What's going on with the Brewers?
It's out of the frying pan and into the oven for the Mets. They just got swept away by the team with the National League's best record, so now it's time to face off against the squad with the second best record in the senior circuit. At least the Amazins get the Brewers at home... never mind.
Hey, after six straight road losses, the Mets' 13-17 home mark doesn't look so bad anymore. Milwaukee, on the other hand, is 19-13 at home and 19-13 on the road. The Brew Crew is taking the NL by storm with a powerful lineup and a surprisingly deep pitching staff.
The offense is headlined by Ryan Braun and former Met Carlos Gomez, but the reason this team has the highest NL slugging percentage outside of Colorado is the depth of power throughout the batting order. Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds don't have swings straight out of a coaching textbook, but both are on pace for well over 20 home runs this season. Meanwhile, the second base combination of Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks is providing more than enough pop to make up for a disappointing second season from shortstop Jean Segura.
The Brewers' pitching staff certainly could be sexier, but they have had the luxury of only needing a single spot start all season long. Yovani Gallardo doesn't look like he is turning into the ace he was supposed to be (even if he still sometimes looks the part), but the 2013 Kyle Lohse signing is really paying off, as the veteran is providing ace-like performance. Ten of his 13 starts are of the "quality" variety, and his ability to limit walks have allowed Lohse to gobble up 88 innings already.
What's really made life easy for manager Ron Roenicke is the outstanding performance of his team's bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez is pitching like "K-Rod" with 19 saves and a 0.89 WHIP, while the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, has become a lefty set-up man who does way more than just pitch to lefties. The Brewers acquired him in an offseason deal for Norichika Aoki, and it's looking like a great swap with Braun, Gomez, and Davis patrolling the outfield.
Who are these guys?
I feel like Jonathan Lucroy doesn't get enough credit for being one of the best catchers in the league. In fact, I totally ignored him in my obnoxiously long introduction to the Brewers in this very story. But maybe that was so I could dedicate this paragraph to him right now. Anyway, Lucroy was picked by the Brewers in the third round of the 2007 draft with the hope that he would turn into a great two-way catcher. As soon as he showed up in the majors in 2010, Lucroy's great defensive skills became apparent, but his offense didn't start to blossom until 2012. That year he hit .320/.368/.513 in 96 games for a 137 wRC+. Lucroy's 2013 averages weren't as good, but he reached career highs with 18 homers and 82 RBI. In 2014, Lucroy may be on his way to his best season yet with a career-high walk rate of 9.6 percent and a career-low strikeout rate of 10.4 percent. His isolated power has dropped steadily from .193 in 2012 to .165 now, but given Lucroy's hitting and defense skills, the lack of prime time pop may be the only thing holding him back from serious MVP candidacy.
Was it too obvious that I have Lucroy on my fantasy team? Well, here's someone I don't own in a virtual manner: Irving Falu. The Brewers weren't getting anything at the plate from Jeff Bianchi, so late in May they sent him to Triple-A Nashville and took back the 31-year-old Falu to fill a utility infielder role. Signed away from Kansas City as a free agent this winter, Falu likely won't hit much either, but he can play every infield position, and I suppose there's still hope that he wasn't totally joking around when he hit .329/.375/.463 in the Pacific Coast League in 2012. That was Falu's only professional season with an isolated power above .100, so it was probably a fluke, but he hardly ever strikes out, and this season he was walking nine percent of the time in Nashville before the call-up. Like we saw with Gregor Blanco on the Giants, you can make a living on walks and defense in the majors.
Who's on the mound?
Estrada is a guy who has had to struggle for a while to finally get his chance at full-time starting pitching, but he appears to have good enough stuff from a pure strikeouts-and-walks perspective. He's a fly ball pitcher who strikes out about eight patters per nine innings and has a .278 career BABIP against him. The problem with Estrada is that a lot of those fly balls that don't get caught by outfielders end up flying out of the yard. In fact, this year that's happening to 18 percent of his fly balls. It's not hard to imagine, then, that Estrada is looking forward to pitching against the Mets at Citi Field, where the home nine doesn't clear the wall all that often.
With Estrada in a great matchup, the Mets will probably need a solid start from Matsuzaka to prevail in the opener. That doesn't seem too likely after his last outing against the Cubs, in which the walks that have made Matsuzaka such a frustrating pitcher to watch came out to party. He handed out five free passes while allowing four runs and throwing 88 pitches in 4.1 innings. Being that liberal with walks against this potent Milwaukee lineup isn't recommended, but maybe Matsuzaka can take advantage of some of their free swingers and have a nice strikeout day like he did in his start against Arizona back in May.
Wednesday: Wily Peralta vs. Jacob deGrom
Those of us that were hoping for an encore of deGrom's 11-strikeout performance from Philadelphia were disappointed when the young right-hander punched out just three Cubs in Chicago last week. Even with the crash back to Earth, deGrom is still striking out opponents at a higher rate than he did in Las Vegas or even Binghamton. On the other hand, his walk rate has also spiked way above what he was doing in the minors. We could be looking at a version of deGrom that isn't sustainable, so look for him to become more of a control pitcher in the coming weeks.
Milwaukee's Peralta would never have been confused with a control pitcher in the past, but this season -- his third in the majors -- he's dropped his walk rate to 6.7 percent, where it hasn't been since rookie ball. Combine that command with Peralta's 95-mph heat, and you've got a young pitcher who looks pretty good filling out the bottom of a rotation. Even though Peralta is just as happy to get a ground ball as he is to strike out a batter, he's had some trouble going deep into games lately. In three of his last four outings, he's failed to get out of the sixth inning, but that's not a huge problem right now when you consider how Milwaukee's relievers are pitching.
Thursday: Kyle Lohse vs. Jon Niese
Lohse just got rocked by the Pirates for eight runs in five innings, so it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from what was easily his worst start of the season. Even with the blowup, Lohse hasn't walked more than one batter in a start since mid-April, as he's continued to show off the command that's made him a very reliable pitcher since 2011. What's new for the right-hander this season, though, is an increased strikeout rate that could be linked to increased breaking ball usage. If he continues to strike out four times as many hitters as he walks, Lohse could lead the Brewers to a surprise postseason berth.
There will be no surprise postseason berth for the Mets, or so the team's critics would have you believe. Sure, the playoffs are unlikely, but why not dream a little bit? I can already see Terry Collins sending Niese to the hill in Game 1 of the NLDS and knowing that he'll probably throw seven solid innings with either two or three runs allowed. The only question will be whether or not the offense can cover the difference. It's a good thing Sandy Alderson traded for Giancarlo Stanton back in July, right?
Prediction: Mets lose two out of three, but at least the Padres are coming in next.
What about some GIFs?
What's crazy is that Lagares hooked up with Recker on a nearly identical play to nail Lucroy at the plate the day before.