After one of the best months in franchise history, the Brewers have gotten off to a sluggish start in June. Considering we’re working with a sample size of just five games, though -- including two games against really, really good pitchers -- we should probably avoid drawing too many conclusions.
The Brewers will hope to get back to their winning ways this weekend against the surprising Philadelphia Phillies. Former Brewer Gabe Kapler’s Phillies briefly led the NL East in May before slipping back to third place recently, but they still carry a record of 32-28 heading into this series.
After going through their own rebuilding process over the past few years, the Phillies decided to spend like wild this winter, bringing in Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana on big free agent deals. The results so far have been mixed -- as we’ll get to in a minute, Arrieta has been pitching well but the underlying numbers are not optimistic for his longterm outlook, and Santana leads the team with 9 home runs and 35 RBI but is hitting just .221/.342/.423.
Overall the Phillies haven’t been a great offensive team, with Odubel Herrera’s .830 OPS (.305/.368/.462) being the only full-timer’s numbers that really stand out. Rhys Hoskins (.233/.363/.415), Maikel Franco (.249/.289/.418), and Scott Kingery (.212/.261/.317) have all been varying levels of disappointing. As a team, Philly ranks 23rd in runs scored, 26th in batting average, 19th in on-base percentage, and 25th in slugging. They’ve largely had to rely on their pitching -- 5th in ERA, 10th in WHIP, 10th in batting average against -- to keep them in low-scoring games.
Friday - 6:05 p.m. CDT
Jhoulys Chacin vs. Vince Velasquez
Saturday - 12:05 p.m. CDT
Brent Suter vs. Jake Arrieta
Sunday - 12:35 p.m. CDT
TBA vs. Zach Eflin
Velasquez may be carrying an ERA of 3.82 into this start, but he’s been much better than that of late, with an ERA of 2.14 in his last 6 starts -- a stretch in which he’s struck out 45 batters in 33.2 innings. He’s striking out 11.17 per 9 innings this year, but he’s also been an extreme flyball pitcher with a groundball rate of just 38.4% this year. That could translate into playing with fire at the Phillies’ hitter-friendly ballpark.
For a lot of people, Saturday’s game might be a case of What Could’ve Been, if you believe the Brewers had any realistic chance at signing Arrieta (they didn’t, and GM David Stearns has pretty much said as much). Arrieta was nearly unhittable in May, but is coming off a start in which he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings to the Giants. Afterwards Arrieta, ever the professional, blamed the Phillies’ defensive shifts for the poor outing. The truth is those types of outings will happen to a guy who can no longer strike out batters like he used to (his K/9 is a career-low 6.2 to this point in the year) and likely shows why a long-term investment would’ve been a bad idea for the Brewers.
Eflin is coming off a start in which he nearly completed 8 innings and held the Cubs to one run. He’s only made 6 starts so far this year but has struck out 31 in 33.2 innings and put up a 3.74 ERA with a 3.62 FIP. He’s another pitcher who doesn’t allow very many groundballs at all, coming in with a GB% of just 32%. There’s a chance this weekend is just what the Brewers needed after a week of groundouts against the White Sox and Indians.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs