Brewers vs Nationals series preview

Doug Pensinger

After one of the most satisfying road trips ever in the history of anything, the Brewers return home to face a real team.

The Nationals are in first place in the NL East so it's a battle between division leaders. While I think the Nationals are the best team the Brewers will play in June, they're not exactly the threat they once were. The pitching of course is legit, but they're relying rather heavily on it. On the season they have a 94 wRC+ (17th in MLB) and it hasn't been any better recently (93 wRC+ over last 30 days, 15th in MLB).

That's not to suggest they don't have any offensive threats. Jayson Werth is missing his power this year but he's still hitting .271 and getting on base at a great clip (.354). Anthony Rendon is putting together a great season. He was playing second base but they've not slotted him over at third base and moved Ryan Zimmerman to left field (which has been working well for him). Adam LaRoche is playing out of his mind right now. He's hitting 305/418/477, 152 wRC+. His BABIP is higher than normal which might suggest he'll come back to reality. However he's cut down his K% and GB% and increased his LD% and BB%. Even if his numbers do regress, I wouldn't bet on them falling off a cliff. It's really impressive considering this is his age 34 season.

If you're a believer in fielding metrics you'll be pleased to know the Nationals as a team do not grade out particularly well. While they're 10th in DRS (10), they're also 23rd in UZR (-10.8), and 15th in Fangraphs overall Defensive metric (-4.8). If you're curious, Brewers are 13th in DRS (6), 9th in UZR (12.9), and 9th in Def (11.9).

Pitching is this team's strength and it's quite impressive all around. The only weak link in that bullpen is Ross Detwiler and the Brewers probably won't see him unless a starter leaves early or they're already winning. Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Aaron Barrett, Jerry Blevins. I mean, take your pick. They're all having good to great seasons. Blevins' ERA is almost 2 points higher than his FIP but I don't see anything in the peripherals to suggest it's anything but bad luck. Looking at this pitching staff top to bottom it's very surprising this team doesn't have a much better record than it does.

Monday June 23, 7:10 pm CT: Matt Garza vs Gio Gonzalez

Gonzalez has not been untouchable this year, but he still has some nice peripherals to go along with a sad 4.85 ERA. He's rolling with a 24.7 K%, 9.6 BB%, .9,87 HR/9, 248 BAA, and a 1.37 WHIP. He has two fastballs, a curve, and a change that he mixes pretty well. If there is one saving grace here it's that Gonzalez is a lefty and Brewers are better against them. It's a tall order though.

Of note for the Brewers: I haven't done any actually research into this, but it feels like the defense always makes boneheaded mistakes behind Matt Garza. Sometimes he joins in. I wonder if maybe Scooter Gennett will get the start even though he can't hit lefties.

Tuesday June 24, 7:10 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmerman is really good too. His 20.7 K% is the lowest of the trio, but so is his 4.3 BB% and 0.59 HR/9. His BAA is at .258 but that's not bad and that BB% helps keep his WHIP at a solid 1.17. The Brewers offense is great, but this is going to be a tough one.

Of note for the Brewers: Yovani Gallardo is coming into this game looking to continue what might be his best stretch of the season. He's pitched three straight games going 7 innings deep and has only allowed 2 runs to score in those 21 innings.

Wednesday June 25, 1:10 pm CT: Marco Estrada vs Stephen Strasburg

Pure unadulterated filth. Stephen Strasburg might be the best pitcher the Brewers have faced all year. Everyone knows this kid is great and I think he might still be underrated. Check this out: 28.8 K% (2nd in MLB), 4.8 BB% (15th), 24.1 K%-BB% (3rd). Forget the might, I think Strasburg is the best pitcher the Brewers have faced this season. Depending on how the match-ups shake out down the road, this might be the best pitcher they face all season. No pitcher is untouchable, but if I was ever to bet against the Brewers, this would be the game. I would never actually bet against them though. I don't want to jeopardize my chances at the hall of fame.

Of note for the Brewers: Marco Estrada is still in the rotation much to the chagrin of, like, everyone. I'm cool with it though. This should be a good test to see if Estrada is getting back on track. I know he got rocked for 7 runs in Colorado, but that's Colorado. Everyone got rocked. He also got the raw deal on more than one (non) error but I won't waste anymore time on that right now. I'm in the minority, but I really don't think he pitched that poorly in his last start and a Nationals team that hasn't been scoring a lot of runs or hitting a lot of home runs seems like a good match-up on paper.

Conclusion

I just don't feel good about this one. The Nationals have arguably the best pitching staff in the majors and the Brewers are facing their best starters. They've also got a shutdown bullpen that should be able to carry even the slightest of leads through the end of the game. Hope lies in the Nats' run scoring ability. Bryce Harper is still a couple weeks away from a return and the Nats offense has been mediocre. However, the Brewers are putting forth 2 of their shakiest starters, even though I have confidence in Garza and hope for Estrada. Still, I'm going 1 out of 3. Sorry.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

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