The Milwaukee Brewers have created a shift in the power structure in the NL Central for 2024 by trading No. 1 starting pitcher Corbin Burnes to Baltimore.

The Crew no longer can throw co-aces Burnes and Brandon Woodruff at opponents – often in the same series.

The Brewers let Woodruff become a free agent by declining to tender him a contract offer in the aftermath of his shoulder surgery. Burnes – destined for free agency after the 2024 season – was bartered to the Orioles, a talented team that needed an elite starter.

Earlier this offseason Milwaukee traded starter Adrian Houser to the Mets. Another starter, Eric Lauer, entered free agency.

From 2021 through 2023, Burnes and Woodruff combined for 161 starts overall and made 68 starts against NL Central rivals. Adding the contributions from Hauser and Lauer, the Brewers received 119 starts from the four pitchers in games against the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds and Pirates over the past three seasons. All four starters put up good numbers against NL Central opponents over that time, with earned-run averages ranging from 2.53 to 4.22 in division games.

Burnes will give the Orioles a lot more more juice in the pursuit of an American League pennant. He’s one of only three pitchers to receive Cy Young votes in each of the last three seasons, and he won the award in 2021. Over the last three seasons Burnes is second among MLB starters in strikeouts, fourth in innings, fourth in Fielding Independent ERA, seventh in WAR and tenth in starts.

Milwaukee’s return for Burnes was light. And it will hurt them in 2024. As baseball analyst Joe Sheehan noted: “With Burnes, they could have made a case for winning the 85 or 86 it would take to repeat as NL Central champions.”

Along with the obvious starting-pitching erosion, the esteemed Craig Counsell jumped from Milwaukee to the despised Cubs for a contract that makes him the highest–paid manager in baseball history.

The Brewers aren’t the same. They signed free-agent Rhys Hoskins to ramp up the offense at first base, but that didn’t do much to change the Crew’s outlook for 2024.

Freddy Peralta moves up as the new No. 1 starter in Milwaukee’s rotation. He’ll be joined by Wade Miley and Colin Rea. After that … well, we’re not sure. Lefty prospect DL Hall – acquired in the Burnes trade – will likely get an opportunity. Hall has big-league experience, pitching in 29 games (four starts) for Baltimore over the last two years.

Woodruff wouldn’t have pitched much (if at all) this season for the Brewers. But that’s just another part of the new reality: the Brewers’ enduring strength, starting pitching, has taken a major hit. Their rotation is no longer intimidating.

With the Burnes-Woodruff combo at the top of the rotation, Milwaukee ranked third in the majors in starting-pitching ERA (3.61). Only the Dodgers and Astros were better than that. And Milwaukee’s outstanding rotation gave the franchise a tremendous advantage over NL Central challengers. Since the start of 2021, the Cardinals have ranked 18th in starter ERA, ahead of the Cubs (20th), Reds (26th) and Pirates (28th.)

None of the NL Central teams had Milwaukee’s consistent quality in starting pitching. The landscape is different now.

I’m not sitting here and predicting the Cardinals will win the NL Central in 2024. No reason to make that call now; the offseason is still open for business.

The Cubs certainly will make another high-profile move or two to bolster the roster. Cody Bellinger? Matt Chapman? A starting pitcher?

The Reds are enriched with an abundance of young talent. They’ve added starting pitchers Frankie Montas and Nick Martinez and reliever Emilio Pagan. Cincinnati needs more than that and can enhance their starting pitching at the 2024 trading deadline – if not sooner.

The Pirates are gradually making progress. Paul Skenes – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft – should debut for Pittsburgh at some point in ‘24.

The 2024 Brewers have a bountiful farm system which will strengthen them over time. The same goes for the Cubs and the Reds and the Pirates.

But after a 92-win season and taking the NL Central by nine games in 2023, Milwaukee heads to spring training with a rotation that incurred four losses. That won’t be easy to overcome. And the Crew could move other veterans via trade including impending free-agent shortstop Willy Adames.

The Cardinals went in the other direction by signing free-agent starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. That matters. The St. Louis bullpen depth was upgraded. And that matters too.

From a competitive standpoint within the NL Central, the Cardinals have made advances. They have more of a chance to win the division and/or snatch a wild-card playoff spot. This doesn’t mean they’re a powerhouse, but for now the FanGraphs team WAR projections rate the Cardinals above the other NL Central clubs.

That will likely change in the coming weeks if the Cubs connect on a couple of big swings for roster upgrades. But as it looks now, the NL Central lacks a dominant team. The competition is more manageable now. The opportunity is wider. That’s good for the Cardinals.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.