Even though it seems as if the start of the 2016 season was just yesterday, the second half of the major league season begins on Friday in Cincinnati. While the Brewers appear to be sellers at the August 1st Trade Deadline, there was much to look into in regards to the season thus far.
In the first 87 games, the Brewers crawled to the finish line and went 38-49 – good enough for 4th place in the National League Central. That .437 winning percentage was also good enough to be 11th (out of 15) in the National League and the 21st in all of baseball – definitely not where many believed them to be at. One major note in regards to their record is their above-.500 record at home (23-22) despite it indicating a fairly awful road split (15-27). Although I had anticipated that the Brewers would play their best baseball in June, their best-month came in May as they went 15-14.
Offensively, the team has placed roughly in the bottom third of the league. In the first half, the team procured a .245/.322/.715 line in 87 games – good enough to be considered a ‘top’ team in the bottom third in the league. They also place 17th in home runs (89), 27th in doubles (135) and runs scored (342), and led the league in strikeouts (833). On the bright side, the Brewers were 6th in walks (319) and paced the majors in stolen bases (77). It will be difficult to improve the team’s standings in many of these offensive categories, as the numbers will fall with the potential trades of key players like Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Chris Carter.
On the pitching side of things, the Brewers placed in the same lower-third for the majority of their statistics. In 770.1 total innings, the team posted a 4.50 ERA (385 runs) and a 1.44 WHIP with an opponent batting average of .270 – all in the bottom-third. The most glaring issue has come in quality starts; the Brewers rank dead-last with 32 quality starts (6 innings pitched, no more than 3 earned runs given up) in 87 opportunities. With starters not going deep enough into games, the Brewers have been forced to overuse the solid bullpen early in the year. With so many young arms in the fold, the Crew won’t see much turnover at the deadline in terms of the rotation, so it will be a very key stat down the road to determine if the Crew has a solid-enough base for the future. And with the early-exits of Taylor Jungmann and Wily Peralta to combine with the inclusion of RHP’s Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, this number definitely will continue to improve since their call-up.
Favorite Team to Play: Atlanta Braves
Although there were a number of teams the Brewers got the better of, the Braves were the only team that the Crew hasn’t lost to. Even though the May 24th-26th series in Atlanta was but a brief stop, the team took all three games to form the teams’ longest winning streak (4 games). The first two games (2-1, 3-2 in 13 innings) saw the Brewers win 2 of their 14 total one-run games along with winning 1 of their 2 total extra-inning games this season. Starting pitchers Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra, and Wily Peralta tossed 16.2 innings of 3-run ball while striking out 18 batters and walking only 6. Peralta also notched his third win of the season in the series finale, tossing 5.1 innings and giving up only 2 runs. Right-hander Michael Blazek recorded both wins in the first two games, pitching two scoreless and crucial innings in relief. On the offensive side, SS Jonathan Villar went 5 for 12 in the series, plating 3 runs and scoring 3 times himself.
One other note to mention was the exceptional inter-league play Counsell’s squad procured thus far. Between the match ups with Oakland, Houston, Los Angeles (Angels), and Minnesota, they went 9-5 and never lost a series despite splitting a four game set with the Twins. Although the squad still has to play three games with the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers in the coming months, the Crew has a solid shot to have a winning record against their American League counterparts.
Least Favorite Team to Play: St. Louis Cardinals
Well, this was very obvious after the squad dropped 5 of 6 to the Red Birds this month. If anyone was counting, the Cardinals have beaten the Brewers 9 out of 12 times, outscoring them 73-28. In those 12 games, the Brewers’ anemic .201/.272/.577 line ranks second-worst in the league against St. Louis – however it is easily the worst due to the Phillies last-place slash line only occurred in 3 games as opposed to 12. Only C Jonathan Lucroy has posted solid overall offensive numbers against the age-old rivals, hitting .351/.375/.943 with 2 home runs, 7 RBI’s, and 6 runs scored in 40 plate appearances. The pitching staff has been hammered by the Red Birds in the first half, as the team posted a 5.59 ERA in 109 innings despite the majority of runs being given up from poor outings from RHP Taylor Jungmann (2 IP, 8 ER), RHP Michael Blazek (1.2 IP, 8 ER), and Wily Peralta (10 IP, 8 ER). Without their performances, the staff would have put up around a 3.78 ERA against St. Louis – a very respectable number against a quality-hitting team.
Other teams the Crew struggled against: San Fransisco Giants (1-5), New York Mets (2-5), Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5)
TEAM AWARDS FOR THE FIRST HALF:
Most Valuable Player: C Jonathan Lucroy
It isn’t difficult to argue how important Lucroy has been to the organization this season. Aside from eating up the majority of the catching the duties, he’s managed to return to his all-star form while maintaining his health. While the majority of his numbers are only second to OF Ryan Braun’s, he has both played in more games despite being behind the plate and performed much better defensively – as seen in his 26 thrown-out base stealers out of 66 (39% success rate, 30% is league average) and his superb pitch-framing abilities. His return means the Brewers are justified in asking for just about any haul of prospects and possibly attaining very close to that asking price come the deadline.
Other Candidates: RF Ryan Braun, SS Jonathan Villar, RHP Junior Guerra
Rookie of the Half: RHP Zach Davies
|Z. Davies||15 (15)||85||4.10||1.26||.255||71-24||7.46||.308|
I’ll take the hit on this one since I really don’t consider a 31 year-old as a ‘rookie’ – but that’s for another time. Despite getting his feet wet already last year, he has performed at a solid pace throughout his budding tenure in Milwaukee. Though he has given up 84 hits (12 HR) in 85 innings, he’s put up even stronger numbers in his last 12 starts (6-1, 72.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 61-17 K-BB, .227 opp AVG). Though Davies is still in similar territory as Jungmann was late last season, his impeccable command and at-times filthy changeup still throw teams off his trail – furthering his sticking ability to the majors along with the successful ‘back-end of the rotation’ scouting reports he got last season.
Other Candidates: RHP Junior Guerra, RHP Jacob Barnes, OF Ramon Flores
Breakout Player: RHP Junior Guerra
|J. Guerra||13 (13)||82.1||3.06||1.07||.207||72-26||7.87||.242|
Players I considered for the award were players that literally came out of nowhere – guys who weren’t expected to be on the roster or were added late due to injury but nonetheless made an impact on the major league roster. If there was a definition of the award in a dictionary, it would tell readers to “see Junior Guerra”. I underestimated him when the claim was announced, believing him to be long-relief/spot-start option to stick in 2016. However, he paces all Brewer starters in wins (tied w/Davies for 6), ERA (3.06), K/9 (7.87), home runs per 9 (0.98) and numerous others. Though we’ll need to see more of him to determine if he can stick in a rotation after the scouting reports pile up, he could make a serious case to stick around as a cheap starter during the rebuild if his velocity and nasty splitter can hold up – that or used as a potential trade piece.
Other Candidates: 2B Hernan Perez, RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP Jhan Marinez
Most Improved Player: SS Jonathan Villar
This award is issued to a player who essentially had a roster spot before the season even commenced but performed much better than expected. Like earlier decisions, choosing Villar was an easy one seeing as he has nearly single-handedly prevented the Crew from calling up their top prospect. The former Astro finally hit his stride in the majors, churning out his contact/speed/discipline combination at high rates all season. He has even proved to have a little pop, as he could hit 10+ home runs by season’s end to go with his league-leading 31 stolen bases. At 25, Villar has worked his way into future Brewer plans, as he is under team control until 2020 (age 29 season). Even if these numbers are slightly-over what his prime will look like, fans should be very happy with the results.
The emergence of Aaron Hill should also be noted here, as his stock rose high enough to warrant national attention to fetch an intriguing parcel of prospects as Gabe noted in his article.
Other Candidates: 2B Aaron Hill, 1B Chris Carter, RHP Tyler Thornburg
Rollie Fingers Award: RHP Tyler Thornburg
In a seemingly two-horse race for the top relief title, RHP Tyler Thornburg has pitched incredibly well this season coming in between the 6th and 9th innings. Though RHP Jeremy Jeffress has thrown very well as the closer, Thornburg’s numbers eclipse his in many key categories (K/9, K/BB, WHIP, Left on-base %). Pair that with the fact that Thornburg has had to pitch in a number of games where he inherited baserunners (and succeeded in stranding most of them), and he seems to be having a better season than the closer. With the trade deadline looming, we may see Thornburg take over as the closer if Jeffress and LHP Will Smith get dealt.
Other Candidates: RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Carlos Torres
Pete Vuckovich Award: RHP Junior Guerra
The Brewers’ equivalent of the Cy Young Award has to go to the most consistent pitcher on the roster – Junior Guerra. As mentioned earlier, he has produced the most consistency and success in his 13 starts.
Other Candidates: RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Tyler Thornburg, RHP Jeremy Jeffress