Jimmy Nelson is the better pitcher. But Mike Fiers is better right now.
The latter reason is exactly why Fiers is the young pitcher the Brewers should keep in the rotation when Matt Garza returns next week.
If you’ve been paying attention over the last month, Fiers is the obvious choice. Though, just because it seems obvious doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. And if you haven’t been paying attention, then you might not realize Nelson has struggled while Fiers has been nearly unhittable.
In his last two starts, Nelson has allowed eight runs (six earned) over just 10 2/3 innings of work for a 5.06 ERA. Opposing batters hit .304 against him in the two games, tallying 14 hits and four walks against just 11 strikeouts.
Granted, the defense hurt Nelson in the three-run third inning Tuesday and a .382 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) shows some bad luck has been involved. But Nelson’s true problem has less to do with him and more to do with Fiers.
Since being called up in early August, Fiers has been lights out.
The deceptive right-hander has gone 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA, allowing just four earned runs in 28 innings over four starts. Fiers has given up just 10 hits and four walks as well, against 32 strikeouts.
Opposing hitters are batting just .109/.146/.196 against Fiers with a .182 BABIP. Half the battle has been just putting the ball in play.
As long as Fiers continues to dominate opposing offenses, he should start every fifth day. And he isn’t showing signs of stopping any time soon.
There’s no doubt Fiers is benefiting at least in part from being a relative unknown to the hitters he’s faced this month. But the good news there is the Cubs and Pirates are the only teams he’d likely face a second time through the end of the season.
As a bonus, a trip to the bullpen could benefit Nelson.
In the short term, a change of scenery and approach could help Nelson improve on his last few starts. It also would give the Brewers another power right-hander in the bullpen, which could prove valuable down the stretch.
In the long term, shifting to the bullpen for a month or longer would keep Nelson’s total innings down and reduce the 25-year-old’s season-long workload. After tossing 162 1/3 innings last year, Nelson already has tallied 163 2/3 with a month to go in this season.
However you look at it, all signs point to Fiers being the Brewers’ best option. We could find out as soon as Tuesday if manager Ron Roenicke and his staff agree.
With a surprise sweep this weekend, the Brewers jumped right back in the race to finish first in the National League. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ tailspin dropped them six games back in the NL Central.
But that doesn’t make this weekend’s series any less important for the Crew.
In fact, it may even mean more now.
The Pirates will come into Milwaukee on Friday desperate for a series win to turn around their fading playoff hopes. If nothing else, this should give the series a postseason atmosphere at Miller Park this weekend.
Beyond maintaining their lead atop the division, a good series for the Brewers would keep the struggling Pirates down. In fact, a series sweep could all but eliminate the Bucs’ chances in the division.
Dropping to nine games back with 32 to play, Pittsburgh would face a significant uphill battle in the Central.
So, the Brewers should not take the Pirates lightly.
Sure, Wednesday’s win was Pittsburgh’s first in eight games. And yes, the Brewers are 10-3 against the Pirates this year and 76-33 since 2008.
But the Brewers can’t afford to overlook the Pirates and simply expect to win two of three. They’re still facing playoff contenders.
Now, I don’t believe the Crew will have any trouble focusing on this weekend’s series. They certainly shouldn’t be distracted by looking ahead to next week’s matchup with the last-place Padres. Although the trip to sunny San Diego should be enticing.
Still, the possibility exists that Pittsburgh could win two of three simply because it needs this series so much more than Milwaukee. But the Brewers have plenty to play for as well.
For one, they need to avoid the worst-case scenario.
If the Pirates were to surprise with a road sweep, they would suddenly be winners of four straight and just three games out. While the Brewers would be on a four-game losing streak and potentially fall out of first place.
That’s the last thing that should happen to the red-hot Brewers. But it’s possible.
Hopefully for the Brewers, they will seize the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow to the pesky Pirates. If they do, it’ll make for a thrilling weekend at Miller Park.
What Mike Fiers did Thursday afternoon was something special.
In striking out 14 Cubs batters over six innings, the Brewers’ right-hander joined an exclusive club that previously had only three members: Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo and Moose Haas.
No other pitchers in club history have recorded 14 or more strikeouts in a single start.
Fiers also joined a list of seven pitchers that have struck out at least 14 batters in no more than six innings. That list includes flamethrowers such as Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, Max Scherzer and Nolan Ryan. And now Fiers.
Look up the list of other pitchers to fan 14 batters in a game this season and you’ll find Fiers some more impressive company: Scherzer, Jose Fernandez, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Jon Lester.
So what this mean for the Brewers and their dazzling 29-year-old right-hander?
Hopefully, Fiers can ignite a much-needed spark for the first-place club.
It’s not often a first-place team — and one that’s been there the entire season — is in need so much help, but the Brewers seem at this point to be leading the National League Central based less on what they’re doing and more on what they’re opponents aren’t doing. That is, winning.
Before the Brewers’ won Thursday afternoon, the top four teams in the division all were 5-5 over the last 10 games. Only the Cubs had won more than they lost, at 6-4.
The inability of the Pirates and Cardinals — and the Reds, who have dropped off dramatically — to take advantage of the stagnancy has allowed the Crew to maintain its slim lead atop the division.
But now Fiers has returned and turned in as dominant a two-start stretch as any Brewers starter this season.
He outdueled Zack Greinke in his return, tossing eight innings of three-hit ball while holding the Dodgers to just one run. But that wasn’t enough, apparently.
Fiers one-upped himself, tossing six shutout innings Thursday while striking out 14 batters. Only Anthony Rizzo avoided striking out against Fiers, while Rizzo and Starlin Castro were the only Cubs with hits off the right-hander.
Combined, Fiers has given up one run on six hits over 14 innings in two wins, with 19 strikeouts.
That’s obviously an unsustainable pace.
But Fiers’ performance Thursday is the type that could spark a hot streak. And the Brewers need it to.
When you think of the Milwaukee Brewers’ best starting pitcher, what name comes to mind?
Matt Garza? Kyle Lohse? Yovani Gallardo? Maybe even Jimmy Nelson?
None of them has been nearly as good as Wily Peralta since the All-Star break.
In winning his last five starts, Peralta has allowed just six earned runs over 33 innings, good for a 1.34 ERA. His most recent outing Thursday afternoon made the Brewers right-hander baseball’s first starter to 14 wins.
Does that make Peralta the Brewers’ best starter?
He certainly has been over the last month. You could make the same argument looking at some of his numbers for the entire season as well. But a closer look shows he’s not quite there — yet.
With the win, Peralta improved to 14-6 with a 3.42 ERA. Only Lohse (3.40) has a better ERA this season among Brewers starting pitchers. Lohse and Gallardo also are the only Brewers starters with more strikeouts this season.
Peralta also leads the rotation in ground ball rate, which he demonstrated by recording 11 of 20 outs on the ground Thursday afternoon. The other nine were strikeouts.
It’s numbers like those that have allowed Peralta to put together such a dominant stretch over the last month.
But digging deeper, you find that while Peralta has been the Brewers’ best lately, Lohse, Garza — and even Gallardo — have been better this season.
All three have higher WAR totals that Peralta, with Garza’s 2.2 leading the pack. Peralta also trails all three in terms of fielding independent pitching (FIP), with Garza’s 3.53 FIP being the best.
You can also count home run rate, walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, win probability added and strikeout-to-walk ratio among the stats in which Peralta does not lead the staff.
So where does Peralta rank?
While he’s not the team’s best starter, he certainly is its hottest. More importantly, he may be the biggest key to the Brewers’ success down the stretch.
Whereas Peralta was strong through 10 starts this season and again in his last five, the 25-year-old right-hander struggled through the eight outings in between. Despite picking up wins in five of those eight, Peralta posted a 6.38 ERA.
But if he can maintain something close to his current form, Peralta has the potential to be that ace that allows the rotation to carry the Brewers down the stretch.