A cynic might say that sweeping the Houston Astros is not anything to write home about. Yet, the Brewers entered their latest series with a 4-4 season record against the Astros. The Milwaukee nine squeezed out an 8-7 victory on Monday, and responded with two blowouts. Finally, after a tumultuous week of bullpen implosions and close losses, the Brewers’ offense scored runs in bunches, the starting pitchers worked strong outings, and the bullpen allowed 2 runs over 5 IP — not bad! Yesterday, the Brewers capped the series with a 13-4 victory, thanks to a strong outing by Fastballer Michael Fiers and a gang of extra base hits.
The Brewers’ offense scored 128 runs in the month of July, despite a brief swoon in the middle of the month. Despite scoring 5 or more runs in 14 games throughout July — and boasting a 128 RS / 124 RA differential — the Brewers posted a 12-14 record for the month. Some of the Brewers’ offensive outbursts corresponded with the worst of the bullpen meltdowns, including Phillies’ 21-18 sweep of the Brewers, and the Nationals’ recent 11-10 victory. In those 14 high-scoring affairs, the Brewers only managed a 9-5 record.
One of my continued themes throughout the season is the idea that the Brewers are simply not firing on any cylinders. When one, or even two, areas of the team are playing well, it seems that the other does not synchronize with those good efforts. Not surprisingly, the Brewers’ opponents have not outscored the Brewers during a full month since April, but the Brewers have turned a 381 RS / 360 RA differential from May-to-present into a 37-44 record. In one way, these strong offensive performances and the strong run differential should help us to feel better about the Brewers’ chances of competing in the future. Not that that should diffuse our disappointment in the Brewers’ 2012 outcomes.
Y’all are probably sick of this by now, but Rickie Weeks is not only among my favorite Brewers, he is making a compelling offensive comeback this season.
Weeks’s produced poor results during the first 183 PA of the season. His rough April and May campaign resulted in 58 K / 25 BB / 4 HR / 3 HBP, meaning that he batted the ball into play only 50.8% of his plate appearances. Overall, he managed a .155/.284/.284 batting line from April 6 to May 23, leading many Brewers fans to clamor for a replacement.
When Milwaukee hit the road at the end of May, Weeks’s plate approach took a radical turn. Weeks only batted the ball into play 48.3% of his plate appearances from May 25 through May 31, but the Brewers’ second baseman dramatically increased his walk rate. Overall, in 29 PA, Weeks struck out 7 times, walked 6 times, and hit 1 HR. Despite batting .182, Weeks reached a .708 OPS, thanks to his .345 OBP and .364 SLG.
After that roadtrip, Weeks went through a few hot and cold stretches, but his batting results were less extreme. Overall, his season averages were on the rise, culminating during a scorching hot July in which Weeks batted .272/.380/.533 — thanks to 9 2B and 5 HR in 108 PA. Since that roadtrip finished, Weeks batted .263/.364/.457. During that time, Weeks split 53 K against 23 BB and 7 HR (with 7 HBP, too), resulting in an extreme 41.5% batted-ball-in-play rate.
If Weeks is not a contact hitter, and does not rely on batting the ball into play for his hitting value, he hit the non-contact jackpot over the last two months. Instead of extremely high walk rates and strike out rates, the cornerstone of Weeks’s recent batting results is the extra base hit. Compared to 23 walks, 21 of Weeks’s plate appearances from June-to-present resulted in an extra base hit. This completely changes the appearance of his strike outs — if a batter hits home runs at a 3%+ rate, and nearly 43% of his hits are for extra bases, those batting results make high strike out totals completely worthwhile. Furthermore, we can see Weeks’s discipline paying off; Weeks will frequently wait for his pitch and refuse to swing at just about anything else. Over the last two months, Weeks is reminding us why that approach is valuable.
Junkballin’ Mike Fiers
Michael Fiers throws one of the slowest fastballs in the National League, but he throws his fastball and cutter more frequently than most starting pitchers in the NL. Yesterday, Fiers worked six good innings against the Astros, allowing 2 runs overall. If Fiers keeps up his approach that he used to stifle the Houston nine, we might have to start calling him “Curveballing Mike Fiers.” According to TexasLeaguers, 32 of Fiers’ 102 pitches were curveballs, against 50 fastballs and only 13 cutters.
Perhaps this is a good sign for Fiers’s future in the National League. Not only is he an aggressive pitcher that limits the damage and doesn’t beat himself with walks, but he is also flexible with his pitching approach. By throwing in that 72-73 MPH curveball, Fiers has a legitimate change of speeds against his 88 MPH fastball, 85 MPH cutter, and 82-83 MPH change up.
Minor League Round Up
Nashville 7, Fresno 5
Last night, Nashville endured two blown saves to outlast the Fresno Grizzlies in 11 innings. Brian Baker allowed 3 runs over 5 IP for the Sounds, and five relievers closed out the ballgame. New acquisition Fautino De Los Santos and Mitch Stetter each blew leads in the 7th and 8th innings, but Juan Perez and Jesus Sanchez held off Fresno over the remaining frames.
Khris Davis continued to celebrate his promotion to Nashville, bashing a homer, double and single in 6 AB. Davis batted .383/.481/.694 in Huntsville before the Brewers promoted him to Music City.
Huntsville 5, Chattanooga 1
Johnny Hellweg pitched a strong debut for the Brewers’ organization, striking out 7 and walking 2 over 5 frames for the Stars (he allowed 1 run).Jean Segura went 2-for-3, and scored a run for Huntsville. Lee Haydel lead the Stars with 2 runs scored, thanks to a 2-for-4 evening.
Brevard County 2, Jupiter 0
As much as I love to hype Segura and Hellweg, the real star on the Brewers’ farm was Taylor Jungmann. The Brewers’ star prospect held the Hammerheads scoreless over 7, on 5 hits and 1 walk. Jungmann struck out 7 throughout his outing. Shea Vucinich and Franklin Romero, Jr. accounted for both of the Manatees’ runs.
Burlington 3, Wisconsin 1
The Bees edged the Timber Rattlers in the 9th inning yesterday, spoiling a strong start by David Goforth. Despite 4 walks and 4 strike outs, Goforth limited Burlington to 1 run over 7 innings. Chadwin Stang scored for Wisconsin, batted in by Lance Roenicke.
Helena 7, Billings 6
The Helena Brewers beat the Mustangs in thrilling fashion, scoring 5 comeback runs in the last of the 9th. Helena took advantage of Billings’ inefficient defense and Alejandro Chacin‘s wildness to kickstart their scoring in the 9th. After a run scored on a botched force attempt, Chacin hit Andres Martinez and walked Christopher McFarland. Chacin collected his second out followed the McFarland walk, but Helena won the game on a couple of singles.
AZL Athletics 4, AZL Brewers 2
The Athletics rookies beat the Brewers’ draftees, but Eduard Reyes pitched well for the Brewers’ nine. Reyes walked no one and struck out 3 over 5 innings. Clint Coulter went 2-4 and scored a run, and Edgardo Rivera scored the other run for the Arizona Brewers.
Jungmann: Image courtesy Brevard County Manatees/Dennis Greenblatt/Hawk-Eye Sports Photography.