The Milwaukee Brewers went 4-1 in one-run games last week. In their other two games they scored sixteen and eleven runs in wins, and their 6-1 week puts the Crew a game up on the Chicago Cubs at 15-7 in the Cactus League, and with the best record of all of the National League teams this spring. Only the Houston Astros have a better overall spring record among MLB teams, at 15-6.
It seems almost as often as not, however, that Milwaukee has won with their AAA lineups mounting comebacks at the end of games after falling behind with their starters. The Brewers faced starters like Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, and Carlos Carrasco, so the early deficits are understandable. Except that the other teams were scoring runs against the Brewers’ starters; so all is not hunky dory. Is this narrative correct?
TOP PITCHING STORY: Well, no. Five of the seven starts by the Brewers resulted in 21.2 innings with a WHIP of 1.15, an ERA of 2.49, with just one home run allowed. The softer tossing nature of the staff is evidenced by only sixteen strikeouts collectively.
The other two starts (by Wade Miley and Brent Suter) were a tad uglier. They did manage to somehow register seven innings, but their WHIP was 3.28 and the ERA was 14.14. These were the first poor starts of the spring for either hurler, so we shall see what happens for each in their next go-round. But they are the back-of-the-rotation candidates (along with Junior Guerra) that Milwaukee will be relying on to keep them in games during the season.
So the question remains: do the Brewers need to sign Alex Cobb so that they are less reliant on the back-end rotation depth they currently have? It would appear that his asking price hasn’t dropped enough for Milwaukee and David Stearns to get serious about adding him, and perhaps there isn’t a price low enough for Stearns and company to get seriously interested. Time is running out to see if that is being considered as an option.
TOP HITTING STORIES: Yeah, yeah, yeah - hitting in the spring is deceptive, and there have been legions of fringe guys that were hot in the spring and then not hot in the regular season. The Brewers have two position players that have stood out, one a gratifying result and the other a pleasant surprise - although circumstances might make it impossible for him to see if he can carry it over.
Ji-Man Choi has appeared in 19 of the Brewers’ 23 games (most on the squad along with Nate Orf and Kyle Wren), His slash line is .419/.525/.871, leaving an OPS of 1.396. He has three doubles, a triple, and three homers in 31 at-bats along with 7 walks. He is third on the team in runs scored, second in homers, third in RBI with 9 (Eric Sogard has 11!), second in walks, and has struck out only twice. (Domingo Santana has fanned in 19 of his 39 plate appearances, and Keon Broxton in 16 of his 45.)
Choi has looked solid defensively at first base and hasn’t made an error in left field, but he is blocked all around the roster. With Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Santana, Eric Thames, and Jesus Aguilar already ahead of him on the depth chart for the three outfield spots and first base, it looks virtually impossible for Choi to break spring training with the big league club. That is a shame - he looks like he’s ready to play major league ball to me.
Free agent signee Lorenzo Cain has looked like everything the Brewers hoped he would be. Despite only appearing in twelve games, he leads the team in hits (15) and is batting .500. LoCain has sprayed the ball all over the field; only four doubles but a leadoff hitter who slashes .500/.559/.633 will be quite satisfactory. Oh - and it doesn’t look he’s lost anything as far as his defense in center field.
These are the same two we discussed last week, but in a good week they actually performed better than they had to head the list last week. It will be tough for them to do THAT again!
IMHO: Count me as one of Craig Counsell’s biggest fans. The Brewers aren’t focusing on winning this spring; they are just doing it. Of course, that isn’t the point of Spring Training, but he’s employed a relaxed approach and has deftly handled about sixteen qualified position players vying for (most likely) twelve roster spots while giving everyone a fair share of opportunity. His approach to handling the squad is quite welcome. We shall see if the Brewers can continue their winning ways when they hit the regular season. A hot start is always nice; playing .500 ball for a few weeks will probably not be an issue; but I get the feeling that even a slow start won’t be fatal for this team. The manager and the players appear to be able to handle adversity and they should be able to bounce back from that.
Personally, I wonder how much input Counsell has into the final roster. If he really wants, say, Ji-Man Choi on the roster, will the organization find a way to make that happen? How about Jesus Aguilar? Does a slow spring from Eric Thames (.184/.279/.289, OPS .569) jeopardize his spot on the team? And how would that be accomplished? He has two years left of his original $16 mil, three-year deal, plus a club option in 2020.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK: Kyle Lesniewski addressed the issue of signing Alex Cobb in depth with this piece. danhoff summarized many of our thoughts on the issue here:
But the same logic behind NOT signing Cobb is the reason you DO sign him
He is not a needle mover in DS’ mind – so dont sign him.
He is a solid mid rotation guy, the article says having heaps of them is good (even better than 1 TOR) – so DO sign him.
Now if this is CC and DS ‘27 outs’ and/or need 8 starters in the year, then one does well to bolster your EIGHT (anywhere from 1 to 8). I guess cost must be the issue. If Cobb comes at Chacin price, he should be signed. I wonder what price DS has on him.
The other key (in the article) is having a few viable mid to back end guys with options.
Finally, we can speculate now what pickup DS can get mid year. Last year Cubs was Quintana. Yanks was Gray. Dodgers was Yu. Astros was Kate. Mind you, why did DS not pick up a mid year ace last year. If we needs flexibility to do it last year, and he did not. Maybe this year he does not as well. Interesting times.
I hope some other hitters are so good this week that I’m not writing about Cain and Choi againa this coming Sunday. Although if Choi is even better things might get very interesting. Just ten days remain until Opening Day, and there are still decisions to be made in the rotation, the ‘pen, and at the back-end of the roster. Players are making this a difficult process with good performances, and that’s a good thing.
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com