Here's a fun fact for you. The Milwaukee Brewers come into play Wednesday 14th out of 16 National League teams in pitching when it comes to ERA (4.27). To be honest, I was extremely surprised to hear this at first because of how much the Brewers' pitching has seemed to improve this season compared to 2010 (4.58 ERA, also 14th in NL). But when I put things into perspective, it makes sense that the Brewers are where they are because we have seen an increase in pitching performances all over baseball. It's strange to see pitchers have this much success so early in the season because it normally takes some time for pitchers to shake the rust off their arms. This brings up a few questions. 1. Does this mean that pitchers will continue to dominate hitters this season? 2. Why are pitchers beginning to regain control in the pitcher/hitter duel?
1. I don't think so. Just like the way pitchers make adjustments based on who's at the plate, hitters are able to pick up on a pitcher's tendencies. However, I do believe that pitchers will still hold an advantage simply because of my answer to the second question.
2. This is a two part answer. First of all, the steroid era has essentially come and went. Players 'roiding up and smashing the ball out of the park helped bring a lot more fans to the park, but now the combination of a bad economy and better pitching/lack of the long ball has dropped attendance a bit. Basically, the people who have stopped coming to the park aren't true baseball fans, so I guess it's for the better. The other major factor? The cut fastball. This pitch is just dirty. Pitchers all over the league are starting to pick up on this notion. In fact, pitchers have reinvented themselves and salvaged their careers because of the cutter. It's very difficult to pick up the break because of how slight it is, but it's enough to throw off hitters, causing them to break their bats when it comes in on them, hit a dribbler off the end of their bat when it's going away or completely whiff on it altogether. It's different from a slider because the break on a slider begins much earlier, although it does have more of a bend. Even so, a hitter can adjust much easier to the slider than the cutter because of the spin on the baseball. Back in the day, I dabbled with the cut fastball but could never quite figure it out. Would mastering this pitch have helped extend my baseball career? The 69 mile-per-hour gopherball that I tossed at Miller Park last Saturday answers that question.
Enough with the boring lessons of baseball that no one cares about. Let's assess the Brewers as we near the end of the first-third of the season. 30-25? Sure, that's not bad, especially while being towards the bottom of the NL in pitching. Thankfully, the Brewers have made that up by scoring the 3rd most runs in the league and having...wait for it...THE THIRD BEST FIELDING PERCENTAGE IN THE LEAGUE!!!!! WHOA!!! I believe I said the Brewers would be one of the five worst fielding teams in the Majors. What I failed to mention was that I was drugged prior to making that prediction. Jokes on me I guess. They say that as long as you're doing well in two of the three major categories (Hitting, Pitching, Fielding), you're going to be in the running towards the end of the year. And as far as the Brewers' pitching is concerned, it's only going to get better. My main reason behind this statement is Zack Greinke. He hasn't been all that Brewer fans had hoped for before the season when many were resting playoff hopes on Greinke's back, but a 4-1 record can't be frowned upon too badly (the 5.29 ERA on the other hand...). Shaun Marcum HAS been all that AND a bag of chips. As I'm currently typing this and flipping back and forth between Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and Game 3 of the Brewers/Reds series, Marcum has been cruising along. He doesn't blow you away with his stuff, but he is the definition of a pitcher; hitting his spots and throwing the pitch that the situation calls for. Tonight in particular, Marcum is using is change-up very effectively, especially against Jay Bruce (who has been on fire as of late). Greinke is beginning to come around and his last appearance proved it...he was without his best stuff, but the Zack Attack was still able to go six innings and only allow two runs because he stuck with his slider, the only pitch that was working for him. Oh and by the way, Greinke has 45 K's to go against just six walks. Greinke is well on his way.
There have been a few causes for concern for Milwaukee that could come back to bite them when the playoff race starts to heat up. For one, the Brewers don't have a lefty in the bullpen because of injuries (Zach Braddock, Manny Parra) and poor performance/injury (Mitch Stetter).
Quick update: Jay Bruce just hit a two-run homer. I'm an idiot.
The Brewers can't expect to be true contenders if they don't have that situational southpaw to call out from the pen to face a dangerous left-handed hitter. Unfortunately, Manny Parra continues to have setbacks and was recently placed on the 60-day DL because of elbow problems. Whether or not Parra will be back at all this season is difficult to say, but Braddock is very close to returning to the bigs and will provide a boost to a bullpen that has had it's ups and downs. Stetter hasn't been the same guy he was two years ago when he was on my good side, but I think that he will continue to be given opportunities to succeed with the big league club because of the lack of competent lefties in the Brewers' farm system/the injury to Parra. Another concern for the Crew is the trouble on the road. Currently, the Brewers are 9-18 on the road compared to a 21-7 record at home. Wow, talk about a split. I understand being more comfortable at home and having the support of your fans, but can it really make that much of a difference? Apparently so. Whether it's just all mental or the strength of opponent, the Brewers need to overcome this problem. The fact of the matter is that good teams are able to win a respectable amount on the road and then build up a solid record by winning two out of three at home time and again. The Cardinals, who currently lead the Brewers by 2.5 games, have had just as much success at home as on the road. This leads me to believe that the Cardinals will be able to hold their lead on Milwaukee because they will naturally begin to win more at home...UNLESS the Brewers begin to win more on the road.
Like I said before, the Brewers stand at 30-25 while sitting 2.5 games behind the front-running Cards and sitting 2.5 games ahead of the third place Reds, whom the Brewers have had their troubles against (2-6). They are 1-2 against St. Louis, so many battles against the Cardinals will ensue to help settle matters in the NL Central. To finish up my rundown of the Brewers, I'm going to do some rankings based on the bullpen, starting pitching, fielding and hitting. Enjoy.
1. John Axford (His stats may not be incredible, but he's doing his job)
2. Marco Estrada (Doing a solid job in the middle-relief role & gives you innings)
3. Kameron Loe (An absolute work-horse who helps keep a lead into the 9th for Ax)
4. LaTroy Hawkins (A minuscule ERA but a lack of high-pressure situations)
5. Sergio Mitre (Also a low ERA, but see Hawkins)
*Zach Braddock will be in this top five when he returns from injury
1. Shaun Marcum (A 6-2 record with a sub-3 ERA...he pitches for us?)
2. Yovani Gallardo (Recently bumped his ERA under 4 & has seven victories)
3. Randy Wolf (ERA below 3.50, but far too inconsistent for my liking)
4. Chris Narveson (For being the #5, have to be pleased with the Narv-dog's numbers)
5. Zack Greinke (Managing to get W's thanks to offense & starting to come around)
1. Carlos Gomez (His combination of speed and...speed in center makes him #1)
Quick update: Kameron Loe now dropped to 4th in bullpen rankings after giving up a 2-run homer to Joey Votto and getting the loss, allowing the Brewers to lose ANOTHER series on the road. Wonderful. Brewers are now 30-26, 3 GB of Cardinals.
2. Corey Hart (Pretty solid arm and covers a lot of ground in the outfield)
3. Craig Counsell (By far the best fielding infielder on the team)
4. Ryan Braun (One of two full time players (Gomez) without an error)
5. Prince Fielder (Vastly improved picking the ball and surprisingly agile)
1. Ryan Braun (Duh)
2. Prince Fielder (Off to the best start to a season he's ever had, taking his walks)
3. Rickie Weeks (Have to wonder when this guy moves into a run-producing spot)
4. Jonathon Lucroy (Has put up very solid numbers in a short period of time)
5. Nyjer Morgan (That's right...I said it)
Number of road series' won by Brewers: 1 (Pirates)
Does that count? No.