At the beginning of August, the stretch run of the season officially began: the National League Central clubs began an eight week schedule that would place their Champion into the playoffs. The first ten games of that stretch are complete; if Thursday’s series-salvaging win against the Cubs felt great for your morale, it was a crucial game to provide an advantage for our beloved Milwaukee Nine:
|Date||Brewers (6-4)||Cardinals (5-5)||Pirates (5-5)||Reds (4-6)|
|August 4||Off||Off||Off||@ CLE (L)|
|August 5||v. SFG (W)||v. BOS (W)||v. MIA (L)||@ CLE (W)|
|August 6||v. SFG (L)||v. BOS (L)||v. MIA (W)||v. CLE (W)|
|August 7||v. SFG (W)||v. BOS (W)||v. MIA (W)||v. CLE (W)|
|August 8||v. LAD (W)||@ BAL (L)||v. SDP (W)||v. MIA (L)|
|August 9||v. LAD (W)||@ BAL (L)||v. SDP (L)||v. MIA (L)|
|August 10||v. LAD (L)||@ BAL (W)||v. SDP (L)||v. MIA (W)|
|August 11||@ CHC (W)||@ MIA (L)||v. DET (W)||off|
|August 12||@ CHC (L)||@ MIA (L)||v. DET (W)||v. BOS (L)|
|August 13||@ CHC (L)||@ MIA (W)||@ DET (L)||v. BOS (L)|
|August 14||@ CHC (W)||v. SDP (W)||@ DET (L)||@ COL (L)|
The wins during this series of games should feel extra sweet because the Brewers beat two contending clubs to keep ahead of their divisional foes. Specifically, this was one stretch of 10 games where the Reds, Cardinals, and even Pirates had easier schedules than the Brewers. They were unable to gain ground. Little advantages like this will help the Brewers throughout this stretch, especially because they continue to play difficult series: the Brewers’ next eight games are against teams contending for playoff spots.
Brewers (122 G): 523 RS / 488 RA
Dodgers (123 G): 506 RS / 447 RA
If it feels like the Brewers pitchers are great lately, well, they are: the pitchers have only allowed fewer runs during a 10-game stretch when they started the season 8-2, and the July 23-August 2 stretch.
Extending those 10-game stretched to progressive 20-game stretches (perhaps giving a better feel to the development of the season), the pitchers are currently better than any point in the season. This is a fortunate occurrence, since the bats have scuffled lately:
Using a series of “Progressive 20 Game Stretches” allows each set of 10 games to serve as the end of one streak, and the beginning of another streak.
|March 31-April 21||85 RS / 64 RA||14-6|
|April 12-May 2||69 RS / 75 RA||12-8|
|April 22-May 14||74 RS / 80 RA||10-10|
|May 3-May 24||73 RS / 83 RA||8-12|
|May 15-June 4||95 RS / 84 RA||10-10|
|May 25-June 15||108 RS / 96 RA||12-8|
|June 5-June 26||111 RS / 93 RA||13-7|
|June 16-July 8||98 RS / 88 RA||10-10|
|June 27-July 22||74 RS / 99 RA||7-13|
|July 9-August 2||83 RS / 81 RA||9-11|
|July 23-August 13||74 RS / 60 RA||10-10|
|August 3-August 25||? / ?||? – ?|
Oddly enough, the timing of those runs allowed has also harmed the club. Since the Brewers have played in so many close games lately, their bullpen has lost several leads and ties. So, on the one hand, the pitching is excellent, but on the other, it’s also problematic. At 10-10 despite scoring 74 runs and allowing 60, the Brewers are currently playing their least efficient baseball of the season.
Thankfully, as noted above, the National League Central is simply staying put. There is no club seizing the Division title. As frustrating as this is — the Brewers could really grab the title with a couple of hot stretches — it also increases Milwaukee’s chance of winning. Each little stretch that the Brewers go 6-4 and other contenders go 5-5 is a victory at this point in the season. It would be thrilling to see the Brewers claim the division by getting hot, but the pennant will fly just the same if they keep up their currently steady pace.
DISTANCE TO 90:
Dodgers (70 W): 20-19, .513, -2 behind current pace; -2 behind Pythagorean Pace for 39 G
Brewers (67 W): 23-17, .575, +1 beyond current pace; +2 beyond Pythagorean Pace for 40 G
The Dodgers continue to have one of the truest paths to 90 wins in the National League. In fact, they are just about to the point where going .500 in their remaining games would get them to 90. Below are “adjusted standings” based on the race to 90 wins, incorporating teams’ actual Winning Percentages (W-L), as well as their adjusted winning percentage (based on run differential, or RS / RA). For this exercise, I’ve adjusted the standings by RS / RA, which places the Washington Nationals ahead of the Dodgers.
G: Remaining Games
W, WPCT: Wins, Winning Percentage Necessary to Reach 90
+/- Current Pace: Change In Pace from Current WPCT (over remaining G)
+/- Pythagorean Pace: Change In Pace from Current Run Differential (over remaining G)
+ means more W needed (improvement), – means fewer W needed (team can decline to 90 W pace)
|Race to 90||G||W||WPCT||+/- Current Pace||+/- Pythagorean Pace|
|Nationals||43||24||.558||- W||-4 W|
|Dodgers||39||20||.513||-2 W||-2 W|
|Brewers||40||23||.575||+1 W||+2 W|
|Pirates||41||26||.634||+4 W||+5 W|
|Cardinals||42||26||.619||+4 W||+5 W|
|Giants||40||27||.675||+6 W||+6 W|
|Braves||41||29||.707||+8 W||+8 W|
|Marlins||41||30||.732||+10 W||+11 W|
|Padres||42||33||.786||+13 W||+13 W|
The National League features so much parity between their top clubs that just one hot stretch could destroy the playoff picture. Notice the San Diego Padres, for example, who are 7-3 during their last 10 games. They are suddenly nearly as close to the playoffs as the Reds and Braves, who were considered legitimate preseason contenders (and are now floating closer to .500).
Brewers: Series Tie @ Cubs
Dodgers: Series Victory @ Atlanta [four game series]
The series tie doesn’t look as great as the Dodgers’ victory, but given that Brewers bats face three pitchers for the first time, a 2-2 outcome is not terrible. Unfortunately for the Brewers, this coming series does not appear to feature match-ups conducive to ending their bats’ slump. Yet, the Brewers are 6-6 in mismatched pitching games in July and August, so perhaps the Brewers prefer to play as underdogs.
Jimmy Nelson (1-3, 30.3 IP, 18 R (24 K / 7 BB / 3 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Zack Greinke (1-3, 33.7 IP, 14 R (37 K / 8 BB / 4 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
The Dodgers have acquired a couple of pitchers to alleviate their back rotation woes, and they immediately inserted Kevin Correia into their rotation upon acquiring him. This is why the Brewers and Dodgers do not have any re-matched starters this series, despite playing one another twice within a single turn of the rotation.
During his August 10 start to close the Brewers’ homestand against the Dodgers, Jimmy Nelson did what he does best: hammer that fastball. He selected his “sinker” and “rising” fastballs 75% of his total pitches, leaving enough room for one change up and a whole gang of sliders. Watching the game on national TV, I was struck by Nelson’s easy delivery and sharp slider. If Nelson continues to develop that pitch as Wily Peralta has built his slider, he has an opportunity to continue piling quality starts against opponents (should that sinker command continue).
Was Zack Greinke hyped up to face the Brewers at Miller Park? Against his former team, Greinke threw his slider and change up nearly 2 MPH harder than his 2014 average. This is not likely to be a park factor or park-tracking error, since Greinke’s curves and fastballs either did not increase in velocity whatsoever, or increased less than his slider and change. While Greinke’s change up broke into righty bats more than usual, his slider did not break as much, despite the hard velocity. Watch Greinke’s soft selections in his return to Dodger Stadium: perhaps he will counter that hard, aggressive outing with a gang of curves against Milwaukee bats (Greinke did not even select a handful of curves, and he did not throw his super-slow curve).
Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 31.7 IP, 9 R (29 K / 9 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts) @ Clayton Kershaw (3-0, 40 IP, 8 R (37 K / 6 BB / 1 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Yovani Gallardo and Clayton Kershaw meet for the fourth time in their careers. In their previous starts, the Dodgers are 2-1, with both pitchers performing two quality starts and one rough outing:
|July 12 2009||5 IP / 5 R (L)||6 IP / 1 R (W)|
|May 30 2012||6 IP / 3 R (W)||5.7 IP / 5 R (L)|
|May 20 2013||6 IP / 3 R (L)||9 IP / 1 R (W)|
Even the distribution of quality starts shows the difference between Gallardo and Kershaw. Although both are among the National League’s most dependable starters, Kershaw performs at an elite level that Gallardo (and just about everyone else) has yet to reach. Yet, the Brewers have averaged two runs per start against Kershaw, over the course of nine career starts (for Kershaw). That total is good for a 3.05 runs average, which is significantly higher than Kershaw’s career runs average of 2.71.Our beloved Milwaukee Nine have scored two more runs against Kershaw than expected. Take your victories where you can get them, right?
I was struck by just how hard Gallardo threw against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Not in terms of velocity, but in terms of effort: Gallardo seemed to really work to get that finish on his pitches, and it worked in the case of his curveball. Several of his curves looked perfect, spiraling into the strike zone without any effective reaction from Cubs bats (what can one do against a perfect curve?). My favorite plate appearance was Gallardo’s late-game face-off against Javier Baez, in which the Brewers’ Franchise Pitcher did not give in and continually went after Baez with his fastball. This is the type of referendum on Gallardo’s fastball that shows his improvement in 2014.
The Brewers really tried to force the game against Clayton Kershaw last Sunday. It is frustrating to watch a team continually work itself out of advantageous situations, yet it seems understandable against the game’s elite pitcher. One wonders if Runnin’ Ron Roenicke will allow his Brewers bats a bit of breathing room against Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, or if the stolen base, take-the-extra-base, squeeze bunt show will continue. Kershaw’s final line in Milwaukee was excellent, but one gets the feeling that the Brewers had a bunch of chances against the southpaw. Perhaps Saturday will be their chance to cash in those chances.
Wily Peralta (4-1, 32.3 IP, 9 R (22 K / 12 BB / 4 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)@ Dan Haren (2-3, 27.3 IP, 18 R (24 K / 8 BB / 4 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
In Chicago, Wily Peralta threw nearly as many sliders (33) as sinkers (35), which increased his fastball / slider ratio to 62% / 33% during that outing, according to Brooks Baseball. Incidentally, Peralta threw five change ups during that tough luck loss, which is slightly higher than his average-per-start for the season (4.6). On average, five change-ups is just about as many as Peralta will throw in a game, which is quite a good sign from his last start: that Peralta continues to throw his change, instead of pocketing it, is a sign that maybe he continues to trust the pitch as a weapon.
Despite all the noise about Dan Haren’s split, change, or curve, the veteran right-hander is distinctly a cutter-sinker guy. In fact, since Haren’s velocity dipped well below 90 MPH, his sinker-cutter tendencies have increased. Most of the pitches the Brewers see will sit between 85-and-88 MPH, which brings back terrible visions of Kyle Hendricks carving apart unsuspecting Brewers bats. Perhaps facing one low-velocity, moving-fastball specialist recently will help the Brewers track the ball against Haren.
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MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.