At the end of May, I wrote that the Brewers lineup was facing a significant opportunity in the month of June: terrible pitching, the same level of crap pitching that the Oakland A’s tore up over the first two months of the season. The previous two months had presented with the Brewers with some of the toughest opposing pitching in baseball. So if the Brewers were looking for an opportunity to score some runs and create some distance in the NL Central, June was their opportunity.
And, that’s exactly what they did. Brewers bats terrorized opposing clubs, and the combination of their hitting, above-average baserunning, and good defense made them the top-performing lineup in June baseball. The club’s pitching continued to be somewhat mediocre, but the lineup’s success allowed the Brewers to finish June having stretched their divisional lead to 6.5 games: 2.5 games better than where they started on June 1. Well done, team.
With 51 wins and the largest lead of any division leader, the Brewers entered July in excellent position. But with the season only half done, there is plenty of work left to do. The Cardinals may be stuck in the mud, but the Pirates lineup has been crushing the ball as well, and the Reds seem to be finding their footing. Although the odds of either team overtaking the Brewers are not great, the June collapse of the Giants — who squandered a 9.5 game lead in the NL West — serves as a reminder that a bad multi-week stretch can erase months of progress.
Last month, we found that the Brewers faced the easiest pitching staffs among NL Central teams in June; that the Cardinals and Cubs were facing roughly-average pitching; and that the Pirates and Reds were facing a brutal collection of rotations. Will July be any different? Well, July will be tougher than June was, but it could be worse.
As was the case last month, I looked at quality of opposing pitching staffs by SIERA, and this time I added the quality of opposing offenses as measured by Fangraphs. I used season-to-date statistics for all teams, and then created a weighted average for each NL Central team by the net difficulty of the pitching staffs and offenses they would face. Here’s what we end up with:
|NL Central Team||Opposing Pitchers||Opposing Hitters|
|Brewers||Above Average||Above Average|
|Cubs||Above Average||Below Average|
Unlike in June, there were no drastic differences between team schedules. But, you can see some clear distinctions as I sorted through them. I sorted them into Difficult (for the best-quality opponents), Above Average, Average, Below Average, and Terrible.
Overall, the Brewers schedule is somewhat difficult in July. They will face above-average pitching and above-average hitters as they match up against teams like the Nationals, Reds, and Cardinals. On the other hand, while the Cardinals and Reds will benefit from facing below-average lineups, they will have their work cut out for them with opposing pitching staffs, as they face each other and the Cubs. The Cardinals also have to find some way to juggle their suddenly unstable rotation, which will make it harder to profit from the easier opposing lineups. The Pirates have it best, as their batters can face no better than average pitching, but their own staff will have to pick up the slack against fairly good opposing lineups.
So, I wouldn’t say the Brewers have their work cut out for them in July, but they certainly won’t have the Rockies and Diamondbacks to kick around anymore. If they want to sustain their divisional lead, they will need to play well against contenders, not just the worst clubs. There’s no shame in taking care of business against inferior competition, but now the Brewers need to show that they can compete against better quality pitching too.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.
All statistics from Fangraphs.