The Milwaukee Brewers are not good.
The Milwaukee Brewers are a bad baseball team.
Looking at the final scores from the 25 games they’ve played this season is enough to tell you that, but that’s still a fairly one dimensional perspective. But because they’ve played the Cincinnati Reds seven times this season, I’ve gotten to watch them play live seven times.
And guess what? They pass the eye test for terribleness too! No lineup seems less capable of stringing hits together, or even coming up with one timely big hit. Their starting pitching staff can’t eat innings. The team as a whole could not be further removed from the rest of the tightly-packed NL Central.
At 7-18, the Brewers are the worst team in baseball by a game and a half. And that record is only as good as it is because of a recent “hot streak”, as they’ve won three of their last four games after a 4-17 start. They’ve scored eight, six and five runs in those three wins, and are just beginning to transition from completely miserable to just plain bad.
So, how bad are the Brewers? What portion of their record reflects skill, and what portion reflects luck? How long will they remain a punching bag for the rest of the league, and how long until they can gain a little bit of traction and start to try to turn this season around?
Well, let’s start with pointing out a few reasons why the 2015 season has been such a disaster out of the gate for Milwaukee. First of all, the expected sources of offensive production for the Brewers haven’t performed. Former MVP Ryan Braun has one home run in 16 games against teams who aren’t the Cincinnati Reds. Jonathan Lucroy, after leading the National League in doubles a year ago, started the season batting a pitiful .133 before going down with a broken toe injury that will keep him out for at least another two or three weeks. His replacement at catcher , Martin Maldonado, hasn’t been any better, hitting just .178 to this point in the season.
Injuries have been the greatest assailant on the Brewers’ lineup. In addition to Lucroy’s injury, All-Star centerfielder Carlos Gomez missed two weeks with a hamstring strain, and Scooter Gennett has missed two weeks recovering from a freak injury that resulted in a hand laceration.
The Brewers’ saving grace has been first baseman Adam Lind, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason, and has put together a .318/.392/.553 slash line in 24 games this season, while driving in 13 runs, all team highs.
Lind is a player who has hit 35 home runs in a season before, and topped 20 home runs in a season four different times, so he shouldn’t be a regression candidate as the Brewers begin to regain all the pieces to their lineup, and could be a centerpiece of the order next to Braun as the season continues.
The eventual improvement of the offense will be a big help to the starting pitching staff, which has suffered to this point. Its ERA sits at 5.01 after Sunday’s win over the Cubs, and the group isn’t even lasting six innings per appearance. The staff isn’t without potential, however: Jimmy Nelson allowed just three runs over 20 innings over his first three starts of the season, while Mike Fiers ranks first in all of baseball with 12.41 strikeouts per nine innings.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been strong enough for a shot at balancing out the starting pitching, with four different pitchers holding sub-three ERAs through 25 games. Because a bullpen is typically one of the final pieces to be put together by many of baseball’s better teams, this pre-existing establishment of a strong group of late-inning hurlers certainly gives Milwaukee one less thing to worry about moving forward.
Even if the offense puts itself together quickly, however, and the starting pitching begins to pitch themselves deeper into games, a start like this can still be mentally jarring enough to shut down a season long before any playoff picture even begins to form. Picking up series wins as soon as possible is vital not only to making a possible late-season push for a playoff spot, but for the sake of not letting this season spiral into a franchise-altering train wreck.
The odds of picking up some of those series wins quickly? Unfortunately for Milwaukee, not good. The next 16 games this team will play are against the Dodgers, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Mets and the Tigers. With the exception of the White Sox, that is a schedule loaded with talent that, on paper, should absolutely overpower this Brewers team.
Closing out May against the Braves, Giants and Diamondbacks will help, but entering that group of games with a record around 11-28 or worse could put irreparable damage on the psyche of this team.
As challenging as the next month appears for the Brewers, it will still be difficult to make it as much of a disaster as the first month was. Even if the starters’ ERA hangs around the 5.00 mark all season, a healthy group of Braun, Gomez, Lind and Jean Segura should start to generate enough offense to win more games than the mere 45 the team is currently on pace to win.
It’s highly unlikely that the Brewers pick up a playoff spot at the end of the season. But when they don’t, they’ll be just like 20 other teams whose seasons end on Game 162. And then, there’s always next year.