Despite a rough start, the Brewers recovered well before dropping an arguably even rougher series at the Washington Nationals. Let’s take a look at where Milwaukee stands early on.
Record: 7-8 (T-14 MLB, T-8 NL, T-3 NL Central)
Runs Scored: 56 (21 MLB, 11 NL, 5 NL Central)
Runs Allowed: 61 (T-11 MLB, T-8 NL, 1 NL Central)
Run Difference: -5 (17 MLB, 9 NL, 3 NL Central)
Batting (wRC+): 91 (17 MLB, 8 NL, 4 NL Central)
Pitching (FIP-): 113 (24 MLB, 13 NL, 5 NL Central
Defense (DER): .717 (13 MLB, 6 MLB, 1 NL Central)
Game flow from Baseball-Reference:
As the game flow so expertly shows, the Brewers played a very inconsistent brand of baseball over their first fifteen games. Unfortunately, that inconsistency makes it difficult for us to truly get a handle on how the team is doing at any given point in time. And, if the fans that I know are any indication, it’s probably not great for the blood pressure either. All said, though, this team is playing very much like a .500 team. Perhaps that’s not surprising – the 2010 version of the Milwaukee Brewers were basically a .500 team after dumping Trevor Hoffman and Jeff Suppan, and the trade-off between adding Shaun Marcum and losing Corey Hart is about even.
The offense right now has been a relative disappointment even apart from the early woes with runners in scoring position. The usual suspects in Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks are all performing exceptionally well, but after them, only Nyjer Morgan is even an above average hitter. Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez have been terrible as expected, and right field is only useful when Morgan roams it. Mark Kotsay and Erick Almonte have a combined 60 wRC+, which, to be fair, is mostly due to Almonte’s complete incompetence but isn’t furthered by Kotsay’s regular brand of incompetence. Catcher has been acceptable between George Kottaras and Wil Nieves and should be helped by the return of Jon Lucroy. The Brewers must have expected more, however, out of Casey McGehee, who enters play on Monday night with a weak .273/.319/.364 triple-slash line which can only be partially excused by his go-ahead home run against the Cubs last Sunday. The lineup should recover, as McGehee isn’t this bad and Hart’s return will mean fewer plate appearances for Almonte and Kotsay (and ideally, the exit of Almonte).
The pitching staff has done well to allow only 61 runs in 15 games, but it would be remiss to declare their work pristine. The 7.4:3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio is very solid, but Brewers pitchers have hurt themselves by allowing 18 home runs already. Looking forward, we shouldn’t be too worried. Although a 39.6% fly ball rate is high, it’s not abnormally high, and the Brewers’ 11.8% HR/FB rate should decrease and settle somewhere around 8-9%. Looking back, though, these home runs have cost the team games, most notably in the first game of the season and in the doubleheader on Sunday. Overall, the team is in good shape. Marco Estrada has shown himself to be a very capable 6th starter. Chris Narveson appears to be taking a step forward nobody on the team could expect, striking out over a batter per inning so far. Shaun Marcum has settled in quite nicely since a jittery first start. Randy Wolf recovered nicely in his most recent start as well. Yovani Gallardo has struggled a bit early on, but also has the best game of any Brewer yet this year, a complete game shutout to earn the first victory of the season. When Zack Greinke returns, and we’re not far from that day, the Brewers will have one of the best rotations in the league. The bullpen is a bit shallow right now without Takashi Saito, but the impending return of LaTroy Hawkins should soften the blow, and John Axford has recovered quite nicely from his disastrous opening outing. Sergio Mitre and Kameron Loe have been mostly useful as well, although the team needs Zach Braddock to turn things around in a hurry.
The defense is important to note here. The team has been doing a fine job of turning batted balls into outs – a far, far better job than last year, when they had a DER below .680 (fewer than 68% of batted balls turned into outs). I suspect that a large part of this is that the pitching staff is no longer composed of soft-tossers and Yovani Gallardo, which may mean that the fielders aren’t forced to field as many difficult batted balls. It could simply be random variation this early into the season as well. Yuniesky Betancourt certainly does not pass my eye test, but much of this has been compensated for by the solid defense of Gomez and Morgan in the outfield and the relatively low amount of ground balls induced by the Brewers pitching staff. At this point, it’s hard to make any concrete conclusions except that we should be happy with the team’s defensive performance so far.
The Brewers now enter a three-game series with Philadelphia before returning home for series against the Astros and Reds. The team closes the month in Houston for three games and then heads on a tough road trip to Atlanta for four games and St. Louis for three. It will be important for the team to come out treading water after that trip. By that time, Greinke and Hart will be back and the team should be at nearly full strength. If the team is within two games of the NL Central lead, as they are now, by that point, I will feel very good about Milwaukee’s chances to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.