Last week, I wrote a post suggesting that teams similar to the 2012 Brewers — strong other than their bullpens — are primed for future success. That future was supposed to refer to 2013, not right now. But here we are, the Brewers are 20-10 over their last 30 games and right back in the Wild Card conversation.
The offense and rotation have been good to great over this stretch, of course — the Brewers now lead the National League in runs scored at 678 — but the team has been solid in these areas the entire season. The club is now outscoring opponents 541-471 in the first seven innings. If the Brewers were playing high school baseball, they’d have a Pythagorean record of .569, a 92-win mark.
So just be all right in the eighth and ninth — the realm of the bullpen — and the team should be great. And over those last 30 days, the bullpen has been just fine — maybe even good, depending on how you look at it.
The Brewers check in at 14th in ERA at 3.47 and have a respectable 0.43 WPA. Deeper looks find even more positive trends. The Brewers check in second in FIP over the last 30 days at 2.77, just behind the Tigers (2.75). Their 9.6 K/9 is sixth in the league. They have 27 shutdowns against just nine meltdowns (win probably-based analogues to saves/holds and blown saves) — fourth and seventh in the league respectively.
The Brewers have four relievers (John Axford, Jose Veras, Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon Kintzler) with ERAs under 3.00 in this stretch. They have six (Axford, Veras, Rodriguez, Jim Henderson, Kameron Loe and Livan Hernandez) with strikeout rates of one per inning or higher.
When this bullpen was assembled, it was supposed to live on guys like Axford, Veras and Rodriguez with electric strikeout stuff. However, these power pitchers have tendencies to struggle with their control — and the Brewers bullpen has still been somewhat loose with the free passes even in this good stretch, with a 3.7 BB/9 that ranks ninth highest in the league. But these pitchers are also capable of blowing away enough batters that they should be able to strand runners once they reach. Finally, they have — a 72.9% strand rate that matches up right with the league average compared to 69.4% for the whole season.
The Brewers sit four back with 20 to play, and as such they likely need to at least pull off a 14-6 record (.700 winning percentage) or better to make the playoffs — even with as poor as the Cardinals and the rest of the Wild Card contending teams have been playing, hoping for all of them to go under .500 is probably too much. The offense and starting pitching can get them most of the way there. The bullpen just needs to hold on to what it’s been doing over the last month.