Thursday, September 10, 2015

Next Up: The...Wait, Didn't We Just Get Done Playing These Guys?

Pretty close: The Pirates played three games against the Brewers, the last of which was just a week ago today, last week. They were swept in three games at Miller Park. They'll hope for more success at home, though I'll point out again that the Pirates have struggled against the worst teams in their division, including a 6-9 record to date against the Brewers.

How Are They Doing Lately? This is going to be a lot like the last piece I wrote about the Brewers...Over the last 30 days, the Brewers are 13-13, exactly in the middle of the fifteen-team National League over the span. They've scored 5.1 runs per game, fifth in the league but allowed 5.0, also the the fifth most.

What's Going Right? The Brewers are second in batting average (.278), fourth in on base percentage (.331), and fifth in slugging percentage (.449) over the past 30 days. They're in a four-way tie for the fifth fewest (or, if you like, a four-way tie for the eighth most) home runs, they've walked at the fourth lowest rate, and struck out at the fifth highest rate, but overall, they've been pretty good. They've hit a below-average number of out-producing grounders and have an above-average rate of hard contact.

What's Going Wrong? The pitching problem is the starting staff. Its 5.48 ERA over the past 30 days is the fourth highest in the league and has led to an over-reliance on the bullpen, as the Brewers starters are the only ones in the league to have averaged less than five innings per start over the past 30 days. The Brewers starters have the highest walk rate and the second-lowest strikeout rate in the league over the period and have induced the second-lowest rate of swings outside the strike zone.

Who's Hot? Same as I said last time: right fielder Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy have led the Crew over the last 30 days. Braun has a .372/.423/.617 slash line over the past 30 days, and Lucroy's is .311/.363/.544. Lucroy and Braun are 1-2 on the club in runs scored; Braun and Lucroy are 1-2 in RBI. Center fielder Domingo Santana, who came over in the Carlos Gomez trade, is hitting .288/.409/.615 in 16 games as a Brewer. (Gomez is hitting only .239/.284/.370 as an Astro--his OPS is barely better than Santana's slugging percentage.) First baseman Adam Lind (.297/.409/.486) and second baseman Scooter Gennett (.348/.357/.464) have also done well over the past 30 days. 

The Brewers have relied on four relievers who've appeared in eleven or more games over the past 30 days. Two of them, middle relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, have combined for a 1.93 ERA (though Jeffress has struck out only five batters in 12.1 innings and Knebel's allowed three homers in 11.0). As for the other two relievers, see the next sentence. 

Who's Not? Closer Francisco Rodriguez has a 6.75 ERA over the past 30 days, and setup man Will Smith's is 5.56. The Pirates will face starters Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies (who's listed at 22 years old, 6'0", 160, but looks younger and skinnier), and Taylor Jungmann over the series. Peralta and Davies are the only two starters with ERAs below 4.00 over the last 30 days, at 3.42 and 3.97, respectively. So by that measure, they're not hot. On the other hand, they've combined for a 2.10 ERA against the Pirates this year. (Full disclosure: All but one of the starts have been by Nelson and Jungmann.)

What's the Outlook? Coming off two victories in three games against arch-nemesis/otherwise bad team Cincinnati, the Pirates will try to get their seasonal record closer to .500 against the Brewers. As I wrote last week: 
As has been the case all year, the key to beating the Brewers is building up a lead against their unreliable starting pitchers.
As of this writing, the National League Central has the teams with the best (Cardinals), second-best (Pirates), and fourth-best (Cubs) record in major league baseball. All three teams look to improve over the weekend, as the Pirates play the team with the seventh-worst record in baseball (Milwaukee), the Reds play the team with the fourth-worst record (Cincinnati), and the Cubs draw the long straw, playing the team with the worst record of all (Philadelphia).

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