With the Cubs only one game back, the Pirates creeping up at only three back, and the Cardinals sticking at 4.5 back, the heat is on. If you’re the Brewers, there is no more time to waste. These next series against the Phillies, Nationals, and Cubs before the trade deadline are the biggest three series in the year so far (obviously come September, there will be bigger ones). The Brewers need to at least win the series in Philly, take at least one against Washington, and win against the Cubs.
Let’s dig into what is actually going on with the Brewers now. They come out of the break taking two of three against Philly, but then dropping all four to a very average Pirates team. What those numbers don’t tell you, is that it could’ve easily been the other way around in Pittsburgh. The Brewers left almost 60 runners on base in four games against the Pirates. What that denotes is that they are hitting and getting on base, but not capitalizing when there are guys in scoring position. The Crew needs to do a better job of situational hitting. Some of these situations I’m talking about are like man on second, nobody out. In this situation a hitter has to lift the ball in the air to deep center or right field or at the very least a ground ball to the right side of the infield. That would lead to a man on third with one out and a much higher percentage of getting that run in. The Brewers in these situations have been striking out far too often. Over four games, the Brewers struck out 46 times. With the type of hitters the Brewers lineup is stacked with (long ball type guys), you expect high strikeout numbers, but the Brewers need to focus on shortening up their swings with two strikes and at least working the count a little more and fighting off more pitches at the plate. This in turn leads to more mistakes by starting pitchers as pitch counts get higher. It also makes pitchers come more to your hot part of the zone after 6 or 8 pitches.
One thing that I love that Counsell has done with the Brewers in the past couple of series and even all year, is shaking up the lineup and where guys are playing and hitting. He’s moved guys in and out as well as up and down the lineup. This allows for guys to stay fresh and not go into a rut at the plate or in the field. It may prevent some guys from getting hot at the plate, but so far this season that hasn’t been the case.
This leads me to believe that this Brewers team is different. I think the slump or crash that many Brewers fans are so afraid of is not going to happen with this team. As long as Counsell continues to keep the lineup fresh and the Brewers stay healthy (which so far this season they really haven’t), then I think we’re looking at a team that can compete for the division and stick with the more experienced teams like the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals.
Unfortunately as a franchise the Brewers are currently right in between buying and selling and that evident by the fact that David Sterns still hasn’t committed one way or the other. How these next three series play out (more likely the next two) will determine what Sterns does. From what it sounds like, the Crew is looking at Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander, personally I’d prefer Gray because he’s a bit younger and has another few years left on his deal. If the most unfortunate scenario happens and the Brewers continue the slump, I see them possibly selling a guy like Braun or Thames because of their age and the direction their going. Is that likely, no, but very much possible.
Another thing that has become relatively obvious to me is that the Brewers bullpen is not at a playoff level and needs to improve. I think most people would say the Brewers really have 3-4 solid relievers that they can count on day in and day out to perform consistently. Besides that the rest of the bullpen has been average at best and guys like Torres (and earlier this season Feliz) have not impressed many fans in Milwaukee. If the Brewers were to get another arm in the bullpen I think it would help them greatly, but the only guys who have recently popped up in talks with the Brewers are closers Addison Reed and Justin Wilson. It would be nice to see the Brewers possibly get a Wilson and Verlander package deal to really solidify their rotation and back end of the bullpen. The only issue with a package deal like that is you most likely either take on the massive two years left on Verlander’s deal or give up a lot of young talent that the Brewers have been committed to keeping. Assuming the Brewers don’t make a move though, we could see much of the same from the Crew that we saw in Pittsburgh.
In the end my prediction is that the Brewers win the next two versus the Phillies and in turn pick up at least another game on the Cubs. Next they would have a massive series against the National League powerhouse, the Washington Nationals. I see Milwaukee carrying some momentum into that series and snagging one on the road. If they can do that, I feel confident that they will know how important that series is against the Cubs to close out July.