If Brewers fans are mourning their club’s absence from the playoff picture, they can put aside those sour feelings for the next two weeks. Whether or not the Brewers’ own chances are worth bragging about, our Milwaukee Nine face off against NL Central foes for the next 13 games. Beginning with tonight’s series opener against the Reds, the Brewers face the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates after this four game set. What was once a stretch of the schedule that raised a contention challenge during preseason speculations is now ripe for baseball’s second best late season past-time: playing the spoiler.
Of course, the NL Central is a strange division in 2013. Strange, because the division’s top three clubs have a strong hold on three potential Senior Circuit playoff spots. Despite the complete Washington Nationals’ roster and their preseason hopes, or the competitive aspirations of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, the National League is shaping up to be a league of elites. Outside of the top five clubs angling for playoff spots, only Arizona has a winning record. Barring some crazy late season runs, the NL projects to have nine losing clubs in 2013. Many people questioned what might happen when NL clubs (especially in the Central) no longer had the Astros to pad their win totals; apparently, a set of elite clubs would dominate the remainder of the league.
The Brewers’ series against their division rivals are not “spoiler”-worthy in the traditional sense, where one club can knock a contender out of the playoffs. These divisional foes have solid paths to the playoffs at this moment. So, for the Brewers to play spoiler, they might at best change the order of the top Central clubs; at least, they have a chance to show they can hang with the best clubs in their division.
Thursday, August 15
Tony Cingrani: 87.7 IP, 102 K/37 BB/10 HR; 11 runs prevented
Kyle Lohse: 146.3 IP, 97 K/26 BB/20 HR; 12 runs prevented
What’s the most surprising element of Kyle Lohse‘s 2013 campaign? It seems to me that even Brewers fans and analysts who were optimistic about Lohse didn’t necessarily see him as a top rotation threat. Yet, headed into the stretch run, Lohse is on pace to fight for a top rotation ranking in the National League. Consider this:
-Lohse’s hits allowed has increased, but not as much as one might expect in Miller Park and in front of the Brewers’ defense.
-Lohse’s home runs allowed have increased, but only about as much as expected for Miller Park’s wild environment.
-Lohse’s walk rate has remained exceptionally low.
-Lohse’s strike out rate has remained stable from 2012.
So, the Brewers have a solid limit-the-damage pitcher in Lohse, one that is fighting for a spot at the table with other #1s in the 2013 NL. This is quite ironic, given that the remainder of the Brewers’ roster did not live up to their competitive expectations. Yet, the club was dead on about Lohse, as Mark Attanasio gambled a draft pick to land a rotational anchor. Which leads one to ask, where would this club be if the other areas of the club worked out as planned, but Lohse regressed? Is it better to mourn a free agency gamble that didn’t work out because he didn’t perform up to expectations, or is it better to mourn a free agency gamble that didn’t work out because the remainder of the roster headed south?
Friday, August 16
Mike Leake: 147.7 IP, 90 K/37BB/15 HR; 17 runs prevented
Tom Gorzelanny: 71.7 IP, 68 K/26 BB/7 HR; 9 runs prevented
Southpaw Tom Gorzelanny received quite a promotion during the 2013 season. Specifically, the lefty moved from potential trade bait as a left-handed bullpen arm, to swingman extraordinaire and anchor of the Brewers’ ragamuffin middle rotation. That the Brewers’ pitching has improved since May, and remained stable, is arguably thanks in part to Gorzelanny’s performance as swingman. It’s a rather nice sight for the Brewers’ rotation, for even as Gorzelanny’s performance has not been as strong recently as his June and early July, since the All-Star break he has hovered around average and generally kept games close for the Brewers. Quite a notable feat for a midseason replacement.
Saturday, August 17
Mat Latos: 154.0 IP, 154 K/46 BB/11 HR; 13 runs prevented
Yovani Gallardo: 128.3 IP, 101 K/51 BB/13 HR; -17 runs prevented
Is Mat Latos an ace? I ask because it’s a common refrain among Brewers fans that Franchise Starter Yovani Gallardo is not an ace. Latos is continuing his 2012 success this year, working on a campaign that will surely land him within the Top 20 among NL starters, and maybe even the Top 10. But, what of his 2011 season, when he ranked #35 in the league? As a dependable starter, here’s Latos’s 100+ IP season rankings (based on runs prevented against league/park):
Latos (2010-2012): #10, #35, #10
Gallardo (2009-2012): #17, #36, #26, #14
Gallardo’s strike outs are down, hits are up, and nothing seems to have gone right for the righty in 2013; it’s his first full season since the death of his mother, and while Brewers fans are quick to point to his DUI as a sign that things aren’t right with our Dependable Starter, surely a family death weighs heavier on the existential scale. Of course, Gallardo is a professional, and these things shouldn’t influence his performance, but he’s also a human, and a difficult year can manifest in many different ways. Anyway, fans are quick to use his 2013 campaign as evidence that Gallardo is not an ace — perhaps even to question his future with the club.
Are detours into the middle rotation excluded from acehood? One could argue that the definition of an “ace” logically excludes average seasons. For instance, Clayton Kershaw, he’s an ace. However, if Kershaw’s production is the definition of an ace, there have only been about a dozen (or so) aces in the last 50 years. But, what of those middle rotation, average seasons? Is a Top 40 ranking okay for an ace? Perhaps an ace is a pitcher who (a) consistently works full seasons, while (b) pitching within the Top 20 2 out of every 3 years (3 out of 4? 4 out of 5?). Since I’m more inclined toward the narrow definition, I have trouble with this idea. I’m inclined to say neither Gallardo nor Latos is an ace. 2013 shouldn’t change that fact.
Gallardo’s track record isn’t terribly far from that of Latos. His 2009 and 2012 campaigns were steps from Latos’s best, and like Latos, he had a detour into middle rotation production between his strong seasons. I think there’s an argument to be made that Latos is the better pitcher, but that’s not the point of this exercise. The point of this exercise is to show that even pitchers that might colloquially be regarded as aces take detours into the middle rotation, and also, that Yovani Gallardo is a better pitcher than Brewers fans have often given him credit.
Sunday, August 18
Homer Bailey: 156.0 IP, 153 K/36 BB/15 HR; 6 runs prevented
Wily Peralta: 144.3 IP, 94 K/54 BB/14 HR; -19 runs prevented
If prospect-turned-rotation workhorse Wily Peralta‘s season line of allowing 19 more runs than Miller Park/NL looks terrible, consider his line at the end of June. After the first three months of 2013, Peralta had allowed 70 runs in only 92 innings, which was nearly 30 runs below average at that point. Peralta’s season line will probably end up suggesting that he’s a replacement level pitcher for 2013, but his case will also be instructive about when and why clubs actually replace their starters. On the 2013 Brewers, with injuries to Chris Narveson, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and even Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo at some points, the Brewers simply needed one rotation spot without any fluctuation or added transactions. So, we have Peralta — and, if he keeps up his post-July pace, he could complete the season with 184 IP / 98 runs allowed. Still 13 runs below average, but a line that tells a more accurate story than, “Wily Peralta, replacement level starter.”
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2013.
IMAGE (USA Today)