Opening day is tomorrow, and unusually, the Twins are starting the season in Milwaukee. I’m more used to seeing these guys around the Fourth of July, so I, like a lot of you, probably wasn’t as up on the Brewers as I should have been. Fortunately, Jaymes at Brew Crew Ball was a great sport and answered my five (and a half) questions about his team. Here are my answers to his questions about the Twins
1. I didn’t really follow the Brewers’ offseason as closely as I did some AL teams. What were the major moves they made, or didn’t make, and what do you think of their offseason overall?
Like a lot of teams, the Brewers’ winter was largely extremely slow, for the most part. They didn’t do much of anything for most of it, which was equal parts frustrating as most of the NL Central either didn’t do anything or actively got worse and understandable since so much of the Brewers’ revenue came through gate attendance (they’ve had one of the lowest-paying TV contracts for the last 10+ years). Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Brewers got more active once the financial picture for this season started to become more clear. The Brewers signed Kolten Wong to a shockingly cheap contract that makes you wonder why the Cardinals didn’t want a Gold Glove defender and solid bat of his caliber, then added Jackie Bradley, Jr. a little while later — conspiracy theorists would note it was the same day the team got cleared by the local health department to have fans in the stands.
JBJ gives the Brewers a very strong stable of outfielders, along with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisail Garcia, and will still likely get a starter’s number of plate appearances between spelling those three (or even possibly forming a soft platoon with Garcia). It’s Wong, though, that could be the steal of the offseason. Keston Hiura can hit, but it’s hard to overstate just how bad he was defensively at second base. Going from Hiura to Wong there is quite literally going from the worst second baseman in the league to arguably the best. That’s going to pay dividends to a team that seems to be leaning heavy on the “run prevention” side of things this year — although Wong is also pretty much a perfect hitter for the Brewers’ home park.
The Cardinals may have made all the headlines this offseason with the Nolan Arenado trade, but you could make an argument that the Brewers are a much deeper team after those additions.
2. What do you think will be the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Brewers this season? Is there anything you think the Twins could exploit in this series, or anything they should specifically watch out for?
It feels weird to say the Brewers are going to be a really good defensive team given their reputation as offensive mashers for much of their existence, but with Yelich-Cain-Bradley, the Brewers should have an outstanding defensive outfield that can track down almost any fly ball, while Wong should patrol the middle of the diamond unlike anyone the Brewers have had in a long time. The questions there are how Hiura adjusts defensive to first base (although his problem at second was always more with throwing than range or athleticism) and who ends up playing the most at shortstop, which we’ll get to in a second.
It also goes without saying that with Josh Hader and Devin Williams, the Brewers’ bullpen should also be a major strength, if not one of the best in the league. You may not know all of the guys filling in behind that, but they almost all throw in the mid to upper 90s with crazy breaking stuff as the organization has really been one of the leaders in developing these pitching labs that are gaining more national attention. The fact that Craig Counsell is probably one of the more trusted managers when it comes to knowing how to navigate 27 outs using everyone to their strengths should be a major asset this year as every team tries to figure out how to handle their pitchers.
And again, it’s odd to say this, but the offense is probably the biggest question. This was a putrid offensive team last year, but how much of that was everyone struggling to adjust to a really weird year? Can Yelich get back to his MVP form after never quite looking right last year after breaking his kneecap to end 2019? How does Cain look after opting out early last season and entering the twilight of his career? Can Hiura’s bat play at first base? He has the power, but he’s struck out a crazy amount to start his career. Who beyond those guys can get on base consistently and put pressure on an opposing pitcher? It wouldn’t surprise me to see this be a low-scoring weekend for both teams.
3. Tell me a little bit about the pitchers we will be facing. I know Brandon Woodruff has been an under-the-radar ace for you guys, but why has he been so successful, and who is lined up behind him?
Woodruff has always been really good at limiting hard contact, but in the last year or two, the strikeout stuff has reached another level as he’s added multiple mph to his fastball and refined the control of his breaking stuff. But his control within the zone is also excellent. He’ll catch plenty of guys looking by shaving off a corner, while also getting you to chase a fastball up in the zone or get you to roll over on a sinker or whiff on a changeup after changing your eye level. He’s a lot of fun to watch.
Behind him, you’ll see Corbin Burnes in the second game. I am the self-proclaimed leader of King Corbin’s Court and think he has the potential to be even better than Woodruff. He’s always had the raw stuff, which is why the Brewers threw him into the bullpen in the middle of a playoff run in 2018, but his first go-around in the rotation was about as disastrous as you could imagine. He lived almost entirely in the zone, and once teams figured that out, he began giving up home runs at a legitimately historic rate. He spent the winter post-2019 basically living at the team’s pitching lab, though, and apparently whatever mechanical and psychological fix they made worked, because he was unbelievably good in the shortened 2020 season, striking out 88 batters in only 59.2 innings while limiting hard contact (he gave up 17 home runs in 49 innings in 2019 and only 2 last season). So the big question this year is how that translates over a full season, but his cutter is wicked.
After that, it’s a bit of a question mark. Guys like Adrian Houser who show a lot of promise but struggles mightily to get any left-handed batter out (or keep him in the yard), veteran guys there to soak up innings like Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom, and guys like Freddy Peralta, who may be the next to make the Woodruff/Burnes Leap. Once you get beyond the top two in the Brewers rotation, the starter/reliever line gets a little blurry, as Counsell loves guys who can go 3 innings out of the bullpen.
4. So is there an all-out controversy for who your shortstop should be? Is Orlando Arcia is being moved off the position in favor of Luis Urias. What do you think of this move?
I wouldn’t call it a controversy, but the Brewers have made it pretty clear for multiple seasons now they haven’t been fully happy with Arcia’s development, but every time they get close to calling it quits, he shows something that ensures he sticks around a bit longer. In his defense, he was rushed to the majors as a glove-first, hopefully-the-bat-develops-eventually 21-year-old, but the offense has never really improved — despite his ability to hit 10-15 homers a year, it comes at the expense of any semblance of plate discipline or other hard contact — and his defense at shortstop has taken a steep decline as he’s matured and gotten bigger.
So the Brewers went out last winter and gave up Trent Grisham in order to get Urias from the Padres. The Brewers seem to be very high on him and gave him every chance to play short this spring — partially because his Brewers tenure got off to a rocky start with a broken wrist pre-shutdown last spring and a symptomatic case of COVID just before summer camp, and they needed to get him reps. That meant trying Arcia at third base, which was...an adventure. I think long-term the Brewers want Urias and his hit tool at shortstop, but the jury’s still out on whether Urias can stack up defensively there, and if he can play a full season.
5. Give me one player Twins fans have never heard of, that will have an impact on this series.
I’m guessing a lot of Twins fans know a fair amount of Brewers already given geography and the annual series, but for a bat I would say Manny Pina — he’s an excellent defensive catcher and can mash lefties, and will likely get at least one start this weekend. For pitchers, I’ll go with Brent Suter — he’s the unusual one in the Brewers bullpen (both in personality and style), barely able to crack 85 mph but can somehow cruise through a trip through the lineup with ease. I’d say you’re most likely to see him for multiple innings on Sunday after Houser, but Counsell also likes to use him to follow the harder-throwing righties.
6 Anything else we should know about the Brewers?
Put $5 in the jar if you accidentally call it Miller Park this year.