In the heat of a playoff race, Brewers lose All-Star pitcher Brandon Woodruff to oblique injury

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor

One of the Milwaukee Brewers’ best surprises of the year has been Brandon Woodruff, who became the team’s first starting pitcher to earn an All-Star nod in over a decade.

Unfortunately for them, they’ll have to jockey for a playoff spot without him for the foreseeable future.

Woodruff landed on the 10-day injured list after exiting Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a left oblique injury, the team announced Monday.

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The Brewers’ initial expectation is that Woodruff will be out for six weeks, according to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Of course, oblique injuries have a nasty habit of lingering and could bother Woodruff even after he returns.

The 26-year-old right-hander had given up four runs in his first three innings when he pulled up after firing a second pitch in the top of the fourth. Brewers manager Craig Counsell and an athletic trainer came out to see him and quickly brought him back to the clubhouse.

“Warm up pitches were all good, and then the first pitch I threw in the fourth, I kind of felt a little grab,” Woodruff said after the game. “Nothing too big, but then the second pitch, I really felt it grab pretty good.”

Woodruff has been critical for the Brewers

Woodruff has taken a massive leap forward in his first full season as a starter. Despite turning to his sinker more and his four-seam fastball less, Woodruff has seen a spike in strikeouts and drop in ground balls. More importantly, he cut his walks significantly, with a 4.93 K/BB ratio that ranks 13th among qualified starters.

A workhorse for the staff, Woodruff averages over six innings per start. That has helped him accumulate more than double the WAR of any other starter on the team (3.2) with a 3.53 ERA and 2.99 FIP over 114 2/3 innings entering Sunday.

Woodruff’s emergence has been especially key because the rest of the staff has taken a step back. Jhoulys Chacin can't stop giving up homers and walks, Gio Gonzalez has been hurt and Corbin Burnes's 9.00 ERA forced him to the bullpen.

All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff will head to the injured list with an oblique injury. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff will head to the injured list with an oblique injury. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

How can the Brewers replace Woodruff?

Fortunately because of upcoming off-days, the Brewers won’t need a fifth starter until Aug. 3 and then not again until the 20th. However, they still may want to give their starters more than just four days of rest.

Milwaukee does have in-house options with Adrian Houser and Freddy Peralta, but both have ERAs over 7.00 as a starter. Meanwhile, the team had hoped top pitching prospect Zack Brown might be ready to contribute this season, but he has a 6.01 ERA at Triple-A San Antonio.

Even before the Woodruff injury, the Brewers were tied to several of the top pitching options on the market, so this may only expedite that process ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

The Brewers are only two games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, but with nine NL teams at .500 or better, there’s not much room for error. FanGraphs currently gives the Brew Crew just a 45.2 percent chance of making the playoffs despite holding the top wild card spot, and losing Woodruff means those odds could be even longer.

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