The Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays may be two of the most surprising teams in baseball so far this year, but for different reasons. On the one hand, you have the Brewers, still in the middle of a rebuilding process, finding themselves at the top of what was supposed to be a hyper-competitive division. On the other, you have the Jays, coming off of back-to-back trips to the ALCS only to get off to the worst start in franchise history.
At the end of April, Toronto was 8-17 -- the same general territory the Brewers were in in 2015 when Ron Roenicke was fired -- and that was after they closed the month out with two straight wins. Manager John Gibbons survived that first month, and they've since righted the ship, coming into this series at 11-9 in the month of May. Most of their problems have come on the road, where they're just 9-15 this year. They'll be wrapping up a long road trip this week after dropping the first two series to Atlanta and Baltimore.
Their biggest problem remains consistency on offense. When we saw them last, they were still trying to find any kind of offensive rhythm in the third series of the year. It turns out most of them are still trying. Justin Smoak is hitting .278/.340/.542 with 10 home runs and 6 doubles and Kevin Pillar is hitting .309/.361/.491 in addition to his excellent defense, but no one else in the Jays' lineup is carrying an OPS over .800.
The Brewers also get the benefit of timing in this quick two-game set, with former MVP Josh Donaldson and Sworn Enemy To The Brewers Troy Tulowitzki both on the disabled list.
You could argue it was the first half of the home-and-home split in Toronto that began an early season turnaround. After a disappointing homestand against the Rockies (who we've come to find out are actually good) and Cubs, the Brewers went to Toronto with a 2-5 record and won back-to-back games in a pair of unlikely pitching duels in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre -- 4-3 and 2-0. From there, the Brewers would go on to win 3 of 4 in Cincinnati. That was so long ago, Neftali Feliz was still the closer and still effective, nailing down the save in both games relatively stress-free.
Tuesday, 6:40 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Joe Biagini vs. Jimmy Nelson
After starting his big league career exclusively as a reliever, Biagini was pressed into the starting rotation earlier this month after injuries to Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ. After throwing 5 shutout innings against Seattle on May 12th, his next start in Atlanta was, uh, the opposite. He allowed 6 runs to score after the game's first 6 batters (but only 5 were earned!). With that in mind, you'd think the Brewers have a decent shot at continuing their first-inning success tonight. Rough outing aside, Biagini hasn't been bad overall through the first 77 appearances of his career. In a total 99.1 innings, he's put up a 3.17 ERA (2.91 FIP) and has a 3.71 K/BB ratio (89/24).
Wednesday, 12:10 p.m. CDT, FS Wisconsin - Marcus Stroman vs. Matt Garza
Predictably, Stroman has been a steadying force on the the Blue Jays' staff, coming into this series with an ERA of 3.00 (3.17 FIP) and throwing two complete games already this year -- one of which being the 2-0 loss he suffered to Milwaukee. In a statistical oddity, Stroman is carrying the same exact K/9 (7.3) and BB/9 (2.4) that he did last season, but is having much more success after cutting down the home runs allowed and stranding 80.7% of his baserunners. Last year, that number was just 68.6%. He's allowed 2 ER or less in 7 of his 9 starts this season.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs