1st-inning offense powers Brewers’ hot streak

July 8, 2015 Comments off

It’s no secret that increased offense has fueled the Milwaukee Brewers’ recent hot streak. But where exactly is that offense coming from?

It appears the key to their outburst has been the first inning.

Over their last 16 games, the Brewers have slashed .383/.444/.617 in the first inning with 22 runs scored on 31 hits, including five home runs and four doubles. They’ve outscored opponents 22-5 in the opening frame, which has accounted for 25 percent of their 89 total runs over the same stretch.

RELATED: Another dominant 1st half for Will Smith

The Brewers have gone 12-4 since June 23, winning four straight series before dropping the first two games to the Atlanta Braves. In the four losses, the Brewers scored just two first-inning runs, while plating 20 in the 12 wins.

This boost in early run production leading to wins follows a seasonlong trend for the Brewers. They’re 27-14 when scoring first, and just 10-36 when their opponent scores first. The 22 first-inning runs also have helped make the frame the Brewers’ most productive.

Through June 22, the Brewers’ best inning had been the third, with 37 runs. The first and fourth innings were tied for second at 32 runs. They’ve now plated 54 runs in the first, 10 more than their new second-best mark of 44 runs in the fifth.

Gerardo Parra, Ryan Braun and Adam Lind have been particularly impressive during the team’s first-inning hot streak. They’ve combined to go 18-for-36 (.500) with four home runs, 11 RBIs, 10 runs scored and three doubles.

Parra has jump-started the Brewers with three leadoff home runs, to go along with a pair of singles and a double. Braun hasn’t produced as many runs, but has six hits in 12 at-bats, with three runs scored and a pair of RBIs. Lind has gone 6-for-10 with a two-run homer, two doubles, six RBIs and two runs scored.

RELATED: K-Rod is Brewers’ only all-star

First-inning run production leading to wins is hardly surprising. But what makes the Brewers’ recent stretch impressive is the extended nature of the production.

Eleven times in two weeks they have scored in the first inning. Six of those innings featured multiple runs and 10 had multiple hits, including a six-run outburst on June 26, in which they went 6-for-11 with a home run, double and four singles.

This rate of production is hardly sustainable, but it does offer one clear takeaway. The earlier the Brewers score, the better their odds of winning.

Sounds simple enough, right?

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Another dominant 1st half for Will Smith

July 1, 2015 Comments off

You don’t hear a lot about Will Smith, and that’s a good thing.

Last time the Milwaukee Brewers reliever made headlines, he had been ejected May 21 in Atlanta for using a foreign substance. Since finding himself in the middle of that controversy, the lefty has fallen back off the radar.

Like many unheralded positions in sports, you typically can tell how well relief pitchers are doing by how little you hear about them. Smith, in his relative obscurity, has been dominant once again in the first half of this season.

RELATED: K-Rod is Brewers’ only worthy all-star

Over his last 17 games, which dates back to that same Braves series, Smith has tossed 162/3 scoreless innings, striking out 21 batters while allowing just 10 hits and five walks. Though three of his seven inherited runners have scored over the same stretch, opponents have hit just .172/.238/.190 against him.

Smith has recorded multiple strikeouts on seven occasions during his scoreless streak, including a three-strikeout inning on May 23, his first appearance following the ejection.

For the season, Smith has not allowed a run 33 times in 36 appearances. He’s given up four earned runs on 18 hits over 291/3 innings for a 1.23 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 11 walks. His ERA leads all Brewers pitchers with five or more appearances this season, and his 4-0 mark also is the team’s best.

Smith was similarly strong last season through the end of June, before the heavy workload started to take its toll. He has been used slightly less in 2015, having pitched in 36 games compared with 44 at this time a year ago.

RELATED: Is it time to cut Kyle Lohse loose?

Over the final three months of 2014, Smith had a 7.27 ERA, giving up 21 earned runs on 28 hits in 26 innings. His struggles over those 34 appearances derailed what began as an all-star caliber season for the lefty.

In the first three months of the last two seasons, Smith has pitched in 80 games, tossing 69 innings and giving up just 10 earned runs for a 1.30 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP. He’s also recorded 88 strikeouts against 28 walks, while allowing just nine of 39 inherited runners to score.

How Smith will fare over the final three-plus months this season remains to be seen. But he’s proven his first three months in Milwaukee were no fluke.

Can he sustain it over the course of an entire season?

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K-Rod is Brewers’ only worthy all-star

June 24, 2015 Comments off

Raise your hand if you had Francisco Rodriguez as the Milwaukee Brewers’ best player this season.

Anybody?

As surprising as the team’s complete and total collapse this year has been, the closer being their best player would have seemed nearly as unlikely just a few months ago. But it’s late June and K-Rod is almost a lock to be the Brewers’ lone representative at the all-star game.

Rodriguez tossed his 10th straight scoreless outing Wednesday night, a dominant stretch that dates back to May 31. Over those 10 outings, he has allowed just four hits and four walks with 13 strikeouts.

He hasn’t had many this season, but Rodriguez is a perfect 15-for-15 in save opportunities. Over his last 22 games since April 23, the veteran closer has a 0.41 ERA, giving up just one run on 11 hits with 27 strikeouts.

For the season, Rodriguez has given up just three runs on 13 hits over 26 innings for a 1.00 ERA with 32 strikeouts against seven walks. He’s striking out 10.8 batters per nine innings, with a 0.778 WHIP that is well below his career 1.149 mark.

Rodriguez started similarly strong last season, but had already started to struggle by his 26th appearance, which came a month earlier than it did this year. Though he is used to and apparently prefers a heavier workload, limited work this season has not hindered Rodriguez.

Depending on your source, Rodriguez either ranks first or fourth on the team in WAR. Baseball Reference puts his total at a team-best 1.6, ahead of Adam Lind (1.4) and Ryan Braun (1.3). Fangraphs, which uses different pitching metrics in its formula, puts him at 0.8, behind Mike Fiers (1.3), Lind (1.3) and Braun (1.0).

Either way, K-Rod is well on his way to a second straight all-star appearance. The difference is, he likely won’t be joined by any teammates this year.

For just the third time since 2005, the Brewers should have just one all-star this summer. It’s also only the second time since 2007 the club will not have a starter in the all-star game.

It’s fitting, really, in an odd way. A team with only 26 wins in late June has little need for a closer. In fact, it might be the least valuable role on the 25-man roster.

But what Rodriguez has lacked in practical value, he’s more than made up for in on-the-mound dominance. He should go to Cincinnati and represent the Brewers at the midsummer classic.

Just a few weeks later, he should prove even more valuable to the club on the trade market.

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Is it time for Brewers to cut Kyle Lohse loose?

June 17, 2015 Comments off

Kyle Lohse has not been good this season.

The veteran Milwaukee Brewers starter has been among MLB’s worst pitchers in 2015. Through 14 starts, his 6.44 ERA is the highest among qualified pitchers.

His 0.1 WAR is the eighth-lowest, and less than the 0.2 of Tyler Cravy, who has made just one start for the club this season. Others on the team worth more wins above replacement than Lohse: Mike Fiers, Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith, Jimmy Nelson, Michael Blazek, Jeremy Jeffress, Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann.

And those are just the pitchers.

Lohse is tied for the most home runs allowed (16) and most losses (8), and he has given up an MLB-high 57 runs. His average game score has been below average at 44, with a low of nine on opening day.

Digging through his stats, it’s hard to find any redeeming factors for Lohse. After two strong outings in mid-May, he’s in the middle of his worst four-game stretch of the season. Since May 25, Lohse has given up 24 runs on 40 hits over 26 innings for an 8.31 ERA and 0-4 mark. Opposing batters are slashing .357/.392/.545 with six home runs over his last five games.

So what do the Brewers do with Lohse?

Given the state of their season, there’s likely little to lose by keeping him in the rotation. Lohse could make up to eight starts before the July 31 trade deadline. That could be enough time for him to sort things out and regain at least a little trade value.

But how much value can he gain in six weeks? And what if he doesn’t get better?

What if Lohse keeps going out there every fifth day and continues to further reduce his trade value? It can’t get much lower, but if he doesn’t turn things around, no team will even take a flyer on him. The Brewers certainly won’t get anything of significant value in return.

If they can’t trade him, Lohse is worth nothing to the Brewers on the mound. His continued presence in the rotation would simply prevent prospects like Cravy or Tyler Wagner from showing what they can do at the big league level.

More likely than not, Lohse will make those eight starts before July 31. But the Brewers might be better off cutting him loose.

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MLB debuts offer some Brewers excitement

June 10, 2015 Comments off

Sixty games into the season, the Milwaukee Brewers haven’t given fans much excitement. That’s finally changing.

Over the last two weeks, three starting pitchers have made their major league debuts: Tyler Wagner, Tyler Cravy and Taylor Jungmann. The last two have been stellar, combining for a 1.29 ERA with two runs allowed on seven hits over 14 innings. They also struck out 11 and walked three.

Jungmann impressed manager Craig Counsell enough to earn a second start Sunday against the Nationals at Miller Park. Cravy had the misfortune of being sent back down to make room for another outfielder.

To put their starts in context, the last Brewers starter to go seven or more innings in his MLB debut was Steve Woodard in 1997, when they were still in the American League. They’ve now had two in a row.

Jungmann has had the better luck so far — both on the field and with his roster spot — but he and Cravy each should get plenty of opportunities to show what they can do over the final 3 1/2 months of the season. Those starts could be the highlight of the Brewers’ remaining schedule.

Buried in last place 16 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and 9 1/2 games back in the wild card race, the Brewers haven’t had realistic playoff hopes in nearly two months. Their playoff odds haven’t reached 10 percent since the first week of the season and not since May 11 have they topped 2 percent.

Jungmann, the Brewers’ top pick in the 2011 draft, was just the third first-round pick to make his MLB debut with the club since 2007, joining Ryan Braun (’07) and Jeremy Jeffress (’10). He ranks 13th on MLB.com’s list of the Brewers’ top prospects, and 10th on Baseball America’s list. After a slower-than-expected rise through the minors, the 25-year-old right-hander has the chance to show that he belongs as a big league starter.

ravy was a mid-draft find, taken in the 17th round of the 2009 draft. He ranks as the Brewers’ 23rd-best prospect on MLB.com’s list and does not project as a top-of-the-rotation starter. But if his debut is any indication, Cravy could be solid No. 4 or 5.

Wagner, who also may return to the majors sooner rather than later, comes in ninth and 11th on the Baseball America and MLB.com lists. He struggled in his debut (3 2/3 innings, five runs, nine hits, two strikeouts), but has been dominant over his last 30 starts in the minors.

That trio — along with other top prospects that could debut later this summer — is as exciting as anything the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers have to offer. Be sure to mark their starts down on your calendar.

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Brewers’ future begins with draft

June 3, 2015 Comments off

For the Milwaukee Brewers, the future begins Monday.

They haven’t had much success in recent drafts, and that’s much of the reason the Brewers are the worst team in baseball. Over three days next week, amateur scouting director Ray Montgomery and general manager Doug Melvin will take the first big step toward turning things around.

There’s no way of knowing how successful those picks will be until years down the road, but looking back now, it’s clear the club has swung and missed several times in the first round. Since taking Ryan Braun with the fifth overall pick in 2005, the Brewers’ best draft picks have amounted to little more than pieces of three major trades. In fact, four of their five first-round picks from 2006-08 were dealt for starting pitching.

Jeremy Jeffress (’06) and Jake Odorizzi (’08) went to the Kansas City Royals in the Zack Greinke trade, Matt LaPorta (’07) was shipped to Cleveland for CC Sabathia, and Brett Lawrie (’08) headed to Toronto in exchange for Shaun Marcum. Those three starters — Greinke, Sabathia and Marcum — were crucial to the Brewers’ playoff runs in ’08 and ’11, but also combined to make just 127 starts for the team.

Now, Jeffress has returned to Milwaukee, and trading Greinke brought back several prospects as well, but first-round picks are players you hope will have a Braun, Rickie Weeks (’03), Prince Fielder (’02) or Ben Sheets (’99) type long-term impact on your club. There’s no guarantee anyone of that caliber will be there for the Brewers at No. 15 in Monday’s first round, but that surely is the goal.

Following Lawrie and Odorizzi in 2008 — and Jack Zduriencik’s departure for Seattle — the Brewers have drafted the following players in the first round: Eric Arnett, Kentrail Davis, Kyle Heckathorn, Dylan Covey, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, Clint Coulter, Victor Roache, Mitch Haniger and Kodi Medeiros. Not one of those players has logged a single inning in the major leagues.

The last two Brewers first-round picks to make their major league debuts with the club? Braun in 2007 and Jeffress in 2010.

Montgomery was brought in from the Arizona Diamondbacks to replace Bruce Seid, who passed away unexpectedly in September. Seid’s tenure was one that found value in later rounds of the draft — Khris Davis (7th), Scooter Gennett (16th) andMike Fiers (22nd) — but did not have much first-round success. It did appear to have some recent upward momentum, however, as Medeiros, Coulter, Roache and Jungmann rank among the team’s top prospects.

The new era begins now as Montgomery oversees his first draft with the Brewers.

Some have speculated that Milwaukee will begin trading its veterans following the draft, another integral component of the rebuilding project. But the Brewers won’t get very far without more high-level homegrown prospects.

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Ryan Braun boosts value with May power surge

May 27, 2015 Comments off

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.

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