The Padres should look similar to fans of the 2012 and 2013 Brewers. Specifically, San Diego’s squad has encountered one particularly bad month. Otherwise, the team stuck around .500, and lately have shown signs of breaking into the type of hot streak that could make things interesting in the National League playoff race. You might scoff — how does a team that’s not even .500 gain playoff consideration? Well, when the win-threshold for the last Wild Card spot is in the mid-80s, and the team in question is playing ball at a 185 RS / 141 RA for two months, it’s difficult to count anyone out of the playoffs.
If you’re a Brewers doubter, you might point out that the Brewers have not posted two consecutive run differentials as strong as the Padres’ July and August. On the other hand, the Brewers also show the importance of those little lucky breaks, those little streaky stretches, or those dominant bullpen sequences. For, while the Padres boast an exceptional run differential lately, they have also gone 10-16 games in July and August when the game is within two runs. This is why analysts cannot toss aside “luck” or “circumstances;” while the statistics help us to find truths in the game, the narrative of the season unfolds in circumstances and luck.
Brewers (130 G): 559 RS / 526 RA
Padres (129 G): 428 RS / 442 RA
San Diego’s current roster is quite different than the group of players that visited Milwaukee earlier this year. Not only have the Padres traded Chase Headley, but they also featured Everth Cabrera and Yonder Alonso (currently injured), as well as Chris Denorfia. If that doesn’t necessarily seem like a significant group of players, it still comprises a significant portion of their potential batting order. Now, Bud Black is using his bench, a gang of young players, and swapping batting orders to mix and match for success. Summarizing the Padres’s key moves from July onward, the San Diego front office:
- Recalled Jedd Gyorko, who immediately improved his performance (.837 OPS since recall).
- Acquired Yangervis Solarte, who immediately improved upon Chase Headley’s performance.
- Activated (and returned) Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera to disabled list.
- Acquired Abraham Almonte, who immediately improved upon Chris Denorfia’s performance.
- Recalled Jake Goebbert, who improved their bench.
- Lost Cameron Maybin to the restricted list, opening a spot for new and improved outfielders (later re-activated).
It’s difficult to place expectations on this series. On the one hand, the Brewers should have a couple of pitching advantages, as well as a stronger offensive core. However, the Padres are averaging more than 4.00 RS/G since July (in a 3.65 RS/G run environment!), and their pitchers have been even better (3.07 RA/G). Although the Padres’ hot streak has hit a bit of a snag in their last 10 games, the new composition of the club could give the Brewers a new set of struggles.
Brewers: Series Loss vs. Pirates
Padres: Series Loss @ Arizona
The Brewers had a rough series with Pittsburgh’s bats, but at the end of the day, the composition of their race to the playoffs changed little: the Brewers remained in the driver’s seat in the NL Central, as well as favorites for the top Wild Card spot (if the Cardinals overtake the Brewers in the division). Pittsburgh gained a game, but still find themselves 1.5 out of the Wild Card road spot.
By winning the season’s 130th game, the Brewers posted a 6-4 record in their last set of ten games. Following stretches of 6-4 and 5-5, the Brewers have quite a solid record over their last 30 games (17-13). Now, our Milwaukee Nine have the chance to do something they haven’t done all year: play a fourth consecutive .500-or-better set of 10 games. After closing a 20-10 set to open the season, the Brewers went 8-12; then, they followed their 19-11 set in late-May/June by going 7-13. With a West Coast trip on the doorstep, a tight Divisional race, and a somewhat packed playoff race, it goes without saying that this would be a great time for the Brewers to go 5-5 (in fact, 5-5 after a six game West Coast run, three against the Cubs, and another against St. Louis would be quite solid).
The threshold for the last Wild Card spot is now 85 wins, while the top spot is at 88 wins. This shows the importance of the separation both Milwaukee and St. Louis have created in the race (not to mention Washington and the Dodgers, who appear to have strong grips on their respective divisions). If the Padres are to continue their push into the playoff race, they will unfortunately need to play even beyond their exceptional run differential of the last two months. 81 wins would be the Padres’ landing point if they play “true” to their hot run differential to close the season; a couple lucky games here or there could cause them to make more noise. It’s worth pointing out that the Padres’ surge is impressive on its own, as a mark of a team that is looking to improve on 2013. While the club might be rebuilding, these gangs of new players could make their case for big league jobs in 2014. Why does any of this matter? Well, it’s fun to see teams improve out of nowhere, and it’s fun to think about an “outsider” to shake up a playoff race.
Three Full Weeks in August
Believe it or not, the Brewers weathered several difficult series over the first three weeks in August and gained ground on every divisional competitor.
|Team||August 3||August 24|
|Brewers||61-51 (-)||72-58 (-)|
|Cardinals||59-51 (-1.0)||70-59 (-1.5)|
|Pirates||59-52 (-1.5)||67-63 (-5.0)|
|Reds||56-55 (-4.5)||63-68 (-9.5)|
|Cubs||47-63 (-13.0)||58-72 (-14.0)|
For fun, here’s how the schedules unfolded. Notice that the Cardinals and Reds were unable to translate advantageous schedules into ground gained on the Brewers (largely because Milwaukee did what they needed to do and went 9-5 against contending clubs):
|Race||Brewers (11-7)||Cardinals (11-8)||Pirates (8-11)||Reds (7-13)|
|Week 1||Brewers (4-2)||Cardinals (3-3)||Pirates (3-3)||Reds (4-3)|
|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)|
|Week 2||Brewers (5-2)||Cardinals (4-3)||Pirates (2-5)||Reds (1-5)|
|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)|
|August 15||@ LAD (W)||v. SDP (W)||@ WSH (L)||@ COL (W)|
|August 16||@ LAD (W)||v. SDP (L)||@ WSH (L)||@ COL (PPD)|
|August 17||@ LAD (W)||v. SDP (W)||@ WSH (L)||@ COL (L) @ COL (L)|
|Week 3||Brewers (2-3)||Cardinals (4-2)||Pirates (3-3)||Reds (2-5)|
|August 18||off||v. CIN (W)||v. ATL (L)||@ STL (L)|
|August 19||v.TOR (W)||v. CIN (W)||v. ATL (L)||@ STL (L)|
|August 20||v.TOR (L)||v. CIN (W)||v. ATL(W)||@ STL (L)|
|August 21||off||off||off||v. ATL (L)|
|August 22||v. PIT (L)||@ PHI (L)||@ MIL (W)||v. ATL (L)|
|August 23||v. PIT (L)||@ PHI (W)||@ MIL (W)||v. ATL (W)|
|August 24||v. PIT (W)||@ PHI (L)||@ MIL (L)||v. ATL (W)|
|Race||Brewers (11-7)||Cardinals (11-8)||Pirates (8-11)||Reds (7-13)|
Kyle Lohse (1-3, 25.7 IP, 17 R (16 K / 11 BB / 5 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS before ankle injury) @ Eric Stults (3-1, 30.7 IP, 11 R (20 K / 8 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)
One reason to be nervous about this series is that the Brewers send three recently roughed-up starters to the bump. Granted, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, and Jimmy Nelson have had notable successes in 2014, so they’re certainly not bad options to go to the mound. Even with Lohse receiving some much-needed recovery time, one could ask whether he will regain his ace-form from the previous three seasons. Lohse has been an average starter in 2014, which is not a bad thing (even considering his contract, by the way), but there is that expectation that he can lead the rotation in performance and person. With the “personal leadership” aspect down, it’s time for Lohse to step up and put the Brewers over the top.
Eric Stults was arguably the Padres’ most valuable pitcher as a replacement in 2012. During 92.3 IP, Stults prevented 5 runs, which helped him earn a spot in the 2013 rotation. Since that point, Stults has been unable to build on his replacement success, but a pitcher with two consecutive 100+ IP seasons for the Padres is nothing to scoff at. In a rotation that has seen only ten 100+ IP starters (from nine different SP) from 2011-2013, adding another arm to soak up starts is essential. Although the Brewers have seen Stults twice as a reliever in his career, this will be the southpaw’s first start against the Milwaukee Nine. Besides a “primary” / four-seam fastball, Brewers might expect heaps of change ups from Stults in San Diego.
Jimmy Nelson (1-3, 31.7 IP, 13 R (22 K / 7 BB / 2 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Tyson Ross (2-2, 32 IP, 10 R (27 K / 15 BB / 2 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Are innings pitched a true concern for Nelson in 2014? Nelson has worked 146 IP, 127.3 IP, and 162.3IP during his 2011-2013 seasons, so the young righty has quite a solid base for his 2014 workload. While completing August, Nelson should surpass his 2013 workload, which gives him a sizeable set of innings to work with (if one uses the “typical” 30 IP to 40 IP “increase rule” for developing pitchers). However, there are a few key reasons to not worry about Nelson’s innings: even if he works 200 innings, that’s not an egregious increase, given that Nelson hasn’t even touched 110 pitches in the big leagues (and has been pulled with 80-to-100 pitches a handful of times). Furthermore, one could argue that Nelson is the most likely of the Brewers’ current starters to work in the bullpen if the Brewers make the playoffs, which instantly changes his potential IP profile. Finally, if the Brewers need to rest Nelson, they could conceivably use remaining off-days, and swap Fastballer Mike Fiers into his spot when Matt Garza returns from the disabled list. The Brewers almost have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation, which is great for such a race; even when the Brewers have not had the advantage, they are able to keep games close enough to win.
If you remember Tyson Ross as the Padres starter that surrendered five runs to Brewers bats in Milwaukee, you’ve got the right name but wrong pitcher on your mind. Ross is currently working on a stress of 11 quality starts, which includes bunches of 0, 1, and 2 run outings (so, it’s not all 6 IP / 3 R for the righty).
I have to imagine there’s a list on Doug Melvin’s desk that has Tyson Ross’s name on it. If the Brewers ever-needed to make a trade for a RHP, I’d have to bet Ross makes the shortlist because (a) he uses that key “over-the-top” delivery, (b) he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, (c) he throws a slider more than any other pitch, and (d) he was never truly regarded as a top pitching prospect with Oakland or San Diego, but has achieved big league success. Ross’s slider development is quite extreme:
If you thought Ross featured an extreme pitching profile entering the season, he’s basically tossed out the change up and focused on his slider. In fact, Ross has such a good thing with the pitch, batters might get to the point of guessing (“looking”?) slider for every other pitch. I gather that this must make that 94+ MPH sinker even more effective: what could be worse than having to protect against a super-heavy sinker when you’re expecting a slider all the time?
If both Nelson and Ross work 100 pitches, fans at PetCo should see at least 70 sliders, and probably 100 sinkers. I’d bet money that they see less than five change ups.
Yovani Gallardo (3-2, 31 IP, 12 R (22 K / 9 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Odrisamer Despaigne (1-3, 27.3 IP, 19 R (21 K / 8 BB / 4 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS)
Yovani Gallardo is the anti-Nelson: while the Brewers’ young hurler has been quite efficient, the Franchise Starter has worked inefficient outings in half of his starts in 2014. Fortunately, Gallardo is no stranger to slightly-inflated pitch counts (and five of his inefficient starts were also quality starts), and the righty has improved throughout his current campaign. In 44.7 innings since beginning the second half, Gallardo boasts a 36 K / 11 BB / 2 HR line with his fielding independent elements, culminating in a 2.62 ERA and 57% quality starts.
By the way, Gallardo is quite good in California. In 11 career starts in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, Gallardo has worked 68.7 IP and allowed 32 runs. 13 of those runs were allowed at Dodger Stadium; by contrast, Gallardo is 3-1 with a 3.16 runs average at PetCo Park. In fact, on the road, Gallardo is only better at Wrigley and Chase Field, in terms of winning percentage.
As much as writers make about Odrisamer Despaigne’s various arm angles and pitches, the name of the game for the Cuban rookie is fastball command. MLB.com featured Despaigne after his first couple of big league starts, and the message that came through was filtered with talk about his variations in his stuff and deliveries. Yet, the best quote was from Chase Headley: Despaigne is not a nibbler, but someone who attacks and commands with his fastballs. Not that Despaigne doesn’t have a full bucket of them: the righty will give batters sinkers, cutters, and even a rising/riding offering that some TV guns have listed as high as 94 MPH. Even so, from his average top velocity of 91-92 MPH, his 88-89 MPH cutter will look like a change of pace.
Anyone who likes a kitchen-sink thrower will love watching Despaigne pitch: his arm angles have varied significantly since the All-Star break (pre-break arm angles), which may be the source of his recent woes. Beyond those angles, Despaigne arguably throws four types of change-ups: there’s his cutter off of his sinker and primary fastball; then there’s his slider off of his cutter; beyond that there’s a slow curve that can work off of his blooping drop (76-77 MPH to 67-68 MPH); and of course, there’s the standard change up (as we moderns know it). It’s a shame that Bob Uecker is not heading west: since Despaigne basically selects his off-speed pitches at the same rate, Uecker would have at least 16 changes to talk about change-ups (with the inevitable “change up curve ball” call on repeat). The trick is not to focus so much on Despaigne’s off-speed offerings that one forgets 60% of his pitches are fastball varieties.
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MLB Advanced Media, LP, 2014.
Texas Leaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.