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.
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