The first half of 2014 will go down as one of the most memorable in Brewers history. They got off to a franchise best start through 81 games by going 20-8 in April (including March 31st). That month was highlighted by a 9 game winning streak which saw the Brewers sweep reigning World Series champions the Boston Red Sox and division rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates.
We got to witness the career revival of Zach Duke and the scoreless streak by Will Smith. Wily Peralta dazzled for much of the first half giving us a glimpse of what he can be once he finally puts it all together. Yovani Gallardo bounced back (mostly). Matt Garza stumbled but recovered his top of the rotation form to become the best starter in the rotation for the last month+ of the first half.
Jonathan Lucroy is on pace to set a Brewers record for doubles in a season. Khris Davis came on strong after scuffling out of the gate. Carlos Gomez showed 2013 was no fluke. The Brewers had 4 All-Stars (3 of which started the game). And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the surprise gold glove caliber defense of Mark Reynolds.
Also Hank the Dog!
It wasn't all good though. Who could forget the dust up between the Pirates and the Brewers when the little child pitcher of theirs threw a temper tantrum and then somehow half the baseball world blamed Carlos Gomez? Here is where I should probably also note the successful failure that was/is the Wei-Chung Wang experiment. Also sadly I have to mention the almost unfortunately historic season of poor Marco Estrada the home run king.
May was okay and June was great again. Then came July and the slide. What was once a 6 game division lead over the Cardinals became a tie with 1 game left before the All Star break. Realistically, the season wouldn't have changed substantially if the Brewers lost that last game. Fortunately we won't ever know as they took out a lot of frustration out on the Cardinals with an 11-2 rout leaving the Brewers alone again atop the NL Central. Emotionally (perhaps more so for us than the team) it was a much needed victory and morale booster.
Now the Brewers continue the second half of the season. First up are the Washington Nationals. The last time these two teams met the Nats took 2 out of 3. Things won't be any easier this time as their pitching staff is lined up so that the Brewers face their best 3. Offensively they're also in a better position as this time Bryce Harper isn't on the disabled list.
Of course, the Brewers will be featuring the top of their rotation as well. Hopefully the four days off will help Khris Davis and Ryan Braun who were dealing with some nagging bumps and bruises. The two games the Nationals won weren't blow outs and if the Brewers offense can click this time, look out. Remember, this is a team that is scoring the second most runs in the National League and one that put up 9 runs in a game started by none other than Stephen Strasburg.
Friday July 18th, 6:05 pm CT: Kyle Lohse vs Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg is an excellent pitcher who sometimes has poor outings. He's still really young and I fully expect him to put it all together and dominate for years. He's not quite there yet and as I mentioned above, one of those poor outings this year came against the Brewers. They knocked him around for 7 runs in 4.1 innings. Brewers hit 2 home runs that game, one of which was a grand slam by little Scooter Gennett. I'm not counting the Brewers out, but it's going to be asking quite a lot to replicate that performance.
Strasburg has maintained the 4th highest strikeout rate (28.5%) this year among all NL starters and the highest among qualified NL starters. His walk rate (5%) is also among league leaders giving him the best K%-BB% in the National League. His .258 BAA is marginally above league average (.250) though. Over his career he's really dominated righties while doing so less, but still well, against lefties. However, this year lefties seem to be having a harder time with his stuff. After the grandslam I'm certain Scooter Gennett will get the start, but it's anyone's guess who plays first.
Of note for the Brewers: I don't really have anything interesting to say about the Brewers starters right now so instead I'm just going to link this song to get you into the fighting spirit. Concentrate, focus power, remember balance. Make good fight.
Saturday July 19th, 6:05 pm CT: Matt Garza vs Gio Gonzalez
There are a lot of really good 1-2 punches in baseball and you can make a strong argument that Strasburg-Gonzalez is at or near the top. Gonzalez has the 10th best (no IP limit) strikeout rate (24.8%) but he walks (9.6%) a good deal more than Strasburg. He makes up for that by giving up a good deal fewer hits (.221 BAA). There's no reason to believe he can't keep up those peripherals. He's a tough cookie.
Of note for the Brewers: I actually like the match-up here. Matt Garza has been lights out recently with a 2.61 ERA in his last 5 starts. If that's not enough to fire you up, try this.
Sunday July 20th, 12:35 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs Doug Fister
I actually totally forgot Doug Fister was part of the Nationals' rotation. It's probably because he started the season on the DL. He made his first start on May 9th and in 12 starts has been okay (good?). He has a 2.90 ERA and while I don't want to say it's completely luck, I think luck does deserve partial credit.
His low strikeout rate (14.3) has been largely bailed out by his absurdly low walk rate (2.6%). His .248 BAA is about league average but his 1.07 WHIP is well below, again due to his low walk rate. Fister is a solid pitcher but at some point that ERA has to jump up or his peripherals do. The Brewers are more than capable of helping him normalize that ERA.
Of note for the Brewers: Yovani Gallardo was lights out in April and was good in June. May wasn't kind to him and neither has July so far. The Brewers need him to step it up. They need him to be a hero.
Doug Fister is actually not one of the Nationals better pitchers and we should be thankful they're not facing Jordan Zimmermann again. While I think Stephen Strasburg is brilliant, the Brewers have had success against him before. Matt Garza gives the Brewers another good shot at winning.
While this is absolutely going to be a tough series I'm feeling really good going in. I don't know why, maybe it's because I'm picturing them working out their issues in an 80's montage over the break. Regardless, I think there's a real chance they win this series.