Thursday, May 1, 2014

Brewers Finish a Historic April

Despite their loss on April 30th, the Brewers still finished the month tied for the 2nd most wins by May 1st in MLB history, going 20-8 during that stretch including a 9-game winning streak and an 11-2 road record.  Only the 2003 Yankees have had more wins (21) by May 1st, and that team would go on to 101 wins and the AL pennant.  As of 4/30, the Brewers were 4th in the league in ERA, and 22 of their 28 games produced a quality start from the rotation.  This team is doing it with phenomenal pitching - 4 starters with an ERA under 3, bullpen ERA 2.47 - and timely hitting from role players.  With a healthy Ryan Braun and removing the 10 earned runs that 21-year old rookie reliever Wei-Chung Wang has surrendered, it's hard to even fathom what their record would be.  Keep in mind that this team took 2 out of 3 from the NL Champions this past week on the road with their 2-3-4 hitters out of the lineup.

Teams getting off to hot starts in April have historically had a great chance of making the playoffs, but you would never know that listening to the media talk about the Brewers.  It really sickens and disappoints me the degree to which not just the national media, but even the local media and the manager himself, seem to expect an imminent collapse, to the point where I find myself doubting if the Brewers are for real or if they are just an April fluke.  All you hear about in the Milwaukee news is how much the bullpen is overused and how they're playing with a short bench due to injuries.  Ron Roenicke has basically said, I don't expect us to keep this up, but hey let's enjoy it.  Meanwhile, the team just keeps racking up wins.  Listen, are the Brewers going to win 120 games?  No.  But are they going to go 6-22 like they did last May?  I doubt it.  This team is for real because they have a solid starting rotation, and for the first time in a long time, have good depth and matchups in the bullpen with a slew of power arms.  Tyler Thornburg has gone from a 1-9 record in AAA to barely making the team, to a lights-out setup guy in the span of less than a year.  This guy Will Smith they traded Nori Aoki for throws 95 from the left side with a filthy slider who can get both righties and lefties out.  Brandon Kintzler has an ERA under 1.00.  Wei-Chung Wang is a work in progress but projects as a dominant left-handed starter, and could prove to be a steal from the Rule 5 draft.  And the best part is, we have all of these guys under team control for at least 4 years yet.

I'm not going to be naive and say there aren't some areas for concern on this team.  They have a historically low OBP right now coupled with a high swing rate, and still struggle with RISP.  The Brewers already have 3 of the top 10 leaders in appearances in the pen - Kintzler, Thornburg, and K-Rod.  It's a lose-lose really - whether you are winning a lot or your starters are terrible, you're still going to use the bullpen a lot in today's game.  Braun's nagging injuries have me concerned not only for this year but in the future - he turned 30 this past offseason, certainly his injury tendencies will not go down.  I also think it is stupid that the team basically carries two guys in Wang and Rickie Weeks who rarely play and are very limited in what they can do.  I like both of them but at some point the Crew is going to need a more versatile 25-man roster to get through the season.  Doug Melvin will probably have to eat Weeks' $11 million salary and lose a good young prospect in Wang, it's just a matter of when.  However, what I ultimately think separates this team from being a contender and a fluke is the rotation and its depth.  Starting pitching is what wins ballgames and that has been proven in many close ballgames this year already.  The bullpen and the hitting are going to ebb and flow, but with your starters consistently giving you 6, 7, 8 solid innings, the Brewers will always be in the game.  I think that even through the injuries and the inevitable leveling off of the pen, Lohse, Yo, Garza, Estrada, Peralta, and even Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers down in AAA, will guide this team through the tough times.  Good starting pitching is what keeps your team from going on long losing streaks.  I'm not expecting another 20-win month but I do expect this team to be playing meaningful games in September.

Brewers 20-9, +5.0, (4 @ Reds, 3 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 13-15, -6.5 (4 v. Brewers, 2 @ Red Sox)
Twins 12-13, -3.0 (3 v. Orioles, 4 @ Indians)

Erik - 2 (+2 worked)

Peter - 6

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