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Blister in the Sun: a Milwaukee Brewers Preview

"The Summer Solstice has passed and I only have three RBI! RARR!"
"The Summer Solstice has passed and I only have three RBI! RARR!"

A brief look at an opponent we play this weekend.

Offense: Norichika Aoki-RF, Nyjer Morgan-CF, Ryan Braun-LF, Aramis Ramirez-3B, Corey Hart-1B, Rickie Weeks-2B, Cody Ransom-SS, Martin Maldonado-C. Bench: George Kottaras-C, Taylor Green-INF, Edwin Maysonet-INF, Carlos Gomez-OF.

MIL R/G: 4.49. CHW R/G: 4.68. MLB AVG R/G: 4.30.

Ron Roenicke seems to like using the DH as a rotating tool to get his regulars a day out of the field and sub in a potentially better defender, so I didn't list one. If I had to bet, I'd say he puts Aramis Ramirez at DH and subs in either Taylor Green or Edwin Maysonet to play defense. You might be wondering how a team that won 96 games last season and finished two wins away from the World Series has managed to play sub-.500 baseball this far into the season. The easy (and lazy) answer would be that Prince Fielder simply mattered that much to the Milwaukee Brewers. But it probably has to do something more with losing their starting catcher (Jonathan Lucroy), two first basemen (Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa) and two shortstops (Alex Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis). I don't know of many teams that could survive that kind of assault on their depth chart.

I have now gotten to the point where I'm past the jump and haven't actually started writing about the opposing team's starting lineup. We've come a long way, baby. Norichika Aoki had been an All-Star for the Yakult Swallows every year of his career but his first. He's the first player acquired through the posting system by Milwaukee and hasn't disappointed yet. He hit an inside the park homerun earlier this year, which is always fun to watch. He's more of a contact hitter with good speed than anything, but has decent enough power that he should hit a half-dozen or so homeruns. He was a Gold Glove center fielder in the NPB, but is playing right field do to the Brewers' injury situation. His arm isn't very strong. Nyjer Morgan (I will not call him Tony Plush) is having a very weird season. Yes, his BABIP is far lower than it should be and his peripherals are right around normal. But I'm talking about his bizarre RBI total. We all know RBI are a flawed statistic. But there is something very strange about a player having regular playing time and not driving in a single run until June 1st. And then his first two RBI came on two solo homeruns! Until last night, Nyjer Morgan had not driven in a single other player. How selfish! When he gets on, he's a good threat to steal. He also plays a pretty good center field.

Remember those offseason concerns people had about how Ryan Braun would perform a season after his infamous drug test? Well the Thirst Mutilator has quelled all those fears by having the best half-season of his career. While he likely won't record enough steals to repeat his 30-30 season from last year, he's hitting for more power than ever before and is on pace to pass his career-high of 37 homeruns. And he's doing all of this without the "protection" of Prince Fielder in the lineup. Braun has made himself into a complete player and the prime of his career is going to continue to be very fun to watch. Aramis Ramirez seems to be getting along just fine outside of Wrigley's Friendly Confines. The soon-to-be 34-year-old has been displaying decent power for a guy his age playing the hot corner. UZR's liked his defense so far too, though small sample size caveats and all that. His contract is rather heavily back-loaded, though he should have little trouble being worth it the first two years. It's always bothered me that no team has ever tried doing a Three Musketeers promotion kind of thing with Ramirez. Yeah, you're not actually going to find any baseball players named Porthos and Athos but it's not like Aramis' grow on trees.

Corey Hart is playing first base this year. That's right, injuries have gotten bad enough that the Brewers shifted their right fielder to first base. If only Jermaine Dye was more receptive to change. Hart seems unlikely to hit above .280 this year, though his power numbers will make up for the drop in batting average. He already has 15 homeruns on the year and should finish somewhere around 30. His days of double digit stolen bases appear to be well behind him though. Rickie Weeks is having the same kind of season as Alexei Ramirez. There's the bad luck on BABIP. There's the confusing lack of power. There's the lack of once stellar defense. Weeks has only been able to stay healthy for one full season, but usually he at least provides good value in the parts of the others that he is. Other than his elevated walk rate, Weeks has little going for him this year. He should be able to turn it around somewhat, but we're far enough into the season that legitimate concern has comfortably set up shop.

I can't be the only one who thought Cody Ransom was out of baseball, right? But there he is, being a starting shortstop and everything! He's a decent enough bench player, but if he's your starter then everyone knows things have gone far off the rails. He's somehow already hit five homeruns this year, which is a career-high so good for him. And he knows his teammates will have his back. Martin Maldonado is not in any way related to Candy Maldonado, which is the most disappointing thing to happen to me today. Which means I'm having a pretty decent day, I suppose. Martin's making the most out of Lucroy's broken hand, hitting five homeruns and sporting a .358 wOBA. He's done a good job of stopping runners, but the sample size is incredibly small. If he keeps hitting like this, the Brewers will have a nice problem on their hands when Lucroy returns from the disabled list.

Pitching:Zack Greinke-RHP, Randy Wolf-LHP, Michael Fiers-RHP, John Axford-CL

MIL RA/G: 4.68. CHW RA/G: 4.20. MLB AVG RA/G: 4.30.

If you aren't excited for tomorrow's pitching match-up of Zack Greinke vs. Chris Sale, you don't have a pulse and I hate you. You should go to a doctor and apologize for being so boring. Despite a .357 BABIP against him, Greinke is doing the things Greinke does every year: strike out a ton of hitters, don't walk many, keep the ball down, and limit homeruns. It's what has made him so damn successful over the past 4.5 years. He's one of baseball's true aces and could be going on to bigger things than Milwaukee this winter. Everyone's favorite headcase throws a sinker and a four-seamer in the mid-90s, a cutter, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. Randy Wolf is exactly the type of pitcher you think of when you think of a boring lefty. He gets a decent amount of strikeouts. He walks a few too many guys. He used to have problems with the longball. But at this point in his career, he's a well-established innings eater who can maybe impart some veteran wisdom on the youngsters. Or at least just be a warm body in the rotation. Our lupine adversary throws a sinker and a four-seamer in the upper-80s, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.

Michael Fiers is a young attorney fresh out of law school who has just been handed the case of the century. Will he be made a partner in the firm or wind up in jail? Read Joh...what? He's a pitcher? Balls. Fiers is a high-strikeout guy with good command. Looking at his stuff, I'm not entirely sure how a right-hander throwing in the upper-80s is capable of doing so, but it seems to be working. To go with his slow four-seamer, he throws a cutter, a slow looping curveball, and a changeup. John Axford looks like what a closer should look like. And by that I mean he looks like what closers used to look like and in modern times a crazy person. Which is cool because baseball could use more harmless and amusing crazy people (like Axford) and less incredibly obnoxious ones (like Brian Wilson). Axford is fun too watch too, as he gets a metric buttload of strikeouts and throws the ball really hard (97 mph!). He also struggles with walks and has had a very unfortunate 60.3 LOB% this season. The Mustachioed Milwaukeean complements his upper-90s heater with a curveball and a slider.

Outlook: The Brew Crew have been the victims of bad pitching outside of Zack Greinke and far too many injuries. They won't make the playoffs next year, but depending on what happens this offseason (will they keep Zack?) they could be right back in it for 2013. But the thing about the future is it's the future. 2-1 season series win.