Know Your Foe: the Milwaukee beer makers are leading the NL Central, surprisingly

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are the surprise leaders of the NL Central, after a lousy 2013. Let's see what's up with these guys.

The Milwaukee Brewers lost 88 games last year. Hey, so did the Rockies! But while the Rockies are muddling along with half their roster on the Disabled List, the Brewers are cooking with fire, leading the NL Central by 3.5 games with their 43-29 record. They're doing that by riding the contributions of a few star players and some solid regulars, with competent starting pitching holding down the fort. Basically, it was the Rockies' plan for 2014, before it all went haywire.

And those stars sure are something. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy might be the most underrated--or perhaps just under-noticed--player in the big leagues. Through nearly 300 plate appearances, he is slashing .341/.405/.536, good for an elite 161 wRC+. By most accounts, his pitch framing is probably the best in the game. He's only 28 years old. Lucroy might hide behind an emotionless, lunchpail-carrying demeanor, but he's one of the best in the game, as his 5th best in baseball 3.5 WAR can attest.

And in perfect compliment to the stoic Lucroy is the emotional, sometimes outrageous, totally awesome Carlos Gomez. Gomez plays center field with reckless abandon, takes might hacks at the plate, and occasionally ruffles feathers with his flamboyant play. Per fWAR, though, he's been basically equivalent in value to Lucroy. They are like a mismatched buddy cop comedy; Lucroy is the uptight by-the-booker who does the job with boring precision, while Gomez is the wacky, out of control loose cannon who nevertheless gets results. And Brian McCann would be the crusty old chief who wants to take Gomez's badge and weapon.

Three paragraphs into a Brewers summary and we haven't even mentioned Ryan Braun. The noted liar, PED user, and excellent player is having a down year by his standards--but a down year for Braun is a 122 wRC+. The power is still good, but he's riding the lowest walk rate--5.8%--of his career. Coupled with a BABIP 35 points lower than his career rate, and his 2014 numbers are slightly depressed from his elite baseline. Will he get back there, or is the 30 year old--who is presumably clean now--entering his decline phase?

Those three guys aren't the only offensive players contributing. Scooter Gennett--who apparently is not an informant for a gumshoe detective--is pulling a steady .300 average while playing a good second base. Mark Reynolds (1B), Khris Davis (OF), and Aramis Ramirez (3B) are a trio of hacking corner players who have combined for 33 home runs so far. Jean Segura is a slick fielding short stop with significant upside, despite a heavy slump to start the year.

Perhaps most important for the Brewers, though is their health, particularly in their rotation. Only one guy outside their Opening Day rotation has made a start. I know, fancy that. Jerks. Anyway, while they might not have an ace, they are getting innings and quality from just about all five guys in equal measure, sort of like the Rockies' Jhoulys De La Chatwood from 2013. Well, that's not entirely accurate; Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Matt Garza have all been steadily good. Marco Estrada, though, has been maybe the worst pitcher to maintain his job all year, with a 5.93 FIP and -0.9 fWAR so far. That's worse than Juan Nicasio's 5.62. Hell, it's worst in the league. We get him in the first game; how long can he prevent the Rockies from getting a hit?

Tangent: this has been my first year doing the Know Your Foe feature. And you know what, I've learned something while doing these: the teams that win the most games aren't always the most talented. They don't have the most stars. They don't even have the most depth. They just keep their dang guys on the field. Why can't the Rockies keep their dang guys on the field? Who holds the secrets to player health, and why is he ignoring the Rockies, year after year? What have WE done to deserve this? Tangent over.

Fransisco Rodriguez--I am legitimately surprised he is still a major leaguer--has 22 saves while striking out better than a batter per inning. Zach Duke and Will Smith have both been getting jiggy with it all year, to the tune of ERAs in the low ones. The rest of their bullpen is somewhat shaky, but if they have a lead they generally keep it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is your division leading Milwaukee Brewers. Going line-by-line, I don't really see how they are better than the Rockies. If anything, they are a sign of hope. At the beginning of any year, the best you can do is aggregate a bunch of quality players and see what they do. See if they can stay healthy. The Brewers have gotten positive outcomes, while the Rockies have gotten whacked, yet again. So enjoy this series with Milwaukee. Try and see them through the lens that we viewed the Rockies at the start of the year. Remember it when 2015 rolls around.

Brewers Hitting

Name G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Jonathan Lucroy 68 291 8 35 37 3 9.60% 10.70% 0.195 0.363 0.341 0.405 0.536 0.41 161 -0.6 19.6 4.2 3.5
Carlos Gomez 65 290 12 46 38 11 7.60% 22.80% 0.232 0.379 0.313 0.381 0.544 0.403 156 1.5 20 2.7 3.4
Scooter Gennett 66 237 4 26 20 4 5.50% 16.00% 0.153 0.352 0.306 0.342 0.458 0.344 116 0.9 5.2 2.3 1.6
Ryan Braun 55 242 10 35 37 6 5.80% 18.20% 0.216 0.304 0.279 0.326 0.495 0.354 122 -0.8 5.4 0.5 1.4
Mark Reynolds 61 243 13 26 29 3 10.70% 30.90% 0.207 0.234 0.202 0.288 0.408 0.307 90 1.2 -1.4 5.6 1.2
Khris Davis 66 267 12 44 34 2 5.60% 24.00% 0.232 0.302 0.26 0.311 0.492 0.349 119 -0.2 5.5 -2.2 1.2
Aramis Ramirez 48 191 8 18 31 1 4.20% 14.70% 0.171 0.277 0.269 0.319 0.44 0.333 108 -0.7 1.1 2.4 1
Martin Maldonado 21 57 2 7 8 0 14.00% 22.80% 0.188 0.364 0.292 0.404 0.479 0.392 149 0.3 3.4 0.2 0.6
Jean Segura 69 284 2 35 19 13 3.20% 13.00% 0.079 0.275 0.243 0.272 0.322 0.261 59 3.7 -9.4 4.1 0.3
Rickie Weeks 53 112 2 16 13 1 6.30% 25.00% 0.118 0.361 0.275 0.339 0.392 0.328 105 1.1 1.8 -2.3 0.3
Elian Herrera 27 64 0 4 1 1 1.60% 35.90% 0.049 0.359 0.23 0.238 0.279 0.228 36 -0.4 -5 1.4 -0.2
Caleb Gindl 8 23 0 0 0 0 17.40% 21.70% 0 0.214 0.158 0.304 0.158 0.237 42 -0.3 -1.8 -0.7 -0.2
Irving Falu 11 12 0 0 1 0 8.30% 8.30% 0 0 0 0.083 0 0.058 -80 0 -2.5 0.2 -0.2
Logan Schafer 37 92 0 7 6 1 9.80% 19.60% 0.101 0.246 0.19 0.281 0.291 0.253 54 -0.5 -5.3 -0.5 -0.3
Lyle Overbay 54 149 2 14 18 1 10.70% 20.80% 0.091 0.28 0.227 0.309 0.318 0.28 72 0.8 -3.9 -4.3 -0.4
Jeff Bianchi 21 58 0 2 4 0 3.40% 27.60% 0 0.2 0.145 0.172 0.145 0.147 -19 -0.4 -8.2 -0.3 -0.7

Brewers Pitching

Name W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Kyle Lohse 8 2 0 15 15 102 6.35 1.5 0.88 0.251 71.60% 42.90% 8.50% 3.09 3.61 3.83 1.5
Matt Garza 4 4 0 15 15 94 6.7 3.06 0.67 0.281 62.70% 43.70% 6.90% 4.02 3.63 4.06 1.3
Wily Peralta 7 5 0 14 14 87.2 6.88 2.26 1.03 0.289 78.10% 52.10% 13.50% 2.98 3.87 3.49 0.9
Zach Duke 4 0 0 32 0 28.1 12.07 1.59 0.32 0.323 85.90% 53.10% 7.10% 1.27 1.4 1.59 0.9
Will Smith 1 0 1 38 0 34 11.38 3.71 0.26 0.309 88.70% 53.70% 4.50% 1.06 2.36 2.82 0.8
Francisco Rodriguez 2 2 22 35 0 35.1 9.93 2.29 1.02 0.235 88.00% 41.40% 13.80% 2.29 3.21 2.8 0.4
Yovani Gallardo 4 4 0 14 14 84.2 7.23 2.98 1.17 0.269 81.00% 52.00% 14.70% 3.51 4.28 3.74 0.4
Rob Wooten 1 3 0 24 0 21.2 7.06 1.66 0.42 0.377 65.40% 55.10% 5.00% 4.98 2.82 3.42 0.2
Jimmy Nelson 1 0 0 1 1 5.2 9.53 4.76 0 0.313 100.00% 40.00% 0.00% 0 2.57 4.4 0.2
Tyler Thornburg 3 1 0 27 0 29.2 8.49 6.37 0.3 0.284 71.10% 36.30% 2.80% 4.25 3.77 4.91 0.1
Tom Gorzelanny 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0.25 100.00% 50.00% 0.00% 0 3.1 4.4 0
Martin Maldonado 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0.25 100.00% 25.00% 0.00% 0 3.1 3.1 0
Lyle Overbay 0 0 0 1 0 0.1 0 0 0 0 100.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0 3.1 6.99 0
Mike Fiers 0 0 0 2 0 2 4.5 9 0 0.167 100.00% 16.70% 0.00% 0 5.1 7.69 0
Jim Henderson 2 1 0 14 0 11.1 13.5 3.18 2.38 0.423 58.00% 33.30% 27.30% 7.15 4.6 2.42 -0.1
Alfredo Figaro 0 1 0 1 0 3 9 0 3 0.143 100.00% 37.50% 25.00% 3 5.43 2.83 -0.1
Brandon Kintzler 1 3 0 28 0 26 4.5 2.77 1.04 0.287 84.90% 56.50% 14.30% 3.12 4.52 4.07 -0.3
Wei-Chung Wang 0 0 0 10 0 13.2 6.59 3.95 3.29 0.429 51.70% 37.70% 20.00% 12.51 7.93 5.55 -0.4
Marco Estrada 5 4 0 14 14 84 7.93 2.89 2.46 0.242 81.30% 33.90% 18.70% 4.82 5.93 4.27 -0.9

Matchups

Friday, June 20: Marco Estrada vs. Christian Bergman

Saturday, June 21: Wily Peralta vs. TBA

  • I, personally, can't wait to see what TBA brings to the table. He's always been something of a mystery his whole career, but he can't help but be intriguing. I predict a long career for TBA

Sunday, June 22: Kyle Lohse vs. Tyler Matzek

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