Coming off their best season since 1982, the Brewers have raised expectations throughout the league. However, after starting out a red hot 12-6, Milwaukee has dropped seven of their last eight games. A mixture of a small salary cap, tough schedule, abysmal hitting, young starting rotation, and injuries has resulted in the Brewers slow start. Let’s examine the problems and possible solutions to get Milwaukee back on track.
Most fans are frustrated with the inability to sign free agents Dallas Kuechel and Craig Kimbrel, and rightfully so. After falling one game short of the World Series last year, Brewers fans are hungry for more. Unfortunately, because Milwaukee is the smallest market in baseball, based on metropolitan size, they struggle to compete with teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, and Cardinals when it comes to payroll. Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis sit comfortably around $200 million, as Milwaukee sits right below the league average at $127.5 million. When Mark Attanasio bought the Brewers from the Selig family in 2004, he promised fans that he would spend money and invest in the team. Attanasio has delivered on his promise, investing heavily to payroll by boosting the salary cap $37 million since 2015. The Brewers Owner has also invested another $60 million to the Spring Training facility in Arizona. The rise in payroll helped the Brewers secure third baseman, Mike Moustakas, for 1 year/$7million, and Free Agent catcher Yasmani Grandal for 1 year/$18 million in the offseason. According to Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) of the Athletic, signing Craig Kimbrel would result in the Brewers forfeiting draft picks along with paying him a reported 6 year/$100 million+ contact. Signing Kimbrel would take up 16% of Milwaukee’s cap space, which isn’t viable for a small market team seeking a closer.
It’s easy to say Milwaukee drew the short straw with their first 26 games of the season. Sitting currently at 13-13, the Brewers rank first throughout Major League Baseball in strength of schedule and second in the Relative Power Index. Milwaukee is one month into the season and is done facing the Dodgers. After falling in the season series 3-4 earlier this week, the Brewers won’t face Los Angeles until October if necessary. In addition, after playing ten games against the Cardinals, the Crew won’t face St. Louis until August 19th. This week on MLB Network, Craig Counsell joked with “The Rundown” hosts saying, “Our schedule has been a little funky in that, after this series we’ll have played 17 of 26 against the Dodgers and Cardinals”. Although the Brewers have had a rough start, their record is almost identical to 2018, when comparing the first set of games of each series.
Look for Milwaukee’s schedule to ease up around May 30th, when they play the Pirates thirteen times, the Reds eight times, and the Marlins three times before the all-star break.
Throughout the first 25 games, the Brewers have relied heavily on Christian Yelich and Yasmani Grandal. While the Crew is sixth in the MLB for runs scored, the middle of the lineup has been a disappointment. Starting off hot, Lorenzo Cain has cooled off, dropping 40 points to his batting average in just three series. In order to score runs in this top-heavy lineup, Cain needs to get on base for Yelich and Grandal. Jesus Aguilar is currently hitting .134 with zero homers and 18 strikeouts. Travis Shaw has been trending upwards but is still hitting a woeful .200 with four home runs and 32 strikeouts. Ryan Braun’s production hasn’t been awful, hitting five home runs and 16 RBI, however, his .202 average and .239 OBP is not what a playoff contending team needs for the three-hole hitter. With Mike Moustakas out with a broken finger, Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have picked up the slack. Perez and Arcia have accounted for a combined seven home runs and 14 RBI. As Christian Yelich will likely slow down with production, is it vital that Aguilar, Braun, and Shaw break out of their slumps.
Milwaukee’s hitting hasn’t been up to par, but their defense has been impecable. Through 26 games, Milwaukee has only committed five errors, the fewest in the Major Leagues. Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have been tremendous middle infielders, committing just one error between both of them. At catcher, Yasmani Grandal is first in the Major Leagues with 2.5 runs saved by framing. Lorenzo Cain has been a bright spot in Center Field currently tied third in defensive wins above replacement at 0.6.
26 games into 2019, the Brewers starting rotation hasn’t been ideal. At the start of the season, young guns Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta filled out three spots of the starting rotation. Through four starts, Burnes pitched only 17.2 innings, giving up eleven home runs and a 10.70 ERA before being sent down to AAA. Freddy Peralta has pitched 17.2 innings in four starts, giving up five home runs and 7.13 ERA. Woodruff has been the most promising, going 26.7 innings in five starts with 5.81 ERA. Needless to say, this rotation hasn’t been ideal. The one bright spot has come with Zach Davies. Through five starts, Davies has gone 27.1 innings with a 1.65 ERA and 1.1 wins above replacement. Since being injured in 2017, Jimmy Nelson hasn’t returned to the Major Leagues. However, Nelson is expected to make his next start at AAA in San Antonio this coming week. In 2017, Nelson posted twelve wins to six losses with a 3.49 ERA. If he can replicate those stats in 2019, Nelson will be a great option for number two slot in the starting rotation. Earlier today Gio Gonzalez signed a 1 year/$2 million contract with the brewers for the 2019 season. In five appearances with the Brewers last year, Gio went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
Injuries have decimated the bullpen for the Brewers in 2019. Before Opening Day, Corey Knebel decided to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his right elbow. Closer, Jeremy Jeffress, started off the season on the 10-day injured list with a sore right elbow and low velocity ranging from 90-92. In addition to the injuries, Junior Guerra was recently placed on the Bereavement List in order to visit his father who is in poor health. Chase Anderson started the year off in the bullpen but was moved to the starting rotation because Freddy Peralta was put on the Injured List for elbow inflammation. Alex Claudio, Matt Albers, and Alex Wilson have replaced the relievers roles but have been wildly inconsistent throughout the year. The only some-what consistent arm in 2019 has been Josh Hader. In his first seven appearances, Hader only gave up one run in ten innings. Unfortunately, his last two appearances have resulted in two losses.
Add a starter other than Gio. The Brewers are in year two of the five-year window for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich’s very generous contracts. Now is the time to spend cash and go for the World Series. Unlike Kimbrel, Kuechel is open to a one year deal for less money. Adding a Cy-Young winner in Dallas Kuechel, and a healthy and productive Jimmy Nelson would provide tremendous depth throughout the whole team. If Kuechel and Nelson are put in the starting rotation, Burnes, Woodruff, Anderson, and Peralta can add serious depth as long relievers. In the 2018 playoff push, Burnes racked up seven wins and zero losses with a 2.61 ERA out of the bullpen. Chase Anderson has proven he can be an out getter with a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched. Peralta can be used as a stretch reliever when starters are having trouble in early innings with his 96 mph fastball and 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Out of the bullpen last year, Woodruff went 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA. Once Guerra returns from the bereavement list his 1.38 ERA will be perfect for stretch innings late in games.
Assuming Milwaukee adds Kuechel to 25-Man Roster:
13-13 isn’t an ideal start for the Brewers, but with an easier schedule ahead, more consistent hitting, and the return of injured players, there is no reason to count out the Crew this early.