Forget for a moment that feeling of Yadilessness. Forget for a moment that the Pirates beat the snot out of the Cardinals last night. For just a moment, forget the expectations that grew out of the last three extraordinary years, and forget forever your now irrelevant pre-season expectations for how this season would go.
And consider all of this. Heading to their final series before the All-Star break, the Cardinals sit just two games out of first in the division, and are tied for the wild-card lead. The season has featured the unveiling of two of the most exciting prospects in, well, forever, and a serious Cy Young charge by a burgeoning franchise icon. Kolten Wong is coming around, Matt Carpenter is as tough as nails, and Matt Adams is hitting dingers. Lance Lynn is turning into the good pitcher he always was, Jhonny Peralta is a graceful slugging shortstop, and Peter Bourjos is the most fun a bad hitter can possibly be. There's a lot to like about this team, and there's a lot to look forward to for the remainder of this season.
Anyway, the Brewers have slipped lately, losing 9 of 10, and leaving the division looking an awful lot like a 4 team melee. It should be fun.
- Joe Kelly makes his return from the DL to start against Yovani Gallardo tonight at 7:10 (all times central).
- Adam Wainwright will pitch against Jimmy Nelson (more on him later) tomorrow at 3:10.
- Carlos Martinez and Wily Peralta will wrap things up Sunday at 1:10.
I last talked with Noah Jarosh, who runs Brew Crew Ball, before the April 14-16 series between the Brewers and the Birds. Since then, the Brewers took off, stunk in May, were wonderful in June, and then fell back to earth hard in July. Here's what Noah has to say about the state of the team. He's as thorough and insightful this time as last.
1. I'm not surprised to see you all doing well this season, but THIS well, I didn't expect. What have been the key developments that lead to the team winning so many games?
Health, mostly. The Brewers have, to this point, had all but one of their starts go to the same five pitchers. Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez have both needed brief DL stints, but otherwise the team has had few setbacks in that department (knock on wood). Key injuries would hurt any team, but the Brewers in particular would have a tough time dealing with it. The bench is terrible, and there isn't much in the upper-minors that could be called up if need be.
Outside of that, the fact that the entire team is solid helps. In previous years, Milwaukee has relied on a strong offense to get them by while tossing out pitchers like Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Braden Looper, etc. This year, the offense has been top-3 in the NL and the starting rotation has held up it's end as well. On any given night the pitching can pick up the offense and vice versa.
2. I've been reading rumors about Jimmy Nelson coming up. What can you tell us about him? Who will he replace in the rotation?
Nelson has now officially been called up and is taking the spot of Marco Estrada in the rotation. This is an expected, if overdue move, I think. Coming into the season, I thought Estrada had a chance to be a secret ace and the best pitcher on the staff. Instead, he's given up 27 home runs already. That's enough to earn him a demotion to the bullpen, where his homers will hopefully not be as big of a problem.
With Nelson, the first thing to say is that he was compared to Jeff Suppan when he was chosen in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. That immediately turned me off a bit. I think the reason was that he is/was expected to be a bigger innings eater type guy rather than an ace-level pitcher. For the first few years of the minors, that seemed fair. He always posted solid numbers, but nothing that wowed you. Until this year, that is. The 25-year-old has posted a 1.46 ERA in Triple-A thus far, with 114 strikeouts and 32 walks in 111 innings. The fact he has already thrown that many frames makes me wonder if the team will shut him down early this year, but he pitched over 150 innings last year and is a small bit older than most prospects when called up.
Despite his big frame, Nelson isn't a hard thrower. Rather, he typically sits in the low-90s on his fastball, with real nice movement. His secondary offerings -- a slider and changeup, mostly -- have not been the greatest, but if used correctly can be effective. He's also struggled against left-handers in the past, though he's been much better in that regard this year.
Personally, I'm excited to see what Nelson can do with a prolonged stint in the major league rotation. He's made the jump to a top-50 prospect, now it's time to see if he can live up to that ranking.
3. How would you characterize the reception Ryan Braun has received this year in Milwaukee and on the road?
Exactly what I expected. The home crowd cheers him, away fans boo him. Though, the boos don't tend to last long. It feels like it's something a lot of fans at other stadiums feel they're supposed to do, so they do it for that reason rather than a true strong dislike of the Brewers' right fielder. So the boos fade out after a quick burst, and are non-existent later in games. There have been some crowds who have been worse with it, but that's to be expected, I suppose.
Naturally, I don't know Braun personally at all. But he has always seemed like the type who would play well with a chip on his shoulder, or in unfriendly circumstances. That's held to be true this year, as the boos and jeers seem to fuel him. Braun has hit seven of his 11 homers on the road, and has an 873 OPS in unfriendly confines compared to an 830 OPS in Miller Park.
Meanwhile, of course Milwaukee fans will cheer him. The guy is paid to hit baseballs long distances, and he's hit well this year despite playing through a few nagging injuries, including a nerve-damaged thumb that is clearly holding him back. So long as he continues to hit and doesn't say anything bad about the Packers, Brewers fans will continue to root for the guy. He did his time, hopefully that's the end of it.
4. Is Jean Segura's bat fixable?
Of course. I think his 2013 season was harmful in a way, because it built up such high expectations for Segura in just his first full year in the majors. He was absolutely outstanding, particularly in the first half when he had a .325/.363/.487 line. Now, he's going through his sophomore slump as pitchers start to figure him out better and he needs to deal with it.
It's important to remember that Segura did not have much developmental time in the upper levels of the minors. He played all of seven games in Triple-A, and those came when he was just 19. Overall, he appeared in just 109 games above A-ball. Moving that quickly leaves a player exposed to these kinds of slumps. But he should be able to figure it out and start hitting well again eventually.
I don't expect Segura to be Troy Tulowitzki or anything going forward, but I think it's reasonable to expect him to get on base at a .350 clip while slugging around .450. His immense speed will help him in the latter category, but he needs to pick his spots better as he's made a number of outs on the basepaths this year.
Segura will be fine eventually -- I just hope he turns it around sooner than later.
5. pt. 1 What kind of moves, if any, do you think the Brewers will make as the trade deadline approaches?
pt. 2 What do you WANT them to do as the trade deadline approaches?
I have a feeling the deadline will be underwhelming. It's getting harder for teams to get much of anything with the second wild card in place as more clubs feel they are in competition and hold on to their players. And there isn't a huge need for anything on the Brewers. The starting rotation is good to go, the hitting is going well, and Milwaukee can't afford to give up prospects for a good player. Doug Melvin has had some interest in acquiring a reliever, but even that is unnecessary as he'll be getting back Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson (both on the DL) at some point.
What they should do is find an entirely new bench. With platoons at both right-infield spots, the Milwaukee has been left with little flexibility, thus they need guys who can play all over. They've run out Logan Schafer, Jeff Bianchi, Elian Herrera, Irving Falu...and none of them have been any good. Schafer and Bianchi can at least play defense a bit, but the production at the plate has been nothing short of dreadful. Milwaukee needs someone they can count on in case of injury, or to give guys a rest in the dog days of summer.They don't have that right now. That may well hurt them down the stretch if they don't fix it.
6. I'm going to give you two possible scenarios. Tell me what most likely happened if they occur:
pt. 1 The Brewers fall apart at the seams, lose well over half their remaining games, and miss the playoffs.
pt. 2 The Brewers approach 100 wins and run away with the division.
Oh man, I think the likelihood of either is fairly low. I expect the team to be close to .500 from here on out as they face a tough schedule.
That being said, I'd have to say the former is probably more likely. I say that mostly because the Brewers have a ton of divisional games in the second half, particularly in September. I'm always uneasy about important games down the stretch, and both the Reds and Cardinals seem to always beat the Brewers in recent years. The first games in July have not been great, either.
I can't see the Brewers winning 100 games, just because I can't see them being much better than they have been so far. Nearly everything has gone right for the team -- Khris Davis has worked out, Mark Reynolds has been surprisingly effective, Lucroy is an MVP candidate, Gomez is an MVP candidate, the pitching had worked out well...there isn't a whole lot of room to move up barring a trade.
Though, again, I expect the team to be closer to .500 moving forward and to win the division, still. It will be tough, but doable. But with your question, I have to hedge my bets and say a huge second half isn't likely to be in the cards for Milwaukee.
I sincerely thank Noah for his time. Perhaps a third in the series will be called for in September. Here are my answers to his questions over at BCB.