MILWAUKEE — Only two weeks have passed since Chase Anderson threw the Milwaukee Brewers’ first pitch of the 2018 season.
Considering all that’s happened since, though, it’s certainly understandable if it feels like an entire season has gone by.
Walk-offs, blown saves. Thrilling victories, heartbreaking losses. Shutdown innings and gut-punch meltdowns. Oh, and for good measure, unexpected injuries to key players and a revolving roster door.
Through all of that, the Brewers open a three-game series against the Mets tonight in New York with a 7-6 record. Before Thursday’s games, Milwaukee was in a virtual tie with the Chicago Cubs for second place in the National League Central Division, two games behind the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We’re just getting started,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Wednesday after the Brewers beat the Cardinals in St. Louis. “We’ve certainly had our share of challenges up to this point, but we’ve had some great games.”
Christian Yelich (strained oblique) could return from the disabled list as early as Sunday and fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who missed the past two games in St. Louis with an ankle injury, is expected back in the lineup tonight.
To this point, the Brewers’ offense has been largely unimpressive. Milwaukee has averaged just 3.41 runs per game and the Brewers’ total of 41 runs scored ranks 11th in the 15-team NL.
The lack of offensive production combined with a starting rotation that’s posted a 4.66 ERA has put additional pressure on a bullpen still reeling from the loss of All-Star closer Corey Knebel.
Milwaukee’s relief corps is second in the league with 56⅓ innings yet carried a respectable 2.72 ERA into Thursday’s off-day. But the Brewers have blown seven save opportunities — six of them since Knebel went down with a hamstring injury on April 5. Knebel is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks.
Getting the offense back on track would help take the pressure off the bullpen, which got a much-needed break Thursday. Still, with Knebel out, the Brewers need to figure out a plan for the ninth-inning role.
Counsell has used Matt Albers, Jacob Barnes and Oliver Drake to cover much of the late-inning work, preferring to leave Josh Hader in his long-relief role.
“We have guys who can close games,” Counsell said. “We just have to make sure we put them in a position to do it.”
That means the offense has to do its part and snap out of its funk and the starting rotation needs to find its footing.
Right-hander Zach Davies (0-1, 5.40 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Brewers tonight at Citi Field against lefty Steven Matz (0-1, 3.00) for the Mets, who are off to a 10-1 start.
“We’re not clicking on all cylinders, by any means,” Counsell said. “A lot of times, if you can keep managing wins during those times, it bodes well for us.”
Depth has been Milwaukee’s saving grace through all this.
Even before spring training started, Counsell was peppered with questions about how he’d juggle an overabundance of outfielders and how he’d build a pitching staff from a bumper crop of in-house options.
Some saw it as a problem, but Counsell and general manager David Stearns saw it as a blessing, reminding anyone who asked that injuries and other unforeseen circumstances happen over the course of a 162-game season.
And true to their word, the Brewers have made six roster moves in a seven-day span that involved 12 players. That churn will likely continue as Milwaukee tries to maximize its available talent.
“We’re going to have a roster that’s going to be in flux for a little while,” Counsell said.