I admit, I was ready to give up on my beloved Brewers after last weekend’s three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Brewers were anemic against a team that, at best, put a Double A lineup on the field. Other than all-star first baseman Josh Bell, I couldn’t name a Pirate and still can’t.
At 11-15, I felt the ship was sinking fast for the Crew with no life lines in sight. The offense was missing in action, the starting pitching treading water and the best pitcher, reliever Josh Hader, never getting a chance to showcase his skills because his team never seemed to be ahead late in a game.
And then something strange happened. The Crew picked up back-to-back wins against NL Central foe Cincinnati and seemed to right the ship. Starting pitching was good. Some timely hitting finally surfaced, and Mr. Hader picked up saves in both games. Wednesday’s scheduled game was postponed, leaving the Crew and Reds to play a doubleheader Thursday.
Then ... look out below. Fourteen innings and two losses. Outscored 12-1 in the doubleheader. A total of one run and eight hits, including just one in the second game.
The ship might be sinking fast.
I thought I’d go around the diamond and evaluate the team as we reach the halfway point of the season.
First base—I thought this was supposed to be a platoon between free agent Justin Smoak and Ryan Braun, with newly signed Logan Morrison also getting some time there. That hasn’t panned out. Morrison was sent packing—and for good reason—while Braun has played extensively but not exclusively in the outfield or as DH. I’ve never seen a player with more nagging injuries than Braun. Smoak has shown signs of life recently but still carried a .211 batting and a .269 on-base percentage heading into Thursday’s doubleheader. Not exactly the production you want from your clean-up hitter.
Second base—Keston Hiura, I don’t worry about offensively. He struggled mightily early on but has his average up to .243 with seven home runs and 16 RBI. It’s his defense that scares me. He oftentimes looks like he’s got his glove on the wrong hand. With the designated hitter in use for both leagues, the Brewers can play Hiura more often as the DH, which saves Smoak from having to go into the stands to get his throws from second.
Shortstop—Orlando Arcia is batting a respectable .250 and has come up with some clutch hits early on. His defense is solid and he’s got a howitzer for an arm. Eric Sogard, on the other hand, is Sobad. He’s hitting a paltry .181 with two extra-base hits and three RBI. Just what you want from a $5 million acquisition.
Third base—We want Moose! We want Moose!
Yes, I would’ve spent the money to keep Mike Moustakas at the hot corner. Jedd Gyorko and the aforementioned Sogard are not cutting hit. Gyorko is hitting a robust .219 and looks overmatched, at times, against good pitching. Luis Urias, acquired in a trade in the offseason for Trent Grisham among others, could be a mainstay in the infield before all is said and done. He started hot but has cooled to the tune of a .268 average. Defensively, he’s more than adequate.
Catcher—Ugh. Where do I start? So much hope for newly acquired Omar Narvaez and yet so much disappointment even with his homer in the 6-1 first-game loss Thursday. His hitting prowess was supposed to offset his defensive deficiencies. Left-handed hitting catchers with pop are hard to find. Narvaez was supposed to be the answer. My guess is that he looks great in batting practice, spraying balls all over Miller Park. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to games. He has looked in a word—awful—at the plate. He’s batting .175 with—now 3—home runs and 4 RBI. Manny Pina has the same amount of homers as Narvaez in 60 less at-bats and is twice the defender that Narvaez is. But Pina was injured in the second game diving back to first. The Narvaez trade might go down as one of the few losers for GM David Stearns.
Left field—Like Hiura, superstar Christian Yelich started slowly. The 2018 NL MVP got into some bad habits where he took a lot of good pitches, swung at a lot of bad ones and missed hitting balls square that the last couple of years he would’ve sent to Sheboygan. He’s got his average UP TO .190 after an unthinkable 1-for-30 rut and is tied with Hiura for the team home-run lead with seven. He’ll come out of it, and when he does, look out!
Center field—Avisail Garcia has turned into the everyday center fielder after Lorenzo Cain opted out of the 2020 season. Garcia was the Brewers’ top acquisition in the offseason, signing a two-year deal for $20 million. Like so many of the others in the lineup, I keep waiting for him to bust out. He’s hitting .224, which if your batting leadoff, is not good. I expect way more power from him than two home runs and nine RBI in 30 games.
Right field—Braun and Gamel have both seen action in right, and although they shine defensively, neither has produced much at the plate. Braun is hitting .208, while Gamel has slipped under the Mendoza Line at .191. Maybe the one we should be questioning in the midst of the Brewers’ hitting woes is new hitting coach Andy Haines. The Brewers have the fourth-worst batting average in all of baseball at .213. And that’s playing half your games in hitter-friendly Miller Park.
Starting pitching—The Brewers had a team ERA of 4.40 heading into Thursday’s doubleheader, which ranked 16th in baseball. Brandon Woodruff (3.19) and Adrian Houser—4.36 after giving up four runs in as many innings in Thursday’s opening-game loss—have great stuff but battle the inconsistency bug. Woodruff can be lights out for the first three or four innings and then scuffles. The best thing to do for Woody is to get him at least three runs. When the Brewers score three or more runs in a Woodruff start, they’re 21-1. Corbin Burnes is another guy with electric stuff, but has trouble throwing strikes. He has walked 16 batters in 26-plus innings. That won’t cut it. Left-hander Brett Anderson has been outstanding his last two starts, while someone needs to remind Josh Lindblom that he’s no longer pitching in the Korean League. I’m not sure Eric Lauer could get me out right now, so that experiment can be over.
Relief pitching—The best reliever in baseball sits on the Brewers roster, and too often, sits on the bullpen bench. Hader is filthy and came into Thursday not allowing a hit or a run in nine-plus innings pitched this season. He simply needs more work, but if his team isn’t ahead, there’s no sense bringing him in. Corey Knebel is clearly not fully recovered from Tommy John surgery—hence the 9.45 ERA. Devin Williams has been lights out as a set-up man for Hader, and David Phelps seems to be a find, as well. Brent Suter and Alex Claudio have important roles out of the pen but are also very hittable.
With the regular season half over, the Brewers are certainly in the mix for a playoff spot. The Chicago Cubs, as much as it pains me to say it, seem to have a pretty good lock on the NL Central, but the race for second should be a wild one between the Brewers, Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
Hopefully, the bats heat up in Brew Town, Narvaez can find his stroke and Sogard never leaves the bench.
After all, there’s nothing better than October baseball.