With the Brewers' season now halfway over, some of the contributors here at BCB have decided to give our thoughts on the team at this point in time. We'll have one a day this week, with each of us answering the same questions. Here are the previous entries in the series:
At the halfway point, what do you see as the biggest strength of the team?
Right now, the biggest strength of the team is the balanced offense. When I look at the regular lineup, it looks formidable. There aren't many weaknesses in it at all. Mark Reynolds has the worst average (which we expected coming in to the season), and Jean Segura is second worst at .239. 5 players have 10+ home runs, and 5 players have 40+ RBI. There's no easy batter to face in this lineup. Pitchers have to issue the intentional walk at their own risk. The next batter up isn't necessarily an easier one. (Interesting fact: Scooter Gennett leads the Brewers with 5 IBBs this season.)
At the halfway point, what is the biggest weakness for the team?
The biggest need for the team is to get another bench bat. Typically, all that's on the bench in a given day is the 1B and 2B platoon non-starters, Martin Maldonado (who has been ok in his limited time), and then...it's rotated between Jeff Bianchi, Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera, Caleb Gindl, and Irving Falu (who isn't with the organization anymore). Take your pick among those candidates, they aren't that great. The big need for the Brewers is a good backup OF bat (potentially a 1B/OF bat), and I'll talk more about that a little later.
The bullpen is a concern, but I don't think a move is as necessary there. Jim Henderson is in the rehab process right now, and Tyler Thornburg isn't too far behind. They will be back at some point, potentially in a month or so. Getting them back would be similar to a midseason trade at this point, and I believe their struggles were both injury related. If they can return, that will give the bullpen the boost it needs.
How are you feeling about the Brewers' chances to make the playoffs?
As of today, I'd give the Brewers a 75% chance to make the playoffs. That's a 50% chance for the division, and 25% for the wild card. The Brewers have built a nice 5 1/2 game lead so far, but it's far from safe at this point. With 12 games remaining against the Reds and 12 against the Cardinals, both have plenty of time to make up the deficit. The Brewers have cushioned themselves against the Pirates a little better, but they could also make a big run to make the race interesting as well.
On the Wild Card side, there isn't as much additional threat outside of the NL Central. It looks like 2nd place from the NL West (Dodgers/Giants) will be the main competition for a spot, and 2nd place in the NL East (Braves/Nationals). That will leave around five teams competing for two wild card spots. One of the other three NL Central teams (Cardinals, Reds, Pirates) will drop out at some point, trimming it to four. Again, the Brewers have a good lead here, and that will help them in this race.
The one concern I do have is their ability to play against winning teams. The Brewers record is a little inflated from quality of competition. In fact, they haven't won a series against a team with a winning record since the last Pirates series (early June), and then the Orioles series before that. They have played well against the Pirates, and did have a good series against the Cardinals, but they've also struggled against the Braves, Nationals, and Reds. To feel a little more confident, I need to see them play well against winning teams. They'll have a few chances to do it before the All-Star Break with series against the Reds and Cardinals. These aren't must-win games in any way, but good performances in both will be confidence builders for the rest of the season.
Do you believe the Brewers should buy, sell or stand pat at the trade deadline?
I think the Brewers should buy, but not that much. Doug Melvin has pulled off some good trades at the deadline to fill minor needs, trading borderline minor-league players for a rental bench bat or utility player. I don't want to see the Brewers sell major prospects for big rentals, but a few small trades could fill the holes that are currently in the roster. Injuries could change this, but for right now, any moves should be minor.
If you could make one roster move on the Brewers, what would it be?
The biggest move I would make immediately would be to acquire a good bench bat that can play in the outfield. I would send Elian Herrera back to Nashville, because while he can play a variety of positions, I'm not convinced he can play those positions well. Ideally, it would be a CF acquired, but that could prove tricky. If that's not possible, then a guy who can play both 1B and OF, and then break up the 1B platoon (sorry, Lyle Overbay fans) to bring Logan Schafer back up.
Some people may ask why I wouldn't choose to bring Jimmy Nelson up. While I would like to see Nelson on the team before September, I'd rather keep him as a sixth starter for now. At some point, the Brewers will probably need that 6th SP (maybe due to injury, maybe for another reason), and I'd like to have that option ready to go when that situation comes up. Yes, there's still Mike Fiers in Nashville as well, but I don't feel as confident about him stepping right in to the rotation when that time comes.
Best starting pitcher going forward?
I'm going to go with the veteran Kyle Lohse. He's been consistent so far this year, and he's gone through this several times before. What I have seen from Lohse has given me a lot of confidence in his ability for the rest of the season.
Best hitter going forward?
It's going to be Jonathan Lucroy. He's the most complete hitter on this team, and should get some MVP consideration (though he probably won't win without going completely crazy on the stat sheets). He could also reach 200 hits this season, and would be the first Brewer to do that since Ryan Braun reached that mark in 2009. He's also reaching for Lyle Overbay's team double record of 53.
Honorable mention goes to Scooter Gennett, who has had a great plate approach in his time against right-handed pitchers. If he could find some success against left-handed pitchers, he could be the Brewers full-time second baseman for the next five years.
Ryan Braun's batting line in the second half?
I'll go with .290/.350/.550. I think he will get some of his power back and really get back to who he was before this current slump.
Do the Brewers make a high profile trade?
No, not a high profile trade. I think they will make a trade, but it will be more for filling small gaps instead of bringing in a star player.
How many wins do the Brewers get in their final 81 games?
Brewers are 2-3 so far in the last 81. I think they will go 24-16 at home and 18-18 on the road, finishing with 44 wins in the second half of the season. That will get them a record of 93-69 for the season.
Do the Brewers win the division?
At this point, I'm going to give the Brewers a 50/50 shot at winning the division (50% for the Brewers, 50% for the field). The Brewers are in the best position, though the Reds and Pirates are both heating up. Plus, you can't discount the Cardinals and a late season push. I will say that the Brewers will win the division, but it won't be an easy ride.
Doug Melvin grade through 1st half?
I'll give Doug Melvin a A-. There have been some very good moves to start the year (the Will Smith trade, signing Mark Reynolds and Zach Duke) that have really helped the team. However, there's also been a few more questionable moves with some of the Nashville callups. Most of those have been minor, so I won't dock him too much for that.
Ron Roenicke grade through 1st half?
I'll give Ron Roenicke the same grade, an A-. There hasn't been much to question about his managing style this year. He's recognized problems when they have come up (underperforming lineup, bullpen issues) and done what he can to fix them. I feel like the few problems he hasn't handled are more an upper management issue than his issue. He's done very well for the Brewers this year and we should be happy with his performance.