Best play: You know how the Brewers don’t really have a bullpen? Well, that also applies to the post-Aroldis Chapman Reds. John Lamb, who threw a solid start for Cincinnati, departed after four innings with an injury; from there, Milwaukee slowly chipped away at the 4-1 deficit. Hernan Perez led off the fifth with a dinger to left, then Jonathan Lucroy brought Ryan Braun around in the sixth, and Jonathan Villar’s bases-loaded groundout in the seventh tied the game. But the defining play came in the next frame, when Lucroy lasered a 1-0 changeup into the left-field seats.
Lucroy’s homer (+.250) increased the Brewers’ win probability by a clean 50 percent. Before he stepped in, each club had a 1-in-2 chance of coming out on top; after he rounded the bases, the Brewers had 3-in-4 odds. Thereafter, it was relatively smooth sailing to a series split for the Brew Crew.
In the offseason, virtually everyone thought Lucroy would hit the trade block. Despite coming off a down year, both at the plate and behind it, he looked to be one of the best catchers in baseball, with two years of team control before free agency. The Brewers hung on to him, perhaps hoping his stock would rise, and so far he’s rewarded their decision. Over his last 39 plate appearances, he’s ripped a .424/.513/.848 line, upping his production on the season to .327/.393/.505. If Lucroy does leave Milwaukee in a trade, his hot streak will fetch a considerable return.
Worst Play: While the Brewers didn’t inflict much damage off Lamb, the Reds got to Junior Guerra. In the third frame, a one-out walk and a sacrifice bunt put a runner on second for Tyler Holt. He lined a first-pitch fastball over the head of Alex Presley in right, bringing around Ramon Cabrera and knotting the score at one apiece. Two batters later, Cincinnati held a 3-1 advantage over Milwaukee.
As the catalyst for the three-run inning, Holt’s triple (+.130) took the Brewers’ win probability down from 58.7 to 45.8 percent. Over the course of six batters, the Reds cut the Brewers’ odds by more than half, from 59.5 to 26.5 percent. Once Lamb departed, however, Milwaukee feasted on the mutton that is the Cincinnati bullpen, eventually winning the Mother’s Day matchup.
For Guerra, the second verse was pretty much the same as the first: In each of his two starts this season, he’s worked six innings and allowed four runs. This outing featured more missed bats, as he rode his splitter — which he didn’t throw at all in his first game — to six strikeouts. Most of the time, a 31-year-old pitcher two years removed from independent ball will flame out at the major-league level, but Guerra has turned some heads with his repertoire. He probably won’t be worse than Matt Garza!
Trend to Watch: The Brewers offense got off to a shaky start in 2016. Across 23 April games, they scored just 89 runs, an average of 3.87 per contest. With a team batting line of .223/.307/.371, they helped to sink Milwaukee to an 8-15 record in the month. In May, though, the hitters have come back from the dead, and they’ve got a taste for baseballs. Their triple-slash has improved to .311/.378/.551, which has allowed them to score 6.75 runs per game — the most in the major leagues during that timeframe.
While Lucroy’s aforementioned surge has led the team, he hasn’t done it alone. Chris Carter has continued to spit in the face of the Astros (as an aside: lol Astros), hitting .333/.353/.818 in May. Braun’s .452/.485/.710 line in the month illustrates his rejuvenation. And largely on the strength of his three-homer game on Saturday, Aaron Hill has notched a .414/.452/.724 May triple-slash.
More important than the performance of the stars is the absence of scrubs. Of the eight players with at least 20 plate appearances this month, all have hit at an above-average level. Lucroy, Carter, Braun, and Hill will cool off at some point, but if Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.300/.391/.450 in May), Jonathan Villar (.310/.394/.448), and Ramon Flores (.250/.429/.313) can stave off significant regression, the offense will remain formidable. On a team whose pitching staff has vanished overnight, a few extra runs per game couldn’t hurt.
Up Next: The Brewers take on the Marlins in Miami tonight at 6:10 CST, with Wily Peralta and Jose Fernandez getting the nods for the respective clubs. Zach Davies will start against Adam Conley on Tuesday night, and Chase Anderson and Wei-Yin Chen will square off on Wednesday to wrap up the series. With nearly one-fifth of the season in the books, let’s hope that the remaining 80 percent gives us some more late-inning comebacks and offensive firepower. (A sightly starting pitcher would also be nice, but we can’t have everything.)