Last week, like most level-headed Senior baseball writers, I proudly explained why the then 7-6 ball club was destined for post-season success. What proceeded to follow that bold proclamation was a week filled with heartbreak and frustration, as the Brewers regressed towards the mean and now sit two games under .500 at 9-11. We watched the Crew blow two large leads against the Cubs before returning home and dropping three of four to the Cardinals. Opening Day is now a distant memory, and we’re starting to get a real sense for the strengths and weaknesses of the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers.
The offensive production has been impressive.
The most exciting thing about this ball club is the Brewer’s bats: they will give them a chance to win every game. They rank in the top five in the major leagues in runs scored, doubles, RBIs, and lead the majors in home runs with 33 and total bases with 295. Eric Thames and Travis Shaw continue to smash the ball, Ryan Braun is coming around, and the sustained success of the Jeff Bandy / Manny Piña catching tandem has made the absence of Jonathan Lucroy a lot easier to stomach.
I’ve never been a fan of teams who rely on the home run ball to score all their points. Good teams produce runs by getting on base and stringing together hits. But the Brewers don’t have the talent from the top to the bottom of the lineup card to do that yet (see below); so for now, averaging 1.65 home runs per game is going to be their best chance at remaining somewhat relevant in the NL Central. At the very least, it’s going to keep opposing pitchers honest.
The pitching has been, somewhat predictably, awful.
Where do I even start? Zach Davies looks like a shell of his former self, and seems incapable of finding the strike zone. Both Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson took big steps back this week after encouraging starts to the season. Shockingly, Chase Anderson seems to be the star of the rotation this year… must be all the yoga he did this off-season (link missing, but I heard it on a radio interview a couple of weeks ago). Despite the lackluster performance of the starting rotation, they’re actually not the ones to blame for the majority of the losses this season. It’s been the bullpen, which leads the major league with a staggering SEVEN losses in relief, including four blown saves. Those are the types of games that just kill a team’s mojo. They occur late in games, and as we saw vs. the Cubs this week, they hurt.
Don’t expect the Brewers to do much about it, either. With the shelf life of relievers at an all time low, and the general lack of bullpen consistency in baseball, there’s literally no point in spending money on relief pitching during a rebuild year. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see our fair share of late inning losses this year.
Our young guys still have some developing to do.
What do Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Hernan Perez, and Orlando Arcia have in common? They’re all under 26, have less than 300 MLB games under their belt, and have batting averages below .210. And with the exception of Hernan Perez, they’re all typically in the starting lineup for the Milwaukee Brewers. When you combine these slow starts with the slow start of Jonathan Villar, you’re left with a massive black hole in the bottom of your lineup where rallies go to die. So while top prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips continue to tear up the minor leagues, don’t expect the Brewers to yank their current starters from the lineup anytime soon. They’re going to remain steadfast in their commitment to letting these guys develop at the Major League. While it may be hard to see the vision now, these are the future World Series Champion Brewers if all goes according to plan. They’re going to have to fail, struggle through it, make adjustments and learn. David Stearns is going to give them the opportunity to do just that, even if it means losing 95 games this year.