Series Preview: Cubs @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

In the middle of the season, one of the most interesting, and common, fan refrains pointed out that the Brewers and Cubs shared similar records since the Brewers’ hot start. A simple way to look at it is to combine their May and June records. Even with a great June, the 31-25 Brewers were hardly leaps and bounds ahead of the 26-29 Cubs, in the minds of some. The general idea, of course, was to point out that save for their extreme starts (20-8 and 9-17, respectively), the Cubs and Brewers were rather close in the W-L department. I disagreed with this stance at the time, given that the Brewers had already proven their ability to put together two incredibly hot stretches of baseball through June.

2014:
Cubs (159 G): 602 RS / 699 RA
Brewers (159 G): 642 RS / 645 RA

Since July, the Cubs and Brewers have completely swapped places. At the end of June, a mere .500 record would have placed the Brewers at 90 wins; that pace would have signaled a 17% departure from their expected win total at that time. Instead of going 39-39, however, the Brewers crashed to a 31-47 pace (they are currently at 30-45 since July). Meanwhile, the Lakeview Nine are 36-42 since July. Hardly great, but those Cubs completely reversed the May/June advantage of the Brewers. In fact, it’s now to the point where the entire difference between the Cubs and Brewers on the season can be explained by the first month of the season.

I don’t like reducing the Brewers’ season to April, and I don’t think that calling that stretch the Brewers’ sole hot streak (or good stretch) of baseball is accurate. Yet, the sheer numbers are simply necessary to process this collapse: a new spin shows that since April, the 62-71 Cubs are perfectly even with the 61-70 Brewers. That the Cubs improved should not be a surprise, given that their organization slowly improved the roster with top prospects throughout the year. The surprise lies entirely with the gang of seasoned veterans 90 miles north.

Last Series:
Cubs: Series Victory vs. Cardinals
Brewers: Series Loss @ Cincinnati

17 RS / 20 RA.

The Brewers loss on Thursday guaranteed another losing “10 Game Set,” as the Brewers are 3-6 in their last nine games. Our beloved Milwaukee Nine scored 17 runs over those nine games, which requires an absolute explosion on Friday night to recover their performance for this 10 Game Set: previously, the Brewers’ lowest scoring 10 Game Sets in 2014 were 27, 33, 33, and 34 runs scored. Ironically, the Brewers pitchers really showed up to fight in the last stretch of the season, and they are currently on pace to challenge for their very best 10 Game Set of the season, beating out 23, 26, 27, and 37 runs allowed. Ultimately, with the pitchers allowing only 20 runs over their last nine games, prompting eight games within one- or two-runs, it’s refreshing to know that at least some Brewers were ready to compete for a playoff spot down the stretch.

MLB Press Pass Probable Starters
Eric Jokisch (0-0, 10.3 IP, 4 R thus far in 2014) @ Matt Garza (1-1, 17.7 IP, 9 R, 1 quality start since returning from the DL)

Eric Jokisch is a Cubs organizational pitcher drafted in 2010 during the 11th round. The southpaw has worked a trio of games in Chicago, and will make his first MLB start against the Brewers. According to ESPN, Jokisch was touted by some in the Cubs organization as an unheralded hurler that can maximize three pitches. Theo Epstein himself praised Jokisch’s slider and change, although thus far the lefty throws his change nearly four times more frequently than his slider. Jakisch seems like a left-handed version of Kyle Hendricks: perhaps underappreciated by some, but ready to mix pitches and running fastballs when he reaches the big leagues.

With his last two outings, Matt Garza has fought his way back to average. With a solid outing against his former team. Garza can solidify one of his best seasons in a handful of years. In terms of innings pitched, some peripherals (like home run rate), and his overall value, Garza’s 2014 campaign is better than every season he has worked since 2011. This improvement — especially given Garza’s total workload — is a perfect sign for the beginning of Garza’s stay in Milwaukee, and with Yovani Gallardo’s resurgence, the Brewers have a solid starting core in the works for next year.

Tsuyoshi Wada (1-2, 25 IP, 13 R (20 K / 8 BB / 2 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS) @ Wily Peralta (1-3, 29.7 IP, 13 R (20 K / 11 BB / 1 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)

During his relatively rough September, Tsuyoshi Wada has swapped his slider and split. While he’s throwing both at a similar rate overall, he is currently favoring the splitter over the slider. It will be interesting to see which version of Wada the Brewers see to close the season: Wada has his pick of secondary pitching weapons, so one might expect him to double down on both his key breaking pitches to retire Brewers bats.

Wily Peralta has improved leaps and bounds in 2014, and one of the reasons is that he has been able to recover quickly from bad stretches of baseball. Most recently, Peralta closed August with some difficulty, but his September performance has been all around quality. Peralta will look to complete his season on a high note, and maybe even expand his 20+ run improvement in 2014. Improvements like Peralta’s make the Brewers’ collapse more difficult to digest, for if someone had told Brewers fans in March that Peralta would improve by more than two wins, Brewers fans would justifiably expect a strong team performance.

Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 29.7 IP, 12 R (16 K / 4 BB / 1 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Mike Fiers (2-3, 30.7 IP, 9 R (32 K / 9 BB / 3 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

BrooksBaseball is working on a Beta Feature that includes text descriptions of pitching arsenals, which is a step closer to linking colloquial pitching terminology with hard data. Yet, Hendricks’s fastball still shows some of the difficulties of running a classification system:

“His fourseam fastball generates a godly amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, generates a ridiculously high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has much less armside movement than typical, has below average velo and has some natural sinking action.”

Really, Hendricks does not throw a true four-seamer whatsoever, which makes the comparison with other four-seamers intriguing, but unreliable. Hendricks’s game is geared so much toward his sinker that even his “four-seam” or “primary” fastball is at best a “running” or “riding” fastball. In this regard, BrooksBaseball gets it right by citing “natural sinking action,” although it should have natural sinking action because Hendricks is a sinker pitcher. I don’t mean this as a criticism of BrooksBaseball — they cannot police every classification, they cannot design a system that perfectly classifies every single pitch thrown. Some slow curves will be called eephus pitches, even when they’re not, and some slow curves will be grouped with faster curves, even if they’re different pitches. The same especially goes for fastballs, which raises the question: why don’t we retire the “four-seam” / “two-seam” distinction, which is a technical and mechanical name, in favor of a more fluid rising / riding / running / sinking distinction?

Fastballer Mike Fiers has been unable to slay the last two aces he faced, but the righty remains solid on the mound. Fiers has been throwing slightly harder in September, but that does not change this new separation between his “fastball” and “cutter” in 2014. His cutter sits squarely in that realm between slider-and-cutter, breaking four inches down and four inches away from his rising fastball. According to BrooksBaseball, Fiers has also been throwing a “sinker” more consistently, as his velocity rises, although the pitch itself is more of a riding fastball. From Fiers’s extremely high delivery point, it’s difficult to deliver a true sinker to batters. But, with another pitch to offer batters, Fiers is suddenly turning his emergency replacement status into a strong campaign to start in 2015.

Resources
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Other news sources cited as linked.

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