I have to admit- I was in a dark place on Friday night. The stage was set for the Brewers to snap their four game losing skid on a rainy evening at Miller Park. The Brewers had battled back to take a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth against the Diamondbacks. Two outs, the crowd on their feet waving their free tee shirts in the air, and BOOM: a solo homerun to right center field- tie ball game. The Brewers went on to lose that game, their fifth straight. I don’t know if it was the chicken tenders doused in bombers sauce, or the sting of what was probably the most disappointing loss of the season, but it’s safe to say I didn’t sleep well on Friday.
What a difference 48 hours can make.
After rallying off two impressive wins to draw a series split vs. the second best team in the NL, the Brewers have made it to Memorial Day in first place in the NL Central. It’s the first of a series of somewhat trivial milestones that mark the progress of the marathon MLB season, and the Brewers will celebrate it atop their division. Nobody saw this coming.
This team is an interesting one. They can’t seem to settle in to a normal rhythm; it feels like they’re either hitting the ball in every spot in the lineup, or everyone is striking out and they can’t seem to get anyone on base. Regardless, they’re almost two months into their 2017 campaign and they just won’t go away.
Here’s what I’m buying and selling on this sunny Sunday Evening.
Buying: Craig Counsel’s management of this team.
I’ve been a vocal supporter of how Counsel has managed this team this year, and he added to that resume on two occasions this week. First, he timed his benching (and subsequent demotion in the lineup) of Jonathan Villar perfectly. Villar is struggling mightily- he’s batting .215 and has a .285 OBP, unacceptable for a leadoff hitter. For context, Villar batted his OBP last year (.285 exactly). With how well this team has been hitting, Villar’s inability to get on base is hurting this team, and I believe Counsel pulled the trigger at the right time. There’s too many solid alternatives to stick with Villar at this point in the season; you have to believe the $20 million extension he turned down before the season is weighing heavily on Villar’s mind.
There was another moment of strategic mastery from Counsel this week that I just loved. The Brewers were down 1-0 on Friday night in the bottom of the sixth with runners on first and third and weren’t doing much on offense. There was a wild pitch, Eric Thames booked it for home and was called out at the plate on a bang bang play. Take a look for yourself- he’s totally safe. Upon review, the call stood, and Counsel erupted on home plate umpire Jim Reynolds. Counsel was ejected from the game. The only problem? Reynolds didn’t make the call- the video team in New York did. Craig Counsel knew that, and got ejected anyways (watch the second video, LOL at Counsel’s shove of pitching coach Gary Johnson). It was the old “get-ejected-to-try-to- spark-the-offense” play, and it totally worked. The Brewers would rally back to take a 2-1 lead and get the ball in their closer’s hand. That’s a job well done by Craig Counsel.
Selling: The NL Central
Since the addition of the second Wild Card team to the postseason in 2012, the NL Central has sent at least one team to the infamous single playoff game in four of the five years, including sending both teams in two of those. While I still believe it’s one of the most talented divisions in baseball, and it’s certainly competitive, the second place Cubs and Cardinals are currently 4.5 out of a Wild Card spot. While it’s still a bit early to scoreboard watch, it’s interesting to me to hear all of the chatter surrounding the Brewer’s playoff hopes, and how it almost always comes back to a Wild Card spot, as opposed to winning the division.
Let’s face it, part of the reason the Brewers are in first place after their five game skid is because the Cubs dropped three straight. The Brewers aren’t going to win the division by going .500 the rest of the season. Let’s just hope they can keep pace with the red hot NL West before the Wild Card gets too far out of reach.
Buying: Domingo Santana
I’ve gone back and forth on Santana many times in this very article, but I’m real high on him at the moment. After a rough start to the season, Santana has battled his way back to a .270 average and a .371 OBP, both of which would be career highs. What has stuck out the most to me, however, has been his newfound patience at the plate. He’s got 24 walks, good for 17th in the NL. He also leads the majors in walks after 0-2 counts with 6, which means he’s seeing the ball well enough to take pitches that are close. I’d still like to see Santana firm up his defense in right field before I’m convinced he’s a future starter on our World Series roster, but for now he appears to be headed in the right direction at a time when the Brewers need him to produce. And of course, grand slams never hurt.
Selling: “They don’t have the Starting Pitching to make a playoff run”
I put it in quotes because I’ve said it on a couple of occasions. And while I still think they would need to make a blockbuster deal and bring in a true ace if they wanted to make a run, it’s worth noting that Brewers have started to get better production from their starting rotation. Junior Guerra was solid in his return from the DL on Friday, allowing just one run in 5+ innings of work. Chase Anderson took a no hitter into the 8th inning on Saturday against his former team, a much needed start after he regressed a bit in May. Jimmy Nelson has been the star of the group, posting a 2.28 ERA with 31 strikeouts in his four May starts. Heck, even Matt Garza, with the exception of his brutal start vs. the Blue Jays on Wednesday, has been giving his chance to win and will look to throw the third consecutive quality start for Brewers’ starters today vs. the Mets. Don’t get me wrong, the Brewers will absolutely need some help in their rotation if they’re serious about contending this year, but it was the lack of offense that was largely responsible for the Brewer’s five game losing streak this week.
Buying: Chicken Tenders and Tots
I love the Brewers new concessions operations, and can attest firsthand to how much the quality of the food offerings have improved since last year’s overhaul, but if you want an AJ Bombers Burger with tots at Miller Park, it’s going to set you back $15. My suggestion? Go with the best deal in town- $7.50 for three chicken tenders and a side of tots. They’ve even added BBQ sauce in the condiments stand for all of my fellow ketchup-haters out there. It may not be the mass produced version of one of “Milwaukee’s best burgers”, but you can spend that extra $7.50 on more important things: beer and 50/50 tickets.