Why Are the Milwaukee Brewers Falling Apart?
Until Tuesday's loss to the Chicago Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers had spent every day since April 4th with at least a share of the National League Central lead.
But now, following Wednesday's defeat once again at the hands of the South Siders, the Brewers have lost seven in a row and have fallen two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the Central. The Brew Crew appear to be in a free fall, having lost 10 of their last 12 after a brief five-game winning streak put them 2.5 games up on August 19.
However, the Brewers really haven't played all that well for a while now. After a 53-43 first half, they've gone 20-22 since the All-Star Break, with a 9-16 July and a 13-14 August. They're 0-2 to start September, while the Cardinals have won four in a row, and gone 23-19 since the All-Star break.
So what is causing the slide? Why are the Brewers losing ground so quickly? Most of the fingers can be pointed at a flagging offense.
|Full Season||583 (3)||136 (3)||.317 (4)||97 (T-5)|
|1st Half||423 (2)||94 (2)||.320 (3)||99 (4)|
|2nd Half||160 (11)||42 (5)||.310 (9)||92 (10)|
|Last 14 Days||38 (11)||9 (T-8)||.316 (9)||95 (10)|
|Last 7 Days||14 (15)||4 (T-11)||.261 (13)||58 (13)|
The Brewers started the season strong, with only the Colorado Rockies scoring more runs than Milwaukee by the All-Star break. Since then, however, the offensive numbers have dipped sharply. They're only 11th in the National League in runs scored in the second half, and over the last seven days have scored the fewest runs in the league, just 14.
It's hard to win baseball games when you're averaging two runs a game.
|Player||1st Half wOBA||2nd Half wOBA||1st Half wRC+||2nd Half wRC+|
Three regulars have performed better in the second half than they did in the first half, as gauged by weighted runs created (wRC+), including Aramis Ramirez (wRC+ 119-to-129), Khris Davis (wRC+ 111-to-125) and Rickie Weeks (wRC+ 100-to-132). MVP candidates Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are still putting up better-than league-average offensive numbers, although they've tailed off significantly from the first half, with Lucroy's wRC+ dropping from 143-to-106, and Gomez's from 145-to-129.
Meanwhile, two very important hitters, Scooter Gennett and Ryan Braun, have seen their offensive production fall considerably, with Braun's wRC+ down from 136-to-93 and Gennett's from 124-to-88 since the All-Star break.
In addition, first baseman Mark Reynolds has been terrible at the plate all season, with a .198/.290/.399 slash line and a wRC+ of 89 that is worst among all National League first basemen with at least 350 plate appearances. His nERD -0.23 is 223rd in all of baseball, meaning a lineup full of Mark Reynolds would score 0.23 runs per game less than a lineup of league average players. It's one of the reasons Milwaukee was reportedly interested in trading for Colorado's Justin Morneau, although no deal was worked out.
The Brewers also appear to have lost Gomez for a significant period of time with a wrist sprain, which could keep him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Gerardo Parra will see the lion's share of the starts in center during his absence, and the drop-off between the two is big. In 498 plate appearances this year, Parra has a nERD of -0.57 and an fWAR of -0.4 in 498 plate appearances (26th out of 28 qualified NL outfielders), with a .259/.306/.373 slash line and a wRC+ of 85.
However, not all the blame should fall to the offense. The bullpen has been an issue all season, too.
|Bullpen||3.80 (13)||3.75 (12)||1.0 (11)||.256 (14)||1.04 (14)|
The Brewers' relievers have done well in terms of strikeouts and walks all season, but have given up a lot of hits and been especially vulnerable to the long ball. That's one of the reasons they recently traded for Cincinnati set-up man Jonathan Broxton, who has a nERD of 0.55 so far this season and a 1.86 ERA. He has stranded 10 of his 14 inherited runners this year and has not allowed a run in 43 of his 51 appearances. However, his expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) of 4.27 indicates those numbers may not stay so positive the rest of the season.
The starting rotation has actually been better in the second half, with the 6th-best ERA in the NL at 3.51. In the first half, they were 9th-best at 3.86. so they haven't been the problem.
Despite their second half struggles, Milwaukee still has a strong chance to make the postseason. They currently hold the second wild card spot by 1.5 games over the equally struggling Atlanta Braves. And our projections still give the Brewers a 58.3% chance to make the postseason and a 26.9% chance to win the NL Central. Only four NL teams have better odds of making the playoffs.
There is still work to do, but if the Brewers can just hang on, they could play their first postseason baseball since 2011's run to the NLCS.