In a must-win game against the Cincinnati Reds, right-hander Shaun Marcum tossed six innings of one-run baseball, and the offense provided more than enough firepower to propel the Brewers to a victory. Combined with a St. Louis Cardinals loss against the Houston Astros, Milwaukee moved back to within 3.5 games of the second Wild Card berth.
With only six games to go, however, the Brewers have a steep climb ahead of them and need a plethora of help from the Cardinals. It’s exceedingly unlikely that the Brewers find themselves in postseason position at the end of the season, but the team has played wonderful baseball for over a month. They have the capability — and the upcoming schedule — to continue this run and let the chips fall where they may.
Here are some other quick thoughts that have been floating around my head.
LUCROY CONTINUING TO GET IT DONE
One of the biggest bright spots earlier this season was the breakout performance by Jonathan Lucroy. When he suffered a freak injury and broke his hand, he was hitting .342/.392/.566 and was producing at a level no one expected. Many were concerned — and rightly so — that his momentum and development could have been stunted by the injury, especially a hand injury that often impacts hitters far after they have technically healed. Ask Taylor Green about hand and wrist injuries.
Since returning from injury, though, Lucroy has continued to perform at an elite level at the plate. The 26-year-old catcher has compiled a .313/.371/.463 slash line since July 26. That includes six doubles and six home runs, so while the power production has not matched his stellar spring, he has more than held his own behind the plate.
Jonathan Lucroy has a +3.6 WAR and missed two months of the season. His .384 wOBA ranks third amongst all catchers who have at least had 200 plate appearances, which is higher than Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, and Miguel Montero. He could very well be the third or fourth most valuable catcher on the season, if one accounts for the two months he spent on the disabled list.
The 5-year, $11M contract extension he signed on March 26, 2012 currently projects to be a huge win for the organization. If one rounds up and considers Lucroy a four-win player in 2012 and utilizes the standard $4-4.5M per win designation that FanGraphs has calculated in recent years, Lucroy has provided enough value this season to make his entire contract “worth it.”
Just a tremendous job by Doug Melvin and the organization to sign Lucroy to a long-term deal before he finally put everything together at the plate. It’s one of the most team-friendly deals in all of baseball right now, and perhaps one of the most underrated moves of the offseason.
AOKI: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
Norichika Aoki has far exceeded anyone’s expectations this year. After last night’s 3-for-4 performance with a home run and two doubles, he raised his slash line to .289/.356/.440 with 10 home runs. Not bad for a 5-foot-9, slap-hitting outfielder who was supposed to be nothing more than a utility outfielder in the best-case scenario.
Hell, even the organization had serious questions about what they were acquiring from Japan, as several reports surfaced that Milwaukee didn’t even scout Japan this past year — which is why they brought Aoki to Arizona for a private workout. Even the Milwaukee Brewers did not expect this type of performance from the 30-year-old rookie.
At this point, though, we need to be talking about Aoki within the context of the Rookie of the Year award in the National League. Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley likely has the award wrapped up at this point in the season, but legitimate arguments can be made that Aoki is the best rookie hitter in the National League.
Here is how Aoki stands up to his competition:
Aoki gets on base more than Harper, Frazier, or Rosario. He and Frazier essentially have created the same number of runs at the plate. Wins Above Replacement ranks Bryce Harper ahead of everyone else because he plays center field and UZR loves his defensive value, but I’m not certain the defense argument will be enough to outweigh obviously lesser offensive numbers.
As I said earlier, Wade Miley essentially has the award wrapped up. He has thrown 187 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks, while posting a +4.5 WAR and 3.20 FIP over the course of the season. His performance has been unexpectedly stellar and should keep Aoki vying for second place in the voting — which is absolutely the right place in the rankings for him.
The Rookie of the Year chants for Aoki are heartwarming and remind us what a great season he has enjoyed for the Brewers, but he’s not going to win the award. And he should not win the award. It does not diminish his success on the field, though.
KINTZLER GETTING HIS CHANCE
Anyone who has followed Bernie’s Crew or Disciples of Uecker over the past couple of years knows that I have been on the Brandon Kintzler train since the spring of 2010. He possesses the stuff to be a mid-inning reliever at the big league level, and it’s always inspiring to witness a player come from independent ball to the professional ranks and find significant success.
If it weren’t for a stress fracture that required a screw in his forearm and nerve issues in his elbow, he likely would have been in the Brewers’ bullpen the entire season. Intense rehab, however, and struggles in his return to the mound kept him in the minor leagues until this September.
Since getting called up, however, it’s clear that the organization trusts him on the mound and is presenting him with the opportunity to claim the inside-track for a bullpen role next season. He’s been getting the baseball a lot this month. In fact, no Brewers reliever has pitched as many innings (12.0 IP) as Kintzler has in September. His 2.25 ERA and 2.86 FIP suggest he belongs — and that was further evidenced by his outing on Wednesday against the heart of the Reds’ batting order. Kintzler collected a strikeout and worked around a hit to Joey Votto to throw a scoreless frame in one of the most hitter-friendly environments in all of baseball.
Expect Brandon Kintzler to come to spring training next season with a good chance at breaking camp with the big league club. His changeup isn’t as crisp as it was in 2011 — perhaps he needs a tune-up session with Shaun Marcum — but his sinker/slider combination has proven effective at keeping the baseball in the ballpark, and he has shown an ability to generate swings and misses throughout his career.
The entire bullpen has actually pitched much better in September, which is one of the main reasons why the Brewers have enjoyed so much success. Their offense and starting pitching has rarely been an issue. It’s been the bullpen.
Take a look at some of the bullpen’s key relievers who have found success this month:
Quite the difference from earlier this season, eh?