Brewers/Angels Series Preview: Players to Watch

Some of you may remember that three years ago, the last time "my" two teams played in Interleague competition, I wrote a pair of previews for the series, one providing an intro to the Brewers from an Angels fan's perspective, and the other introducing the Angels to a Brewers fan.

2010 seems so long ago.

The Brewers were a team on the rise towards the 2011 NLCS. The Angels were coming off their 2009 ALCS appearance.

The Brewers were built around their mashing lineup, with Prince Fielder and (hopefully) pre-PED Ryan Braun as the centerpieces, along with guys like Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Casey McGehee, who were having excellent seasons.

The Angels were built around their starting pitching and defense, with pre-injury Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter batting in the middle of the order. Mike Trout was in the (low) minors. Pujols was a Cardinal. Hamilton was a Ranger. Mike Napoli hit 26 HR for the Angels.

As I said, 2010 seems so long ago.

2013 has been bad for both teams. The Angels have been the bigger disappointment, largely due to the expectations set by their high payroll and (potentially) mashing lineup. They didn't re-sign Torii, but adding Josh Hamilton to a batting order with Trout, Trumbo, Pujols, and Kendrick seemed (to some) like a recipe for Runs! Runs! Runs! And yes, they have gotten runs this year. But Hamilton has been pretty much awful, Pujols has been hurt (and lost for the season), Trumbo has been inconsistent, and the decision to throw money at the lineup in lieu of pitching has backfired. The Angels traded Ervin Santana, released Dan Haren, and wouldn't match the $$ for Greinke. They gave $16M to Joe Blanton for two years instead. And the bullpen, while not as bad as 2012 (led the AL in Blown Saves!), has still been bad.

The Brewers skimped on the rotation as well, though they signed Kyle Lohse for 3/$33M. Their pitching has likewise been... Not good. Some of their better starters from 2012 have regressed (Gallardo, Mike Fiers) and others have been inconsistent (Estrada). The bullpen has at least improved from 2012, when they led the NL in Blown Saves. (I had a rough time with the Ninth inning last year regardless of which team I was watching!) They've also been devastated by injuries (Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Mat Gamel, and Chris Narveson are out for the season - Hart, Gamel, and Narveson haven't played all year - and Aramis Ramirez has missed significant time) and the Ryan Braun lying/cheating/suspension fiasco.

Neither team is contending for anything other than a better draft position. (Though the Angels can still mess with Texas. And the Brewers can still play spoiler to the Cardinals. So there is that.) So this post will not be an update to my 2010 previews. This will be a post that will tell you why you should still watch the other team. Given the injuries for both sides this year, you'll see a lot of guys in the other team's lineup and think "Who the heck is that?" The Angels were not expecting to see a lot of Colin Cowgill this season. And the Brewers were not expecting to give significant playing time to Juan Francisco. So rather than a position-by-position comparison of the two teams, I'm going to tell you which 4 players (on a team you probably don't see very much) are worth paying close attention to. Why 4? Why not?

For the Brewers:

Carlos Gomez. The best player (by WAR) in the Brewers lineup, 3rd in the NL overall behind only Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen. He was with the team in 2010, and actually hit a HR in Anaheim as a platooned CF; he's finally broken out in the past two years as one of the best CF in the NL. For a long time he was considered a "toolsy" guy with upside, if only he could put it all together. He has. Think Bourjos-caliber CF defense and speed with improved power. (Google "Gomez robs Joey Votto" if you want to see what I'm talking about.) The Brewers got him in a trade for JJ Hardy, whom they moved to make room at SS for Alcides Escobar. Escobar would be traded for Greinke prior to the 2011 season, who would then be flipped in 2012 for....

Jean Segura. The guy that might make Angel fans weep. If we had Segura in AAA this season, Aybar or Kendrick would probably have been moved at the deadline, or would be trade bait this winter. As is, we got two months of Greinke only to see him sign with the Doyers. But it wasn't Segura or the Brewers that made us blow our payroll on Josh Hamilton and go cheap (but still pay way too much) with Joe Blanton. Segura has hit very well since coming to Milwaukee, and has been amongst the NL leaders in hits and SB all season. While in the Angels' system, there was some question as to whether he could stick at SS or would have to move to 2B. He's done a good (not Gold Glove-caliber, but still pretty good) job at SS for the Brewers, so it looks like he'll stick.

Wily Peralta. The Brewers' top prospect last season (until the Segura/Greinke trade), Peralta has had a decent rookie season in the rotation. He's been inconsistent however, with some dominating starts and some where he gets shelled. You should get to see him face Jered Weaver on Friday. If he's "on", the Brewers could win. But it's not likely against Weaver.

Khris Davis. No, that's not a misspelling. Surprisingly with that name, he doesn't K as much as the other Chris Davis. But in a small sample, he's hitting HR at a similar rate. He's hit at every level, the real question is his defense and whether he can play anything other than LF, where a certain guy named Braun will be back in 2014. And whether Davis is just a flash-in-the-pan or legitimate.

For the Angels:

Jered Weaver. The only true Ace on either team. Weaver has lost a bit of velocity in the past few years (he throws routinely in the 88-89 range, only rarely going much over 90mph), but he still features a bewildering delivery and one of the best changeups in baseball. If you haven't seen much of him, pay close attention to his stride and where his left foot lands. If you imagine a straight line from the pitching rubber to home plate, Weaver strides towards the 3B-side and throws across his body, making it very difficult for batters to pick up the baseball. You have to like their chances with Weaver pitching.

Josh Hamilton. With Pujols out for the season, this is all we have to show for $50+M in payroll: Joe Blanton in the bullpen (with a 2-14 record and 61 ERA+) and Josh Hamilton's .716 OPS. Hamilton occasionally shows glimmers of his old self, with a multi-hit game or big HR. But then the glimmer fades and you're left facing the fact that he's owed another $100M for the next four seasons. But hey, he's a former MVP, so he's worth watching, right?

Mark Trumbo. Russell Branyan-style power. If you're a Brewers fan, and you're going to the game early to watch BP, the two guys you want to see are Trumbo and Trout. Trumbo has been inconsistent this year, and not as good as his All-Star season last year (his BABIP is down 40 points from 2012 to about his 2011 level; not surprisingly, his overall numbers (wOBA, OPS+) just about match his 2011 level as well), but he can still get ahold of one and send it a long, long way.

Mike Trout. God of WAR. Do I really need to go into Trout's superlatives? He's about the only reason I've kept watching the Angels this year. Do NOT go to the bathroom when he's due up to bat. The rightful MVP and GG-caliber CF last season (oddly, some slow-footed 3B-guy won MVP based on old counting statistics, and a worse fielder from the East Coast won the Gold Glove. Bias much?), he's putting up similar numbers this year. A 181 OPS+. Nearly 8 bWAR with five weeks to go in the season. (And he leads all of MLB in WAR. Again.) His SB numbers are down a bit, but that's because he's no longer batting leadoff. He's still crazy-fast and powerful, with a compact stroke that should give him a good chance to bang one or two off the TGI Fridays facade in Left Field. Yeah, he's good. Did I mention he's only 22? So watch him. God forbid the next time he's in Milwaukee he might be wearing pinstripes.

Here's a short list of guys NOT to pay attention to, except as a cautionary lesson: Joe Blanton. Yuni Betancourt.

Oh, and since I picked the Angels on Friday, and Brewers on Saturday (Jerome Williams vs. Marco Estrada = advantage Brewers), for Sunday's Lohse/Wilson rubber match, I'll go with... Hmmm.... That could actually be a good matchup, at least pitching-wise. I'll go with Wilson, if only because Lohse is offseason trade-bait, and it's about time for him to go in the tank and kill his value. (Never underestimate the evil machinations of a former Cardinal.)

So watch the games. Screw college football. It's still baseball season until October ends. And if you're watching Saturday night and they show a kid with Trout "fishhead", sitting near the Angels dugout with a guy in a Trout jersey, that's the Kid and me!