Before last year, I really didn't think a whole lot about the Brewers. I don't mean that in a condescending or dismissive way, they just weren't a team a team that occupied a ton of my attention as a Diamondback fan. They weren't a natural rival, they didn't have any truly abhorrent players, and they were neither consistently good enough to command a ton of national attention or consistently bad enough to warrant any pity. I suspect many of you felt the same way, and honestly I'd imagine that most Brewer fans felt the same way about the Diamondbacks. The two teams just sort of existed off of each other's radars.
Then last year happened. Let's revisit 2011 in Brewers/D-Backs relations:
- May/June: Both teams shrug off slow starts with torrid stretches of play to put themselves in contention for playoff spots. Uh oh, potential wild-card conflict brewing.
Now however, Brewers and Diamondbacks relations have reached something of a detente, as it were. Both teams have underachieved this year, and it's hard to maintain a playoff rivalry when both teams are at least 6 games out of a playoff spot.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Last year, the Brewers won 96 games behind a patient, powerful lineup, a solid bullpen, and a talented, if top-heavy, starting rotation. This year, both the Brewers' hitting and pitching has looked decidedly average so far. The offense's K% has jumped up, from 17.7% in 2011 to 21.0% this year, and the team's OBP sits at just .312, which is tied for 20th in baseball. The Brewers have have a team ERA of 4.53, though their FIP has been almost a run below, suggesting that the team has gotten a bit unlucky with batted balls so far. However, it's difficult to overlook that only the Rockies have allowed a higher percentage of line drives this year.
- For an offense with a perfectly league-average wRC+, this is not a team with a bunch of kinda "meh" hitters. To wit:
- The Good-Jonathan Lucroy (.343/.393.597), Corey Hart (OPS+ of 128), Ryan Braun (OPS of 1.015)
- Sorry, let's just revisit that last one for a minute. Braun, who was accused of doing steroids, who saw his numbers and his personal integrity come under fire because of that accusation, is slugging forty percentage points higher than he did last year. Why is this not being talked about more?
- The Bad: Aramis Ramirez as an OPS+ of 90 from a corner infield position isn't going to get it done, Brewer first basemen in general (OPS of .709) have done a terrible impression of Prince Fielder
- The Ugly: Pretty much everyone else. Weeks has been abysmal so far, posting an OPS of .568. I was all set to take delight in Nyjer Morgan's awful start to the season, but to be honest, I've had enough fun at his expense today. So I'll just mention that he currently has a slugging percentage of .229 and link to a picture of him in a silver wig and leave it at that.
- Special ugly shout out to Cesar Izturis. Now, Izturis should get a pass here, since he's mostly around for his defense, and he's replacing Alex Gonzalez, who's on the 60-day DL. But he's currently hitting .200/.227/.235, which is one of those rare lines where every number is worse than the last. All he had to do was be better than Yuniesky Betancourt, but instead he tripped over the lowest hurdle imaginable.
Insightful Commentary: So the problem with Kennedy this season has been...aw hell I don't know. Just read soco's piece on it. Go ahead. This will still be here when you get back.
Done? Well, let's move on then. If you didn't know Gallardo's name before the NLDS, he did an awfully good job of introducing himself there, winning two games and giving up only two runs in 14 total innings. His walks have jumped way up this year, and he is getting fewer ground balls this year than in years passed. Like Kennedy, he'll probably be fine, but he's scuffled to start the season. Actually, it's quite appropriate that the two struggle "aces" from the NLDS should face each other, given how they've played since last October.
Insightful Commentary: Miley has an FIP that's more than a full run higher than his ERA, he has a BABIP of .271, and a strand rate of 82%. It's not that he owes all his success to luck rather than pitching well, and he's not going to go Enright on us at the drop of a hat, but he is likely to see a bit of regression coming his way.
If you get a chance, read Joe Posnanski's posts about Greinke. They paint a picture of a young pitcher blessed with a supernatural right arm but an eccentric head. Words like "anxiety" and the even more vague "head-case" provide convenient labels but ultimately fail to tell the whole story. He's an enigma, one whose talents are constantly juxtaposed with emotional issues. And his circuitous rise is something to keep in the back of our minds as we prepare for the arrival of another talented but emotionally complex pitcher named Trevor Bauer.
Insightful Commentary: The D-Backs' website still has this start as "TBA," but the team seems confident that Hudson will make it. He didn't look good before going on the DL, and he had one good-but-not-great start at Triple-A since coming back from injury. He may need a couple of starts to regain his form from last year, but I'm confident he'll get there eventually.
As you've probably already guessed from the ERA, Wolf has been a mess all season. His walks are up this year, and while someone like Greinke can live with that, Wolf needs to limit his baserunners however possible, since he's not generating many strikeouts. And when that doesn't happen, well, that's how a 35-year-old crafty lefty stops being crafty.
Final Verdict: Both of these teams are probably getting fairly close to desperation mode, as they begin to get buried in the standings. That makes this series hard to predict, but I'll say the Diamondbacks get a brief reprieve against another struggling team, and take the series two games to one.
Head over to Brew Crew Ball for a cold, refreshing glass of Brewer updates.
(Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)