Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers is by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hands down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson injury impact

Background

Jimmy Nelson

(Photo by Reviewing the Brew)

Jimmy Nelson was the Milwaukee Brewers’ second round selection in 2010. After spending five seasons in the minors, Nelson earned a spot in the rotation in 2014. His minor league success did not translate as smoothly as the Brew Crew had hoped, as Nelson started 14 games, winning only two, while sporting a 4.93 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.

Nelson was solid in his first full season with Milwaukee, posting an 11-13 record with a 4.11 ERA. His WAR of 2.0 placed him within the top 60 pitchers of 2015, showing that at 26 years old he was an above average arm at the time.

Nelson regressed in 2016, winning only eight games, while posting a 4.62 ERA and 4.91 xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, which according to fangraphs.com “is a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the performance of their defense”.

His 4.19 xFIP is considered awful on fangraphs.com’s rating scale. His WAR of 0.7 shows that he was barely better than a replacement level player that season.

2017 Resurgence

Jimmy Nelson

In only 175.1 innings, Jimmy Nelson fell one strikeout short of 200. (Photo by The News and Observer)

Nelson has quietly been incredible this season. His WAR of 4.9 ranks fourth in the MLB, only behind Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer, showing how serious of an impact Nelson was making in Milwaukee. Also, his 3.49 ERA, 10.21 K/9 and 3.14 xFIP place Nelson statistically within the top-10 in each category in the MLB.

In only 175.1 innings, Nelson fell one strikeout short of 200, which was a huge improvement from his former career high of 148, which were thrown in 177.1 innings in 2015.

One major adjustment Nelson has made from season-to-season has been the usage rate of his curveball. In his respectable 2015 campaign, Nelson threw his curveball 21 percent of the time, although in his poor 2016 season, he only used it at a 12 percent clip.

Now in 2017, Nelson is once again is using his curveball 20 percent of the time, which has been key to his success. According to fangraphs.com, his curveball is currently valued at 9.2, where zero represents average value, positive are considered above average and negative are below.

To put this in better perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball has been valued at a total of 63.8 over the course of his career and is currently valued at 6.4.

Nelson is being slept on because of his unproven track record and lack of exposure due to playing in Milwaukee, although statistically he clearly is performing up to par with the elite. If the season was to end today, it is safe to say that Nelson would have been a top-5 NL Cy young candidate.

Impact of the injury

Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding head-first back into first base. (Photo by Brew Crew Ball)

The 28-year-old will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding head-first back into first base. According to Matt Carlson of The Washington Post, general manager David Stearns said that “he does not know if surgery is needed.”

Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright suffered a similar injury while pinch running at the end of the 2016 season, jamming his shoulder while sliding back into second base. Wright also missed the remainder of his breakout season, although the injury seems to have had a serious impact on his pitching ability moving forward.

In his 24 innings since returning, he has allowed 24 runs on 40 hits. Obviously with Wright being a knuckle baller, the situation is very different, although it seems fair to say that the future is uncertain for Nelson after sustaining this type of injury.

The Brewers, who are sneakily only four games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central and three games back of the Colorado Rockies in the wild card race, are going to seriously feel Nelson’s absence because of how successful he has been, although the rest of the rotation is nothing to scoff at.

The Brewers rank 10th in the MLB in team ERA and 12th in strikeouts and batting average against. Zach Davies is currently leading the team in wins with 16, while Chase Anderson is leading in ERA with 3.06. 27-year-old rookie Brent Suter has emerged seemingly out of nowhere, posting a 3.55 ERA 51 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.

Veterans Matt Garza and Junior Guerra have struggled, both posting ERAs over five, although they have been able to eat innings, pitching a combined 174.2. It is clear that Nelson was not the only quality arm in Milwaukee, although he was their unquestioned ace and will be missed. The anticipated replacement options for Nelson include prospects Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader.

Woodruff was an 11th round pick in 2014, and has had two very successful seasons at the high-A and double-A levels. He has made four major league starts in 2017, posting a 1-1 record with 1.52 ERA and 7.61 K/9. According to MLB.com, Woodruff ranks 84th among all MLB prospects this season and looks to be the most ready and reliable option for the Brew Crew to go with.

Hader was a 19th round selection, although he has been widely recognized as one of baseball’s top prospects, as in 2016, Hader was ranked 34th on MLB.com’s prospect watch list after posting a 30-31 record with a 3.11 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 593.1 innings in the minors. In 2017, Hader was called-up to assume a bullpen role, where he has made 28 appearances with zero being starts. He has been successful so far in the majors, so it seems like the Brewers won’t rush Hader into a starter spot even with their current situation.

Featured image by MLB.com

 

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