The Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff exceeded everyone’s expectations during the 2017 season. The Brewers ranked ninth in Major League Baseball and fifth in the National League after posting a team earned run average of 4.00.

Milwaukee’s top three starting pitchers, Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies, all enjoyed strong seasons, with each pitching over 140 innings and owning ERA’s under four. Despite the Brewers’ pitching success in 2017, there is a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the unit as the team gears up for a hopeful postseason appearance in 2018.

Exploring the Brewers' starting pitching options

Much of the uncertainty revolves around the Starting Rotation, with Nelson scheduled to be out until at least June with a shoulder injury, according to Rotoworld. Nelson was a 12-game winner last season before injuring his shoulder on a dive back into first base on Sep. 8. Across his 29 starts, Nelson compiled a 3.49 ERA across 175 ⅓ innings, racking up 199 strikeouts along the way. Until Nelson returns, the Brewers will look to Davies and Anderson to repeat their successes from a season ago. Davies finished tied for second in the MLB and led the team with 17 wins. The 25-year-old righty also led the team with 191 ⅓ innings pitched. Anderson enjoyed a career year, pitching to a 2.74 ERA across 25 starts and 141 ⅓ innings.

Wily Peralta and Matt Garza’s stints in Milwaukee are over, meaning the teams’ other returning options for starting pitchers are Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, and Brandon Woodruff, who combined for 36 starts and 195 innings pitched. After a breakout season in 2016, Guerra regressed to a 5.12 ERA over an injury-plagued 70 ⅓ innings in 2017.

Guerra struggled with his command last season, allowing the same number of walks (43) in 51 ⅓ fewer innings than 2016. Suter helped the Brewers stay in the playoff picture by totaling 81 ⅔ innings and a 3.42 ERA across 14 starts and 22 appearances a season ago. Suter is currently the Brewers’ lone left-handed option for a starting rotation spot on the 40-man roster.

Woodruff made his MLB debut in 2017, finishing the year with a 4.81 ERA across eight starts and 43 innings. He started the year in the Brewers’ AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs, where he made 16 starts and turned in a 4.30 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

While Guerra, Suter and Woodruff are certainly in the mix for the starting rotation, the trio does not solidify the unit, as each has limited MLB success. To try and sure up the pitching rotation and secure more reliable options, the team managed to sign two veteran arms in Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo over the course of the offseason. Chacin has pitched for five teams across his nine-year MLB career, earning a 3.93 ERA over that span.

The 30-year-old most recently compiled a 3.89 ERA across 180 ⅓ innings while pitching for the San Diego Padres. Gallardo spent the first eight years of his career in Milwaukee before hurling for three different teams over the last three seasons. Gallardo has not posted an ERA under five since the 2015 season, the year after he left the Crew. While neither pitcher is considered an ace at this point in their career, both veterans could serve as innings-eaters until Nelson bolsters the staff with his return.

Marcos Diplan, Adrian Houser, Jorge Lopez, Freddy Peralta, Aaron Wilkerson and Taylor Williams are also starting pitcher options on the Brewers’ 40-man roster. None of the six youngsters are likely to crack the opening day roster, with just 29 combined innings pitched between the group.

Among Milwaukee’s non-roster invitees are two intriguing prospects in Corbin Burnes and Luis Ortiz. Both players ranked in the top-five of the Brewers’ top 30 prospects and ended last season pitching for AA affiliate Biloxi. Ortiz, 22, and Burnes, 23, have yet to taste the big leagues but are certainly the Brewers’ brightest starting pitching prospects. It’s unlikely either player cracks the opening day roster, unless several significant injuries occur.

24-year-old Jon Perrin also earned a non-roster invite after posting a 2.91 ERA at Biloxi last year. Like Burnes and Ortiz, it’s doubtful that Perrin earns a spot with the team on opening day, with just 12 starts and 105 ⅓ innings pitched at AA being the hurler's top level of competition.

The most likely of Milwaukee’s non-roster invites to earn a spot on the 40-man roster is Wade Miley. The left-hander returns to the National League after spending each of the past four seasons in the American League. With a strong spring training showing, Miley could slide into the back end of the starting rotation or serve as a long reliever out of the bullpen.

Roster breakdown

Starting Pitching Options on 40-Man Roster: Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Davies, Marcos Diplan, Yovani Gallardo, Adrian Houser, Junior Guerra, Jorge Lopez, Jimmy Nelson, Freddy Peralta, Brent Suter, Aaron Wilkerson, Taylor Williams, Brandon Woodruff.

Non-Roster Invitees: Corbin Burnes, Wade Miley, Luis Ortiz, Jon Perrin.

Locks for Starting Rotation: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin.

Fighting for Other Rotation Spots: Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Wade Miley, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff.

Destined to Open Year in Minor Leagues: Corbin Burnes, Marcos Diplan, Adrian Houser, Jorge Lopez, Luis Ortiz, Freddy Peralta, Jon Perrin, Aaron Wilkerson, Taylor Williams.