DENVER, CO - JULY 14: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers is welcomed home by Corey Hart #1 of the Milwaukee Brewers after Braun scored on a double by Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning at Coors Field on July 14, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I don't really know where I'm going with this Series Preview opening, so I'm going to start with what's on my mind right now, which is Trevor Bauer's debut. I suspect I'm not the only one thinking about it at the moment. I had any number of obvious, knee-jerk reactions to the start, most of which were far too laced with profanity (either positive or negative) to repeat here. However, now that I'm a few hours removed from it, the lesson from Thursday's game that seems to ring the truest is "having depth is wonderful."
Think about it: the Diamondbacks lost two pitchers who had started playoff games for them the previous year in a span of about a week, and they might have upgraded their rotation in the process. And when their highly-touted prospect only went four innings in his first ever start, the team could call on a slightly-less-touted-but-still-very-solid prospect to finish the job. It's a luxury we don't always think about as fans.
I'm going to (clumsily) tie this in with the Brewers by pointing out how many of their struggles could have been avoided with greater depth. Here's a team that sacrificed depth in order to "win now" last season, making blockbuster trades for Shawn Marcum and Zack Grienke that left their farm system barren. It worked to an extent last year, getting them to the NLCS, but they're paying for it this year. The Brewers are 34-41, and the only real personnel change between this year's roster and last is the absence of Prince Fielder. And that's where depth comes in handy.
It sure would be nice if they could have slotted Brett Lawrie into their lineup once Fielder left. It sure would have been nice if Alcides Escobar or Lorenzo Cain were around to relieve the Brewers' replacement-level options at center field and shortstop, respectively. It sure would be nice if they had Jake Odorizzi to be around to be their Trevor Bauer if need be. I'm not saying what they did is wrong, or that Brewer fans should regret it. I'm just saying that I'm happy that the Diamondbacks aren't in that situation right now.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
As a pitching staff, the Brewers have the second-biggest gap between their ERA and their FIP in baseball, with an ERA that's almost half a run worse than their FIP. Part of that might be due to their defense, which UZR is not a big fan of (seriously, how do you get rid of Fielder and make your defense worse?), but there's probably some bad luck mixed in there as well. Their offense is still solid (that wRC+ is tied for third in the NL), but it's a step below what they had in 2011, and it's very reliant on a few players.
- Quick note: That Diamondbacks lineup is purely hypothetical. As in, we'll probably never see it, because of Kirk Gibson. But my god...just look at it. Speed and OBP at the top, good hitters throughout. Hell, Aaron Hill's batting seventh, and it's semi-defensible now! Is there a lineup equivalent to rosterbating?
- Maybe this is OCD talking, I really want to see a major-league lineup ordered by reverse defensive position. As in, right fielder (1) batting leadoff, followed by the center fielder (2), and so on. The Brewers don't quite have it down yet, but they're the closest I've seen. Get on it, Ron Roenicke.
- Norichika Aoki has been a nice surprise for the Brewers, with an OPS+ of 112 so far. And his emergence has allowed the team to sort of cover the giant, Prince Fielder-shaped hole at first base, with Corey Hart moving from RF to first.
- Rickie Weeks has actually dramatically improved his walk rate this year, all the way up to 13.6%. Unfortunately, no one has noticed because the other two numbers in his triple slash are so miserable. Currently, he's hitting .185/.307/.312, which is like a fever dream version of 2009 Chris Young.
- This is an obligatory mention of the 2011 Home Run Derby, just to make Brewer fans angry that we aren't over it yet.
- Jonathan Lucroy was having a great year, but he'll miss the series with a fractured right hand. So we'll see George Kottaras and Martin Maldonado, both of whom are above-average hitters this year, but they aren't doing what Lucroy was before the injury.
- Ryan Braun had a really good season last year, when he tested positive for steroids (sort of). This year, when he is presumably not taking steroids, he is having almost exactly as good of a season. I don't know if he bought steroids last year, but if he did, I hope he kept the receipt.
Insightful Commentary: I can only assume that the Cubs haven't had good hitting approaches that often this season, considering how wretched that team is, but they had a good approach against Ian Kennedy in his last start. As a result, Ian lasted only 4.1 innings, which is decidedly not ace-like. I'm not worried about him, really, since his velocity looks fine, and all of his peripherals seem to be solid. I'll still think he'll finish with an ERA of around 3.5, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been disappointed by him so far.
Randy Wolf has handed leads to his bullpen in three straight games, and in three straight games the bullpen has blown them. I would say that Randy Wolf should go old skool and be his own bullpen, but he's only thrown two complete games since 2004. Seriously, if Randy Wolf throws a complete game on Friday, something has gone horribly wrong.
Saturday: Wade Miley (9-3, 2.19) vs. Mike Fiers (2-2, 2.70)
Insightful Commentary: Among pitchers with at least 90 innings, Wade Miley stands alone with the lowest ERA in baseball. And I just can't get over the fact that he has 32 strikeouts to 2 walks in his last five starts. Earlier in the season, we were worried that Miley's ERA would regress to fall more in line with his FIP. Instead, his FIP has improved to the point where it is almost in line with his ERA. This is not how it's supposed to work, but I'm not complaining.
Mike Fiers has been a nice surprise for the Brewers as a rookie. He's 26 and spent last season dropping off of any prospect lists he still found himself on, so his arrival wasn't quite greeted with Trevor Bauer-level fanfare, but he's been solid. His secret so far has been his walk rate, which is minuscule through 33.1 innings so far.
Insightful Commentary: You can't say that Josh Collmenter hasn't earned his spot back. He has an ERA of 1.35 in 26.2 innings since losing his spot in the rotation. Of course, the question remains, how will he fare the second or third time through lineups? In his career, hitters have an OPS of .870, which is just below what Goldschmidt has produced this year. Collmenter has turned entire lineups into Paul Goldschmidt the second time he faces them. Of course, he did own the Brewers in two starts last year, so there's that...
And speaking of team ownage, Gallardo in his career is 6-0 against Arizona with a 1.21 ERA. And I don't think that includes the playoffs. I tend to be skeptical of career performance against teams, because Gallardo's been around since 2007, and it's not like his performance against Eric Byrnes and Conor Jackson has any bearing on this team, but I made an exception for this one stat. Mostly because it supports what we all remember from the NLDS.
Final Verdict: The Brewers aren't awful, and they're at home, so this could be a trap series. But the Diamondbacks are 24-12 against teams with a losing record (h/t shoewizard), and they should have the advantage in the first two pitching matchups. So I'll say Diamondbacks two games to one.
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(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference)