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Thursday, August 24th 2017
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CCC covering the Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers Week in Review: 8/7-8/13

The Brewers suffered a heartbreaker to end their last week of games, giving up a Steven Souza Jr. home run on August 6th to blow a chance at a series sweep. However, the Twins along with Cincinnati Reds allowed for a great chance to bounce back. Well, at least on the surface. The Crew would lose all four games, both at home and away, against their border rival before taking a 2-to-1 series win against the Reds. Despite a 2-5 week, though, fans are now suddenly optimistic, as it appears the offense (for now) may be clicking again. In the coming series, we’ll see if that trend is here to stay or if it was just a side effect of playing the Reds that many teams have experienced this season.

With that being said, let’s take a moment to look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: vs. Pittsburgh (8/15-8/16) and @ Colorado (8/18-8/20)

Pitching matchups vs. Pittsburgh: Ivan Nova (10-9, 3.87 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (13-6, 4.40 ERA); Gerrit Cole (10-8, 3.96 ERA) vs. Jimmy Nelson (9-6, 3.72 ERA)

Pitching matchups @ Colorado: TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

Rollie Fingers Award for First-Team All-Swagger (player that went out “balls to the wall”)

Winner: Keon Broxton

“I think I got my swagger back” said Jay-Z, as well as Keon Broxton this week (probably). Keon had one of his best weeks of the season this past week, for sure his best since returning to the big leagues after his time in Colorado Springs. After all, two home runs will do that for you. And while 5-for-20 may not seem like much (comes out to a .250 average), a guy who went on a truly awful stretch for a time like Broxton did will take that any day of the week.

The Robin Yount Award for Pure and Utter Dominance (Most Dominant Player)

Winner: Ryan Braun

Going into August 1st, the face of the franchise was hitting just .265 and had fans once again doubting whether the big contract that the club gave him was worth it. Well, his beginning to August has proved the kind of player Brewers fans roared for all those years may still be in there somewhere. Braun enters Tuesday’s matchup having raised his average all the way to .295 in just 13 games. He exploded once again this week for a 15-for-29 clip (.517) with 1 home run and 2 RBI. A date with division foe Pittsburgh as well as the hitters’ haven known as Coors Field, fans can possibly expect Braun’s new-found hitting prowess to continue.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Corey Knebel

There wasn’t much to choose from here, was there? The fewest amount of runs that the Brewers gave up in a game this week was four, leaving a reliever likely to take this spot this week. Not only did Knebel nab his first win in Saturday’s 6-5 extra inning win (in a two-inning effort no less), he also recorded a save to take the series against the Reds on Sunday. Overall, Evil Knebel’s 4 punch outs over 3 innings and key roles in a pair of big victories make him the best pitcher of the week.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Lewis Brinson (Brewers No. 1 Prospect; MLB.com’s #15 overall): .331, 22 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 11 SB (76 games)

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .287, 12 2B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 7 SB (40 games played with CS)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .318, 22 2B, 10 3B, 17 HR, 71 RBI, 6 SB (91 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #79 overall): 4-6, 3.98 ERA, 81.1 IP, 72 K, 32 BB, 1.18 WHIP, .216 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.10 ERA, 64.1 IP, 67 K, 10 BB, 0.92 WHIP, .208 AVG

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect): .167, 2 3B, 1 BB, 1 SB (5 games)

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #67 overall): .242, 24 2B, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 21 SB at A Adv Carolina (95 games)

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #92 overall): .344, 9 2B, 2 3B, 15 RBI, 2 SB at A Wisconsin (23 games)

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .240, 26 2B, 13 HR, 67 RBI at A Adv Carolina (112 games)

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 3-4, 4.83 ERA, 63.1 IP, 52 K, 25 BB, 1.33 WHIP, .249 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect): .242, 14 2B, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 9 SB at A Wisconsin (88 games)

King of the Diamond- Week of 8/7-8/13

If this is your first time checking out King of the Diamond pieces, here’s what you can look forward to seeing:

Every week we will look at which Milwaukee Brewer stood out from a game changing performance, or provided consistent production over the previous week. We will do the same for one other player within the NL Central (Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates).

The Crew squandered their division lead this week, losing as many as six in a row dating back to August 6th. They finally snapped that streak with back-to-back wins against the Reds, but still sit behind the Cubs and the Cardinals in the division with the Pirates close behind. The Brewers have a huge pair of games coming up against the Pirates that are arguably must win games before heading West to take on the Rockies, Giants, and Dodgers in a 10-day road trip.

King of the Diamond- Ryan Braun

Image result for ryan braun

Braun has really found his stroke as of late, currently sporting an eight-game hitting streak, in which all but one have been multi-hit games. His batting average saw a huge spike over the past week, jumping from .264 to .295 on the season. This is a good sign for the Brewers who have been struggling offensively. Braun’s bat is a necessity for the Brewers offensive success going forward, and they need him to stay healthy at all costs.

King of the Diamond- Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals

Image result for paul dejong

Paul DeJong has been destroying opposing pitchers in the Cardinals resurgence into the NL Central race. DeJong has been a huge part in the eight-game win streak that came to an end this past Sunday. Similar to Braun, his average saw a nice jump from .283 to .297 and he drove in eight runs this past week on a Cardinal team that plated 67 runs since last Sunday. The Cardinals have made the case to be one of Major League Baseball’s hottest teams, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Saint Louis opens up a difficult road trip this week, making stops in Boston and Pittsburgh.

 

Scooter Gennett: The One That Got Away

Hindsight is 20/20, as we all know. However, that does nothing to soften the blow when decisions fail and backfire.

The Brewers made a significant, yet not completely unexpected move in late March by waiving second baseman Scooter Gennett. A multitude of factors contributed to this decision. First and foremost, the Brewers owed Gennett a $2.5 million salary. For a to-be minor league second baseman, that generally does not fly, and with no opening at the position apparent in the near future, it did not make sense to the front office to keep Gennett on the books.

Second, the Brewers planned on giving the shortstop slot to Orlando Arcia, thereby forcing Jonathan Villar off the position. With Villar’s breakout season as a near 4-win player in 2016, he needed to find a home in the field. That home ended up being second base, simultaneously pushing Gennett out.

Third, with Gennett on the outside looking in, he did not have a pedigree of positional versatility (e.g. Hernan Perez) or a recent history of high-level offensive aptitude (e.g. Jesus Aguilar) to warrant a spot on the Brewers’ Opening Day roster. The rest is history.

Should the Brewers have waived Gennett? At the time, it made perfect sense. The decision-making was as sound as can be. But as previously stated, hindsight is 20/20, and this is one decision that a Brewers team lacking in production from second base sure would like to have back.

It’s no secret second base has been a dumpster fire as of late for the Crew. After coming into the season with probably the most hype of any Brewer, Villar has struggled mightily, hitting .213/.272/.332. He sports a wRC+ of 54, meaning he is 46% worse than the league average as a hitter. Villar’s defensive metrics rate him as a below average option at the position as well. Simply put, he has failed to capitalize on his breakout 2016 season, starting to make last year look like an outlier.

On the other hand, Eric Sogard came into the year with absolutely zero hype, but emerged as a nice option at second base in May and June. Over the first half, he hit .338/.449/.500 with a wRC+ of 151, making him one of the best offensive options not only at the second base position, but at any position in the league across that time frame. However, Sogard hit the DL following a left ankle injury. To say he has struggled since his return would be an understatement; he’s languished. Hitting .061/.139/.061, he has a wRC+ of -48 since the All-Star break.

What could make this situation any worse? The fact that Scooter Gennett, the second baseman that very well could be on the roster, is currently mashing for the in-division Cincinnati Reds.

Highlighted by a record-setting four-home-run-game, Gennett has enjoyed a resurgent 2017 campaign. Hitting .292/.342/.540 with a wRC+ of 126, he has been everything you can hope for offensively from a second baseman. Slotted into the Brewers line-up as it now stands, Gennett would provide a significant boost.

Additionally, remember reason number one Gennett was let go? The money? Well, the Brewers currently have the second-lowest payroll in the league according to USA Today, sitting just north of $61 million. I understand the Brewers might have not wanted to waste a 40-man roster spot on Gennett, but spending $2.5 million extra for a player who could have made a difference during the season seems to make too much sense, in retrospect.

As unfair as it may seem, this whole saga hinges on the play of Jonathan Villar. Second base was not supposed to be a position of need, and his struggles have placed the Brewers in a tricky situation. However, just as the sun is sure to rise, most players are sure to regress, and that is part of what makes the game of baseball so tantalizing. Finding those players that can maintain high levels of production over several years remains at the core of player acquisition and development. By no means is Gennett one of those players; at least he has not proven himself to be. The reasoning for the decision to waive Gennett holds, and makes sense given the current culture of the organization. But with a rebuilding team, all possible hands need to be on deck in my humble opinion.  Gennett is hitting his high stride right now, just as Villar seemingly hit his last season, and it is unfortunate that Gennett was given the boot during a season in which he could have played a pivotal role.

Brewers Week In Review: 8/1-8/6

Two things are true when it comes to this week of Brewers baseball. First, the Brewers scored 15 runs in 6 games (or only 2.5 per game). However, the Crew also managed to pull off a record of 4-2 against the Cardinals and Rays behind solid pitching performances carrying a suddenly anemic looking Milwaukee offense. In addition, the Crew continued to keep pace with the first place Chicago Cubs. Now, with a winnable stretch of games coming up over the next 10 days, the Brewers need to take advantage and make their next move now, or it could be “checkmate” from Chicago before they know it.

With that being said, let’s take a moment to look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: @ Minnesota (8/7-8/8), vs. Minnesota (8/9-8/10) and vs. Cincinnati (8/11-8/13)

Pitching matchups @ Minnesota: Brent Suter (2-2, 3.04 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.28 ERA); Matt Garza (5-5, 3.68 ERA) vs. Adalberto Mejia (4-5, 4.30 ERA)

Pitching matchups vs. Minnesota: Bartolo Colon (3-9, 7.32 ERA) vs. Brandon Woodruff (1-0, 0.00 ERA); Kyle Gibson (6-9, 6.03 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (13-5, 4.18 ERA)

Pitching matchups vs. Cincinnati: TBD vs. Jimmy Nelson (9-5, 3.24 ERA); TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

Rollie Fingers Award for First-Team All-Swagger (player that went out “balls to the wall”)

Winner: Orlando Arcia

The main man, at last, makes his return! Once again, Arcia showed off his incredible defensive skills and effort in Milwaukee’s 2-0 win over Tampa Bay on Friday. After Evan Longoria hit a double down the left field line, everyone and their mother likely thought that the runner from first, Corey Dickerson, was going to score fairly comfortably. However, no one told the Brewers that. After a solid throw from Ryan Braun to start the relay, Arcia unleased the cannon, throwing a halfway to home Dickerson out from over 100 feet away with an absolute strike to Manny Pina to end the inning. He followed that up with a first pitch home run in the 8th inning off of Rays reliever Sergio Romo to help seal a big win for Milwaukee. Oh, and did we mention that all of this came on Arcia’s 23rd birthday?

The Robin Yount Award for Pure and Utter Dominance (Most Dominant Player)

Winner: Orlando Arcia

For the first time in the week in review, a player has won two awards in the same week. Looking at the performance of Arcia, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it. Not only did he have a fantastic 23rd birthday performance, he also had a solid week. While he didn’t start off very well for the week (0-for-4 against the Cardinals on Tuesday), he used the rest of the week to make up for it. He finished 8-for-21 (.380) with two home runs and 3 RBIs in leading the Brewers to the aforementioned 4-2 record. As far as the fans around social media who say he should me moved up in the order go: if Arcia keeps putting performances like this, he could stay in the bottom of the order for as long as he wants.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Brandon Woodruff

August 4th was a long time coming for Mr. Woodruff. Now, for pro players, everyone looks forward to the day where they can put on that uniform and play in a Major League Baseball game. However, Brandon Woodruff had a different experience than most, because this was, effectively, his second debut. On June 13th, the Brewers were playing the first game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. As a result, they were allowed a 26th roster member, which came in handy on this day. Less than half an hour before he was to begin pitching, Woodruff was scratched with a tight hamstring, replaced by current rotation stronghold Brent Suter. So, on Friday, Woodruff gave fans what they had been waiting on for nearly two months. Over 6.1 innings, Woodruff threw 97 pitches while giving up 7 hits and two walks along with six strikeouts. The most impressive of all? No runs allowed. The Brewers would end up winning the game 2-0, putting the icing on top of a debut to remember for the right-hander.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Lewis Brinson (Brewers No. 1 Prospect; MLB.com’s #15 overall): .335, 22 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 11 SB (71 games)

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .287, 11 2B, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB (35 games played with CS)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .310, 19 2B, 9 3B, 17 HR, 69 RBI, 6 SB (85 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #79 overall): 4-5, 3.57 ERA, 80.2 IP, 72 K, 31 BB, 1.13 WHIP, .207 Opponent AVG (No starts as of publishing)

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.12 ERA, 59.1 IP, 61 K, 9 BB, 0.88 WHIP, .199 AVG

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #67 overall): .239, 24 2B, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 21 SB at A Adv Carolina

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #93 overall): .375, 8 2B, 2 3B, 11 RBI, 2 SB at A Wisconsin (18 games)

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .243, 25 2B, 12 HR, 65 RBI at A Adv Carolina

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 3-3, 4.78 ERA, 58.1 IP, 50 K, 21 BB, 1.27 WHIP, .240 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect; No. 19 last week): .269, 36 2B, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 7 SB at A Adv Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect; No. 26 last week): .243, 14 2B, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 8 SB at A Wisconsin

Brewers Minor League Review: July

Note: Stats reflect July performances unless otherwise noted. 

Colorado Springs Sky Sox (AAA)

Record: 64-43, 15-12 in July

MVP: Mauricio Dubon (.304/.354/.511, 17 RBI, 6 SB)

Summary:

July has been a turbulent month for the Sky Sox. They have permanently lost two of their top hitters to trades (Garrett Cooper and Ryan Cordell), while top prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips have been bounced back and forth between Colorado and Milwaukee. In addition, the Sky Sox gained Keon Broxton from the Crew, as he had been sent down to work through his offensive struggles, but he now finds himself back in Milwaukee to resume his duties as their starting centerfielder.

The Sky Sox offense has continued to be elite in July. Besides Mauricio Dubon, this lineup boasts numerous potent contributors. Utility infielder Ivan De Jesus hit .361/.407/.494; organizational depth outfielder Kyle Wren hit .337/.414/.459 with 11 stolen bases; and, despite the merry-go-round of call-ups they have experienced in July, outfielders Brett Phillips (.364/.438/.691, 4 HR, 13 RBI in 14 games) and Lewis Brinson (.414/.468/.671) have been incredible when in the line-up. Brinson currently resides with Milwaukee, but could see himself back in Colorado if he struggles.

The pitching staff has remained steady throughout the month; they will benefit greatly from the return of top-100 prospect Brandon Woodruff after his DL stint. Former first-rounder Taylor Jungmann faced some trouble after a good month of July, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in five starts. Bubba Derby has been solid since being called up from Double-A Biloxi, achieving a 1.12 WHIP and holding hitters to a .211 batting average, both indicating his performance has been better than the 3.81 ERA he sported for the month. Additionally, Angel Ventura proved solid in four July starts, going 3-2 with a 4.15 ERA. Wei Chung Wang (1.69 ERA) anchored the bullpen and now finds himself in Milwaukee’s bullpen.

This team continues to be the cream of Milwaukee’s minor league crop, in terms of success. They should challenge for a Pacific Coast League title come September; however, it will be interesting to see if they can handle the stresses of an ever-changing lineup that has lost two huge contributors.

Biloxi Shuckers (AA)

Record: 53-54, 12-17 in July

MVP: Aaron Wilkerson (3-1, 2.25 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 31 K in 32 IP)

Summary:

The Shuckers offense, already thin on production, lost arguably their two biggest contributors in shortstop Mauricio Dubon (promoted to Triple-A) and outfielder Michael Choice (sold to the KBO League). Accordingly, they do not have much left. One bright spot was speedy outfielder Johnny Davis, who hit .322/.361/.426 with 10 stolen bases. He lacks the power to be anything more than an on base guy, but he boasts elite speed that could help him find a spot on an MLB roster in the future. The struggles continued for former first-round pick Clint Coulter (.204/.257/.387), and top catching prospect Jacob Nottingham took a nose dive after a successful month of June, hitting .152/.278/.303. The Shuckers should benefit from the recent promotion of outfield prospect Troy Stokes Jr. to their roster, a power-speed threat who hit .289/.387/.500 in 24 games with Class-A Advanced Carolina in the month of July. Outfielder Tyrone Taylor, a former top prospect in the organization, also returned from the DL near the end of the month and has performed well.

The pitching staff held up their end of the bargain. Starters Corbin Burnes, Aaron Wilkerson, Luis Ortiz, and Freddy Peralta form the crux of a rotation that dares to be matched by any other in the Southern League. Ortiz dazzled in his final two starts of the month, allowing 5 hits, 1 run, and striking out 13 batters over 13 innings pitched. Aaron Wilkerson dominated in a complete game two-hitter on July 23rd. Freddy Peralta continued to rack up the strikeouts, punching out 41 batters in 31 and 2/3 innings while pitching to a 2.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and .179 batting average against. And finally, breakout pitcher Corbin Burnes ran into some trouble in his final two starts of the month, but still finished with a 3.24 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in five starts. In Ortiz, Peralta, and Burnes, this Shuckers team has three starters that the organization is very high on, and we could see those three in the big leagues in some capacity as soon as later next year, whether it be in the bullpen or the rotation. Nick Ramirez continued to be the jewel of the bullpen, as the lefty pitched to a 0.54 ERA and 0.66 WHIP in 16.2 innings of relief, holding opposing batters to a .155 batting average.

Carolina Mudcats (Class-A Advanced)

Record: 55-52, 14-15 in July

MVP: Trey Supak (2-1, 2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .210 batting average against)

Summary:

While being stocked with top prospects, especially on the offensive side, the Mudcats continued to struggle to play to their potential in July. Outfielder Trent Clark led the offense with his patient eye at the plate (.240/.360/.423, 10 SB). Outfielder Monte Harrison adjusted well after his promotion from Class-A Wisconsin, hitting .238/.315/.438 with four home runs. Infielder Isan Diaz improved from his horrendous June, hitting .266/.405/.383. However, three prospects were shadows of themselves: Jake Gatewood, Lucas Erceg, and Corey Ray. After a resurgent June, Erceg slid back down to a .230 average for the month, but still managed a .452 slugging percentage. He will need to improve his plate discipline, as he garnered only five walks in 113 at-bats. Gatewood, while not wholly unimpressive, hit .255/.311/.382, a far cry from the vast improvement he displayed at the plate over the first two months of the year. Finally, Corey Ray has been absolutely lost lately, hitting .193/.265/.307 for the month. For the fifth pick in last year’s MLB Draft, that line is extremely concerning, especially given that this is Ray’s second taste of Class-A Advanced. These three need to improve, especially Erceg and Ray who are considered to be part of the future core.

The picture looks a bit brighter for the club’s top pitching prospects. Kodi Mederios showed marked improvement. A .183 batting average against and a 0.98 WHIP accompanied his 4.04 ERA, offering hope that he is finally getting back on track and just running into a bit of bad luck. Trey Supak seems to have adjusted to Class-A Advanced after a second month at the level, going 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA in six games (four starts). Nate Griep has continued to shut down the ninth inning, giving up no runs in eight appearances and accumulating four saves. On the contrary to these success stories, Marcos Diplan went 2-2 with a 5.16 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP. As one of 2016’s breakout performers, Diplan’s showing this year has been disappointing to say the least.

This team still has time to live up to their potential, but it is concerning how pronounced and prolonged the struggles of some of their top prospects have been. Hopefully it all comes together soon.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Class-A)

Record: 43-63, 12-15 in July

MVP: Thomas Jankins (3-0, 0.86 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, .164 batting average against)

Summary:

This team is starting to turn it around. Aided by the addition of 2017 first-rounder Keston Hiura (.408/.420/.592), this is starting to look like a dangerous lineup. Weston Wilson has anchored the middle of the order, hitting .305/.365/.524 with 4 HR and 22 RBI. Tucker Neuhaus (.288/.338/.485) is starting to show the promise that made him a 2nd Round draft pick. The offense also will be aided by the promotion of outfielder Zach Clark, who hit .263/.370/.432 at Rookie-Level Helena before his recent call-up. Contrary to all this success, catcher Mario Feliciano has taken a huge step back, hitting .192/.263/.288 over the month. The long season seems to be wearing down the 18-year-old catcher, which everyone knew was a strong possibility going into the year. In addition, shortstop Devin Hairston, this year’s sixth round draft choice, has labored to a .163/.281/.225 in his introduction to professional baseball.

The arms have fallen into line as well. Zack Brown carried over his standout performance from June, going 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 36 strikeouts in six games. Thomas Jankins was the most impressive of the bunch, absolutely tearing apart the Midwest League. 19-year-old Carlos Herrera (2-0, 2.21 ERA, .136 batting average against) pitched extraordinarily well given that this is his first action above rookie-level ball. Josh Pennington (4.26 ERA) is showing well in his first action this season after coming off the disabled list. While this team’s staff does not have the hype of some of the other Brewers’ affiliates, they are quietly making quite a statement with their success.

Rookie-Level Players to Watch

KJ Harrison, Catcher (.327/.462/.442)

Dallas Carroll, Third Baseman (.336/.418/.525)

Nic Pierre, Outfielder (.346/.386/.474)

Payton Henry, Catcher (.248/.378/.505)

Tristen Lutz, Outfielder (.297/.366/.594)

Joaquin De La Cruz, Pitcher (3-0, 2.53 ERA, 37 K)

Je’Von Ward, Outfielder (.265/.294/.306)

Milwaukee Is Still Ready To “Play Ball” With Them All

The Brewers opened the second half to the 2017 season looking to prove critics wrong and continue to hold their impressive 5.5 game lead in the NL Central. Unfortunately, inadequate relief pitching and major slumps from several key players have helped the Crew to land in a position that many in the media predicted, out of first place. Milwaukee’s woeful bullpen has reached a crucial point and Stearns decided to attempt to make seem desperate changes in the dying days before the trade deadline. These moves will help the Brewers to lessen their current skid but are only one step in several important moves the Milwaukee must make to contend. While it seems more likely a downward trend will continue, the Brewers have the capability to improve and can absolutely still be contenders.

Acquisitions

The Brewers acquired several relievers including Anthony Swarzak (2.32 ERA, 1.033 WHIP) and former teammate, Jeremy Jeffress. David Stearns, Milwaukee’s young and hailed “genius” General Manager was able to give up no major prospects for a relief pitchers who can be the difference in games that continue to be decided in the later innings because of blown opportunities from the bullpen. Both Swarzak and Jeffress are proven pitchers who can be used in a variety of roles including in setup positions in front of closer Corey Knebel. With these additions and the continued growth and ability of Josh Hader in relief, the Crew’s pitching is showing signs of improvement.

Sizing Up Against the Powerhouses

If there is any indication that the Brewers can compete with the best, look no further than the last two series against the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. While Milwaukee ended up losing both series, the performances of the starting pitching was sound throughout, minus a blowout against the Nationals from a relief pitcher in a starting role. The lineup proved it could hit but failed to capitalize with runners in scoring positions. The Brewers had opportunities to win nearly every single game in these two crucial series, but failed to due to relief pitching and lineup problems.

Necessary Re-adjustments

While these may seem like major issues, relief pitching has already been largely addressed, and with continued tweaks by Manager Craig Counsell a better outcome is definitely possible. Calling upon AAA pitchers to be flexible in their roles, as already seen with Brent Suter and Josh Hader, has been effective. From the lineup side, benching starters who are not performing and swapping the batting order should continue to be experimented with. When there are several games in a row where a high-powered offense is not producing, as it should be, something must be done. Sogard could see more time at Second in place of Villar, and Aguilar could potentially share more time with a struggling Thames. Counsell has already dabbled with reshuffling, moving Ryan Braun to batting second in recent games and having Santana bat cleanup, but there can still be better changes that will maximize scoring with RISP.

Immediate Outlook and Down the Road

David Stearns has done his part to put together a team that not only has a bright and controllable future contractually, but also one that can still compete now. While it is not planned for them to be able to win so soon, being a playoff contender is still a significant possibility. The pressure now falls on Craig Counsell to put together a squad offensively and defensively that can reach the Crew’s full potential in a month of doubt. Whatever happens in the next few months, whether the Brewers continue to duel the Cubs for first, or continue to drop out of contention, one must remember the progress that has been made throughout the entire year. No matter what happens, the Brewers have outperformed expectations set by so many and have an extremely bright future. Stearns decided not to throw some of that away at the trade deadline with minor but still significant trades for relievers in exchange for prospects. These moves still suggest though, that the Brewers can compete and definitely have the ability and talent to contend in the NL Central and beyond.

Brewers Week In Review: 7/24-7/30

The Brewers came into this week holding onto their division lead in the NL Central by the skin of their teeth, with the suddenly red-hot Cubs hot on their trail. After a promising 8-0 winning start against Washington, the Brewers cracked, as the bullpen squandered game 2 and Michael Blazek got scorched for 5 home runs in one inning in a game 3 15-2 blowout. The Crew took that punch in the gut and responded with a hard-fought 2-1 win against the Cubs, who now led by 1.5 games, to bring the standings back to 0.5. However, a couple losses later and it’s now at 2.5 games back for Milwaukee with the trade deadline and St. Louis approaching. Will the Brewers buy, sell, or stay put? Will they bounce back against the Cards? Only time will tell.

With that being said, it’s time for a look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: vs. St. Louis (8/1-8/3) and @ Tampa Bay (8/4-8/6)

Pitching matchups vs. St. Louis: Carlos Martinez (7-8, 3.52 ERA) vs. Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.38 ERA); TBD vs. TBD; Michael Wacha (8-4, 3.71 ERA) vs. TBD

Pitching matchups @ Tampa Bay: TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

Rollie Fingers Award for First-Team All-Swagger (player that went out “balls to the wall”)

Winner: Lewis Brinson

Sweet Lew makes his first appearance on the Week In Review awards list, as he picks up the Rollie Fingers Award here. Now, he has definitely not gotten off to the best start at the plate since coming up to the big leagues, as while he has hit 2 home runs, he is hitting just .111. However, where he has really shined in his short time in MLB is in the field. In each of the last two games of the Cubs series, he made a great, clutch catches to prevent Chicago runs from scoring (one on Kyle Schwarber, one on Addison Russell). Catches like the ones that Brinson pulled off are some of the most exciting plays in baseball when they occur, so two in one series is more than enough to earn the phrase “balls to the wall”.

The Robin Yount Award for Pure and Utter Dominance (Most Dominant Player)

Winner: Travis Shaw

The Mayor of Ding Dong City did it again this week. Coming off of a 6-for-20 week where he clubbed two home runs and added 4 RBIs (bringing his totals on the season to 24 and 74 respectively), Shaw more than deserves this award. While one of his dingers came in the dismantling of the Crew in the nation’s capital, the third baseman has seemingly made it a mission to prove to everyone in the baseball world that he should have been a 2017 All-Star selection. So far in the second half, while the Brewers may be struggling, Shaw has been one of the team’s bright spots.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Zach Davies

When a baby faced Zach Davies arrived on the scene in 2016, he impressed not only Brewers fans, but managers and teams around the league as well. While he was not and has never been a strikeout pitcher (135 Ks in 163.1 IP in 2016), he got guys out and kept them from crossing the plate at a reasonable rate. Now, in 2017, fans have been wondering “where is that Zach Davies?” Well, we saw some of him in Tuesday’s 8-0 victory against the Nationals. Over the course of 114 pitches in 7.2 innings, Davies would strike out 7 Washington batters while only surrendering 3 hits and 3 walks. Even in taking a loss on Sunday, Davies looked solid, adding another 6 strikeouts to his total and giving up 3 earned runs against a powerful and hot-hitting Cubs lineup. Here’s to hoping we see more of 2016 Davies throughout the remainder of 2017.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Brandon Woodruff (Brewers No. 4 Prospect; MLB.com’s #94 overall): 6-5, 4.46 ERA, 72.2 IP, 70 K, 24 BB, 1.33 WHIP, .259 Opponent AVG

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .297, 11 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 6 SB (29 games played with CS)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .293, 16 2B, 8 3B, 17 HR, 66 RBI, 6 SB (79 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #81 overall): 4-5, 3.57 ERA, 80.2 IP, 72 K, 31 BB, 1.13 WHIP, .207 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.32 ERA, 54.1 IP, 54 K, 9 BB, 0.92 WHIP, .206 AVG

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #68 overall): .235, 22 2B, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 20 SB at A Adv Carolina

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #95 overall): 11 games: .400, 4 2B, 2 3B, 7 RBI at A Wisconsin

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .246, 24 2B, 12 HR, 64 RBI at A Adv Carolina

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 2-3, 5.23 ERA, 53.1 IP, 46 K, 21 BB, 1.35 WHIP, .250 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect; No. 19 last week): .270, 34 2B, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 7 SB at A Adv Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect; No. 26 last week): .244, 14 2B, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 8 SB at A Wisconsin

Brewers’ Slump is Concerning, but Reversible

Winning the National League Central Division Pennant almost seemed like a forgone conclusion for some overzealous Brewers fans before the All-Star break. Their team led the struggling Chicago Cubs by as much as 5.5 games, and Milwaukee’s offense looked unstoppable for much of the first half. The Brewers even started the second half with a 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, and went on to win two out of three to take the series. Then the Brewers went on a ten-game road trip, and it went about as badly as it could have. The Pirates swept a four-game series, the NL-worst Phillies got their revenge by winning two of three, and the Nationals won a three-game set, including a 15-2 bloodbath finale, in which Washington crushed 8 home runs, including five in the second inning and four consecutively off Michael Blazek. While all that was happening, the Cubs started to surge, which gave way to the Brewers losing their spot atop the Central.

However, that poor road trip set up one of the biggest series of the year last weekend, as the Cubs traveled north on I-90 to Miller Park. If the Brewers could have squeaked out two games, they would have sat just a half game back. Instead, the bats remained silent, and they won just one game, and averaged 1.67 runs per game, and didn’t get a single hit with runners in scoring position. In fact, the Brewers went 0 for 33 with runners in scoring position for a stretch, an all-time low mark in franchise history. “A week without a hit with runners in scoring position, that’s not really acceptable,” Travis Shaw, the team’s RBI leader, told reporters Sunday. “We have to find a way to cash in on those opportunities.”

Three Ways to End the Slump

1.) Score runs, obviously

The Brewers have been able to put up huge offensive numbers all season. They have been among the Major League leaders in home runs and RBIs, and that helped mask a mostly-mediocre pitching staff (although the starters have been fantastic lately). Hitting with runners on second or third base will be key for this offense the rest of the way, and that starts with a series at Miller Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.“We’ll come back Tuesday against the Cardinals — another division rival and they’re playing well,” rookie outfielder Lewis Brinson said. “We’ll come back on Tuesday and be ready to go. I think everybody’s ready.” Although the offensive struggles continued (just 5 hits), the Brewers took game one against St. Louis on Tuesday, 3-2. It will take more than confidence to win, but confidence is a good first step.

 

2.) Mix-up the bullpen

Jeremy Jeffress is coming back to Milwaukee, a place he considers home. But is Jeffress (5.31 ERA with Texas this year) going to be what puts the Brewers over the top? Probably not. With that being said, Jeffress was dominant as Milwaukee’s closer last year, posting a 2.22 ERA and saving 27 games before being traded with Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers.

Jeremy Jeffress will bring his hard fastball back to Milwaukee, and try to fortify the inconsistent Brewers bullpen. Photo: Jim Mone, Associate Press.

Jeffress will bring a lively fastball, one that has averaged 96 miles per hour throughout his career. Many fans would also be happy to see Oliver Drake and/or Carlos Torres finally get the boot. Although they are both among the most used relievers in baseball, they’ve been frustratingly ineffective. Drake has surrendered a 4.66 ERA in 45 games, while Torres has given up an ugly 8 home runs, and posted a 4.47 ERA. Although the team wasn’t able to acquire Pat Neshek or Justin Wilson, there are guys having great years in Triple-A Colorado Springs. Taylor Jungmann, who pitched in one game in the Majors this year, is 7-1 with a 3.13 ERA for the Sky Sox. Tristan Archer has also performed well, winning 7 games and maintaining a sub-4 ERA. It could be time to call up some new names and move on from the likes of Torres and Drake.

For everyone in the bullpen, not just Drake or Torres, walks have been an issue. Between Drake, Torres, Corey Knebel, Jared Hughes, and Jacob Barnes, the most used relievers have 3.94 BB/9, which is disturbingly high. Even the All-Star Knebel has walked 29 batters in 48.1 innings (he has also struck out 85 batters, so he gets a pass). The bullpen pitched lights out in the last series against the Cubs, and that will need to continue. If it doesn’t, though, it should be a sign that more new arms are needed.

3.) Reorder the Batting Lineup

If you’re sick of Jonathan Villar’s .216 average leading off, you’re not alone. Keon Broxton was hitting .218 before he was sent down to Triple-A, so you might be wondering why Villar hasn’t gotten the same treatment. Hernán Pérez is more than capable of splitting time at second base with Eric Sogard, so it really is an anomaly. Anyway, Villar is still on the Major League roster, so why not move him down in the order? Orlando Arcia has had a tremendous season, slashing .276/.322/.399 while bashing 9 home runs and 36 RBIs. Arcia has thrived in the 8-spot all year, so why tinker with that? Because Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and Travis Shaw need more guys on base when they are at the plate. If Arcia could continue his offensive success at the top of the order, it could maximize the RISP opportunities for the middle of the lineup. Villar was outstanding in 2016, but that has yet to transfer to 2017. Some time in the minors or hitting before the pitcher could be just what he needs.

Every team in every sport goes through significant rough patches. The last two weeks have embodied just that for the Milwaukee Brewers. We know that this is a good team. The offense has the talent to be elite, and the starting pitchers have exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. We are approaching the home stretch, and it appears as if the Cubs are poised to make a run. The Brewers are far from finished, and they still have a fighting chance to get hot and play some October baseball.

 

The Crew: In Need of Relief

Last night during the first inning of the Brewers-Nationals game, news broke that the Milwaukee Brewers had acquired a relief pitcher. A few minutes went by and it was announced that they had traded for the tall right handed veteran Anthony Swarzak of the Chicago White Sox. Swarzak has landed with the Brewers at the age of 31 with a 4-3 record and 2.23 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched over the span of 41 games during the 2017 season.

Swarzak joins the Brewers in a time of need having dropped seven of eight games coming into the series against the Nationals. This includes a span of 3 blown games in Pittsburgh and another game in Philadelphia in which the bullpen gave up all eight runs that night and allowed the 34-64 Phillies to come back from an 8-0 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the 8th. For many Brewers fans that was the last straw when it came to settling for this below average bullpen. You could see just about every single Brewers fan or blogger take to Twitter to voice their frustrations. From Neftali Feliz to Carlos Torres, the Brewers bullpen has been frustrating at best.

With the acquisition of Swarzak, General Manager David Sterns aims to fix that frustration. Swarzak is a control pitcher who promotes a low 90’s fastball that has a bit of a tail to it and follows it with a bending slider that isn’t sharp, but effective in changing pace and keeping a batter on his toes. Swarzak is a nice pick up for the Brewers because of his 1.034 WHIP and his ability to retire batters via the strikeout, already having 52 in 48.1 innings pitched. One factor that Brewers fans will love the most about Swarzak is that he throws strikes, and good strikes at that. Overall of his appearances he has only given up 13 walks along with only 2 home runs.

The Brewers gave up prospect Ryan Cordell. Cordell is a 26-year-old utility player, who for the most part plays in the outfield and dabbles at third base. Cordell was hitting .284 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs along with a .349 OBP and .855 OPS. Cordell will most likely have a shot at the big leagues in Chicago as soon as this September. The White Sox outfield really only has one solidified player  in the outfield at best (Melky Cabrera). So the idea that Cordell could be up in the majors soon isn’t too far off. Cordell was listed as the Brewers 17th ranked prospect and was stuck behind players like Brinson, Broxton, Santana, and a slew of other talented young players. The odds of Cordell getting a shot in the big leagues with the Brewers in the near future were slim to none without a lot of trades or injuries.

I appreciate what Sterns did here because of the fact that he realized a surplus of outfielders and traded one of the lower guys on the spectrum and got a guy in a place of need. The one catch about Cordell is that the Brewers minor league affiliate is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which has the same effect as Coors Field in Colorado. The ball flies well out in Colorado so you have to take any players hitting numbers out there with a grain of salt. That being said if you look at Cordell’s home/away splits he is hitting .344/.411/.648/1.059/6 HR/29 RBIs at home. On the road he hits .230/.291/..381/.673/4 HR/16 RBIs. The difference between these two slash lines can not be overlooked. His home line is probably blown up a bit and like most hitters he struggles a little more on the road to no surprise. In my opinion Cordell is probably a MLB team’s third or fourth outfielder when he reaches his prime and won’t do too much.

The Brewers made the trade that every fan wanted to see. They got a reliever who is having the best year in his career, on a good contract, and for a cheap return in Ryan Cordell. Swarzak is the type of player that will boost the moral of the team in midst of the slump, as well as a guy the Brewers will be able to count on down the stretch. The work for David Sterns is not over yet though. The Brewers could still add a starting pitcher and maybe even another reliever to maintain pace with the Cubs and the NL wildcard. If they are able to make another move or two, don’t be surprised if the Crew is playing fall baseball.

Brewers Week In Review: July 17-23

Well, that was fast. The bad news? The Brewers lost nearly all of a 5.5 game lead in the NL Central following the All-Star Break in just over a week. This came mainly as a result of a stretch from Monday to Sunday in which Milwaukee won just 1 game out of 7 (1-2 vs. the Phillies, 0-4 vs. the Pirates). The good news? If there was ever a time for the Brewers to go on such a stretch, doing so when you start up by 5.5 games in the standings may be that time. With critical series and tough opponents ahead, the Crew needs to start stepping it up if they hope to not let this lead completely slip away.

With that being said, it’s time for a look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: @ Washington (7/25-7/27) and vs. Chicago Cubs (7/28-7/30)

Pitching matchups @ Washington: Zach Davies (11-4, 4.76 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (1-0, 4.50 ERA); Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.43 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (8-5, 2.83 ERA); Matt Garza (4-5, 3.83 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.26 ERA)

Pitching matchups vs. Chicago: Jose Quintana (6-8, 4.22 ERA) vs. TBD; Kyle Hendricks (4-3, 3.95 ERA) vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

Rollie Fingers Award for First-Team All-Swagger (player that went out “balls to the wall”)

Winner: Keon Broxton

This week in particular, when compared to other weeks, was quite difficult to come up with winners for these awards. After all, who could be considered “dominant” or who could have gone “balls to the wall” during a stretch in which a team goes just 1-6 over the course of a week? However, the show must indeed go on. This week, I went with what may be a peculiar choice, as Broxton was just sent down to AAA after a dismal hitting stretch in recent times. Despite this, Broxton continued to go all out defensively, including a great jumping catch in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh, a loss that was the Brewers’ fourth straight at the time. While Colorado Springs is the newest destination for the Milwaukee center fielder, here’s to hoping he can find his footing in Triple A and find his way back to the big leagues in the near future.

The Robin Yount Award for Pure and Utter Dominance (Most Dominant Player)

Winner: Domingo Santana

Now, this award came down to Santana or Travis Shaw, but due to his contributions to Milwaukee’s lone win in the week, this week goes to Domingo Santana. His 2-4, 2 RBI performance on Saturday proved crucial in the team’s efforts, with his 9th inning single proving to be the decisive blow in a heart-stopping 9-8 victory for Milwaukee. Going forward into the next two series, it will be very important for players like Santana to step up even more and propel the Crew to victories.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Brent Suter

All year long, there has tended to be a trend with manager Craig Counsell and his starting pitchers. Oftentimes, he tends to take them out one or two batters too late, and something happens that puts the reliever in a tough spot (look no further than Junior Guerra on Tuesday). However, there are occasions where he possibly takes them out too early, as some fans argued he did in Saturday’s 9-8 win. Suter was cruising through 6 innings of 1 run ball with 5 strikeouts while just giving up 5 hits. However, Counsell elected to go to the bullpen in the 7th when Suter had thrown just 85 pitches. Now, all of us armchair managers out there don’t know whether Suter would have gotten torched or not in the 7th inning, but with what ended up being an 8-1 lead by the bottom of the inning, it would have possibly at least been worth putting him back out there to save some arms. Instead, while the Crew did get the W, the bullpen proceeded to blow that lead in just two innings, with Philly scoring 4 in the 7th and 3 in the 8th to tie the game at 8 before Santana’s go-ahead RBI single in the 9th.

Prospect Update (Post Mid-Season Update)

AAA: Colorado Springs

Lewis Brinson (Brewers No. 1 Prospect; MLB.com’s #15 overall): .345, 22 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 11 SB

Brandon Woodruff (Brewers No. 4 Prospect; MLB.com’s #94 overall): 6-5, 4.79 ERA, 67.2 IP, 64 K, 22 BB, 1.33 WHIP, .259 Opponent AVG

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .272, 9 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 3 SB (23 games played with CS)

Ryan Cordell (Brewers No. 17 Prospect): .284, 18 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 9 SB (traded to White Sox Tuesday)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #82 overall): 3-5, 3.79 ERA, 73.2 IP, 65 K, 31 BB, 1.18 WHIP, .211 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-2, 1.72 ERA, 52.1 IP, 53 K, 8 BB, 0.84 WHIP, .191 AVG

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #69 overall): .230, 20 2B, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 18 SB at A Adv Carolina

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #95 overall): 6 games: .423, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI at A Wisconsin

Isan Diaz (Brewers No. 6 Prospect; MLB.com’s #99 overall): .230, 18 2B, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 8 SB at A Adv Carolina

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .236, 23 2B, 9 HR, 53 RBI at A Adv Carolina

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 2-3, 5.54 ERA, 50.1 IP, 42 K, 21 BB, 1.41 WHIP, .258 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 19 Prospect): .275, 32 2B, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 7 SB at A Adv Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 26 Prospect): .239, 12 2B, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 8 SB at A Wisconsin