Baseball

         VS

Records: White Sox 5-4 / Brewers 3-3

Start Times: All Games @ 7:10

TV: NBCSH

Bud Selig’s Ghost: Brew Crew Ball

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Game 1: Carlos Rodon (0-1, 12.27 ERA) vs. Brett Anderson (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Game 2: Lucas Giolito (1-1, 6.52 ERA) vs Brandon Woodruff (1-1, 1.59 ERA)

Game 3: Adrian Houser (0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs Dallas Keuchel (2-0, 3.38 ERA)

Game 4: TBD vs. Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 7.36 ERA)

 

After this very successful weekend for the Pale Hose, our attention turns to the next series against the Brewers. Having had their weekend tilt against the Cardinals postponed due to some apparently casino-related Rona action, the Brewers not only sat around and didn’t do much, but they lost Lorenzo Cain as he decided the risk wasn’t worth it and opted out for the rest of the season. While he hadn’t been what he was during his heyday in KC, Cain was still a solid contributor who posted at least an .800 or greater OPS in 3 of the last 5 seasons. He was also a plus defender on the other side of the ball, having won a gold glove last year.

Replacing him in the OF will most likely be Ben Gamel, who is the definition of “a guy,” and he’ll be joined Old Friend Avisail Garcia and all-universe Miami cast off Christian Yelich. The Brewers infield has improved simply from bringing their #1 overall prospect Keston Hiura up late last season. Hiura managed an impressive .303/.368/.938 slash line last year with 19 home runs in only what amounts to half a season. The kid has pop in his bat for days and the patience to match, making him and Yelich a deadly combo at the top third of their lineup.

As far as their rotation goes there really aren’t many big names here, but they somehow always manage to be at least league average. Brandon Woodruff is the de facto ace of the group, who relies on his mid 90s fastball and a plus changeup that he uses for his punchout pitch. He came tearing out of the gate last year, going 11-3 and earning his first ever all star game nod before he hit the IL with an oblique issue in July that kept him on the shelf until just before the playoffs.

After Woodruff, the rest is just sort of there. Craig Counsell is the type of coach that’s not afraid to go to his bullpen and when it’s as good as the one he has you can’t really blame him. With the back end of Brent Suter, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader shutting down pretty much everything from the 7th inning on, teams have to make hay against the starters in the early innings while they can. If the Sox bats can get ahead of Woodruff and company, they stand a decent shot of being able to make Counsell go to his pen early and often hopefully wearing them down.

The Brewers with Cain were a pretty solid offensive team in 2019, ranking 10th overall in the league so the starters should probably have their A game especially with Hiura and Yelich at the front. Keeping the walks to a minimum is a must, as the Brewers like to swipe bags when they can (ranking 3rd overall in the NL last season). Grandal and McCann are going to have their hands full, so keeping as many Brewers off the basepaths will be appreciated.

As for the Sox, they announced the arrival of Nomar Mazara today off the RONA-IL, which hopefully should signal the end of the Nicky Delmonico Experiment for the time being. With Leury Garcia most likely out for at least game 1 of the series while he tends to a death in his family, Danny Mendick and his creepy mustache will most likely get another start at SS. Luis Robert has probably cemented his spot atop the lineup for the foreseeable future with his performance in KC over the weekend. His easy power is a sight to behold, as I’ve never seen someone seemingly put less effort into ponging baseballs off the outfield fence.

With the Sox now sitting in 2nd place division-wise this week should provide a good test for the young team. Carlos (Hard Karl) Rodon gets a shot at redemption, and I fully expect him to have the same result that Dylan Cease did yesterday. If he’s able to turn it around, suddenly the only question in the pitching rotation is Gio Gonzalez (who looked pretty pedestrian in his 3.2 innings on Saturday). If he’s unable to start giving the Sox at least 4-5 innings per start I could see Rick Hahn eyballing Dane Dunning for some starts.

This should be a fun series between two very solid teams. Bare minimun here for the Sox should be a 2-2 split, which the way the rotation lines up should be pretty achievable. 5 is better than 4, keep the party going. Let’s Go Sox.

 

White Sox "Elite" Image By @SavesTuesday

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 10, Brewers 5

Game 2 Box Score: Brewers 7, Cubs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Brewers 3, Cubs 2

Game 4 Box Score: Brewers 8, Cubs 5

To review: the past two weekends, the Cubs had the chance to end the Brewers season, separate themselves in the wildcard race (which should only be viewed as the faintest of consolation prizes) while maintaining a gap on the Cardinals that would be easily manageable in the seven games that are left with them. And to remind you, this is a Brewers team aching to be given a lethal injection, as they’ve been nothing but .500 for 60 games now.

All the Cubs managed to do was make themselves the team that needs to be put out of its misery, keep everyone involved, and maybe make the Cardinals, the definition of a mediocre outfit, out of reach. They did so a shining example of how every level of this team has failed from the end of last season (importantly, not during it). The ownership that wouldn’t spend, the front office that needed to be bailed out by cash because of all its mistakes, the manager who doesn’t see the game or his team for what it is, and players who have refused to grow, or change, or adjust, and are simply not good enough.

I would love to tell you the Cubs are finished and you can go about your lives. My hunch is that they’ll death spasm for a week to make the last week or two matter or something, and all that will be is a chance for all of these systematic failures to rear their ugly head again.

Let’s review it all. They win the first game, because the offense isn’t quite bad enough to go quiet for four games. But then Cole Hamels, who clearly was rushed back from an injury that he had struggled to come back from before, had to hump it up to even crack 90 MPH and was labeled. Ok, that happens. It happens too much to this team but it happens.

Saturday night is everything. It was their third look in just over a month at Gio Gonzalez. Their manager, who clearly electrocuted himself in his office before the game in some bizarre experiment, starts Albert Almora at leadoff, even though he might as well go up there with a fish. Almora along with everyone else still hasn’t figured out that Gio is not going to come inside, or to the middle of the plate, or even to the outside corner, unless you make him. But there’s everyone trying to yank the baseball out to Minocqua and rolling out to third or short, including Almora in a huge spot after the Cubs got two on with no out. Inning over.

This is after you’ve learned Javy Baez is probably done for the year, and while breaking a thumb is no one’s fault, he was breaking down long before that because the front office provided no depth to get him a day off other than Addison Russell occasionally, who is too stupid to go up there with a fish (or the manager’s utter terror to even try Bote at short for a game or two). So your offense is limited, and gets shut down by Gonzalez once again. Your manager, while attempting to turn discarded sunflower seeds into wine, says that his team struggles against Gio because they keep expanding their zone. Did he bother to tell his players this? Did they not listen if he did? Either way, this seems like a flashing light about why the door is going to hit Joe on the ass on September 30th.

Still, thanks to Yu Darvish, you’re in it, and generate a rally against Josh Hader. You take the lead, but Kris Bryant can’t extend it because he’s on one leg and has been for a month at least, again because the depth provided hasn’t allowed him to get the additional week or two off he clearly, desperately needs. He hasn’t hit a fastball above his mid-thing hard for weeks. And he can’t. Somehow, Ian Happ is good enough to pinch-hit against Hader but not good enough to start against Gonzalez ahead of Almora, despite having one of the best handles on the zone on the team.

Then Joe Maddon goes to work. Brilliant, glorious, galaxy-brained work. You’re up one in the 8th of a game you really need. It’s 2-3-4. This is not a time to match up. This is not a time to get cute. You send your best guy out there, and figure out how to get the thoroughly unimpressive bottom of the Brewers order in the 9th later. You do not send out David Phelps, something you found in the Toronto storage room. You do not send out Derek Holland, who has earned nothing while being here, much less the right to face the reigning MVP in the 8th inning of a tie game. You send out Wick. You send out Kinztler, that’s all you have. And because of the mishegas in the 8th, you only assure yourself of having to face Yelich again in the 9th.

Your “backup” shortstop, the one with cold oatmeal for brains, makes an error to let a runner on. You get through Grandal by some miracle, and then you walk Yelich. He’s all that’s left. He’s basically all they have. The manager himself said he’s like Bonds now, except he didn’t treat him like Bonds. You don’t walk him, baseball thinking be damned. And when you don’t do that, you allow Yelich to do stuff like this:

That’s a good pitch. Maybe it’s a little high, but it’s barely ticking the zone. But Yelich doesn’t miss right now. He hasn’t missed in two years. There isn’t away around him. Fairly sure there’s a way around Eric Thames. Just a hunch.

After that…well who cares? Jon Lester is your fifth starter and you get whatever you can, which sometimes isn’t much. And it’s truly symbolic that in the 5th, when everything went off, was a result of the Brewers doing exactly what the Cubs refused, or can’t, or both to Gonzalez, and that is just taking those pitches on the outside to right field over and over. Eventually you’ll get the mistake you want when the pitcher is wary of that. Goodnight.

I’m genuinely angry I have to keep watching this team. They’re not enjoying it, we’re not enjoying it, and everyone wants to just go home and be done with it. Do I think an utter collapse would cause changes? Not the ones you want. The Ricketts Family told you when it became public how Tom sold the purchase to Daddy. They’ll sell out Wrigley no matter what. That’s why they bought the team. They have all the buildings now. There was an urgency once, otherwise you wouldn’t hire the best available front office mind in Theo Epstein to overhaul your whole operation. But there isn’t now. They’ve got the property, they’ve got their channel, and they’ve got their one bauble to point to to justify it all. Whatever comes this winter is more likely to resemble deck chairs, or a move backwards.

Oh sure, Maddon will go. Maybe that’s enough, but I don’t know what a new manager does with the players from the system who have proven inflexible and not up to the standard of the Dodgers or Braves, or now not even the Cardinals. Those players were threatened withe expulsion last winter, but they’re all still here. There are no young pitchers coming to save the day. Alzolay will basically have to be a mutli-inning bullpen weapon due to his lack of innings. That’s it. That’s all there is. And Gerrit Cole or an opting-out Strasburg aren’t coming through the door either.

Just shoot it, this season. End the misery.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 75-63   Brewers 71-67

GAMETIMES: Thursday/Saturday 6:10, Friday 7:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: NBCSN Thursday/Friday/Sunday, WGN Saturday

KHALIL IS COMING FOR THEM TOO: Brew Crew Ball

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Brewers Spotlight

Try it again, assholes.

The Cubs had a chance to end this stupid Brewers season and annoyance last weekend, and after looking like they might actually do the things they said they were going to in the offseason–y’know, the stuff about being ruthless and getting that extra win instead of being checked out and putting teams away and really the things actual really good teams do–in the first game they promptly went to sleep like an old family dog for the next two. They didn’t score a run, they didn’t look like they wanted to score a run, they didn’t look like they knew how even if they wanted to, and this Brewers thing is still hanging by a thread.

So now the Cubs will have to do it in what has been something of a house of horrors this season. The campaign’s first weekend saw the Cubs get mutilated up there, and then the next trip saw them have two of their dumber losses of the season in the late innings. This is the time for that happy horeshit anymore.

And the Brewers need at least three of these, possibly all four, though a split probably keeps the last rites away for a few more days. They’re four games behind the Cubs for the second wildcard spot, which makes the division lead pretty much unattainable for them. They also have to leap the Phillies and Diamondbacks to even get at the Cubs. so this is desperate shit. Which means three Cubs wins ends the Brewers season, which would be at least something to feel good about at the moment.

Since you last saw this outfit, they split two games with the Astros at home. Jordan Lyles somehow danced around and through the Astros lineup made of monsters and mutants for their win, while their Labor Day loss came in extras after Christian Yelich once again pulled their ass out of a sling in the bottom of the 9th. However you slice it, this is pretty much the Brewers’ last stand. Then again, it should have been last weekend, and yet here we are. They’ll probably think if they can really take hold of this series, their schedule is pretty light afterwards and the possibility of a ridiculous closing kick like last year is still there.

They get the Marlins for four after this before a stop in St. Louis. After that it’s Padres, Pirates, Reds, and Rockies for them, which yeah, is something a team that had to could tear through if so inclined. Whether this Brewers bunch with its two starters and a bullpen made up of 1st round Punchout characters can is another debate.

For the Cubs, they’ll show up pretty wounded, but having to gut it out. There’s no telling if Javy Baez and Kris Bryant are actually healthy, but they’ve each gotten two days off now and the hope is that’s enough. There isn’t another off-day for two and a half weeks, so the words “suck it up” are going to reverberate around. Yu Darvish is apparently good to go for Saturday as well.

With the Cards losing last night, the lead is still claw-back-able. But they get to play the Pirates on the weekend, so the Cubs can’t really afford any slips here. And let’s but to the truth, it’s enough of the horseshit. Either you are you keep saying you should be, or you are what you’ve showed us for five fucking months. This Brewers team is aching to be put out of its misery, and it’s time the Cubs finally dong-whipped this team around for a few. Now that they’ve won two road series in a row, they don’t have to answer those questions. There are eight games here agains beatable teams. So beat them and shut up.

TIME TO MAKE THE CHIMI-FUCKING-CHANGAS.

 

Baseball

We know in one sport that the state of Wisconsin likes to hold itself up as a beacon of “the right way” and “what football should be.” It’s nauseating as fuck and hardly true, as the career of the greatest QB of all-time goes pretty much to waste. And really, their baseball team should be more of an example to others than that. At least in one sense.

Most teams, or owners to be precise, think the way to the mountain top is to dive for the valley first. Sell off anything that’s not nailed down, acquire prospects and pool money, get high picks in the draft, take three-four years, and presto. You’re the Astros or Cubs. It worked a couple times, so many assume this is the only way. Of course, owners like this plan because they can promise fans they know what they’re doing and the reward is coming while also getting to spend nothing for a few season and soak in the profits.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and the Brewers have proved it. You can become a contender, such as the Brewers are, by just being shrewd and making your move at the right time. You don’t need a slew of top-three picks to reconstruct a system.

The Brewers have never really bottomed out this decade. Since winning the Central in 2011, they only had one truly bad campaign, which was in 2015 where they only managed 68 wins. Which is the season that got David Stearns the GM job and kicked Doug Melvin upstairs.

But Stearns was able to profit off the work Melvin had done before, as soon the system was producing Kyle Davies, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Domingo Santana (before he returned to the Earth’s core, apparently), Josh Hader (the latter two in a trade with the Astros). Most of these players would form the backbone of the recent Brewers teams that have been so annoying.

And it was Melvin’s picks in the past that made up the haul for Christian Yelich from the Marlins, which of course is the biggest move of all. Stearns sensed there was something there for the Brewers have an 86-win campaign in 2017, and struck. He also signed Lorenzo Cain, who was a down-ballot MVP candidate last season. At no point did the Brewers have to spend three or four seasons making up the numbers, making players up, and making everyone in Milwaukee go do something else.

More teams should probably do this, because it’s less torturous. The problem is, the boom window might not last as long, and that’s what the Brewers could be finding out.

They have little option going forward but to keep going for it, as Yelich only has three years left on his contract (two years plus a team option that is most certainly going to be exercised). As we said with the Packers, you don’t waste a perennial MVPs prime. But Cain is aging quickly, the pitching staff is in shambles, and as they’re finding out this year, a team built on a bullpen has the rockiest of foundations.

They’re also not terribly young in the field. Keston Hiura and Yelich are the only regulars who matter that are under 30. and Grandal has a mutual option in the winter so he’s no guarantee to come back (though given how free agency went for him and many others last time, he may just take the security of a paycheck). So to suggest anyone other than Hiura or Yelich is going to be as good next year is the hilt of cock-eyed.

The rotation is probably priority one, as they can no longer know what Jimmy Nelson will be and Brandon Woodruff appears to be constructed entirely of matchsticks. This team could use Gerrit Cole more than just about anyone, but he’s headed straight to Anaheim when free agency opens. Anthony Rendon would be an upgrade on the corners, though that would involve moving Moustakas to either second or first full-time. And the former isn’t really an option thanks to Hiura.

It’s also a question of how high the Brewers can go. They draw well when they’re good, and they’ve been good the past three years. But they’re already on the hook for in the neighborhood of $160M next year, and it’s hard to see them going too much higher and anywhere near $200M next season or anytime soon.

You can rebuild by patchwork and creativity. But you don’t end up with quite the base. What the Brewers do going into next season will show just how sustainable, and attractive, their option for building a team is for others.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 68-65   Cubs 72-61

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday at 1:20

TV: WGN Friday, NBCSN Saturday/Sunday

WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE: Brew Crew Ball

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Brewers Spotlight

We should know better than to get all hot and bothered and moist over the Cubs after their sweep of the Mets. We’ve been here all second half, where they look great for a series or two, and then right about the time you’re ready to buy in, ease the seat back, reach down between your legs, they barf up a lung. It looks poised for them, because sweeping the Mets–including getting one over deGrom and Thor–after a gut-punch of a series against the Nats feels like a good recovery. It feels like a landmark. And three dates with a Brewers team that is begging for the needle seems a launchpad for something bigger. But we know better. Tread lightly.

That said, the Cubs can absolutely put the Crew out of their misery this weekend or next, as they have seven games with these goofs that have definitely gone off the boil. Since June 1st, they are 36-39, and the reason is pretty obvious. They can’t get no damn pitching. Adrian Houser and Jordan Lyles have kept the roof from collapsing, but Gio Gonzalez, Zach Davies, and Chase Anderson have looked like that kid throwing firecrackers in Boogie Nights. And those are the three the Cubs will get, so….FIRE!

You’ll be amazed that a team that got a surprise season out of a no-name bullpen and then tried to run it back again this year has found that didn’t work, but it’s true. Of late, their new additions to the pen have again been propping up the ceiling, but mainstays like Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader have been straight up bad. Same goes for Curse Of The Spread Matt Albers, so Craig Counsell has been making a lot of Craig Counsell faces.

Offensively, the Brewers have been fine, but when other units are less than fine they need more. Christian Yelich remains a football in the groin, and Ryan Braun has rolled back the years the past month and we know what happens at Wrigley with him (shudder, shudder). But Grandal lost his power in August, maybe due to a season behind the plate, and Lorenzo Cain might be dead. Keston Hiura and Mike Moustakas aren’t easy outs, but this is the same group the Cubs waltzed past just a few weeks ago. Not that much has changed.

The Brewers come in only three and a half games behind the Cubs, so they’re probably viewing this week as a last stand. But winning both of these upcoming series will see the Cubs likely six and a half ahead with a mere three weeks to go, and you could stick a fork in them. The Brewers had a chance to stake their place with six games against the Cardinals, and they lost four of them. And they mostly got pumped in those losses. They’re barely hanging on here, and it’s past time to stomp on their fingers and send them plummeting to the rocks below.

To the cliffs…

Baseball

While Christian Yelich took home the MVP trophy and most of the plaudits for the Brewers rise from the muck (not fair, Milwaukee is surprisingly lovely but we’ve got a role to play here) to a game from the World Series, Lorenzo Cain had his part to play as well. He was back to his Royals-best, nearly a six-WAR player, setting a career-high in batting average and playing an exemplary centerfield. Certainly he brought a swag to the Crew that helped them to their best season in recent memory.

So it would probably be fair to also point some arrows at him now that the Brewers appear to be resigned to their fate, sinking back into that muck from whence they came with little resistance.

Cain has fallen off a cliff offensively this year, suffering a 50-point drop in his average, 70-point drop in OBP, and a 60-point drop in slugging. He’s been worth a 77 wRC+, which is simply awful, 23 points below average. He’s been worth one win, due solely to his defense, a precipitous drop from ’18.

There are some easy causes to spot. His walk-rate has dropped from 11.5% to 8.4%, though the latter number is much closer to his career mark and last year was the outlier. That’s certainly not helping his on-base much. He’s also seen a 63-point drop in his BABIP, so he’s been a touch unlucky. Cain usually carries a higher-than-normal BABIP because of his speed, but that might be on the wane as he’s got half the steals from last year (30 to 16) with less than a month to go.

But it’s not that simple. While Cain is hitting more line-drives this season, even with the Titleist balls he’s seen a drop in his hard-contact rate while most everyone else is going the other way. And Cain has had issues with breaking and off-speed pitches, which is usually an indication that he’s leaning out a bit on fastballs, something of a marker of age. And he is 33, which is bordering on old.

Last year, Cain his .240 on change-ups, .271 on sliders, and .394 on curves. Those numbers this year are .164, .247, and .211, while his marks on fastballs remain just about the same. However, Cain might consider himself seriously unlucky, because his line-drive rate on all of those pitches is significantly higher than it was last season. That said, his whiff-rates on curves and changes, the real off-speed stuff, has gone up significantly too. So he can’t curse the gods about everything.

There also seems to be a shift in Cain’s approach. Last year, Cain had a 4.9 average launch-angle, which is way below what he used to do. This year it’s back up to 6.4, but it’s come at the price of what he’s doing at the bottom of the zone.

It’s the same story with slugging as well. Perhaps a fixation with getting the ball up in the air, or just not on the ground as much, has left him vulnerable.

Still, it’s a concern. The Brewers are not a young team by any stretch, and there isn’t a lot of help coming in the next year or two from the system. Whatever help there may be is already there, in the form of Keston Hiura and now Trent Grisham (who might push Cain off of center one day soon). Cain has three years left on his deal, which will take him to 36, and it figures that more and more of his speed is going to go on him.

Considering Braun is aging as well, and Grandal is only around for one more season after this one, and the state of the pitching staff, it could go out from under the Brewers in a hurry. Shame, that.

Baseball

Well that’s easy. Bryant is weird, in that he might be the blandest person in baseball who really only just wants to play baseball. But I’m not here to discuss whether this guy is the human interpretation of beige or not.

And I’m certainly not here to claim that Bryan is bad, or disappointing, or anything remotely close. He’s been the Cubs best player in fWAR, and in wRC+. In the former, he’s the 7th-best player in the NL, and in the latter category 10th. So if I were to call these kinds of performance disappointing, I’d be perhaps the biggest asshole in the world (and I yet may be). Bryant has an outside shot at having his fourth 6.0+ WAR season, which would be every season he’s been healthy. He’ll have to hustle, but it’s possible. Also, since he came into the league, the only two players better than him are Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, in terms of WAR.

Clearly, Bryant is still very, very special.

Still, I have thought all season that with baseballs flying everywhere, former squeegee-holders now surpassing 30 homers, that it’s a touch weird that Kris Bryant isn’t anywhere near his career-high in homers or slugging. His career-high in homers was 39 in his MVP-year of 2016, and he’s at 25 now. It’s not that he couldn’t go nuclear in the season’s last six weeks here, and get up around that 39 number. It’s just unlikely, along with improving his slugging some 19 points to get to the .554 mark, also from 2016.

When digging into this a bit, it was a little startling to see that Bryant doesn’t really hit the ball all that hard.

Bryant’s hard-contact rate is 35%. That ranks 61st in the National League, which is only 16 spots ahead of last of all qualified players in the league, and really doesn’t compare to the likes of Yelich and Bellinger, who are over 50%. Bryant also only has a line-drive rate of just 19.5%. That’s not that far off his career-mark of 21%, and you’ve never really think of Bryant spraying line-drives everywhere. Actually, in his injury-ravaged season of ’18, he had a 25% line-drive rate, but that could be attributed to his shoulder problems and an inability to get the ball in the air as he had before.

Still, Bryant is hitting more grounders than he ever has, which can’t really be explained away as good in any fashion. If you go by exit velocity, his 87.6 MPH average is very pedestrian. It’s behind by two MPH what he did in 2016, but again, this is a season where the baseball is souped up with nitrous to be labeled all over the field.

In fact, if you go by StatCast, Bryant is lucky to have the numbers he does. His expected slugging and weighted on-base, based on the kind of contact he’s making, are both some 40 points below what his actual slugging and weighted on-base average are. Bryant’s 17.7% home run per fly ball rate is a little high, but not obscene to what he’s done before. But again, in this environment, it feels like it’s a touch low.

One angle could be is that Bryant, at least this season, has developed something of a hole in his swing up in the zone:

Bryant for his career was still pretty deadly high and high and inside in the zone, and that hasn’t been the case this year. I don’t think however, that if he were getting to those pitches as well it would do something about his contact numbers. It would affect his slugging and homers, at least you’d think so. He would be hitting more of those towering homers that just never seem to come down, that you’re picturing in your mind right now.

Still, Bryant only has one season of making hard-contact over 40% of the time, which again, was his MVP year. And for comparison, his 40.6% hard-contact rate that year ranked fifth in the NL. That mark would be 15th now (tied with Kyle Schwarber, strangely).

There is something about Bryant’s swing and style that just don’t make you think he should be hitting the ball viciously hard every time, while still being awfully productive. Again, the numbers are the numbers and no one should be upset with what Bryant has given.

There’s just this feeling that the atmosphere has changed, more and more hitters have caught up to what Bryant was doing, and he hasn’t geared up with them. Essentially putting up the same numbers and rates with this baseball suggests moving backwards a bit, or that he’s not completely healthy either. Being weak high in the zone, which he wasn’t before, could also suggest that shoulder isn’t quite 100%, but that’s just speculation. And last year, when he was definitely hurt, he was actually worse lower in the zone.

Look, this is Kris Bryant we’re talking about. GALACTUS. There might be only one player in the NL you’d even consider trading him for (Bellinger, and that’s mostly due to age). It just seems weird that Bryant isn’t putting up Belinger or Yelich numbers when everything is bent for him to do so.

Then again, this is probably complaining about the back of Penelope Cruz’s knee or something.

Baseball

One would think that after being one game from the team’s first World Series in 36 years, the Brewers would have wanted to build on that this season. The offseason came, and they sort of did with the signing of Yasmani Grandal, which was certainly an upgrade at catcher. Still, the team’s bugaboo–the rotation–remained untouched. It made some sense, as full seasons from Brandon Woodruff and a returning Jimmy Nelson would have improved the team’s weak link by themselves.

But those things didn’t happen. Both Woodruff and Nelson have been discovered to be made of leftover moving boxes and used engine oil, and rotate on and off the IL every couple of hours. Gio Gonzalez was once again scavenged from whatever forest discarded toys go to live, and the Brewers have made up the rest along the way. Jhoulys Chacin couldn’t rediscover whatever potion some witch in a hut gave him last year, and he’s hurt as well now.

But thanks to the Cardinals and Cubs also engaging in a season-long “Who can kick their own ass the hardest?” contest, the Brewers remain perched near the top of the division. Surely a move for a starter or two was in the offing. No, Zack Greinke was never a candidate, as the Brewers don’t have the system or the money to bring that aboard. But maybe they could find something with Aaron Sanchez? Or Marcus Stroman? Mike Leake would have probably been an improvement on what’s here. One or two other names would certainly be an alternative to openers and Housers and whatever other flotsam the Brewers have been sending out to the mound on a piece of driftwood.

And yet nothing. The Brewers love to claim small-market whenever possible, and yet they have one of the best attendance marks in the league and drew three million fans just last year. Certainly the profits are there, at least for a couple of months of someone.

All the Brewers did was bring in another converted-starter in Drew Pomeranz, who admittedly has looked good as a reliever. It’s just a doubling down on what went on last year, as the Brewers will essentially ask their starters not to strangle themselves and hope the hopped-up pen can take the rest.

It’s a gamble, because while Josh Hader is still striking out the world he’s been getable. Notice just yesterday his coughing up of a lead to Matt Chapman on his third day of use in a row, the first ever time he’s ever done that. He won’t be doing that again anytime soon. The Brewers also don’t have Knebel around this time, as they did last year, who was having nearly as dominant a season. Jeremy Jeffress is the perfect example of reliever roulette that a team plays when counting on anyone but the very top percentile of relievers. He can be anything on a given day.

And the Brewers might not have any future answers either. They’ll certainly have to try Woodruff and Nelson again next year, but Nelson will be 31 and Woodruff 27, so you might already know where they are. Zack Brown, their highest and closest pitching prospect, has been getting his skull turned into paste at AAA, and other pitching prospects are at least two seasons away. They very well may have to dip into the free agent market, and their fans will probably be whispering the word, “Gerrit” all winter.

Because the Brewers’ window isn’t all that big. Lorenzo Cain is already aging, and most of all Christian Yelich only has two years left on his deal before he makes the moon and maybe one of Jupiter’s as well. Are the Brewers going to pay that? Only Keston Hiura can be considered a young star, and maybe not the kind you can pivot a team around. We don’t know yet. Feels like there should have been more urgency around this deadline considering their standing.

But then again, maybe they feel like we do about the Cubs, and think if you’re knee-deep in this muck, you’re probably not that good anyway.

Baseball

Christian Yelich will tell you there haven’t been any swing changes. He’s not trying to make a more uppercut swing. Cubs fans will tell you it’s all the product of strange vents and signals at Miller Park. Brewers fans will tell you they just got the right player at the right time. There’s obviously way more to it and different than that, but whatever the cause, the Brewers have a player who is living in Trout-land this year (you really need to take a minute to consider that as bananas as Yelich’s season is, this is the year Trout puts up every time out. This is just the norm for him. He just shits them out).

While it certainly hurts that the Cubs placed calls to the Marlins about Yelich only to watch him go up the wrong side of I-94, they never could have matched the package the Brewers sent south, nor could anyone have predicted this is what the Brewers would get. While Yelich was certainly entering or had just entered his prime upon moving from Miami to Milwaukee, you don’t expect this kind of spike. “Spike” probably doesn’t even convey it correctly. “Eruption” comes closer.

So what’s fueling the jump from his Marlins days to last year, and last year to this year? Appears to be a couple things, but we’ll see if we can’t find out.

As a Marlin, Yelich used to be your gap-to-gap, line-drive guy. And he still hits a fair amount of line-drives, but over the past two seasons he’s been less and less concerned with going the opposite way. Though when your home stadium rigs your pulled fly balls to ride the jet stream into the bratwurst of Bob and Beverly from Fond du Lac, why wouldn’t you pull the ball as much as you could? Yelich’s opposite field percentage dropped to 27% last year from its usual perch around 30%, and this year it’s a mere 20% as he’s gone whole-hog on the grip-and-rip-it school of hitting philosophy.

He’s taken that last part to a bit of an extreme this year, as he’s swinging at almost 10% more pitches in the zone than he did last year. For the first time in his career he’s above league-average in that department. And much like Anthony Rizzo, there doesn’t seem to be too many places you can go on him now that he can’t get to and do something with. Look at this stupid chart:

So like, low and in is just about the only place. But he can cover all the way past the outside corner while also being able to turn on anything on his hands, keep it fair and send it far. That’s a pretty small target to hit to find salvation on him. Even compared to last year, you really have to go to the extremes to make him miss, and he’s still awfully disciplined so he’s not going to chase the ridiculous:

So yeah, you can’t throw strikes to him because he’ll crush those, and he won’t chase but if he does he’ll probably get to those too and deposit it in a gap somewhere. Great.

Yelich is also hitting the ball harder than just about anyone else, though he always has. His average exit-velocity has always been 92 MPH or above, except for his last year in Miami. So all the Brewers had to do was to encourage him to get it higher, and well here you go. There’s been a ridiculous spike in that this year, with 38.5% of his contact being considered fly balls, compared to just 23% last year. And this is where you might see some swing changes:

So everything in the middle of the zone he’s sending up now, same goes for high in the zone, and even above the zone he’s putting into the air. And in case you think he’s wasting his time going above the zone, he’s slugging over 1.000 in each of the three spots above the strike zone. You can’t beat him high. But go low in the zone and he thwacks those for the line-drives he still puts up and slugs over 1.000 there too. So yeah, you’re fucked.

And the Brewers have needed it to hang on in the Central, thanks to Lorenzo Cain turning into a fine paste at the plate and Jesus Aguilar running dropping and breaking the vial of magic elixir he had leftover from last year. No one has backed up MVP wins in the NL in a decade since Pujols did it. Cody Bellinger will have a say, but the Dodgers are going to be fine if he drops off a bit. The Brewers need every single bit of this from Yelich. Lucky it looks like this is what he is now.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 23-16   Cubs 22-13

GAMETIMES: Friday and Saturday 1:20, Sunday 6:05

TV: NBCSN Friday, ABC Saturday, ESPN Sunday

YA HEY DERE: Brew Crew Ball

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Gio Gonzalez vs. Jose Quintana

Zach Davies vs. Cole Hamels

Jhoulys Chacin vs. Jon Lester

PROBABLE BREWERS LINEUP

Lorenzo Cain – CF

Christian Yelich – RF

Ryan Braun – LF

Yasmani Grandal – C

Jesus Aguilar – 1B

Mike Moustakas – 3B

Hernan Perez – 2B

Orlando Arcia – SS

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Albert Almora Jr. – CF

Kris Bryant – LF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

David Bote – 3B

Jason Heyward – RF

Addison Russell – 2B

 

When these two last met, Miller Park was still in the glow of last year’s conquering of the noisy neighbors to the south, the Cubs rotation and bullpen were a mess, and to the more unhinged portion of each fanbase, it felt like a real sea change in the power structure of the NL Central. Of course, pretty much since then the Cubs have been the best team in baseball, the rotation among the best, the pen has straightened out, and the Brewers can’t get an out from a starter at all. And as has been the normal course in recent years, the North looks up to the South. As it should be, really.

The Brewers muddled along through April, with just a 14-13 record which allowed the Cubs back into and then through it. They’ve been better since the calendar flipped, going 6-2 in May to get past the Cardinals and be the stalkers to the Cubs’ pace, and those six are all in a row. And much like the Cubs, the schedule didn’t hurt, as May kicked off with the Mets who can’t stop being the Mets, and the Nationals who can’t seem to get right either. So yeah, it all sets up with either team having the possibility of being in first when Monday rolls around, or even tied. These games are just going to have a little extra spice all season.

If you think you know the story with the Brewers, it’s because you do. Pretty decent offense, but not other-worldly, a rotation that makes Baby Jesus cry, and the pen pulling Houdini acts to bail out the former. Christian Yelich hasn’t dropped off from last year, at least he hasn’t at home. He’s putting up a 300 wRC+ at Miller Park, which should be illegal, and a .630 wOBA, but away from Wisconsin he’s been just average. This is probably just a quirk and both will straighten out soon enough, but for now it’s something to hang on to.

He’s had to be that good, because the rest of the crew isn’t coming with him as much as they did last year. Lorenzo Cain has been glove-only pretty much all season. It took Grandal forever to get going. and he’s hit .151 over the last two weeks. Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw have been nothing short of disasters. Needles McGee (Braun) is just a guy now, but don’t worry, he’ll find a killer homer or two this weekend because that’s just a thing he does here. Eric Thames is starting to gobble into Aguilar’s playing time, and they’ve tried to find more ABs for Ben Gamel to get Yelich more support. It’s not quite the same as last year, at least not yet. Considering the age of Cain and Grandal, this could be a touch more than just a bad month. Also, the Brewers haven’t been able to shift their way out of some pretty porous infield defense as they thought they could.

At least the offense is better off than the rotation, which smells of elderberries at the moment. They’ve used nine different guys to start a game already, though that’s inflated by going to an “opener” at times. Chase Andeson is hurt again, and they’re still waiting on Jimmy Nelson to return from an injury he suffered in 2017. Zach Davies has been really good, but is riding the fortune train again because as good as his control is, he doesn’t get strikeouts or ground-balls but isn’t giving up a ton of hard contact either. Brandon Woodruff is on the other side of the BABIP Dragon as he’s suffering through a .385 BABIP while he’s striking out over 11 per nine. Gio Gonzalez has somehow put two good start together after being called in to rescue this outfit but he’s still Gio Gonzalez. He’s not going to keep his walks under one per nine innings for much longer at 33. Chacin and Peralta have been matches and vodka. When Anderson returns and Nelson finally emerges from the crypt, along with Woodruff getting the rub of the green for once, this unit should be pretty decent. It’s getting there that’s the problem, and when Gonzalez and possibly Davies go boom at the same time, they might just be stuck here.

Modern baseball sure is a thing, because the Brewers have gotten out of it mostly with their pen, which has already used 17 guys! Josh Hader is still an instrument of death, striking out 60% of the hitters he sees. But he’s also been homer-prone, which he wasn’t last year, giving up four already when he gave up only nine last year. Because even if you throw 97 all the time, if you’re only throwing fastballs–which Hader seems to be doing this year–MLB hitters are eventually going to time you up. And unlike last year, there haven’t been as many to join him in the Doomsayers Lounge. Matt Albers and the hoagie he brings to the mound have been very good, but that’s about it. Jeremy Jeffress can’t find the plate. Neither can Jacob Barnes. Junior Guerra has been…fine? Once you survive or duck Hader you can actually get at the pen a bit. That wasn’t the case last year.

Be nice to close out this homestand with some Brewer-kicking. Let’s do that.