Five Things about the Milwaukee Brewers, July 2014 Edition
Thus far in 2014, the Milwaukee Brewers have played exceptionally well. They have led the National League Central division since early April, they have the best record in the entire National League at 52-38, and they’re sending four people to the All-Star game next week: CF Carlos Gomez and 3B Aramis Ramirez will be starters, as they won the fan vote, while C Jonathan Lucroy and closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez are also on the squad, voted in by the players.
And as such, they’ve received massive media publicity. So you’d wonder why I’d want to blog about them (especially if you don’t already realize I’m a big Brewers fan) . . . but I have noticed five interesting things about Milwaukee’s season thus far that I felt were worthy of sharing.
1) Baserunning errors need to be minimized.
Look. The Brewers are a very good team, no lie. But they’d be even better if they didn’t make stupid mistakes on the basepaths.
Last night’s game was a case in point. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia, 3-2, mostly because of three baserunning mistakes killing rallies: the worst was when Jean Segura got thrown out at third base in the fifth inning, just after Jeff Bianchi had delivered a pinch-hit single with the bases loaded to drive in two runs and get the Brewers on the board. Segura needed to stop at second base, but was overly aggressive and ended up getting thrown out at third by a mile.
Later, Ryan Braun delivered a double to start off the eighth inning, but was obviously hobbled due to injury. (Ryan Howard actually jogged alongside Braun while Braun made his slow way toward second base. I’ve never seen an opposing player do that before.) So Logan Schafer came in to pinch run for Braun, which was sensible . . . however, when Lucroy weakly hit a ball to the right side of the infield, Schafer should’ve stayed where he was.
But did he? Hell, no.
Instead, Schafer went with the pitch and was easily thrown out at third. So a promising rally was immediately snuffed out, and the Brewers went quietly.
Somehow, these baserunning blunders need to stop. Because it’s reasonable to assume the Brewers could’ve come up with one more run and tied the game, especially back in the fifth inning before Segura’s mistake . . . if they’d just shown some common sense.
2) The relief pitching has been stellar.
Every reliever the Brewers have, with the exception of Wei Chung-Wang, has been somewhere between good to outstanding. Rob Wooten pitched two scoreless innings last night, and he has the highest ERA of any bullpen pitcher who’s pitched regularly and not been hobbled by injury at 4.34. And the best of the lot have been Will Smith, whose 21 holds and 2.16 ERA are worthy of an All-Star game appearance, and of course K-Rod, who’s 27 saves in 30 opportunities leads all of baseball is going to the All-Star game, as he ought.
3) The hitting isn’t working on all thrusters.
You might be wondering how I can say that when the Brewers, in general, score a lot of runs. I’m well aware that Lucroy is having the best season, hitting-wise, he’s ever had, and Gomez has done well also. Ramirez and Braun are performing well despite some nagging injuries. Davis and Reynolds have respectable power numbers. In addition, Scooter Gennett has done better than anticipated, while Rickie Weeks has had a good bounce-back season thus far.
So why am I saying the hitting isn’t quite there yet? Well, it’s not just that Braun is obviously hobbled by injuries (so, too, is Davis, who went station-to-station on the basepaths last night, a clear sign that he isn’t running well). Jean Segura really hasn’t found himself at the plate at all. Schafer isn’t using his speed to leg out hits, as he should. Both Reynolds and Davis strike out far too much, and often look completely befuddled at the plate. And Lyle Overbay is mostly showing that while he still has value as a part-time player, he’s definitely in the twilight of his career.
4) The starting pitching, with one exception, has been solid.
Kyle Lohse has pitched like a bona fide ace all year. Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo have both been solid #2 starters. Wily Peralta has looked much steadier than last year and has killer stuff, but I’m not yet certain he’ll ever be an ace. (He may top out at the same level as Gallardo — very good, but not quite an ace.)
The one exception, of course, is Marco Estrada. Estrada has given up many, many home runs, to the point that you could probably win a betting pool if you bet that Estrada was going to give up a HR to someone whenever he starts. He’s had some rough outings. And yet, he’s a smart and talented pitcher, so his lack of success, comparatively speaking, is baffling.
Is he a decent #5 starter? Sure. But Estrada has the potential to be much better than this.
Personally, if I had to bet on one player being traded any time soon, I’d bet on Estrada as that player, even over Rickie Weeks and Weeks’ bloated contract. Because Estrada has clearly underperformed, so another team may take a chance on straightening him out.
5) The defense has, with one exception, been much better than anticipated.
For the most part, the Brewers have had solid defense all season long. Reynolds, in particular, has been much, much better than anticipated, making many sparkling plays at both third and first base.
However, Khris Davis’s outfield play continues to perplex. Even before Davis’s recent injury that limits his speed on the bases and in the outfield, Davis doesn’t seem to know how to play left field very well. His arm is quite weak, and down the line, his ultimate position would probably be designated hitter as he does hit pretty well most of the time.
Even Weeks’s infield defense has improved, but nothing much seems to improve for Davis. He reminds me of the older Carlos Lee out there, before Lee was moved to first base, minus Lee’s obvious intelligence (Lee at least knew how to position himself in the outfield, most of the time, and Davis seems to lack that despite having superior coaching available).
As Davis is hurt right now, my advice would be for him to rest over the All-Star break. (Braun needs to do that, too.) Then, after that, Davis needs to listen to Gomez and Braun and Schafer, who are all much better outfielders than Davis will ever be, and try to learn from them. Davis also needs to listen to coach John Shelby, who was an excellent defensive outfielder in his time, and do whatever Shelby and his fellow outfielders tell him to do.
Maybe that way, Davis will improve.
In summation, the Brewers have to limit their baserunning mistakes. They need better pitching from Estrada, or to acquire a solid and serviceable fifth starter. They need better defense, by far, from Davis. They need better hitting from Segura and Overbay and they need to get healthy.
Otherwise, everyone needs to keep doing what they are. Because that’s the way to win baseball games and get to the playoffs . . . maybe even the World Series. (One can dream, anyway.)