We've talked about the Brewers 6-7-8 hitters before; Carlos Gomez, Yuni Betancourt, and Jonathan Lucroy have all been abysmal hitters up to this point in their careers. In 2011, projections systems have all three of them hitting around or under a .700 OPS this year. Over the last 25 years, there have been 7 World Series winners with at least three players at or below a .700 OPS in their starting lineup (the 2009 Yankees, by the way, had just one player under an .850 OPS).
Catcher Tim Laudner (.640 OPS), 2B Steve Lombardozzi (.650 OPS) and LF Dan Gladden (.673 OPS) were the offending players for this version of the Twins. Both Lombardozzi and Gladden (1.3 and 1.0 fWARs, respectively) gained at least a win thanks to their defense, while Laudner couldn't even break even in fWAR. For the Brewers this year, it will likely be the opposite: Gomez will have value in his glove, but the other two aren't exactly defensive wizards. The Twins really weren't the greatest hitting team overall, and their pitching wasn't so hot either. Bert Blyleven, in the twilight of his career, had a 4.88 FIP, but still managed 3.1 fWAR thanks to pitching 267 innings. Frank Viola was outstanding for Minnesota that year, but the rest of the starting rotation was honestly pretty abysmal. Their pythagorean record was 79-83, but they made the playoffs and somehow won the WS. I think it's safe to say that the 2011 Brewers have a boatload more talent than these Twins did.
Other teams following the jump
"I don't believe what I just saw!" Of course, this is the year that Kirk Gibson--with no legs left--hit the game winning home run in what is one of the more magical moments in MLB history. And Gibson was great that season, posting 6.1 fWAR and winning the NL MVP award. And he was just about the only good thing about the Dodgers offense that year. C Mike Scioscia (.642 OPS), 1B Franklin Stubbs (.664 OPS), 2B Steve Sax (.668 OPS), SS Alfredo Griffin (.513 OPS), and 3B Jeff Hamilton (.620 OPS) formed a heaping pile of bad. Dave Anderson, who actually played SS more than Griffin did still had a .644 OPS. Thank god their pitching was so good: Tim Leary, Tim Belcher and Orel Hershiser formed a top three with 2.91, 2.91, 2.26 ERAs and 2.75, 2.54 and 3.18 ERAs, respectively. Their bullpen was great, too. Clearly the 2011 Brewers have a vastly superior offense, but I don't think it's realistic to say their pitching will match up. The Dodgers scored just 628 runs in 1988, but gave up only 544 which is really impressive.
On a team that featured a 25 year old Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson still in his prime, there were some awful hitters surrounding them. C Terry Steinbach (.671 OPS), 2B Tony Philips (.693), SS Mike Gallego (.654), CF Dave Henderson (.695) and RF Stan Javier (.633) were awful in supporting roles. Dave Henderson at least made up for it by being an outstanding defensive player--the rest of them have no excuse. Once again, pitching was their saving grace as they had three great starters. Their pitching wasn't nearly as good as the Dodgers in 1988, but then again, their offense wasn't quite as terrible, either.
1992 Blue Jays
C Pat Borders (.676 OPS), SS Manuel Lee (.659 OPS), 3B Kelly Gruber (.627 OPS), and CF Devon White (.693 OPS) were all among the worst hitters on a team that didn't feature any big time star position players. Their best hitters were Dave Winfield, who had a .867 OPS, and Roberto Alomar, who had a .832 OPS with a .405 OBP. White actually had the second highest fWAR on the team, thanks to a completely ridiculous 3.3 wins from his defense alone. The pitching wasn't nearly as good for the Jays as it had been for the A's or Dodgers. Juan Guzman was incredible, with a 2.60 FIP and 2.64 ERA, but none of the other starters were anything to write home about. Then again, nor was much of the league as they still managed to put up very good fWARs.
1993 Blue Jays
And then the Blue Jays repeated. This time, it was Borders, Rickey Henderson, and Ed Sprague who were under the .700 OPS threshold. Throw in a 24 year old John Olerud and 36 year old Paul Molitor, both of whom led the team in OPS, and another good year from Guzman, and I think this team looked better than the 1992 version.
When you have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz destroying other teams, it doesn't really matter that you have Mark Lemke (.681 OPS), Jeff Blauser (.660 OPS) and Marquis Grissom (.693 OPS). It helps that all three of them were also above average defensive players and that the Braves also had pretty good hitters in Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and Javy Lopez. But again, that pitching rotation has one of the best top three's in MLB history. Of course they were going to win some games.
After eleven years and the Yankee dominated era, finally a team won the WS with three regulars under a .700 OPS. I remember cheering for the Cardinals to win during their entire playoff run. They only won 83 games in the regular season to sneak into the playoffs and somehow made it to the World Series to face the Tigers. I believe that was the last time I've ever in good faith rooted for St. Louis. They had offensive stalwarts David Eckstein (.694 OPS), Yadier Molina (.595 OPS), So Taguchi (remember him?) (.686 OPS) and Aaron Miles (.672 OPS). Obviously, that ugly hitting was alleviated by having outstanding hitters like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds in their lineup. Chris Carpenter was amazing that year, as well, but their second best pitcher in fWAR? None other than Jeff Suppan. No wonder they didn't win more games.
Well it doesn't help, the Brewers three poor hitters won't necessarily keep the Brewers from the playoffs or World Series. They have some star hitters in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and if Milwaukee's pitching is as good as it could be, it should give the Brewers plenty of chances to stay in games, just like it did for many of the teams above (like the Dodgers).