If it weren’t for Bryce Harper, Brewers slugger Ryan Braun might be the hottest hitter in baseball. But there’s no shame here in second place.
Since April 28, Braun leads MLB in RBIs with 33 and ranks second behind Harper with 11 home runs. Braun is batting .289/.377/.691 over this stretch, with six doubles, 22 runs scored and 15 walks to go along with the power numbers.
Looking at May, the totals drop off slightly, but Braun still is having one of the best calendar months of his career.
Braun’s .273 average this month is nothing special, but his eight home runs and 27 RBIs each rank in the top six of any single month of his career. It’s the ninth time Braun has topped eight home runs in a single month, including five months of nine or more. At 27 RBIs with three games to play in May, Braun is within reach of his career-best mark of 29 runs batted in during September 2007.
His 1.029 OPS entering Wednesday’s game was Braun’s ninth best, with his top mark being 1.181 in April 2011, when he hit 10 home runs, three doubles and a triple, with 23 RBIs.
What is most remarkable about Braun’s power surge is how unlikely it looked just a month ago. Before getting hot, the former National League MVP had posted a slash line of .226/.273/.274 over his first 18 games, with just one home run, four RBIs and more strikeouts (15) than hits (14). That slow start followed two years in which his offensive numbers dipped to .275/.339/.466 with 28 home runs and 119 RBIs over 196 games.
Braun’s power surge also presents an intriguing dilemma for the Milwaukee Brewers. Do you sell high if he stays hot in June, or do you build around the former face of the franchise?
The former option is the better long-term move, provided the club does not retain too much of Braun’s salary in order to move him to a contending club. The latter option is a better move for drawing fans to Miller Park through the rest of this season, but could slow the much-needed rebuilding process in Milwaukee.
Either way, Braun’s hot month has dramatically improved his value.
This could have been the year of Scooter.
After splitting time with Rickie Weeks last year, Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett was given the chance to take over the full-time job. With a solid season, Gennett could have established himself as the team’s second baseman of the future, or at least the next few years. Instead, he’s squandered that opportunity through the first quarter of the season.
Gennett has batted just .154/.203/.200 over 21 games with 10 singles, one home run and three RBIs. He also walked twice — both intentional passes on April 17 as the Pirates pitched around him to face the pitcher — and was hit by a pitch, while striking out 19 times. Nineteen strikeouts in 69 plate appearances put his strikeout rate at 27.5 percent, or higher than his on-base percentage. Missing two weeks with a freak hand injury didn’t do him any favors, either.
So now the fan-favorite second baseman has been sent to Class AAA to figure things out. How long will that take?
When the Brewers made a similar move with Weeks in 2007, he batted .455/.571/.682 over six games before returning. Weeks went from a .212/.330/.363 slash line through July 31 to a .273/.442/.553 mark over his final 43 games of the season. Whether Gennett’s demotion has a similar impact remains to be seen, but the bigger question is whether it even matters.
Gennett entered the season as a career .300 hitter, but offered little more beyond his solid batting average. He can’t hit left-handed pitching — .112/.141/.124 career slash line in 89 at-bats — and appears to be best suited for a platoon role going forward. His defense, while adequate, is not good enough to make up for any offensive shortcomings.
It’s possible Gennett could return in June or even by the end of the month and look more like the hitter he was in 2013 and ’14. It’s also possible this demotion is the beginning of the end for Gennett as the Brewers’ everyday second baseman.
While second base is not a strong position in Milwaukee’s farm system, the club has a number of well-regarded shortstop prospects, with Orlando Arcia, Luis Sardinas and Yadiel Rivera being the closest to major-league ready. If one of them is given a chance to play every day this year or next, it could force Jean Segura over to second base and leave Gennett as the odd man out. Sardinas, who was acquired in the Yovani Gallardo trade with the Texas Rangers, joined the big league club when Segura went out with an injury and has an excellent opportunity to showcase his ability in Segura’s absence.
Meanwhile, Hector Gomez and Elian Herrera will get a chance to show what they can do at second base.
If he sorts things out in Colorado Springs, the second base job remains Gennett’s to lose. But he might do just that if it doesn’t translate to major-league success upon his return.
Mike Fiers is striking out batters at a historic rate for the Milwaukee Brewers.
It’s still May, so there’s little doubt his numbers will regress, but his 12.25 strikeouts per nine innings ranks highest among qualified pitchers in franchise history. Next on the list is Zack Greinke at 10.54 K/9 in 2011, and Ben Sheets at 10.03 in 2004 is the only other pitcher above 10.
Former ace Yovani Gallardo’s seasons from 2009 to 2012 rank fourth through seventh, while Jimmy Nelson’s 8.75 mark entering Wednesday’s game was eighth. Expanding out further, Fiers numbers are even more impressive.
He leads the National League and ranks second in MLB behind Cleveland Indians starter Danny Salazar’s 13.09 mark. At his current rate, Fiers would be eighth all-time in MLB, amid five outstanding seasons from Randy Johnson, who also holds the top mark at 13.41 K/9 in 2001. Other names in the top 10 include Kerry Wood and Pedro Martinez. Not bad company to keep.
Unfortunately for Fiers, his other numbers haven’t translated quite as well.
His 3.75 BB/9 is among the 10 highest in the NL, the 1.50 HR/9 rate is in the top 15, and opponents’ batting average on balls in play against Fiers is second-highest in the NL at .383. When Fiers isn’t missing bats, he’s getting in trouble by putting runners on base and compounding that with bad luck on balls in play. This is somewhat reflected in the difference between his 5.00 ERA, 3.94 FIP and 3.32 xFIP. With fielding out of the equation and a normalized home run rate, his numbers improve significantly.
Fiers is unlikely to finish the season above 12 K/9, something that’s been done only nine times in MLB history. Having entered the season with a career rate of 9.17, he may not even join Greinke and Sheets above the 10.0 mark.
Still, Fiers’ remarkable strikeout rate is something to keep an eye on as the season plays out.
Craig Counsell has watched Milwaukee Brewers games for 35 years. Now, we get to find out what he’s learned along the way.
As a kid, he spent his days at County Stadium, where his father worked in the front office for nearly 10 years. At 16, he looked on with 29,356 others on Easter Sunday as Dale Sveum belted one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history.
In 2008, Counsell looked on from first as Ryan Braun crushed a walk-off grand slam to help the Brewers keep pace for the wild card. Two years later, he was there for Trevor Hoffman’s 600th save, throwing a strike from shortstop to first for the final out.
As his career neared its end, Counsell watched from the dugout in 2011 as Braun’s three-run homer helped clinch the National League Central.
Now, as Brewers manager, the 44-year-old Counsell looks on in a different role. One for which he’s a perfect fit.
Baseball in Milwaukee is important to Craig Counsell. He’s a Milwaukee Brewer and he’s “always felt that way.” Sure, he also was a player for the Rockies, Dodgers, Marlins and Diamondbacks along the way, but he came back to his hometown team. A team he wants to see succeed.
Of course, local ties can take Counsell only so far. His experience, knowledge and approach to the game also make Counsell a perfect fit for Milwaukee.
Counsell knows this team as well as anyone this side of general manager Doug Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio. Stepping in as manager, he’s already been with the team since 2007, including two-plus years in the front office. He knows the roster, the farm system and the front office. More importantly, he has a relationship with the players, having been a teammate of eight of them.
According to those teammates, Counsell was a hard-nosed player, an excellent leader in the clubhouse and “basically a player-coach” in his final seasons. He’s highly regarded within the organization and around the league, having been considered by other teams for jobs in recent years.
Counsell isn’t going to take this team to the World Series this year, and he may never do so. But he’s the perfect fit for what this team needs right now.