At the risk of sounding like one of those hack local writers who compensates for his lack of knowledge about the opponent by talking about them exclusively through the lens of the team he actually cares about, the Brewers provide an interesting case study for people who follow the Diamondbacks.
Not at all unlike the D-Backs, the Brewers followed up their 2011 division win with a season that would have to qualify as a disappointment. Milwaukee finished 83-79, two games better than the Diamondbacks. Their Pythagorean W/L record was a run lower than Arizona's. If the 2012 D-Backs and 2012 Brewers were to meet for a seven-game series, I wouldn't have the faintest idea which team would win.
Like the Diamondbacks, the Brewers went into the offseason with the uncomfortable sense that they were about the sixth-best team in the National League. They had strengths (the offense other than the middle infield, most of their rotation) and weaknesses (the middle infield, the fifth spot in the rotation, the bullpen) in relatively equal measure. While the D-Backs attacked the offseason aggressively and re-made their team, the Brewers signed Kyle Lohse.
Like, that was their offseason. Kyle Lohse is better than people generally remember (his ERA over the past two years is 3.11, which I guess I realized, but casually dismissed as a fever dream), but still, he isn't exactly the face of a franchise. No one is naming a section of their ballpark after Kyle Lohse, unless the Brewers decide to take the patent for "Lohse Vegas" off my hands.
But barring that, the Brewers had a safe, conservative offseason. They're banking on Rickie Weeks to be more like the All-Star/fraudulent Home Run Derby participant he was in 2011 than the below-average second baseman he was in 2012. They're banking on guys like Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers to be a tolerable back of the rotation. And they're banking on the fact that the NL Central has maybe three three legitimate playoff contenders at best.
It's not a bad strategy, it's just different from the one the D-Backs took. And this season should provide some data about which path makes more sense.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
All numbers from 2012
The Brewers--or at least their statistical profile--are sort of just Cardinals-lite. The team's strength is the offense, as that wRC+ was the second-highest in the NL. Behind the Cardinals. As you probably already know, much of that comes from hitting for power, as the Brewers led the NL last season in Isolated Power.
Not unlike the NL Central team that just visited, the Brewers had a surprisingly decent rotation (T-3rd in the NL in FIP-) and a bullpen that was rather less than decent (last in the NL in ERA).
If previous Brewers series previews are any indication, the comment section of this article will contain more vitriol toward Ryan Braun than any other non-Giants series preview contains toward anyone. I get it: where there's smoke, there's generally fire, and the Braun steroid allegations have plenty of smoke to go around.
But the Diamondbacks don't care about that. All that matters for the Diamondbacks is that Ryan Braun might be the best offensive player in the National league at the moment. He's led the NL in OPS the last two years, and in his worst season he still managed to produce a better OPS than our beloved Paul Goldschmidt has ever had. Dude's pretty good.
Rickie Weeks' 2012 season was one of the weirder unexplained things to happen in baseball last year. After three straight years with an OPS comfortably above .800, his Batting Average took a tumble in 2012, and the rest of his stats went along with it, as he finished with a slash line of .230/.328.430. Not awful, but somewhat surprising for a guy who had spent the last few years on the verge of stardom.
Jonathan Lucroy is one of baseball's better-kept secrets nationally, Catchers who hit well are still rare commodities, and Lucroy quietly put up an OPS+ of 133 last year. Corey Hart
is the same as he ever was, which is to say he's a rich man's version of Jason Kubel who happens to hit righty is out with a knee injury, most likely until May. Jean Segura was the centerpiece of the Zack Grienke trade, and the Brewers have high hopes that he'll eventually hit for enough power to become more than just a solid fielder. Alex Gonzalez is inexplicably still around.
All numbers from 2012
Friday: Wade Miley (16-11, 3.33) vs. Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86)
Insightful Commentary: Let me start off by saying that I enjoy Wade Miley. Watching him progress from a scared rookie who spent a couple starts in 2011 tap-dancing at the edge of a cliff, to an assertive, fast-working front-line starter in 2012 was probably the best thing about an otherwise blase season. But (and you knew that was coming), I'm terrified of Miley going forward. I know I've said this before, but Miley was a top-10 pitcher in the league in preventing home runs last season, despite not being any where near a top-10 pitcher in GB%. That means a lot of balls in the air that didn't go over the fence last year. I don't think that happens again, at least not at Chase Field.
For those of you who think Spring Training means nothing, Kyle Lohse will stretch that theory to its logical conclusion. He played all of one Spring Training game after the Brewers picked him up, so the Brewers really are just throwing him out there and hoping for the best. I spent most of my time as a baseball fan getting accustomed to the idea of Kyle Lohse as a perfectly-adequate innings-eater that this new, ace-like version of him is more than a bit jarring. The peripherals were a bit higher, but a FIP of 3.51 is still a career low for Lohse. The key has been his walk rate, which was a miniscule 1.61 per nine innings in 2012.
Saturday: Patrick Corbin (6-8, 4.54) vs. Mike Fiers (9-10, 3.74)
Insightful Commentary: In order to keep this from being a full-on prospect-gasm, I'm obligated by laws of baseball and human decency to inform you that Corbin's walk rate (2.1 per 9) is probably going to rise. He hasn't maintained a rate that low at any level above A-ball with the Angels, so look for that to go up a bit. With that out of the way, I really think he could be better than Miley this year. His K-rate is higher, his stuff is (just a bit) better, and he's a full three years younger. If he lowers his BABIP of .317, he should be in for a solid rookie season.
Mike Fiers was thrown into the fier (sorry) last year as a rookie and held up surprisingly well. Despite having a fastball that topped out around 90 MPH, Fiers was able to strike out over a batter per inning last year. But what he lacks in fastball, he makes up with solid control and good secondary pitches that make his fastball seem a lot better than it is. If the Brewers make a run at the division, look for Fiers to play a sneaky-large role in that run.
Insightful Commentary: It was just one game, but Kennedy couldn't have asked for much better of a start on Opening Day. Seven innings, two runs against a very good offense. Not to mention that he had a K:BB of 8:1, with the sole walk coming after a couple of borderline balls. And best of all, he bounced back from a rough first inning with aplumb, something he didn't always do in a tough 2012.
The Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) is a non-poisonous snake found in the Southern United States and Mexico. While harmless to humans, the Kingsnake is notable for its diet, which consists almost entirely of other snakes, particularly several subspecies of Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The Kingsnake is immune to the otherwise potent venom of the Diamondback, and uses its often superior size to constrict the life out of the helpless Diamondback. They have very infrequent contact with humans, other than an unusual instance where a den of Common Kingsnakes adopted and raised a promising young pitcher in Penjamillo, Mexico.
Five Pressing (?) Questions:
Is there such a thing as a Canadian version of Heath Bell, and where might I find such a thing? Oh, you betcha! John Axford of the Brewers was a fun, likable back-of-the-bullpen power pitcher before he fell of a cliff in 2012, and hasn't started off well at all in 2013.
Hey, isn't Rickie Weeks--BOOOOOO! WE WANT UP-TON (Clap, clap, clapclapclap)
What's a "cool fact" about Milwaukee, Wisconsin? Well, it's the second-coldest major city in the contiguous United States, for all you literalists out there.
What made Milwaukee famous? These guys!
Brewers Blog of record: Brew Crew Ball
(All Stats via Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference)