Week in Re-brew looks at the Milwaukee Brewers’ prior week. In the process, it also may or may not wander into other territory. It’s really pretty self-explanatory. Enjoy.
Last 7 days: 5-1
Next 7 days: Marlins (three), Dodgers (four)
A week ago, it didn’t look good. A banged-up Brewers club rolled over in a Sunday dud against the Pittsburgh Pirates at American Family Field. They didn’t look like they wanted to be there, it took two Big Rhinelander Daniel Vogelbach dingers to keep then around, and while the game was decided in a Manfred tenth, for anyone who has watched Brewers Sunday baseball for any considerable amount of time, a Pirates victory was all but assured.
The San Diego Padres had just eked out a single victory against their big divisional bully brother Dodgers a week ago. On showcase by the league, the Padres were more or less sonned by their I-5 counterparts. One may or may not believe in the letdown effect, but the wounded Brewers — those same Brewers I worried about here a week ago — took it to the Padres, then flew home, fell on their faces and then took care of business once again against the rival Chicago Cubs.
Every day is a new story at the ballpark.
What really can be taken away from Friday’s debacle? The Brewers weren’t that bad — Brett Anderson exited after 11 pitches with an injury, Josh Lindblom sputtered through 3.2 innings, they showed some fight in a garbage time sixth. These kinds of one-off drubbings will happen.
The Cubs aren’t that good: take away their three blowout wins in the last 10 days and they’ve only scored 48 runs in those 18 other games, a median of three runs per game, the starting pitching isn’t exactly airtight outside of Jake Arrieta (about as strong a regression candidate as there is) and this is a team primed to be sputtering between the contenders and the teams on the verge of a rebuild. In fact, this is a team on the verge of a rebuild.
So the Brewers sweep a very talented Padres team — taking down Joe Musgrove in his first start since twirling a no-hitter in an entertaining late night tilt, Corbin Burnes locked up Padres hitters, Adrian Houser struggled, but the bats and Brent Suter picked him up on getaway day — then take two of three from the Cubs in the first three of 17 consecutive gamedays. Aside from Angel Perdomo, who probably wouldn’t be on the big league club right now if minor league affiliates were playing, the reliever corps was airtight after Lindblom got the Jesus treatment:
Drew Rasmussen: one inning, one walk, one hit, one strikeout, no runs
Eric Yardley: (two appearances) two innings, two hits, no runs
Daniel Robertson(!!): one inning, one hit, no runs
Suter: Two innings, two hits, one walk, no runs
J.P. Feyereisen: (two appearances) two innings, one hit, one walk, two strikeouts, no runs
Devin Williams: (two appearances) two innings, one hit, three strikeouts, one run
Josh Hader: one inning, one walk, two strikeouts, no runs
Emerging aces like Brandon Woodruff and Burnes will keep teams in games. Reliever work like this helps teams win. And those relievers weren’t slouches in San Diego, either (five total hits, no earned runs).
You know what else helps? Health.
Kolton Wong returned from the IL and promptly went 7-13 with an OPS of 1.571 and no strikeouts during the weekend series. No, Wong isn’t a leadoff hitter, but neither is Jackie Bradley Jr., who hit safely in 11 of 12 games at one point in April, but has also struck out 18 times in the last 14 games against a solitary base on balls.
The strikeouts continue to be a problem: both a league-worst 229 Ks and a 13th-ranked on base percentage entering Monday will need to improve if the Brewers hope to take their April and translate it into five or more months of success. The pitching should remain solid, but probably not at this otherworldly level. The bats have to pick up, a taller task without two key lineup components and a third who is trapped playing everyday by default, but would almost certainly benefit from a trip down to the alternate training site.
Keston Hiura doesn’t look like he’s broken, or that his swing has developed an obvious hitch. Between the report that surfaced April 25 in the Journal Sentinel that Hiura’s mother is being treated for lymphoma and a move to first base that necessarily improved the defense but seems to be occupying his headspace, it’s understandable that Hiura might struggle. His job is a game, his family is not.
A .333 BABip might be all that is positive to take away from Hiura’s last week: 4-19, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 XBH, toward a 49 wRC+ isn’t what anyone wants from a premium position and someone with Hiura’s reputation with the stick. The regression is concerning, and further underscores the Brewers inability to develop corner infielders — their last productive corner infielder who came up within their system was Prince Fielder. He last played for the Brewers ten years ago.
It’s entirely possible that Hiura is a designated hitter, but the question is then whether or not the Brewers can be patient and wait for the inevitable, because a bottom-quartile Hiura isn’t someone they can continue to afford playing every day.
Speaking of struggling Brewers, I’d be shocked if Avisail Garcia isn’t playing hurt and pressed into everyday duty because fellow frontline outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain remain on the slow path to convalescence. Garcia’s swings look unnaturally shortened through the zone, at bats are generally ugly and every ball in play to right field has become an adventure.
Craig Counsell started to insert Tyrone Taylor into proceedings, and Taylor has exceeded expectations — 3-7 with a double and a home run on the road trip. Further, he looks the part: more comfortable in the outfield than Garcia and seemingly gives the team nothing but good at bats. He’s making it difficult to justify playing Garcia everyday, and if Garcia is indeed playing hurt as I suspect, there’s no reason he should play. And then there was the bat crack to end all bat cracks in San Diego:
Let’s be honest: if it weren’t for that lights out pitching, this team wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the divisional standings. Starting pitching will keep teams in games, solid relief pitching will help teams win, but winning baseball requires run production and at some point, that can’t be coming from guys like Billy McKinney, Omar Narvaez, Taylor or Wong. What they provide should be secondary to what they get from Yelich and Hiura.
If all the pieces can come together, this team could be a total package pennant contender. Getting them all on the field at once would be a good start. Until then, expect more whipsaw performances from series to series. Every day is a new story at the ballpark.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville. Stats courtesy Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and his own scorebook.