Monday, June 8, 2015

Next Up: The Milwaukee Brewers

In theory, the Pirates open a three-game series against the Brewers tonight, though it appears likely that the weather will intervene tonight. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton are scheduled to oppose Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann (in his first major league start), and Kyle Lohse, respectively. This is the third time the two teams have met this year. The Pirates took two of three in Milwaukee and swept a three-game series in Pittsburgh in April. 

How Are They Doing Lately? This is shaping up as a pretty bad year in Milwaukee. The Brewers have the worst record in the majors, 20-37, and over the past 30 days, their 11-16 record is fourth worst in the National League. The Pirates have the league's best record over that stretch, 18-9. 

What's Going Right? The Brewers' bullpen has pitched 95 innings over the last 30 days, the second-most in the National League. (See the comment below about the starting rotation to see why.) Despite the workload, the relievers have a 2.65 ERA, third best in the league, and it hasn't been a fluke: they've induced the second-most grounders and struck out batters at the second-highest rate. The hitters have been challenged at getting on base but when they've hit the ball, they've hit it hard: they're third in homers and tied for first in triples, yielding an isolated slugging percentage (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .161, best in the league.

What's Going Wrong? The rotation's been a weakness. The Brewers' 4.98 starters' ERA over the past 30 days is surpassed by only the Diamondbacks' 5.32 in the National League. bullpen's got a 5.45 ERA over the past 30 days, easily the worst in the league. On offense, the team's batting average is .240 over the past 30 days, third-worst in the league, accompanied by a league-worst .292 on base percentage. 

Who's Hot? Going into the season, the Brewers had three All-Star level players: catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right fielder Ryan Braun, and center fielder Carlos Gomez. They were hoping for a bounceback from shortstop Jean Segura, who'd had a poor 2014 after a promising 2013. All four have raked over the past 30 days (OPS: .889 for Lucroy, .938 for Braun, .849 for Gomez, .913 for Segura), though Lucroy's played only six games after returning from a broken toe and Segura lost time with a broken pinkie. Another strong performer, left fielder Khris Davis, has a .933 OPS but is disabled. 

The only starting pitcher who's been decent over the past 30 days is Mike Fiers (2.78 ERA), but the Pirates aren't facing him. Of the seven relievers who've appeared in nine or more games over the past 30 days, all but one have an ERA of 3.55 or better. Those six have also struck out 84 batters in 74.1 innings. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has only four saves over the past 30 days, tying the Reds and Padres for fewest in the league, but that's due to a lack of opportunity.

Who's Not? With so many hitters doing well, why has the offense suffered? First baseman Adam Lind has hit a wall after a hot start, with a .229/.297/.373 slash line over the past 30 days, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez is worse at .171/.224/.329. Martin Maldonado, who caught in Lucroy's absense, contributed .197/.270/.318. Luis Sardinas filled in for Segura, hitting, .227/.239/.258. Second base has been a black hole all year for the Brewers as well; the players splitting the position are last in the NL in batting (.182), on base (.220), and slugging (.261), by far the worst in each category.

Rather than list the starting pitchers who've been bad of late, suffice it to say that those whose last name is not Fiers have a 5.58 ERA. Setup man Jonathan Broxton has a 6.97 ERA over the past 30 days.

What's the Outlook? The The Brewers are not a good team. However, they've been playing shorthanded much of the year, with several starters spending time on the disabled list. They're mostly healthy now, and have more good bats than poor ones in the lineup. The key would appear to be to strike early against the starters, since the Brewers bullpen's been up to the task of shutting down the opposition in late innings.

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