When the Brewers effectively replaced starters Manny Parra and Braden Looper with Randy Wolf and Doug Davis this offseason, the rotation seemed better-positioned to carry the team than it was last year, when Brewers pitching was largely disappointing.
Their starters posted a 5.37 ERA a year ago and their pitching staff as a whole allowed more runs than every NL club except the Nationals. GM Doug Melvin discussed trading for Kevin Correia, Jarrod Washburn, Doug Davis, Brian Bannister and others when the team was in contention last summer. The Brewers even claimed Davis, but they never made a major move.
This year the Brewers are among the worst teams in the National League in runs allowed (14th) and home runs allowed (15th). Their bullpen has been disappointing, but the starters have done better than last year, combining for a 4.70 ERA.
Yovani Gallardo has been fantastic so far, with a 3.07 ERA and 11.0 K/9. Wolf's ERA is below 4.00, but he's walking significantly more batters than he did with the Dodgers last year. Like Wolf, Dave Bush has an ERA around 4.00, but is walking far more batters than usual. Meanwhile, hitters are batting .415 on balls they put in play off of Davis. That figure should drop and drag Davis' 7.56 ERA down along with it. Rounding out the rotation, Chris Narveson pitched well against the D'Backs on Sunday, but he is no sure thing.
The Brewers have some options within the organization should their current starters falter. Carlos Villanueva has experience starting and this year he's throwing harder than ever. Villanueva, the team's pitcher of the month in April, is striking out more than a batter per inning. John Axford, ranked 23rd among Brewers prospects by Baseball America before the season, is pitching well in Triple A and could be called upon to replace Villanueva in the 'pen.
The Brewers have a solid but unremarkable rotation at this point, though they're surely hoping to see Wolf and Bush limit their free passes. We can expect Davis to improve and Villanueva could contribute, so the Brewers don't appear as desperate to acquire arms as they were a year ago. It may all be a moot point. If Milwaukee can't turn things around, they may become sellers and Jeff Suppan, Davis and Bush could be trade bait for other clubs.