If you had told me in February that the Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays would both be in first place for their July meeting, I would have said, “you’re nuts.” Then, cartwheels abound. Certainly, I thought that the Brewers could produce a solid season if everything went well, but I never imagined that the Brewers would dominate to the extent of a 51-33 record and 6.5 game lead. Similarly, the Blue Jays have served as one of the MLB’s “in-between” teams over the last few years, not unlike the Brewers. It seems that Toronto’s organization is almost always looking to compete, but simply overwhelmed in baseball’s most stacked division. Now, they take a one game margin in the AL East into July.
In case you’re wondering how the Brewers got here, well, it’s thanks to nothing less than a straightforward, win-the-games-you-can June. At the end of May, Jonathan previewed the pitching staffs that the Brewers would face in June, noting that our beloved Milwaukee Nine would have their chances to bat against some choice arms. Sure enough, the Brewers arguably had the pitching advantage in at least 18 of 28 June games, as well as another five “even” match-ups. For the entire month, the Brewers only needed to face five mismatches (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg). With five mismatches concentrated to two series, the Brewers capitalized on consistent opportunities to best their opponents.
The Brewers’ June was not quite as good as their opening set of games, but their last month of play presents a crucial lesson for the season. The Brewers are not winning games in one specific way. In March and April, the Brewers won 20 games despite scoring only 4.07 runs per game; in June, the Brewers won 18 games despite allowing more than 4.53 runs per game. Perhaps some of this is circumstance; in less fortunate seasons, the Brewers might have faced a daunting month of 114 RS / 127 RA baseball. This year, the pitching upheld the bats through the first month, the bats upheld the arms during their struggles, and in May, the entire club weathered injuries and replacements near .500.
This leads one to ask, “How will the Brewers win in July?” The benefit of watching the 2014 Brewers, going forward, is that the club has the ability to win in any way that they see fit.
Brewers (84 G): 383 RS / 343 RA
Blue Jays (84 G): 392 RS / 362 RA
The Brewers reached a crucial point over the weekend: at the halfway point of the season, already, the Brewers can go .500 and win 90 games. Now, no one would say that this is the desired outcome for the year, but it certainly helps the Brewers keep their lead against their NL Central foes. When the Brewers keep winning, they push that .500 threshold ever higher; if the Brewers go 6-4 in their next 10 games, a .500 record gets them to 91. 12-8, and .500 gets them to 92. And so on. Every winning stretch the Brewers play places pressure on their divisional foes:
|Distance to 90 Wins||W-L||WPCT||Team RS/RA||Pace Difference|
You read that correctly: the Brewers would have to fall four wins from their current RS / RA ratios in order to go .500 over 78 games. (This also means that even a partial “Pythagorean correction” means the Brewers win 94).
Of course, each of these teams has a current 20-game pace that is quite good, which is the Brewers’ next advantage: while Baseball-Reference’s expanded standings show three divisional foes that have been quite hot, the Brewers have matched their foes every step of the way. This sets the stage for a thrilling July, for we know that even if the Brewers need to bide time with replacements or injuries, .500 keeps them on a 90-win pace. Now, it’s simply a matter of roster replacements and improvements that can help the club along.
Brewers: Series Victory vs. Rockies [4 game series]
Blue Jays: Series Loss vs. White Sox [4 game series]
Day baseball! Is anyone else as excited as I am to be able to follow two lunchtime games? There is nothing better than working, running errands, or enjoying leftovers to the sounds of a Brewers broadcast. This is a friendly reminder that both games for this series are exceptionally early. With the “pace of game” issues plaguing baseball, it will nice to follow consecutive games without having to go to bed during the 7th inning.
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2013 Blue Jays: 74-88 (712 RS / 756 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
2011-2013 Blue Jays: 228-258 (2171 RS / 2301 RA)
Marco Estrada (2-2, 29 IP, 24 R (23 K / 12 BB / 7 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS) @ Drew Hutchison (1-3, 27.3 IP, 13 R (20 K / 7 BB / 3 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
With four innings tonight, Marco Estrada can become the Brewers’ fifth “dependable” starter in 2014, for that will be his required innings pitched to reach 100 for the year. Even halfway through the season, this is crucial symbolism, for the Brewers could not muster five 100+ IP starters throughout all of 2013. If anything is more striking than the dependability of this rotation, it is Runnin’ Ron Roenicke’s equitable distribution of starts. Regardless of performance, Roenicke gives each starter their turn in the rotation.
One lone start by Jimmy Nelson is the wrench in the Brewers’ rotational order, which seems unbelievable: through 84 games, Roenicke has only had to jazz-up his rotational order once. If you’re clamoring to see Nelson in the rotation instead of Estrada, simply remember this fact, as well as the number of dependable starters in 2013. The Brewers can hardly be blamed for pushing their dependability as deep as possible into the season. Now, it’s simply a matter of when they will use a replacement move to strike their divisional foes and increase their chances of winning the division.
Hutchison is a bigtime fastballer. While the Blue Jays’ young, organizational righty does not feature an overwhelming fastball, he still throws his primary and secondary fastballs between 92 and 94 MPH. Everything the Brewers see from Hutchison will be within a small velocity differential, as both Hutchison’s slider and change arrive at approximately 86 MPH. One wonders whether Hutchison will crack 30% with his slider, for the righty already favors the pitch more than 20% of his offerings in 2014. Yet, if working away doesn’t appease this righty, Hutchison can throw his “riding fastball” and change to break inside against the righty-heavy Brewers order.
Wily Peralta (5-0, 32 IP, 16 R (22 K / 7 BB / 3 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ J.A. Happ (3-2, 27.7 IP, 16 R (24 K / 11 BB / 2 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Since the Cubs cuffed Wily Peralta around on May 31, the Brewers bats and relievers have provided exceptional support to the young righty. During his stretch of five consecutive wins, the bats scored 36 runs, while the relievers allowed one whole run. In order to even reach a 3-2 record, Peralta could have allowed approximately 30-to-35 runs (ha!). That the righty allowed 16 runs in five starts — not a great total — gave the Brewers a handful of relatively easy wins throughout June.
J.A. Happ is one of my favorite “one hit wonders” among pitchers. The lefty pitched well for the dynasty Phillies, and then the dynasty Phillies traded Happ to Houston as a part of the Roy Oswalt deal. Happ never lived up to his Philadelphia performance while in Astroland, but that didn’t stop him from being a part of the Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco trade in 2012. Apparently the cooking north of the border is just what Happ needed, as the Toronto southpaw is throwing between 93 and 94 MPH this year. While Happ throws a slider and curveball that gives him more velocity separation than Hutchison, the Brewers will still see more than 80% of Happ’s offerings fall between 85 MPH and 94 MPH.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, 1996-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.