Category Archives: PLAYOFFS!?!?

Raining on a non-existent parade

Posted by Steve

I was very busy during the first couple weeks of the season. Then I was on vacation. Then things were going SO well that I figured I wouldn’t do anything to jinx it. But today, a topic has come up that has caught my attention, and I couldn’t stay away any longer.

The Brewers are playing incredibly well and far above expectations. The starting rotation has been excellent, but the more surprising area has been the bullpen.

Rightfully so, the pen has started to garner some national attention. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has a post today that does a great job of illustrating just how incredibly good the bullpen has been. You can choose your own favorite amazing way of illustrating how good the Brewers’ bullpen has been after reading that article. I think my favorite is that it has essentially been twice as good as the fourth-best bullpen in the majors.

Cameron does draw a conclusion, however, that I sort of take issue with. His conclusion, that the Brewers and their bullpen will inevitably regress, is not wrong; I happen to agree with it. My problem is that his conclusion isn’t really even newsworthy.

Cameron is great, so I don’t want to single him out, but he’s arguing something that really has no opposition. So are other national writers/talking heads. In the few minutes at a time that I can stomach non-Brian Kenny portions of MLB Network, announcers routinely make claims like, “Well they’re not going to run away with the division,” or “They aren’t going to keep up this pace!”

The Brewers’ current pace for the entire season would land them at 118 wins. They aren’t going to do that, you say? No kidding. But who has argued that they will? I’ve yet to see that argument anywhere. They’re raining on a parade that isn’t even taking place.

Cameron, to his credit, does mention that the Brewers don’t need to be a great team from this point on with the cushion they’ve built for themselves. That’s true, although we have been in this situation fairly recently with the Brewers, and it didn’t end well at all.

Still, they’ve put themselves in great position, and I don’t understand everyone’s need to point out that they probably won’t win 100+ games. I wouldn’t bet on them being an elite team at this point, but they’re now in a situation in which they could be buyers at the deadline, making themselves even stronger (Kendry Morales after draft day, anyone?).

Can we simply be excited about a great start without having to damper expectations that aren’t even there?

Matt Garza: Not a half-measure

In my last post, I called for no more half-measures for the Brewers: no more spending of resources on players who aren’t clear upgrades. That particular post discussed potential first base targets like James Loney or Ike Davis. The Brewers have thankfully taken a smarter route that costs them nothing in players/draft picks and virtually nothing in money. Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco will likely produce similarly to what Loney or Davis would have for a fraction of the cost. Sure, it isn’t as good as acquiring a great first baseman, but it’s a lot better than spending on a mediocre one.

The half-measures theory applies to all positions, including pitchers. The reason I like the Garza signing more than almost all of the Brewers’ major acquisitions in the last three years (probably second only to the Greinke-Segura deal) is largely because he provides an actual clear upgrade to what they had.

Current Brewers pitchers, 2011-2013

Yovani Gallardo: 592 innings, 3.48 xFIP, 7.3 WAR

Kyle Lohse: 598 innings, 4.01 xFIP, 7.5 WAR

Marco Estrada: 298.2 innings, 3.57 xFIP, 5.1 WAR

Matt Garza: 457 innings, 3.46 xFIP, 8.3 WAR

Over the last three years, Garza has been more valuable than any of the Brewers’ starting pitchers. He has a higher WAR than Gallardo and Lohse despite pitching far fewer innings. This is due to his strong strikeout rate and solid walk rate (His K rate is higher than Yo’s and his walk rate is lower).

This is a strong upgrade. Lohse-Garza-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta is a much stronger rotation than Lohse-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta-Thornburg/Hellweg/Nelson/whomever. This also adds decent depth to the rotation, as the guys now slotted 6-8 in the rotation could be okay as spot starters.

Of course, that whole “far fewer innings” part played a big role in this signing. Without the injury concerns, Garza would have earned a much larger contract than $50 million guaranteed. Garza hasn’t had any crazy long DL stints, but he’s missed a handful of starts over the last few years due to elbow and shoulder concerns. It led to some pretty creative contract language, and it certainly makes this contract a risk.

It is a risk worth taking, however. Garza’s upside is a pitcher that’s as good or better as any the Brewers currently have. Look at those numbers again. If those four pitchers come close to their performance of the last three seasons, the Brewers will actually have a pretty strong pitching staff. Yes, Gallardo declined last year, and yes, Lohse is getting up there in age, but even if they come close to those numbers, the rotation should be average-ish. Average-ish much, much better than last year’s rotation.

With an offense that could also return to average-ishness with Ryan Braun’s return, we actually could be looking at a Brewers team that is… average! With an extra playoff slot, that means some luck could give the Brewers a puncher’s chance at a Wildcard spot. It’s something, at least.

The second reason I like this signing, and what really sets it apart from the Kyle Lohse signing last year, is that the Brewers did not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Garza. Lohse is a solid pitcher, but I hated the signing, because the Brewers were not in a position where it made sense for them to forfeit a pick. They were not one starter away from being a contender, so they essentially forfeited a draft pick to take fourth place in the division.

The Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The recent Baseball Prospectus Top 101 confirms that, as there are zero (0) Brewers prospects to be found on the list. They cannot afford to forfeit any high draft picks. This signing doesn’t hurt any rebuilding of a farm system, which is what has me feeling okay about it.

Still long odds

Posted by Steve

The Brewers have really accomplished something over the last month. We’ve talked about how amazing it is that they’re even in the running for the playoffs, but now, what are their chances of actually finishing it off and getting there?

Not good.

Entering today, Baseball Prospectus gave the Brewers a 5.2% chance to reach the playoffs, while the Dodgers are at 11.4% and the Cardinals are at 79.5%. The reason it’s so high has been on display over the last couple nights: The Cardinals have an incredibly easy schedule and a two-game lead on the next closest team.

The Brewers are playing out of their minds, but unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the Cardinals (and Dodgers, I guess) don’t lose as well. The Brewers gained five games on St. Louis over ten days, whichsd is an amazing number, but it still may not be enough. The Cardinals play the Astros, Cubs, and Astros again yet this season. They’re beating up on Houston for the second night in a row, which means even after beating the Pirates and essentially vanquishing any playoff hopes Pittsburgh had left, the Brewers haven’t gained any ground.

The Brewers have 14 games left. Normally, you’d think winning nine of those games would chase down the Cards, but with that darn schedule, I’m not so sure. I feel fairly confident in saying more than nine wins in their last 14 will do it, but at the same time… That’s very difficult to do.

Yes, they’ve been playing at that rate for a long time (22 wins in last 28 games), but like I said, that’s also an unsustainable rate. The team is really firing on all cylinders, though (BTW, Jean Segura, you guys!), so who knows.

They certainly have our attention, and what they’ve done should absolutely be applauded, but if they slip up even a bit, this won’t last long. The Pirates were right with the Brewers at the start of this series, and two days later you can pretty much stick a fork in them. This could just as easily happen to the Brewers.

“It’s like the super hot girl at the bar who is flirting with you but you don’t know if she actually is or if you even want her to for fear of what might happen.”

What is happening.

The Brewers keep winning.

The Cardinals just got swept by the Padres (first time since 1995).

Rickie Weeks is a MAN.

And suddenly, the Brewers are three games out of a playoff spot.

The point of this post is not to dissect their chances, which are all of a sudden worth dissecting. That will come. No, the purpose of this post is to point out how ABSURD this all is.

Two days ago–TWO DAYS–Baseball Prospectus had the Brewers’ playoff odds at 0.0%. In reality, it was probably something like 0.04% and they rounded down, but whatever. Two days ago. Today it is 1.8, and tomorrow it should jump up a good amount.

I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to interject a bit of my personal life into this post. I just started a demanding new job. I’m moving this weekend. In other words, I have a lot going on. I had come to peace with the fact that the Brewers were not making the playoffs this season, and I had even managed to look on the bright side: Not having to watch every inning of every game the rest of the year will actually be beneficial to my mental and physical well being.

So much for that. My last post was all about how I’m not getting sucked in, but that was when they were still over six games out. They’ve cut that in half in just a few days. I don’t particularly want to be invested in this, but at just three games out, I’m afraid I have no choice.

Special thanks to reader/commenter Shawn, the genius behind this incredibly accurate title/analogy for how I currently feel about the Brewers.

 

My mind is tellin’ me no…

Posted by Steve

I remember in 2005, 2006, before the Brewers were expected to contend, how badly I wanted the team to win. “Maybe Carlos Lee and Dave Bush will be enough to get them over the top?” Because they weren’t totally awful like teams I grew up with, I sort of got attached. I enjoyed watching a team that won more than 40% of its games, so when July rolled around, I wasn’t excited for the trading deadline. Fans liked the team, but rationality eventually won out. They weren’t going anywhere that year, so selling made perfect sense–even though I liked watching. That’s how most teams are that aren’t quite good enough, really. At some point, you have to admit that they just aren’t going anywhere and cut your losses.

I feel the exact opposite about this Brewers’ team.

Swept by the Royals. Out-managed by Ned Yost. There have been about six “This has got to be rock bottom” games so far. We just saw three in a row.

Emotionally, I want to blow this up. I’ve been reading the Brewerfan “Shopping Greinke” thread for weeks now. ‘He’s not going to sign during the season anymore… Wonder what they’d get for him?’ ‘Marcum, Wolf, Morgan, KROD, even Aoki, Axford and Hart have trade value. What if they just blew it all up? They could get a haul.’

It’s sad when that’s where I’m going emotionally. Not saying, “Well, they’re only 5 1/2 out. Baseball Prospectus is still (somehow) giving them an 18% chance at making the playoffs,” but instead saying, “I wonder what they could get if they just blew up the whole damn thing?”

And then, the rational part of me says it’s still too early to do that. If they have another two-week stretch like this in them, then fine. But really, it’s still only mid-June. Only the worst of the worst are selling at this point, if any.

Still, the worst case scenario isn’t blowing up the entire team. It’s continuing to lose and then not selling. I’m pretty terrified that the Brewers will be, oh, 9 games out of the playoffs at the deadline, and Melvin/Attanasio will say “We’re still in this. Look at the Cardinals and Rays last year!” Then Greinke leaves, Marcum leaves/signs a too-expensive deal, and the Brewers toil around 70-75 wins next year as well.

It’s not time to sell yet, but it’s getting closer. The Brewers have two or three weeks to seriously turn it around. If they don’t, I will actually be rooting for the Cardinals and Reds in hope that the Brewers will do the smart thing and start selling.

 

May: The month of repeated groin punches

Posted by Steve

Wow.

It’s hard to imagine this getting much worse. The injuries have reached a comedic point, with whatever broke Jonathan Lucroy’s hand taking the cake. It’s actually fun to imagine the possibilities, assuming the story is true. What was in his suitcase? Was he using an aluminum metal case? Was it full of unmarked bills? Did it contain the nuclear football?

The injuries are just piling up. They’ve used their fourth shortstop of the year, which really doesn’t matter because all of them suck other than the one they started the year with. They’ve also lost their catcher, two first basemen, a center fielder, a starting pitcher, that starting pitcher’s replacement, and a closer’s facial hair. That’s all in one month. Oh, and they’ve also gone 9-15 over that span.

After such a terrible month, it is difficult to see this ending well. Plenty of people seem to have given up on the season. Although the Brewers have made it much tougher than they’d like, it’s too early to give up on the season. Baseball Prospectus still gives the Brewers an 18.1% chance of reaching the playoffs, believe it or not.

Even with all the injuries, I don’t think the Brewers are as bad as they’ve played. Obviously, Baseball Prospectus thinks that way too, as they give the fifth place Brewers the third-best chance in the division of reaching the playoffs.

I still have some hope. For one thing, the starting pitching has been much better lately. Their starting rotation is 13th in the NL in ERA, but 8th in FIP and xFIP. First, that’s much better than what it was three weeks ago. Secondly, this, just like last year, shows us that the Brewers starters are better than their ERA implies. Some of this can be blamed on defense (again, like last year), but they have also been fairly unlucky–their allowed batting average on balls in play is .307, which is the third-highest in the NL. Save for the random Arizona debacle, Greinke has been lights out lately. Marcum has been very good, and Gallardo and Wolf have been better too. It will be interesting to see if Mike Fiers can hold down a spot with Marco Estrada out.

I also think the loss of Jonathan Lucroy could be overstated. I recently made a post at Reviewing the Brew explaining why we should have expected Lucroy’s numbers to come way down the rest of the season. People were too caught up in how he’s done this year and expecting that all season, when in actuality, it’s entirely possible that George Kottaras outperforms what Lucroy would have done over the next 4-6 weeks. Just as big of a loss from Lucroy to Kottaras will be from Kottaras to Martin Maldonado as the backup catcher. Maldonado has a good defensive reputation, but he’ll be close to an automatic out.

I still maintain the only injury that is possibly fatal at this point is at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez is a solid player, and any of the three guys they’ve used to fill in all suck. They’re in a catch 22 right now. They need a shortstop and better fifth starter to reach the playoffs, but to get in position to make trades for those players, they need to first play better.

The next 3-4 weeks are critical. If they’re ten games out of a playoff spot by July, I’m probably ready to call it a season. At that point, it’s likely goodbye to Zack Greinke. Marcum, K-Rod and Wolf would probably all be gone, too. As much as I’d like to see Greinke sign, the Brewers could get a great haul for him if they’re out of the running.

The one thing that could be devastating for the Brewers is if they stay under .500 but still close enough that management (okay, Mark Attanasio) doesn’t want to sell. If they finish near or below .500 without trading off any players, someone deserves to be fired. With the haul they could get for Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, and K-Rod, they could contend again fairly soon.

Still, it isn’t yet time to fully have that conversation. The schedule looks favorable as soon as the team returns home, and the Brewers will have one other thing going for them: I’ve been so busy that I’ve hardly posted this month, which is clearly why they’ve struggled. I’ll be posting more going forward, which can only help, right?

Or are you telling me that you’re doubting a team that will feature a batter of Mike Fiers and Martin Maldonado, Cody Ransom at shortstop and three other players with negative WARs on the season. Is that what you’re telling me?

The first step is acceptance

Posted by Steve

Well, this still sucks.

A week and a half later, and this still really sucks. I didn’t fall into a deep depression or anything, but it wasn’t good. I didn’t know what it felt like for the Brewers to lose after getting that far. It really is terrible.

I will say, once you get past the first round, the games don’t even feel like baseball anymore to me. So much rides on each inning. Decisions are incredibly important. Starting pitchers have the shortest hook imaginable. Watching isn’t even all that enjoyable. Even when the Brewers were leading games, I was sick with the thought of how they would hold the lead. “Oh God, K-Rod’s coming in against the heart of their order. Here comes a half hour of torture.”

I asked my friend who’s a Yankee fan how he deals with so much playoff baseball. His answer? “Jack Daniels.” Mm-kay then.

I will also say that I was right. Not that it’s any consolation at all, but I was right. I was extremely annoyed when the Cardinals snuck into the playoffs. I didn’t want them there from the start. I was right in rooting for the Phillies in the first round. Not because the Cardinals are a better team than Philly; they aren’t. But because I just had a terrible feeling about facing St. Louis, and because I knew losing to them would be the worst way imaginable to lose. And it was.

A few times since the loss, I’ve found myself falling back into ‘next year’ mode, like I always do after a season ends. ‘Well, Prince is gone, but it gives them a good chance to improve shortstop and the infield defense as a whole, and… Aw, Christ.”

I’m just not ready for that. I have all off-season to do stuff like that, and rumor has it Dan has a ‘Life after Prince’ post locked and loaded. I’ll let him go ahead. I’m just too bummed out by this season to do that right now. If I start, I just think things like, “What’s the point, when even if you get that far again, you have a manager that is so overmatched that you hardly have a chance?” or “Their starting rotation was abnormally healthy all year; they’ll never have a staff that good again.” So yeah, if I’m still thinking that way, I think I need more time.

I have hardly even watched any of the World Series. I’d guess I’ve seen about three innings total. Don’t get me wrong; I hope Cardinals lose. But it’s not like there will be anything close to happiness over it. On the other hand, I’ve heard people say it makes the Brewers look better if the Cardinals win, but does it even? Nobody really remembers who lost in the NLCS unless Steve Bartman roots for your team.

I’d like to add one more thing. I’m not sure if this is supposed to make us feel better or worse about the Brewers, but… Remember the Chris Carpenter/Nyjer Morgan event, when Morgan got fricasseed by the media, only to hear Carpenter later admit that he swore at Morgan first but still completely ignore it? Or last year, when Carpenter got angry at Carlos Lee for slamming his bat after a pop-up? I’d like to add this little goody to his collection. In case you missed this last night, Carpenter got Mike Napoli on a deep flyout to end the sixth inning last night. Carpenter then found it appropriate to yell this to Napali. Keep in mind, this was about a 400 foot flyout.

In case you’d like it in GIF form

 

The Classy Cardinals back at it again. What fabulous karma that Napoli is the guy who ended up getting the game-winning hit.

Again, though, I won’t get too much enjoyment if the Cards lose the series. I just figured it’s been long enough, so I might as well post something.

This sucks.