we’ve made in just a few days, it’s been encouraging. But you never really know. We have to win this series first for that to even matter.”