Injury Update

By Nathan Petrashek

There are about to be a whole lot of roster moves, a reflection of just how crippled the Brewers have been for the first month of the season.  Some of them have happened already, some of them will happen tomorrow, some of them will happen during the month of May.  Here’s the latest on the Brewers fallen:

Jeff Bianchi activated; Khris Davis optioned:  IF Jeff Bianchi was placed on the DL this spring with left hip bursitis, which sounds pretty epic but is really just inflammation that can cause joint stiffness.  His unavailability led in part to the Brewers to pick up Yuniesky Betancourt, who’s knocking the stuffing out of the ball, so I guess we should all be thankful for that.  In any case, Bianchi is back now, which means the Brewers currently have four – count ‘em, four! – shortstop types on the active roster.  OF Khris Davis, who has received just a handful of plate attempts, was sent down to AAA Nashville.  Bianchi hit .188/.230/.348 with the Brewers last season, although he sports a minor league career triple slash of .286/.340/.411.

Aramis Ramirez activated; Josh Prince optioned: Ramirez was down for a month after sliding awkwardly into second base.  Despite missing nearly all of April, the team will bring him right back into the fold, though he will probably see plenty of time off early on.  Josh Prince is being sent down to Nashville in a corresponding move.

Chris Narveson:  Narveson has been playing catch as he rehabs a sprained finger on his pitching hand.  He’s slated to return in Mid-May.

Mark Rogers:   Rogers, officially placed on the DL with “right shoulder instability,” but unofficially with loss of velocity, command, and everything else that makes a pitcher go, started a rehab assignment on April 23.  The Brewers will need to decide whether to activate him to the major league club or cut ties with him by May 23; he’s not likely to clear waivers.  For what it’s worth, Rogers has not pitched well since beginning his rehab stint; he’s walked 6 over 3.2 innings against just 1 strikeout, and has allowed at least 1 run in 2 of his 3 appearances.

Corey Hart:  Hart had right knee surgery in January. He just rejoined the team and is currently throwing, doing water aerobics, and exercising to strengthen his quads.  Hart, on the 60-day DL, is eligible for reinstatement on May 30, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll make that goal.

Taylor Green:  Green started the season on the DL with a hip injury.  He elected to have season-ending surgery in late April.

Mat Gamel:  Gamel had season-ending knee surgery on March 8.

Down on the Farm…

By: Ryan Smith

Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun. Rickie Weeks. Yovani Gallardo.

These four guys all played major roles in turning the Brewers from a cellar-dweller to a playoff contender over the last few seasons.

These four are also prime examples of the importance of a strong farm system. Thanks to good drafts and impressive player development, the Brewers were able to outgrow the role of laughingstock and now have two playoff appearances in the last four years.

GM Doug Melvin gambled last year by gutting the farm system, but his gamble paid off in the form of a National League Central Division Title.

Of course, the strength of a farm system can help elevate a team to new heights in other ways. For example, going into last season, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Prince Fielder would be calling some other city “home” in 2012. With that in mind, and with some desirable prospects within our organization, GM Doug Melvin decided to gut the farm system in order to add the pitching that we would need to make one last push with the big slugger manning first base.

Out went Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress.

In came Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

The rest is history. Melvin’s gamble worked, as the Brewers were able to claim their first-ever National League Central Division Championship, as well as making it to the NLCS.

Those deals, while immensely successful on the field, left the Brewers with the worst farm system in the majors according to Keith Law, ESPN’s lead baseball analyst for Scout’s Inc.

Fast-forward one year and the recovery process has begun. This past week, Law released his Organizational Rankings as well as his Top 100, ranking the best prospects in all of baseball. In 2011, on top of being ranked as the worst system, the Brewers became the first organization to not have a player make it in the top 100.

This season, the Brewers check in at #23 on the Org Rankings. They also have two guys who crack the prestigious Top 100. Today, I’m going to introduce you to those two players: Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann.

Wily Peralta, RHP, 6’2”, 240 lbs – Ranked #39 on Law’s Top 100

After acquiring Greinke and Marcum, Peralta quickly rose to the top of the Brewers’ system. Up until 2011, there was some patience within the organization with Peralta, considering he lost all of his 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Since then, he had steadily improved his numbers every year until 2010, when his K/9 dropped to 6.17 and his BB/9 rose to 5.10.

Even with those less than impressive numbers, people within the Brewers organization continued to have faith in the young pitcher. He seemed to have the work ethic, build, and stuff to become a strikeout pitcher.

Peralta started to really put it all together in 2011, raising his K/9 to over 9.00 and lowering his BB/9 to the mid-3.00’s.

In all honesty, Peralta could quite possibly challenge for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation, though he’ll probably start the year in AAA Nashville.

Peralta is definitely a guy to keep an eye on this year. Without Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup and with the possibility of the first 50 games with Braun, Milwaukee is going to have to change its reputation as a bat-first team. Milwaukee is going to have to rely on its pitchers now more than ever, and that means that Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada will both be on relatively short leashes, especially since both pitchers have experience coming out of the bullpen.

If either of those guys stumbles out of the blocks, Peralta could get called up to the show. Law views Peralta as a No. 2 or No. 3 in a good rotation (which I think we have with Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum), but his fastball, which sits consistently in the mid-90’s, will allow him to have a positive impact right away. Peralta also has an above-average slider that sits in the low-80’s and drives hard to the plate. His changeup has a little sink, but he maintains the same arm action as with his fastball, which allows the pitch to work when he’s able to locate it.

Perhaps the biggest reason that Peralta could help the Brewers this year is not just his stuff, but his understanding of the game. While his secondary pitches lack the command that one would like to see, he recognizes the importance of using them to set up his fastball. Also, while he has the ability to rack up strikeouts, he doesn’t feel the need to rely solely on the strikeout. He’s shown the know-how in the past to lure the batter into making weak contact, thus saving his arm and allowing him to pitch deeper into games, a skill that Gallardo still struggles with at times.

Overall, I expect Peralta to have another dominant season in AAA. Don’t be surprised if his numbers drop a little from last year; his understanding of the game leads me to believe he might spend part of this season trying to improve his secondary pitches. Whether it’s in September when rosters expand or earlier than that if Narveson and Estrada struggle, Peralta will get a chance to take the mound at Miller Park some time this season. With Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum all becoming free agents after this season, there’s bound to be a spot in the rotation opening up for Peralta in 2013.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ’12 (at the latest)

Taylor Jungmann, RHP, 6’6”. 220 lbs – Ranked #58 on Law’s Top 100

Jungmann is one of the main reasons that the Brewers’ farm system jumped in Law’s overall org rankings. The Brewers made the Texas righty the 12th overall pick in last June’s draft.

During his final year at Texas, Jungmann didn’t fail to impress the scouts, posting a 1.60 ERA while recording 126 strikeouts in 141 innings, becoming a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award which is given annually to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.

Jungmann has a tall, lean frame and he shows great control of his long arms, allowing him to have more command on his pitches than one would expect. Most scouting reports also rave about his surprising athletic ability considering his frame. His fastball sits consistently in the low-90’s, and he has shown the ability to ramp it up to 95 if needed. If he fills out his frame a little bit more, that pitch could become a pretty dangerous weapon. To go along with that fastball, Jungmann has a hammer curveball that rests in the upper-70’s. His third pitch is a hard changeup, though he didn’t use it much in college because, well, he didn’t have to.

Jungmann impressed scouts with his ability to get batters out without having to rely on the strikeout. His 8.51 K/9 was down from previous years, yet he posted better numbers all across the board. Last season, Jungmann posted a career-low 1.98 BB/9, which is further evidence of his impressive control on the mound.

It sounds like Jungmann will start out this season in High-A, but considering he was viewed as one of the most polished and major league-ready arms in last season’s draft, I could see him making his way to AA-ball pretty quickly. A few reports claim that Jungmann could help out the big league club in 2012, but with the depth in our rotation, I just don’t see that. Unless the Brewers face a rash of injuries like never before, I don’t see any point in rushing one of our top prospects through the system. Let’s just let things progress naturally. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to see Jungmann in Milwaukee.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ‘13

Well, that does it for now. I plan on introducing you all to different players within our system throughout the upcoming season, so stay tuned. After all, these could be the guys who we’re cheering for in Milwaukee before we know it.

A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup

By Kevin Kimmes

The offseason always brings its fair share of speculation. Sometimes this is caused by offseason moves that  create an air of hope, potentially transforming an also ran into a contender. Then there’s the agony when a top producer packs up their locker with no hope of returning dealing a crushing blow to their former team and the fans that had cheered them on for years. And of course, there is even the ever optimistic mantra of the Cubs fan who says “Maybe next year”.

This offseason, Milwaukee’s fans have had to deal with both of the first two scenarios as the additions of Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez to the infield should reap immediate benefits, while the loss of Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup creates some issues in the run production department.

Today, I will look at each position and speculate on who will be there on opening day and consider what Bill James is predicting they will do from an offensive stand point. Additionally, I will try to project an opening day batting order for the season opener against the Cardinals on April 6th at Miller Park.

**All stats provided courtesy of Fangraphs**

The Battery

The Starting Pitchers:

This season sees the return of all 5 starters from Milwaukee’s 2011 NL  Central Champion squad (Gallardo, Marcum, Greinke, Wolf, and Narveson). Below are projections for each of the starters for 2012  :

Player W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Gallardo, Yovani 14 9 0 30 30 203 9.53 3.06 0.89 0.312 3.46 3.31
Greinke, Zack 13 9 0 31 31 202 8.33 2.27 0.8 0.319 3.52 3.23
Marcum, Shaun 13 10 0 32 32 207 7.3 2.35 1.17 0.284 3.52 4.01
Narveson, Chris 7 8 0 26 22 133 7.31 3.45 1.08 0.303 4.13 4.24
Wolf, Randy 12 12 0 32 32 217 6.43 3.03 1.08 0.289 3.94 4.36

Based on these projections, Gallardo should be the opening day starter. His projected 9.53 strikeouts per 9 innings coupled with an ERA of 3.46 give him a slight advantage over Greinke (8.33/9, 3.52) and Marcum (7.3/9, 3.52). Additionally, both stats are improvements over Gallardo’s 2011 number (8.99/9, 3.52) meaning that the best may be still to come from Milwaukee’s ace.

At Catcher:

Also returning from the 2011 squad is catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Based on the numbers (136 projected games, the same as last year) it appears that speculation is leaning on Lucroy being the everyday catcher with the exception of days when Randy Wolf is pitching. Last season, Wolf used backup catcher George Kottaras as his personal battery mate, giving Lucroy a break every few days.

In regards to offensive output, the projection leans on Lucroy having a very similar season to last year (.264/.328/.393 compared to last seasons .265/.313/.391).  Additionally, he is projected for 12 homeruns, 53 runs, and 64 RBIs which is a slight improvement over last seasons 12 homeruns, 45 runs, and 59 RBIs.

The Infield

At 1st Base:

As much as I’d like to tell you that by some divine miracle an 11th hour deal was made to keep Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, we all know by this point that this will not be the case. Instead, the Brewers will be looking to 3rd base convert Mat Gamel to fill the hole at 1st. As Adam McCalvy reported last week, Gamel is working hard this offseason to be ready for spring training and to assume a spot in the starting lineup on opening day, something that Gamel has missed out on the past three years due to Spring Training injuries.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Gamel (who has a .222 batting average in 194 plate appearances over 4 seasons) to bring in the same kind of power hitting production that Fielder had, he should improve his career stats in an everyday role.  While Bill James only has him projected for 118 games (potentially factoring in his history of injuries),  Gamel should  hit around .282/.342/.476 with 19 home runs this season.

At 2nd Base:

As a returning All-Star, Rickie Weeks will be looking to build on his injury shortened 2011 campaign by again manning the bag at 2nd. Weeks, who hit for 20 home runs last season will again be called on to hit the long ball in order to help ease the offensive depletion caused by Fielders departure.

According to James,  Weeks should have another All-Star worthy performance this year as he is projected for .262/.355/.453 with 22 homeruns, 62 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases in 136 games.

At 3rd Base:

Welcome to Milwaukee Aramis Ramirez! After an extremely disappointing 2011 by regular 3rd baseman Casey McGehee, the prospect of what Ramirez brings to the table, both as both a defender and as a batter, are exciting to say the least. In 149 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez hit .306/.361/.510 while crushing 26 hits for homeruns, numbers that the Brewers hope he repeats for them in 2012.

Ramirez represents the best chance that the Brewers have for closing the run production gap created by Fielder’s departure as he is projected to hit for .285/.350/.500 with 26 homeruns and 94 RBIs in 140 games.

At Shortstop:

As I have reported previously, the addition of Alex Gonzalez at short, while providing an upgrade defensively, leaves the Brewers in roughly the same spot offensively at short.

Gonzalez is projected to hit .237/.278/.381 with 14 homeruns and 60 RBIs in 145 games.

The Outfield:

With the official signing of Norichika Aoki, the Brewers seem to have taken the first step into the realm of possibility that they may be without reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season. The signing makes for some interesting scenarios in the outfield as Milwaukee will be able to choose amongst several righty and lefty hitters to fill out these three spots.

Left Field:

Assuming that Braun is suspended (historically the odds are not in his favor), I would not be surprised to see Aoki in his spot in left field come opening day. In Japan, Aoki is a career .329 hitter with 84 home runs, 385 RBIs and 164 stolen bases in 985 games over 8 seasons.

Center Field:

Center field will again be the home to the platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan. Having a righty/lefty platoon definitely gives Milwaukee versatility in center field allowing them to not only play to whomever has the hottest bat at the time, but to also play for advantage when it comes to pitching matchups. While Gomez is the better pure fielder at the position, Morgan brings speed and charisma.

While it is hard to say at this juncture who will win the opening day start (a lot will be determined in spring training), I’m going to go with my gut feeling and place Morgan in my line up due to the intangibles that he brings to the team and his ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy to start off the year. Morgan is projected to hit .288/.345/.362 with 2 homeruns, 36 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 130 games, while Gomez is projected to hit .242/.297/.375 with 5 homeruns, 24 RBIs and 16 stolen Bases.

Right Field:

Despite some speculation (including talk from Brewers GM Doug Melvin) about Corey Hart being used at first base, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that right field will continue to be his primary position. Hart is projected to hit .274/.338/.488 with 25 homeruns and 80 RBIs.

The Opening Day Lineup

Based on the information above, here is what I believe the Brewers may field on April 6th. Keep in mind that injuries and play during spring training could play a role in drastically changing this:

1) Corey Hart RF

2) Nyjer Morgan CF

3) Norichika Aoki LF

4) Aramis Ramirez 3B

5) Rickie Weeks 2B

6) Mat Gamel 1B

7) Alex Gonzalez SS

8) Jonathan Lucroy C

9) Yovani Gallardo P

So, there you have it the potential opening day lineup and starters by position. Go Crew!

Signs of Maturity

Following a three-game sweep of the Cubs, the Brewers’ record stands at 81-54.  That is a .600 winning percentage and, if it holds up through the end of the season, would represent the best winning percentage in franchise history. The Brewers are 10.5 games ahead of the Cardinals with only a month to go, and a postseason run appears almost certain (99.9%, according to Baseball Prospectus).

The Brewers appear to have handled all of their recent success well, and have sustained it for longer than any past season I can remember.  Since July 26, the Brewers have swept six out of the ten series they’ve played, with no signs of stopping.  The bats may have cooled a bit, but the pitching has more than kept the team in games.  The 2011 Brewers appear to have found their groove, just in time for the postseason.

This team features some of the same cast members as the memorable 2008 team, but its the differences that have fans excited.  Braun and Fielder again cement the middle of the order, complimented by Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks.  Craig Counsell is still there in his utility infielder role, and Yovani Gallardo takes the ball every fifth day.  But the infield looks completely different with Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee shoring up left side.  The young catcher Jonathan Lucroy has held up well both at and behind the plate in his second major-league season.  The bullpen has been completely reworked; opponents have lockdown pitchers Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Francisco Rodriguez, and John Axford to look forward to late in the game.

The 2011 Brewers feature bats that are, on average, slightly older (28.9) than their 2008 counterparts (28.6), and the difference shows.  Rickie Weeks is batting just shy of .40 points over his 2008 average with more pop.  Prince has raised his average nearly .20 points, and his on-base and slugging percentages should easily top his percentages from that year.  Corey Hart will almost certainly beat his 2008 batting average and on-base and slugging percentages.  But the story if you’re comparing the two years has to be Ryan Braun, who in 2008 batted only .285.  Now, he’s hitting .334, and though he will not match 2008’s 37 home-run total, he has exceeded his current slugging percentage only once, in 2007 when he won Rookie of the Year.

Contrast that with a pitching staff that is nearly a full year younger on average than it was in 2008. This was what the Brewers’ pitching looked like in the 2008 playoffs:

31 Dave Bush ………………………………….RHP
38 Eric Gagne………………………………….RHP
49 Yovani Gallardo……………………………RHP
73 Seth McClung ……………………………..RHP
58 Guillermo Mota…………………………….RHP
43 Manny Parra………………………………..LHP
52 CC Sabathia ………………………………..LHP
51 Brian Shouse……………………………….LHP
57 Mitch Stetter…………………………………LHP
37 Jeff Suppan…………………………………RHP
16 Salomon Torres……………………………RHP
12 Carlos Villanueva …………………………RHP

We all know how the Jeff Suppan and Eric Gagne signings played out; Suppan would go on to be released from his four-year contract and Eric Gagne would never pitch in the major leagues again.  Salomon Torres retired after a successful 2008 campaign.  The other pitchers have been traded, released, departed in free agency, or, in the cases of Mitch Stetter and Manny Parra, injured for the year.

The 2011 pitching staff features a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership.  Takashi Saito is the only pitcher on the wrong side of 40 on the active roster, with LaTroy Hawkins not far behind. Though both have had injury-shortened seasons, they have been excellent on the field; Saito has the team’s second-best ERA at 2.33, and Hawkins’ the team’s third-best at 2.63.  Randy Wolf is the only starter over 30, yet he and the team’s youngest pitcher, 25-year-old Yovani Gallardo, share the team’s best ERA among starters (3.37).

You won’t find any extraordinarily young pitchers shoring up the remainder of the pitching staff; a handful are nearly 30, like Shaun Marcum, Chris Narveson, and Kameron Loe.  John Axford and Marco Estrada are 28, and Rodriguez is 27.  Zack Greinke is 27, too, but, like Rodriguez and most of the staff, has ample experience under his belt.  Unlike any other member of the staff, he also has a Cy Young award.

Though many parallels will be made in coming days to the 2008 team, one thing is for certain; this team is older and far more experienced.  Though some veteran members of the team have made some rookie mistakes (for example, Betancourt and Jerry Hairston, Jr. missing bunt signs), the team as a whole has matured to a point where it should be able to handle the high-pressure and high-stakes nature of postseason play.  That’s a good thing, because the 2011 Brewers look destined to be playing October baseball for only the second time since 1982.

Magic Number Watch:  18

Good and Bad Omens on a Doubleheader Monday

The Brewers finished off a sweep of the Mets yesterday thanks to an excellent outing by Yovani Gallardo, and now its on to Pittsburgh where the Brewers play a twi-night doubleheader.  The late game is a makeup of a game postponed in April.

Game 1 will feature Chris Narveson’s return from a brief DL stint with a thumb injury.  He’ll go against Brewers’ nemesis Jeff Karstens, whose 2009 spat with Ryan Braun you might recall.  Its worth noting that Karstens has never won a game against the Brewers, while Narveson is 3-0 career against the Pirates.

Zack Greinke gets the ball in game 2 against Pirates reliever-turned-starter Brad Lincoln.  Lincoln will definitely be on a pitch count in only his second start of the season.  Lincoln’s first start of the year was back in July, and it was quality (6 IP, 2 ER, 4 K, 3 BB).  In his career versus the Brewers (8.1 IP), Lincoln has a 10.80 ERA with 4 strikeouts.

Doubleheaders haven’t been kind to the Brewers this year.  I’ve heard that doubleheaders are often swept, and while I have no stats to back that up, it would be true in the Brewers’ case.  The team has played two doubleheaders this year and has been swept in both:  by Washington in mid-April and by Atlanta in early May.  Both occurred on the road.

Magic Number Watch: 27

On the Brighter Side

Although the Brewers dropped today’s game to the Dodgers, the Crew went 6-1 on the homestand and are 13-3 in August.  Their winning run over approximately the past month has been better than any I can remember in the years I’ve watched this team.

And so what have we learned?

Well, first, that number five starter Chris Narveson should use safety scissors.  I haven’t written a ton about Narveson this year, but I should have; Narveson is almost as good as any number five in the National League, and as my event services buddy Dennis noted today, on many teams would be a number four.*  After a little blowup against Minnesota on July 2 (4.2 IP, 7 ER, 2 HR), Narveson had settled down nicely.  In his six starts following that game, Narveson went 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA.  Opposing batters were hitting just .244 against him in that stretch.  And then, to continue the Brewers string of freak injuries this season, the guy is forced to the DL after cutting his pitching hand with a scissors trying to repair his glove.

But that leads to the second lesson:  Marco Estrada is an exceptional spot starter.  He received his first starting opportunity this year as a fill-in for Zack Greinke, who fractured a rib during spring training playing basketball.  Estrada made four starts for Greinke, two of them excellent, one decent, and one terrible.  He then went to the bullpen, where let’s just say the results weren’t impressive.  Between May 10 and August 11, Estrada’s 26 relief appearances got him a 1-6 record, 3 blown saves, four holds, and a 4.81 ERA.  There were some signs of life in all that, though; he held opposing batters to a .255 average, maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio of roughly 2.7, and threw 62% of his pitches for strikes.  All of which set the stage nicely for his two starts in Chris Narveson’s stead.  On August 13, Estrada threw five innings of shutout ball against the Pirates, striking out five and getting the win.  Today Estrada was nearly as effective, allowing only one run over five innings.  He didn’t get the win (the Brewers’ offense was blanked until the ninth inning by Clayton Kershaw), but that wasn’t his fault.

Third, there’s some confidence to be had on this ballclub.  Up and down the lineup, every player is contributing, not just the usuals like Braun and Fielder.  Yesterday Jerry Hairston Jr. came up with the big hit to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead against the Dodgers.  On Tuesday Mark Kotsay chipped in with a pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single.  Nyjer Morgan came up with a sac fly in extra innings to win the game on Sunday against the Pirates.  The pitching has been excellent; the Brewers’ staff owns the second-best National League August ERA at 2.51.  Incidentally, the Dodgers, with whom the Brewers just finished a four-game series, have the best NL August ERA (2.38), which might explain why the Brewers were able to muster only nine runs.  But what matters most are the wins, and there have been plenty of those lately.

The Brewers now hit the road to take on a few sub-.500 opponents in the 60-63 Mets and the 58-64 Pirates before returning home to face the Cubs beginning August 26.

Magic Number Watch: 32.

*There are a handful of guys in the NL I’d take over Narveson; Bud Norris or Vance Worley, for example.  And of course Brandon Beachy from the Braves in a heartbeat.

Something Brewing

A few personal issues have kept me from blogging lately, but I simply couldn’t resist some accolades for Nyjer Morgan in the wake of last night’s comeback 8-7 victory of the Twins.  There are some glass-half-empty types who point out the fact that its only one game, but you can’t overlook the fact that it was a road game in which the Brewers were in the hole 0-7 at one point.

Nyjer Morgan provided the spark the offense needed, going 3-5 with 4 rbi.  On his 31st birthday, he was only a single shy of the cycle.  The Brewers catchers pitched in with some timely hitting, too.

The offense was great, but one of the more overlooked highlights was the performance of the bullpen, who had to clean up Chris Narveson’s 7-run mess.  Marco Estrada took over in the 5th and threw 2.1 innings of shutout ball.  Takashi Saito, in his return from a lengthy DL stint, got the win and added a scoreless inning and a strikeout.  After the Brewers’ big ninth, John Axford picked up his 21st save of the season.

For a team that had dropped the previous four games (three in the Bronx and the first of the series in Minnesota), the importance of the win can’t be understated.  It was certainly one of the best games of the season, not because anyone did anything really exceptional (Nyjer Morgan excepted), but because the Brewers managed to triumph in the face of adversity in a game they seemed destined to lose.  Narveson had a forgettable night, and the bullpen got lucky with some pitches that could have been hammered.  The offense was clueless through nearly the first five innings.  Yet they were able to pull one out at Target Field and have a shot at winning the series today.

That brings me to Zack Greinke, who takes the mound today and who JS writer Tom Haudricourt recently said is failing to meet expectations.   You can say what you want about Greinke’s ERA, but his peripheral stats are all fine (11.55 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 1.251 WHIP).  Sure, he’s had some bad days, but every pitcher does.  Greinke’s record is just fine at 7-3 thanks to some run support, and his ERA is in the gutter because of bad luck (.349 BABIP, highest of his career) and bad defense (2.72 FIP).  Don’t fear, Brewers nation.  Greinke’s best stuff is yet to come.