Fresh off of a four game split with the Diamondbacks, the Mets head out to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers for three games this weekend. Like the Mets, the Brewers are in the midst of a tough season, as their 34-50 record places them at the bottom of the competitive National League Central, a hefty 18.5 games behind the first place Pirates. Kyle Lobner of the Brewers site Brew Crew Ball answered a few questions to help give us some perspective as to where the Brewers are at coming into this series.
Amazin' Avenue: The Brewers find themselves at the bottom of the NL Central this year after challenging for a wild card spot down the stretch last year. What do you think has been the biggest contributor to this team's fall and do you think they can turn it around this season?
Brew Crew Ball: Any conversation about the flaws on the 2013 Brewers probably should start with starting pitching. The Brewers knew they needed big steps forward from guys like Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta this season, and what they've gotten instead are a series of injuries and developmental setbacks. Brewer starting pitchers have a 5.05 ERA on the season, and even a good offense would struggle to overcome that.
The Brewers have also handicapped themselves, though, with some roster challenges. Corey Hart opened the season on the DL and won't make it back to the big leagues this year after a pair of knee injuries. His absence has left a black hole at the first base position, where guys like Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez and Blake Lalli have seen significant time this season. Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy's slow start and Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez's injury issues didn't help, either.
AA: Former Mets prospect Carlos Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura have both busted out in big ways at the plate this year for the Brewers. What's changed at the plate for them, did anybody see this kind of breakout coming, and do you think can they keep it up going forward?
BCB: I'll start with Gomez, because his 2013 breakout can really be treated as an extension of his 2012 coming out party. He was a career .243/.291/.357 hitter following the 2011 season but is hitting .280/.323/.500 since, and continues to play excellent defense. There are still holes in his game: His swing gets pretty long at times and he still makes outs on the bases, but he's a legitimate NL MVP candidate at this point and in a fair and just world he'd start the All Star Game.
Segura, however, has shocked everyone with his performance. Coming into the season the prevailing argument was that he'd be a good defensive player with occasional offense, not unlike former Brewer shortstop Alcides Escobar. Instead he's among the NL leaders in hits and batting average, and his eleven home runs are more than he's ever hit in a professional season at any level. He may not be this much of an offensive phenom going forward, but the fact that he's been able to stay this hot for three months certainly bodes well for the 23-year-old's future.
AA: Rickie Weeks is just 30 years old but after a disappointing 2012, he's basically been replacement level this year. What do you think has happened to him?
BCB: Weeks has always been a pretty streaky player. He was arguably the team's MVP in 2010 (even on a team with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder), but has had pretty significant hot and cold streaks in almost all of his other nine major league seasons. When he's hot Weeks can carry a team and he was hot in June, when he posted a .355/.429/.677 batting line. During his cold stretches, though, he carries very limited value.
There was a debate earlier this year about whether Weeks is a good player who occasionally slumps or a bad player who occasionally gets hot. I think you can make a solid argument for both sides. On the average, though, his .322 OBP and .387 slugging are roughly in line with a league average second baseman.
AA: The Brewers surrendered their first round pick when they signed free agent Kyle Lohse late in the offseason. Lohse has pitched well with a 3.63 ERA but considering the team's struggles, is there any regret about that deal now?
BCB: Opponents of the deal at the time (myself included) made the case that the Brewers were giving a lot financially and draft pick-wise for a player who probably wasn't going to single-handedly make this team a contender. Lohse has pitched well as a Brewer, but those concerns have been validated a bit as the team around him has gone into a tailspin.
The future cost of the Lohse deal, both in terms of financial flexibility and loss of a draft pick, certainly could be a limiting factor in the coming years. However, the fact that Lohse is pitching well right now may allow the Brewers to attempt to trade him and recoup some of those damages. If Doug Melvin and company can flip Lohse for prospects more valuable than the #17 overall pick may have been, then I'll withdraw all objections to the original signing.
AA: Where do you think the Brewers go from here? Can they compete in the near future or should they be looking to sell off pieces?
BCB: The Brewers have a tough choice to make in the short-term future about how they're going to look at future seasons. They have several players (Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Aramis Ramirez, Norichika Aoki and others) that could be very valuable at the trade deadline, but all of those guys are under contract through at least 2014. Selling them would blow a hole in next year's roster and effectively launch a rebuilding process that probably starts with lean years this year and next. I'm not confident the Brewers are willing to punt 2014 or '15 and take the financial hit that would ensue with decreased attendance and fan interest.
With that said, I think rebuilding might be the best thing for this organization in the big picture. Ryan Braun, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy should probably be untouchable at this point, but it's possible anyone else could be available for the right price.
Thanks again to Kyle Lobner for giving us a preview of the Brewers! Here are the pitching matchups for this series: