Look out, .500! The Brewers are storming their way back to sea level with a thrilling, competitive brand of baseball. Yesterday, the Brewers took the series from the St. Louis Cardinals, escaping the 4-3 game with their fourth victory in six games. The Brewers’ march to the playoffs continues in Cincinnati tomorrow, where the Brewers face the Reds for a three game set. Whether you’re skeptical about the Brewers’ chances to win or not, it certainly is thrilling to see the Milwaukee nine win some close ballgames.Just Enough
The Brewers’ offense averaged 4.57 RS/G during June, which is easily their best mark of the season. Until now! Through 14 games in July, the Brewers boast 69 RS, good for just over 4.90 RS/G. The run scoring follows the pulse of the game, whether it’s 2-1 victories or 13-12 victories (and that was within the first few days of the month!). If it seems like the Brewers don’t ever stop playing one-run games, you’re correct — half of the Brewers’ games in July have been decided by one-run.
Despite some offensive explosions at the hands of the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brewers are typically performing well in low-scoring affairs this month. The Brewers are 3-2 when they score between 3-5 runs during July, and they hung on to win one of their three games in which they scored 2 or fewer runs.
As a result, the Brewers are 5-2 in one-run games during July, a strong correction over their previous month (after going 4-8 in one-run games during June). It’s especially nice to see the Brewers rattle off two consecutive one-run victories after Monday night’s difficult blown lead. Perhaps a reminder that the team is indeed playing better — after April, the club scored 309 runs against 293 runs allowed (with an unfortunate 33-35 mark over that time). Now, the Brewers are taking those improvements and converting them into wins after the break.
Division Championship or bust!
Over the course of the season, I have tried to show the Rickie Weeks maintained his extreme discipline/non-contact approach during his prolonged slump. The Brewers’ second baseman generates his production by working deep counts, swinging to drive the ball, and not swinging at anything that he does not fancy. Weeks is one of the MLB’s prototypical “non-contact” bats, meaning that he does not specifically rely on batting the ball in play to produce. Instead, to yield bigtime power (especially home runs), he engages in an approach that also yields high walk and strike out rates.
Although Weeks seems to be colloquially known as one of the “free swingers” among Brewers fans, he is technically one of the Brewers’ most disciplined bats.
Since Weeks worked on an extreme west-coast roadtrip to close May, one in which he hardly collected a handful of hits while managing to get on base at a significant rate, the second baseman is hitting at a strong rate. Weeks is bashing the ball recently, which might lead one to suspect that he’s doing something differently.
Thus far, Weeks saw 227 offerings in July, maintaining a pitch-per-plate appearance rate near 4. Weeks swung at approximately 102 of those pitches, which yields a rather high (for Weeks) swing rate of 44.9%. Of those swings, only 25 were outside the zone (overall, Weeks saw more than 130 pitches outside the strike zone in July, which means that overall, he swung at less than 19% of pitches outside the zone during this month).
This is pure Weeks — extremely disciplined, deep counts, low swing percentage, big power. Which leads me to ask a new question: to what extent can we expect slumps from extreme non-contact hitters, compared to other types of MLB hitters?
Yesterday, Brewers prospect Tyler Thornburg worked his second career MLB start. The righty did not work deep into the game, and although he allowed 2 HR and 4 BB in 4.7 IP, he did not allow more than 2 runs for the day. John Axford began his exile in the 5th inning, stranding a runner for Thornburg and helping the youngster limit the damage for the day.
For the most part, Thornburg worked fastball/curveball against the Cardinals. Those two pitches comprised 88% of his total offerings during the afternoon affair. The fastball averaged a shade under 92 MPH, while Thornburg’s curve averaged just over 76 MPH (according to Joe Block, Thornburg throws two distinct curveballs at times, but neither Brooks Baseball nor Texas Leaguers reflect this distinction).
Is it possible that Thornburg throws too many strikes? Isolating Thornburg’s fastball and curve(s), Thornburg threw 56 of 90 pitches in the zone. The Cardinals managed four walks despite the rookie’s tendency to throw the ball in the zone, and they also knocked out a couple of homers. I wonder whether Thornburg’s focus on two pitches, working in the zone, results in an increased awareness of the strike zone for batters. That is, if MLB hitters only need to worry about two major pitches, and those pitches are in the strike zone more than 60% of the time during an outing, perhaps the bounds of the strike zone become clearer. Of course, I also gather that it’s easier for a batter to anticipate the next offering when he only needs to decide between two pitches.