Making the Postseason: Part I

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Some teams need the All-Star break so bad they end up limping to the imaginary halfway finish line. The Brewers weren’t even able to limp anymore. With the first half of the 2018 season in the books, The Crew was forced to crawl all the way to that break where they will unwind, catch their breaths, watch some teammates help an All-Star team, and get ready to explode into the second part of July with some gusto. Losing 7 of their last 8, including a 5 game series sweep at the hands of the measly Pirates doesn’t look good on anyone. It particularly doesn’t look good on a team that lost their first place standing in the NL Central after holding the crown for a dominant chunk of the season so far.  It’s not hard to understand what caused this, as the Chicago Cubs finished strong, winning 7 of their last 10.

In an effort to shed some positive light, we have decided to take the off week from exhibition play to look back at the pieces that have gotten the Brewers this far, and what will continue to propel the clubhouse to a division championship title. As the All-Star game quickly approaches, we take a look at some of the team’s most prolific offensive threats, and landing 2 All-Star spots; the Brewers’ outfield.

During the offseason, additions of Lorenzo Cain (FA) and Christian Yelich via trade bolstered a question mark on the team’s back line into one of the game’s most dominant squads. Tying them both into Milwaukee on long term contracts made an impact statement that the team’s front office was ready to win some ball games at 1 Brewers Way. Following Kansas City’s World Series win in 2015, Cain continued to experience relative individual success, ending 2017 with an exact .300 batting average.

Yelich was the real surprise grab, and came out of left field, as many fans were not expecting a big time trade to rapidly accelerate the team’s rebuilding process. While the combo of Yelich and Cain were impactful moves for the Brewers’ playoff hopes, it is important to look at the unit as a whole and the continued impact the outfield can provide in the field and at the plate to lock down a playoff spot for the first time in 7 years. The primary area for concern is not so much in the field, and a major focus coming out of the All-Star break will need to be the production of the sticks. The starting outfield lineup according to MLB.com as of July 16th is as follows; Yelich (LF, BA of .292), Cain (CF, BA of .293), and Keon Broxton (RF, BA of .179). While batting average has constantly been a topic up for debate in the last 5-10 years because of its validity in terms of production, there is something to be said about an entire outfield hitting sub .300. For the Brewers to come out of the break without some improvement at the plate across the entire lineup would be unfortunate. Where this improvement will come from is uncertain, but why not start in the outfield, which contains two 2018 All-Star players?

The strangest thing about these batting averages is that none of them coincide with the team’s win column, as all three fielders have seen drastic spikes in the last 7 games. While the team lost 6 of those 7, Cain, Yelich, and Broxton all saw a leap over their 2018 totals, even seeing Yelich bat an impressive .344 over that stretch. Where the outfield has seen particularly impressive results has been in their on base percentage (OBP). Lorenzo Cain for instance, has gotten on base almost 40% of his at bats this season! This is fantastic, particularly in the first few spots of the order, allowing cleanup hitters to come to the plate with some ducks on the pond. Even Eric Thames (10-day DL), who has seen some increased playing time in right field following the strong emergence of Jesus Aguilar as the everyday first basemen, is contributing in the lead-off spot with an OBP of .344. While it could be asked why a plate to wall power hitter like Thames is your lead-off man, it is hard to argue with Thames’ ability to get aboard.

One move that could be interesting would be to deal a hopefully healthy Thames in a package trade to gain some needed help in the infield, possibly for assistance at catcher. While this isn’t an extremely likely outcome, it is always fun to toy around with these ideas as the trade deadline approaches.

As far as the Brewers’ outfield defensive play, fans have grown accustomed to Yelich, Cain, Broxton, and Braun making circus catches look elementary. Their ability to continue playing athletically intelligent baseball for the remainder of the season will assist a pitching department that has come back down to earth in the last few weeks. Broxton alone has made an impact in helping the pitching staff since being recalled in late June, robbing two would be home runs from opposing teams since then. Nothing makes a pitcher happier than a teammate well over 300 feet away bailing him out on a pitching mistake. Every member of this Brewers’ team has contributed, and will need to continue to contribute to this team effort of playing lock down defense with a “team first” mentality. While the pitching has been electric, it never hurts to have a rotating array of solid ballers shutting down the green space beyond the baseline.

2018 has seen a major shift, with a Brewers’ outfield discussion able to progress for this long without a sizable piece being about Ryan Braun. While Braun continues to be a valuable veteran asset, players like Broxton have rotated and filled holes nicely during Braun’s injury absences. Having Braun well rested and healthy could prove to be a great option for later this season to help the team push into the playoff race and hopefully deep into those playoffs come October. Domingo Santana’s name on a depth chart is also a nice little insurance piece should any of these starters need some midseason down time.

We start the week with the outfield, not because great work must be done, but because they will continue to be an important piece in the team’s hope to get into the 2018 postseason. We wish Jesus Aguilar the best of luck tonight, and a team wide bode of good luck tomorrow for the All-Star game as the team uses this time to rearm in an attempt to come out of the break swinging (and fielding). We’ll see you tomorrow for Part II of ‘Making the Postseason’.

-All stats via mlb.com

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