Last strikes: Brewers 7, Diamondbacks 2

PHOENIX – Nineteen last strikes for the 19 strikes thrown by Brewers reliever Josh Hader in the Brewers 7-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Monday night.

1. The biggest moment of the day for the Brewers may have oddly enough come prior to the game when outfielder Ryan Braun was deemed unable to play due to back tightness. Braun was scratched from the lineup and Jonathan Villar was placed into the lineup.

2. Villar had a terrific day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a home run and three runs scored. There’s no predicting what Braun would have done, obviously, but Villar’s contributions were unexpected, to say the least. The home run, his second of the season, was a 401-foot blast just to the left of dead-center.

3. It’s very important (to be ready) because it’s simple when you work hard in the field,” Villar said of being unexpectedly inserted into the lineup. “When you don’t play, don’t worry, keep going, you never know what’s going on.”

4. The Brewers were able to strike first in the second inning on an Orlando Arcia double to center field. A few questionable plays and decisions led to the Brewers being able to get a pair across the plate.

5. After Manny Piña doubled down the left field line and Villar followed it up with a single to left field, Villar was all but picked off of first base. However, Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt failed to make a throw to second to nab Villar while in a run down. It appeared as if Goldschmidt was worried about the not-so-fleet-of-foot Piña scoring from third.

6. This created runners on second and third with two outs for Arcia, Milwaukee’s No. 8 hitter. With starting pitcher Junior Guerra on deck, the Diamondbacks decided to pitch to Arcia as opposed to walking him to face Guerra with two outs. That decision backfired as Arcia laced a 3-2 breaking ball into center scoring both runners.

7. “I thought we had good at-bats with guys in scoring position a bunch tonight,” manager Craig Counsell said after the win. “Starting all the way back in the second inning with Villar and Arcia having two great at-bats to give us a two-run lead.”

8. Early on, Guerra looked terrific on the hill. He didn’t allow a base runner until walking John Ryan Murphy in the third inning and had a no-hitter until the fourth when Goldschmidt knocked a single to right field.

9. When he reached the fourth inning Guerra looked human. He allowed a leadoff walk to Daniel Descalso to start the inning which was followed by a Paul Goldschmidt single. Descalso was able to score on a Steven Souza Jr. double to left, and Goldschmidt later scored on a sacrifice fly from shortstop Nick Ahmed.

10. That was all the damage the Diamondbacks were able to inflict on Guerra, other than the fourth inning he only allowed one base hit and a pair of walks. He pitched six innings allowing two earned runs on three hits while striking out three and walking four.

11. “Really needed it,” Counsell said of the length Guerra was able to provide. “It was a lot of fastball tonight for sure. And it was a good fastball, it was a very good fastball tonight. There was a bunch of 95s up there, so probably his best fastball tonight. He just didn’t feel great with the split at times, so he stuck with the fastball and did a nice job of it.”

12. Hader came on in relief and held the lead for the Brewers, although he didn’t look like his usual self. Hader allowed two hits and struck out a pair on 31 pitches across two innings. He allowed more contact than usual to Arizona hitters but was still able to manage his way through two scoreless.

13. Think about that for a second, Hader pitched two scoreless innings and was thought of as not himself because he didn’t strikeout a majority of the batters he faced. Hader has become so dominant that it’s become the expectation that no one reaches base against him.

14. Tyler Saladino, pinch-hitting for Hader, then added extra insurance with an inside-the-park home run to center, past a diving A.J. Pollack all the way to the wall in the ninth. It was the 28th inside-the-park home run in franchise history, and the first since Arcia hit one last season.

15. “[It’s a] good feeling, yeah, because it got by him,” Saladino said.” And then it’s like time to kick it in gear kind of thing at the same thing. Everything you got, kind of turn it on. It doesn’t happen very often, so you have to dig a little bit deeper than normal.”

16. Saladino’s inside-the-park home run was also the first pinch-hit inside-the-park home run in Brewers’ franchise history.

17. “Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I had to do something like that. There’s no way to get ready for that, it’s just everything you’ve got.”

18. The win gives the Brewers the most wins in the National League, tied with the Atlanta Braves. The Brewers also have the second-best winning percentage in the league behind Atlanta. The saying is that a team cannot win the division early in the season, but it can certainly be lost then. The Brewers are doing more than enough to not lose it right now.

19. Milwaukee and Arizona are back in action on Tuesday night at Chase Field in Phoenix, Az. Jhoulys Chacin (3-1, 4.00 ERA) is on the hill for the Brewers while Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.70) gets the start for the Diamondbacks. First pitch is set for 8:40 p.m. CT.

The position to pay attention to for the upcoming Brewers season

The trade for outfielder Christian Yelich, the signing of former All-Star outfielder Lorenzo Cain, the experiment of moving Ryan Braun from the outfield to first base and the push for another starting pitcher have dominated the offseason storylines for the Milwaukee Brewers. But it’s another position that’s not garnering headlines that fans of the team should be keeping an eye on — second base.

Why? Well, the Brewers were one of the worst teams in baseball when it came to production out of that position in 2017. The push to fix it has left Milwaukee with a lot of options as well as question marks. The players who are poised to see time at second base this season are Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, Hernan Perez, and Mauricio Dubon.

A name missing there is Neil Walker. The Brewers traded for the veteran last season, but in the wake of the Yelich trade and Cain singing, it’s unlikely Milwaukee brings him back.

The first option, and the one with the most upside, is Jonathan Villar. The switch-hitting Villar is coming off a disappointing season in 2017 after a big year during the 2016 campaign. At 26 years olf, Villar is relatively young and still learning how to play the game at the major league level.

Some of his errors in the field and on the bases were head-scratching, but can be manageable when he produces like he did in 2016. That season, Villar hit .285 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs from the lead-off spot. He also added 63 stolen bases, which led Major League Baseball.

Last season, Villar hit .241 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. His numbers were down pretty much across the board, but took significant hits in stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Overall, Villar had a lot more swings and misses in 2017, which didn’t allow him to get on base, and ultimately steal bases. Milwaukee already has a scary lineup, but if it gets the 2016 version of Villar, it could field one of the best offenses in baseball.

Eric Sogard is coming off one of his best seasons as a professional, and is another candidate to get time at second base. Sogard has had injury issues that have plagued his career, but stayed relatively healthy for the Brewers last season. He signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee right after the season and should be a heavily used utility player.

Hernan Perez, like Sogard, should be used as a utility player once again this season and should see spot starts at second. Perez is the most versatile player on the Brewers roster and potentially in the major leagues. He played every position beside catcher last season, including getting one inning on the mound.

Perez will find playing time at many positions this season, and could find a permanent spot at second base if Villar doesn’t produce and Sogard doesn’t stay healthy.

The biggest wildcard of all the players is Mauricio Dubon. The 23-year-old from Honduras is practically a spitting image of the team’s shortstop — Orlando Arcia. He came up playing the same spot, but the Brewers moved him to second base due to Arcia playing at such a high level. Dubon like Arcia, is a slick fielding infielder with a cannon for an arm.

He’s a player that will hit for average, steal bases, and play gold glove caliber defense. Dubon won’t bring the power that Villar or Perez will, but the Brewers lineup might not need that from him. He appeared in the MLB Futures Game last season and had a nice performance. It’s unlikely that he’ll start the season in the big leagues, but should see some time with the major league club.

For my money, I think Brewers fans should hope for a bounce back season from Villar, as he has the highest ceiling of any of the potential second base candidates this season. I like having guys like Sogard and Perez as key utility players, who can play multiple positions and are a reliable bat off the bench. I’ve been a Dubon advocate for a couple of years now, and am looking forward to see what he can do when he arrives in the big leagues. I don’t think he will have a huge impact on the team this season, but could be the second baseman of the future.

Why the Brewers aren’t necessarily going “all in” with these recent moves

The Milwaukee Brewers and general manager David Stearns are back at it again. The club is the talk of the off-season right now after trading for Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and signing former All-Star outfielder Lorenzo Cain as a free agent Thursday night.

Milwaukee still has a crowded outfield, which means that more moves will be likely to come before the start of spring training and players such as Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Keon Broxton could be on the move. Despite all of these transactions, though, the Brewers aren’t necessarily going all in with a win-now mentality.

Here are some of the reasons why the Brewers didn’t mortgage their future and are not only going to contend for a playoff spot this season, but for a World Series for the next five years.

Trading for Yelich cost Milwaukee its top prospect in Lewis Brinson and other highly ranked prospects in Isan Diaz (6th), Monte Harrison (14th), and Jordan Yamamoto (21st). Yelich is the player right now that the Brewers had hoped Brinson could become and the one Miami is banking on him becoming.

The 23-year-old Brinson spent some time in the majors last season, but struggled when given the chance to play. At 26 years old, Yelich has been playing in the big leagues for five years, and is coming off a season in which he hit .282 with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs. He did that while hitting at Marlins Park, a much bigger stadium than Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

Milwaukee included 21-year-old Diaz in the deal and was able to do so because of the depth at its middle infield spots. The Brewers currently have Orlando Arcia at shortstop and are hoping for a bounce back season from Jonathan Villar at second base. The Brewers also have their seventh-ranked prospect in Mauricio Dubon, who is expected to see time at the big league level this season. Milwaukee also has another top prospect, Jean Carmona (13th) at that position.

The 22-year-old Harrison was another prospect that became expendable because of the depth at the outfield position. Harrison had a big season last year between low and high-A. He was still a ways away from the big leagues at this point in his career.

The last player involved in the trade, 21-year-old Jordan Yamamoto is coming off a good season in high-A with Carolina, but was among the organization top-10 pitching prospects.

Yelich will be under contract through a good chunk of his prime. He won’t be eligible for free agency until 2022. Yelich will command the most money during the 2021 season, a season in which he will make $15 million. Milwaukee basically nailed down an All-Star caliber player for a reasonable price during the prime of his career.

Many fans have questioned the signing of Cain, especially after trading for Yelich. Yes, the Brewers still have a crowded outfield. Yes, Cain turns 32 years old during this upcoming season. Yes, he’s making an average of $16 million per year over the next five season with this new deal.

What many people don’t know is that is that every Major League Baseball owner was given $50 million due to the deal that Disney struck with the league related to streaming and marketing. This means that Milwaukee’s owner, Mark Attanasio, could put that money towards the Brewers team salary. In the past, Attanasio hasn’t hesitated to spend money when he feels the team can contend and these moves suggest he does.

The Brewers could essentially use that money to pay for part of Cain’s $80 million contract. This would leave Milwaukee on the hook for $30 million over the next five years, which makes it a much more team-friendly deal at $6 million per year over five years. Under the ownership of Attanasio, the Brewers have seen their team salary rise as high as $110 million. The Brewers expected salary is around $90 million for the upcoming season, which should leave the Brewers with roughly $20 million dollars a year to spend on future signings, extensions, etc. The Brewers still have financial flexibility to make future moves.

Brewers fans are a winning starved bunch and just seeing progress from off-season moves like these can lead to this kind of “all in” thinking by fans. The moves that Stearns and the Brewers made yesterday by no means show that the Brewers are in the “win now” mode. These two transactions are just another step in the rebuild and the push for getting to the World Series in the near future. Milwaukee definitely added better players to their roster yesterday, but still have a farm full of prospects, financial flexibility, and time to build towards championships.

Davies, Villar help the Brewers earn 6-3 win over Washington

Jonathan Villar continued to swing a hot bat as Milwaukee earned a 6-3 win in the opener of its 4-game set with the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

The second baseman collected three hits, including a 2-run homer in the fifth inning. It came a night after he had three RBIs and he concluded the month of August batting .364. It was a significant departure from the struggles he’s had much of the season.

“It’s huge,” pitcher Zach Davies said of Villar’s big night. “We know what role he had last year and how big of a part of the team he was. Just him having continued success and getting on a roll himself, it’s huge for the team.”

Davies had a pretty good night himself. He went seven innings, giving up two runs on six hits and picked up his 16th win on the year – tied for the most in the majors.

Closer Corey Knebel came on in the ninth to collect his 31st save of the season.

The win allowed Milwaukee to move within 2 ½ games of the Colorado Rockies in the race for the final wildcard spot, and kept them 3 ½ games back of Chicago in the NL Central.

It’ll be Milwaukee and Washington again Friday night at Miller Park. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.

Brewers Neil Walker making debut at 3rd base

One day after the Milwaukee Brewers traded for second baseman Neil Walker from the New York Mets, Walker gets the start for the Crew Sunday against the Reds. Walker will start at third base and bat cleanup in place of regular 3B Travis Shaw who is dealing with a right foot injury.

 

Walker is batting .264 this season, with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 73 games. He missed a large chunk of June and July with a hamstring injury, just returning to the lineup on July 28. This was the 31-year-old’s second year in New York, having spent his first seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

While Walker’s stats may not blow anyone away, the Brewers struggles at second base have been a story for several months. They waived Scooter Gennett during spring training, handing the job to Jonathan Villar. He’s batting just .222 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. Milwaukee overcame his struggles early on because of Eric Sogard’s surprise success. He batted .331 before the all-star break, but since returning from an injury in late July, he’s got five hits in 45 at-bats.

 

Milwaukee offense shows signs of life in 11-10 loss to Cincinnati

Milwaukee’s offense showed signs of life, but it wasn’t enough for the Brewers to avoid an 11-10 loss to Cincinnati on Friday night at Miller Park.

The Reds lit-up starter Jimmy Nelson, tagging him for a season-high 10 runs on 11 hits in just 3 2/3rds innings. It was the second-shortest outing of the year for Nelson, who is having the best season of his career.

On the other side, Homer Bailey, who had given up 10 runs in his last start, kept the Brewers bats at bay, going five innings and allowing just two runs on five hits. But the bullpen had a night to forget, especially Blake Wood. He gave up five runs without recording an out in the sixth inning, including a three-run homer by Eric Thames. He was replaced by Michael Lorenzen, who would give up two more runs in what turned into a 7-run sixth inning for Milwaukee.

The Crew trailed 10-9 heading into the seventh, when the Reds got one of the runs back courtesy of a Tucker Barnhardt home run off reliever Carlos Torres. The run proved to be the game-winner as Milwaukee got a homer from Jonathan Villar in the ninth but nothing else.

Milwaukee’s 10 runs were the most its scored since putting up 11 against Chicago on July 6, and the first time in 14 games it scored more than four runs.

The loss was the sixth straight for Milwaukee, who fell into a tie with Pittsburgh for third place in the NL Central. Both teams trail St. Louis by two games and Chicago by three.

The Brewers and Reds will matchup once again Saturday night in Milwaukee.

What this Brewers offense is missing

The Brewers have undoubtedly played better than anyone expected this season, and are still in the hunt for the National League Central title. This has lead to Brewers general manager David Stearns making some moves to sure up the Milwaukee bullpen, which emerged as the team’s weakest unit.

The team has struggled since the All-Star break going 9-14 in that time. The starting pitching has been relatively good all season, and the bullpen has made strides as of late. What is really plaguing the Brewers is the fact that the offense isn’t hitting home runs and not scoring runs in general.

David Stearns mentioned how he would continue to look at every option available to improve this ball club. I’m sure he’ll continue to scour the waiver wire and look to make deals during the waiver trade deadline.  He could also continue to bring up younger players from the minor league in hopes of a spark. Which might not really happen until September.

Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips are two highly touted prospects, but both have shown that the Brewers need to be patient with their progression as they’ve both struggled in their limited time at the big league level.

There has been a lot said lately about how the Brewers have struggled to score runs especially when they aren’t hitting home runs. That is true, but the team is struggling to even get on base at the same time. What I think this Brewers team is missing is a true lead-off hitter. Jonathan Villar was the Brewers lead-off man for most of last season, but he has been anything but productive so far this season.

Villar is hitting .216 this season with 8 home runs and 32 RBIs. He does have 20 stolen bases, but has shown a lack of concentration on the bases too many times in his career. He has also struck out 111 times this season, which is over 34% of his at-bats. His on-base percentage of .276 is terrible for a traditional lead-off hitter. He has also committed 11 errors this season, which doesn’t help his case.

Eric Sogard has also seen quite a bit of time in the lead-off spot since mid-May. He was fitting the role nicely up until he went on the disabled list just before the All-Star break. Since returning to the lineup a little more than two weeks ago, he has really struggled. Since July, Sogard is a combined 3-39 for a batting average of .077 during that time period. The Brewers have to monitor his playing time because he is coming off of knee reconstruction surgery.

The Brewers don’t really have many other options. Eric Thames and Domingo Santana have seen some time at the top of the order, but Craig Counsell and the Brewers would prefer them lower in the order. Keon Broxton has also gotten starts in the lead-off spot, but has struck out at too high of a clip to be a good candidate for the position. The Brewers could try Orlando Arcia at the top spot in the order, but Craig Counsell seems content with batting him in the seventh or eighth spot.

Without a consistent lead-off hitter, the Brewers offense will continue to struggle as long as they aren’t hitting the long ball. For my money, I’d pull the trigger on calling up top prospects Lewis Brinson and/or Mauricio Dubon and let them find their swings at the major league level.

 

 

 

 

Report: Brewers interested in Detroit 2B Ian Kinsler

Milwaukee may be in a bit of a free fall, but the team is apparently still looking to make moves to help its chances to win the NL Central and get back to the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The latest evidence comes from ESPN’s Buster Olney, who tweeted Saturday morning that the club was digging into the possibility of acquiring Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler. The 35-year-old is batting just .244 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs. A four-time all-star, Kinsler won a Gold Glove a year ago for the Tigers.

Milwaukee’s interest in the second baseman comes as regular starter Jonathan Villar continues to struggle at the plate, hitting just .223 with eight homers and 30 RBIs. Backup Eric Sogard, who was playing well before an injury on the 4th of July put him on the disabled list, is expected to return for the club on Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Kinsler is the third Tigers player the Brewers have reportedly been interested in acquiring, joining starter Justin Verlander and reliever Justin Wilson.

The Brewers have lost six straight games and have seen their 5.5 game lead in the NL Central shrink to just one game on the Chicago Cubs since the all-star break.

Brewers drill six home runs in an 11-3 win at Cincinnati

Milwaukee drilled the most home runs it had in a decade in an 11-3 win at Cincinnati Thursday night.

Outfielder Ryan Braun started what would turn into a home run derby for the visiting Brewers, going deep in the first inning for his second long ball in three games since coming off the disabled list. Homers from Manny Pina, Jesus Aguilar, Domingo Santana and two from Jonathan Villar followed, as the Crew banged a total of six bombs on the night and held a 10-0 lead before the Reds got on the board.

“We swung the bats really well tonight, obviously,” manager Craig Counsell said. “The first four innings we just kept coming at them.”

The Brewers bats were equal opportunity abusers, with the team getting three off of starter Homer Bailey, two on Kevin Shackelford and another off Ariel Hernandez. It was the fifth time in franchise history they’d hit at least six homers in a single game — one off the team record of seven back in 1980.

Starter Jimmy Nelson wasn’t too bad himself, making it seven innings, giving up two runs on three hits and striking out 11. It was the third time this month and fifth time this year he’s thrown a double-digit number of strikes in an outing.

“From the first inning you could tell he had really good stuff just by some of the swings,” said Counsell of Nelson, who improved to 6-4 on the year. “When we got him a lead, he got even better.”

The win was a good response to late blunders in Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Reds.

“It was a tough game (on Wednesday) in a lot of ways,” Counsell said. “We keep saying it, but we keep bouncing back from those tough games.”

Milwaukee finished its six-game road trip just 2-4, but remains a game up on the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.

The Brewers will begin their final homestand of the first half of the season on Friday night as they host the Miami Marlins.

Braun, Villar activated off the disabled list

Milwaukee is getting some reinforcements.

The Brewers announced Tuesday afternoon that outfielder Ryan Braun and second baseman Jonathan Villar had been reinstated from the 10-day disabled list, while outfielder Nick Franklin had been designated for assignment.

Braun has been out with a calf strain since May 26, his second stint on the DL this year. When he’s played, he’s been OK, batting .262 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs.

Villar hit the disabled list on June 10 with a back injury suffered in the process of making a great defensive play against Arizona. The Brewers leadoff hitter is batting .213 with six home runs and 26 RBIs.

Milwaukee will open a series against the Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday night.