Lorenzo Cain has been every bit as advertised since signing his five-year, $80 mil contract to come back to the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been a leader of “Love Nation” both on the field and in the clubhouse since his arrival, and his dynamic play has helped to propel the Cream City Nine to the top of the National League. His .291/.394/.438 slash with eight home runs and 16 steals equals out to what would be a career-best 129 wRC+, and his +11 Defensive Runs Saved and +7.1 Ultimate Zone Rating are the top defensive marks for a center fielder in the National League. In fact, according to Baseball-Reference, no NL hitter has been worth more this season than Cain’s 3.9 wins above replacement.
And now he’s gone, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Brewers officially placed LoCain on the 10-day disabled list yesterday with a left groin strain, though manager Craig Counsell said in his pregame presser that the player is “beat up pretty good” overall. Cain also got hit by a couple pitches in the series versus St. Louis and had to leave his most recent start before the completion of the game. The Brewers are hoping this will be a short-term deal to get Cain back healthy, but he does have a checkered injury history. Lorenzo has played in parts of nine big league seasons to this point in his career, but has amassed 600 or more plate appearances only twice.
Even if he’s only gone a couple of weeks, the loss of Cain is a big blow to Counsell’s starting lineup. Cain had started 70 of Milwaukee’s first 77 games in center field prior to hitting the DL and was a spark plug atop the lineup, spending the majority of the time batting leadoff for the first time in his career. Milwaukee’s offense has been consistently inconsistent all year long and their 339 runs scored ranks only eighth-best in the National League, slightly below average. In general, it’s been a “stars and scrubs” approach with Cain, Christian Yelich, Travis Shaw, and Jesus Aguilar doing most of the heavy lifting while the team received scant production from the bottom of the lineup.
With Cain now on the shelf, that much more pressure will be put on the likes of Yelich (126 wRC+), Aguilar (155 wRC+), and Shaw (118 wRC+), who has been hampered himself lately with a sore wrist. Those players cannot carry the offense by themselves, however, and it will be imperative that one or more other bats can step up to help power the lineup.
Things started off well in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Royals. Sure, Yelich and Aguilar each hit home runs and combined for three runs batted in. But Eric Thames (131 wRC+), who has spent the majority of the season on the disabled list, also contributed two hits and a run. Ryan Braun (97 wRC+) is mired in the middle of the worst season of his career, but he clubbed two hits, including a dinger, drew a walk, scored twice, and drove in Milwaukee’s other two runs. New infield acquisition Brad Miller (111 wRC+) added a hit and two walks of his own (and wasn’t charged with any errors).
It’s just one game, but the Brewers are going to need more nights like this moving forward. The more that guys like Braun, Miller, Hernan Perez, Jonathan Villar, Manny Pina, etc can make an offensive impact on games, the less reliant the team becomes on the contributions of the big four hitters. If any or all of those guys can get on track, it will make the team look that much better when Cain returns to active duty and the lineup is at full strength.
Milwaukee’s pitching staff has been able to shoulder most of the load this season while getting just enough help from the offense to win games consistently. But without Lorenzo Cain, that delicate balance is threatened. Now more than ever, the Milwaukee Brewers need someone else to step up with the bat.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs