Jaws of July

This is it: the Brewers begin their true contending stretch, opening the unofficial second half with huge series against large market Dodgers and Nationals. In the minds of many Brewers fans, this will be an immediate proving ground for the aspirations and realities of contending, as the Brewers will have to right ship from their recent dreadful stretch of baseball against a couple of the best teams in the National League (at least on paper, in the latter case). Simultaneously, GM David Stearns does not even have two weeks until the trade deadline, and the young executive’s roster wizardry will have much impact over forming a true contending consensus: is this team for real?

What is interesting to note is that as tough as the names look on paper for the Brewers’ upcoming schedule, what with the champion of the trade deadline Dodgers, ghosts of contenders past in San Francisco, surging Rockies, and payroll-heavy Nationals, is that it does not look that difficult when all is said and done. Assessing teams by their underlying production with True Average (TAv) for offense and Deserved Run Average (DRA) for pitching, the Milwaukee roster acquits itself quite well.

Team (G) TAv DRA RS / RA Pace
Brewers .268 4.22 -17 / +59 89
vs. Dodgers (3) .269 3.52 +40 / +31 95
vs. Nationals (3) .261 4.03 -26 / +43 85
@ Giants (4) .257 4.29 -18 / -10 76
@ Dodgers (4) .269 3.52 +40 / +31 95
vs. Rockies (3) .257 4.25 -26 / +22 81
vs. Padres (3) .236 4.92 -52 / -42 64

In terms of pitching (by DRA), the Brewers are better than each of their upcoming opponents except for the Dodgers and Nationals. Ironically, as rough as the Brewers bats have performed all season in terms of park-adjusted Runs Scored, Milwaukee is better than each upcoming opponent except for the Dodgers (according to TAv). Really, the truest, toughest task of the next 20 games is facing Los Angeles for seven of them. Otherwise, it’s a chance for the Brewers to show their respective strengths, which includes the their exceptional defense, the third most efficient fielding unit in baseball (now tied with Houston and Oakland).

The trap in this sequence of games appears to be the relative offensive strength of each opposing club save for the Dodgers. While Milwaukee combines a decent rotation and excellent bullpen (in terms of DRA), both of these elements of the club “play up” thanks to the fielding performance; all this results in a ball club that has already prevented approximately 59 runs. This is incredible; this is nearly as many runs as the club prevented in all of 2017, which was still good for fifth best in the National League. That excellent pitching and fielding unit will take on what ostensibly amounts to four below average offenses over the next 20 games; these below average assessments can certainly be verified by Runs Scored, and further backed up by TAv in nearly every case (the Nationals might be the outlier here). This is the test that these Brewers were made for.

What will be much more tricky, of course, is the Brewers offense improving against each of the forthcoming pitching staffs with the exception of San Diego. Milwaukee’s offense looks bad overall, but the run production did improve during May and June, and the July bats are still better than the March/April production. Worse yet, the club is dealing with a series of injuries and tricky promotion decisions with Orlando Arcia and Domingo Santana, who have both recently made adjustments at Triple-A Colorado Springs. The best story at the deadline would be the lack of a need for a headline-grabbing trade thanks to the reinstatement of Arcia and Santana, but recent comments by Stearns suggest that promotions may not be the immediate course of events. Thus, the Brewers may be caused to defeat the Dodgers by wringing every ounce of production possible out of Tyler Saladino, Brad Miller, and Nate Orf in the middle infield, which is an unsavory equation at best; on the bright side, Brett Phillips or Keon Broxton could get another chance to shine in the outfield.

The following table outlines the overall race in the National League, for this installment featuring each team’s TAv, DRA, and park-adjusted run differential. “True Pace” assesses each club’s expected record according to their run differential, while “True .500″ assesses each club’s expected win total if they went .500 on top of their existing run differential.

NL Race TAv DRA RS / RA “True” Pace “True” .500
Cubs .275 4.58 +47 / +56 101 91
Dodgers .269 3.52 +40 / +31 95 88
Atlanta .271 3.77 +60 / +4 92 88
Brewers .268 4.22 -17 / +59 89 85
Diamondbacks .256 3.89 -39 / +79 88 85
Phillies .264 3.67 -6 / +25 85 82
Nationals .261 4.03 -26 / +43 85 82
Cardinals .265 4.49 +9 / -4 83 81
Rockies .257 4.25 -26 / +22 81 81
Pirates .263 4.22 +12 / -36 77 79
Giants .257 4.29 -18 / -10 76 78
Reds .268 5.07 +39 / -70 76 78
Mets 2.57 4.13 -21 / -46 69 74
Padres .236 4.92 -52 / -42 64 71
Marlins .257 4.82 -11 / -102 62 69

When all the dust has settled, answering these questions of attrition is what contending clubs accomplish. So, in some sense the Brewers truly will have a chance to establish their position in the coming sprint to the playoffs. What would be a mistake is to assume that this team is starting this series of games with inferior talent, a roster that somehow makes them less than capable of facing these competitive squads. Thus begins the race: Go Brewers!


Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports Images

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