Last night, despite Ron Roenicke‘s greatest protests, the Brewers suffered a narrow loss at the hands of San Diego and junkball extraordinaire, Edinson Volquez. The 2-1 loss ensured that the Brewers’ nine game winning streak came to an end, but the Brewers escaped PetCo Park with a series victory (and, an 11-9 record after 20).
That’s right — 20 games in! Cry for this portion of the season, it’s gone…fortunately, we have seven more 20 game stretches to endure this season. We should certainly take this opening series of games with a grain of salt, but we should also celebrate them:
(1) The Brewers have won 11 of 20 despite scoring fewer runs than allowed (85 RS / 88 RA)
(2) The Brewers made aggressive adjustments to the bullpen and pitching rotation to respond to early ineffectiveness.
(3) The Brewers capitalized on early replacement performances and won several close games (despite injuries to some of their best players).
Depending on your viewpoint, you can take several different lessons away from these games. You can note that a team with a pitching staff that allows runs at this rate, with offensive ineffectiveness from key players and injury issues to boot, should not realistically be expected to post a winning record. You can note that although the Brewers outplayed their early run differential, and are playing above their expected performance level (due to the general number of replacements currently playing regularly), their ability to stay afloat bodes well for when Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez return.
One of the wonders of the baseball season is the way expectations, narratives, and performances converge. We can analyze so many aspects of the game, but players can capture that opportunity in a close game and turn the tides. The distribution of those runs scored can outmanoeuvre a team’s overall trends of runs scored and allowed. So, we can weigh our lessons carefully from the first 20 games, and consider the type of narrative we want to tell about this Brewers squad, alongside the data, alongside the performances, alongside the outcomes.
Frankly, having watched so many different Brewers clubs, through rebuilding, through the early competitive seasons with the young core, through the Wild Card and the surge in 2011, this month feels different than most other months. Certainly, we have seen hotter prolonged stretches by our Brewers, and certainly, we have seen better teams, too. What captures me about the 2013 Brewers is their ability to put together such a strong stretch of baseball without their regular roster, while working through ineffectiveness and rearranging their bullpen, rotation, and batting order; I get the feeling that this club is doing everything possible to win. While we will certainly endure tougher times this season — perhaps when the regulars return, there will be other areas of concern, ineffectiveness, or roster issues to work through; or, the team could take off on more hot stretches; no one knows. The benefit of these 20 games is that the Brewers worked through them, did their very best to win as many games as possible, and they have an 11-9 record to show for it.
We could all be prepared to say: Doug Melvin tried to build another contending club that was sidelined by injuries early in the season. Yet, we’re not; this team, for all their early issue, is moving along. And so, our narrative is, “Keep Going!”
Seven more of those, and we have a contending ballclub. I’m not saying that we can simply project this club to consistently win throughout each portion of the season without any trouble. But, the narrative of a playoff contender surely requires some good bounces along the way, and I think everyday Brewers fans should be thrilled about these first 20 as a sign that, so far, things bounced the Brewers way.
Goodness, what a difference a week makes. Last week I noted that, thanks to the Dodgers and Pirates, the National League already featured two replacement starters. Since then, the following starters made their first appearances on the Senior Circuit:
Hiram Burgos (Milwaukee)
Andrew Cashner (San Diego)
Tyler Chatwood (Colorado)
Tony Cingrani (Cincinnati)
Stephen Fife (Los Angeles)
Ted Lilly (Los Angeles)
Jonathan Pettibone (Philadelphia)
The Dodgers simply have not had a good string of luck with their starting rotation. They lost two pitchers to the fight between Carlos Quentin and Zack Greinke, as Chris Capuano aggravated his calf injury. Some believed Chad Billingsley‘s rehabbed elbow was living on borrowed time, and the righty unfortunately succumbed to Tommy John surgery. Once hailed as one of the NL’s pitching rotations with strong potential, southpaw ace Clayton Kershaw is followed by Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Lilly, and Fife.
Anyhow, the National League clubs have already used 84 starting pitchers. Eight clubs still have the potential to work an entire season with a true five-man rotation, including last year’s playoff teams from Atlanta, St. Louis, Washington, and San Francisco. One wonders, given the quick moves some teams made to their replacements, whether future rotations should indeed be built to withstand 6-7 different starters throughout a season; on the other hand, moving in the other direction and trying a four-man rotation with a few durable starters could also maximize the value of pitching performances within a league full of replacement starters.
Milwaukee Brewers @ Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year, the Brewers were 19-28, and struggling through the middle of an awful 8-16 stretch in May. Entering Los Angeles, the Brewers had lost four consecutive series, against the Astros, Twins, Giants, and Diamondbacks. At that point, the Dodgers boasted the very best record in the NL. On cue, the Milwaukee Nine rattled off two consecutive low-scoring, one-run victories, including the Major League debut by Fastballer Mike Fiers. Those two victories begot two more, and before our very eyes, the Brewers swept a club with contending expectations.
Now the Brewers return to Chavez Ravine to face the hardscrabble Dodgers. In many ways, this series pairs two clubs with contending, win-now aspirations that nevertheless will face off two versions of taped-together teams. Whereas the Dodgers’ rotation is undergoing a severe identity crisis, the Brewers’ infield is a veritable carousel of shortstops, catchers, and second basemen playing out of position (or, playing out a slump, anyway). Fortunately for the Dodgers, they can claim the upperhand in terms of timing, as two bona fide MLB regular starters climb the bump to face the Brewers.
April 26: Hiram Burgos @ Josh Beckett
2013 Burgos: 1-0, 5 IP, 1 R, 1 K / 0 BB / 0 HR
2012 Burgos: 28 G at three minor league levels; 10-4, 171 IP, 153 K / 49 BB / 8 HR
2013 Beckett: 0-3, 25 IP, 15 R, 20 K / 6 BB / 6 HR
2012 Beckett (AL and NL): 170.3 IP, 91 R, 132 K / 52 BB / 21 HR
Burgos made his MLB debut in style, doing his part to convince Roenicke that he deserves a regular rotation spot. While there was some doubt that Burgos would make this start — in the case that the Brewers wanted to use an extra reliever or skip their fifth spot thanks to the day off — Burgos will have his chance to make his first road start of his career. His first start recipe was going off-speed all-day and all-night, as either his fastball or cutter hardly earned 1/3 of his selections. A true junkball outing, Burgos selected his change more than any other pitch (25 selections), and he also threw 26 curves and sliders.
One of the benefits of choosing Burgos over Fiers — for the moment — is Burgos’s off-speed repertoire; in this regard, Burgos is exactly the opposite of Fiers, who succeeded last year by hammering batters with his fastball and cutter. Burgos even used his off-speed pitches in a way that maximized their movement, emphasizing his change-up to his arm side, and using his slider to go away from righties / in on lefties. In a way, this allows Burgos to use his pitches on different planes, with the true change-up shifting off his fastball, and his slider shifting speeds off his cutter.
If I were a trader, and I could speculate on pitchers’ seasons, I would buy in on Beckett. For, it appears that Beckett has a unique trait of alternating good and bad seasons over the last four years. If the veteran stays true to form, 2013 should be a strong year for him.
April 27: Wily Peralta @ Stephen Fife
2013 Peralta: 1-1, 22.7 IP, 15 R, 13 K / 11 BB / 3 HR
2012 Peralta: 29 IP, 8 R, 23 K / 11 BB / 0 HR
2013 Fife: 0-0, 4.7 IP, 4 R, 5 K / 1 BB / 1 HR
2012 Fife: 26.7 IP, 8 R, 20 K / 12 BB / 2 HR
Peralta and Fife were two of the NL’s best replacement starters during the 2012 season, working limited starts but doing so in a quality manner. There’s not going to be a lot of BS in this game — Fife doesn’t overwhelm batters, but he shifts regularly between his fastball, curve, and slider. Similarly, it’s almost all fastballs from Peralta, who liberally uses his primary and secondary fastballs. This start will be a good test for Peralta, who has performed well against the Cubs (twice), but poorly against NL West foes thus far. After allowing 10 runs in 9.3 IP against Colorado and San Francisco, Peralta will try to notch a quality start against the Dodgers.
April 28: Kyle Lohse @ Clayton Kershaw
2013 Lohse: 1-1, 25 IP, 7 R, 17 K / 2 BB / 1 HR
2012 Lohse: 211 IP, 74 R (98 NL/park), 24 runs prevented
2013 Kershaw: 2-2, 33.7 IP, 10 R, 35 K / 12 BB / 3 HR
2012 Kershaw: 227.7 IP, 70 R (105 NL/park), 35 runs prevented
The Brewers matched their run support for Lohse’s first three starts of the season by the close of their five-run first inning on Monday. In one of those ironic twists, Lohse failed to work a quality start — each of his first three starts were of the quality variety — but he earned his first win with 5 innings of one-run ball against the Padres.
After two stunning scoreless outings to open the season, Kershaw hit a relatively rough stretch, allowing 10 runs in his last 17.7 innings (including a three homer affair against the Padres). Not unlike Lohse, Kershaw hasn’t experienced a lot of run support from the Dodgers; if the trends for both pitchers continue, Sunday’s game will end with a 2-1 score. You’ll have to tune in to find out which pitcher wins the duel.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
MLB.com. Game Notes. MLB Advanced Media, L.P., 2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
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