“If the season ended today” certainly ranks among the least useful expressions in sports. With many months of plot twists remaining in baseball’s marathon season, a glance at the standings in June offers little meaningful information. Yet with Milwaukee playing Washington in a high-profile meeting of division leaders, fans cannot help but drool over a potential October rematch between these two clubs. This week’s heavyweight showdown at Miller Park provides a nice opportunity to assess how the Brewers stack up with other N.L. contenders. Milwaukee’s rotation lags behind those of San Francisco and Washington. However, the Brewers’ bullpen and lineup both match up favorably with the other two division leaders.
The Brewers have the worst starting rotation of the National League division leaders. The Nats’ 3.24 FIP leads all of baseball, while the Giants also crack the top ten with a 3.68 mark. Meanwhile the Brewers relatively astronomical FIP of 4.15 is the seventh-worst in the majors. Other peripheral statistics confirm Milwaukee’s rotation inferiority. Washington and San Francisco have both done a good job keeping the ball in the yard, conceding just 37 and 47 home runs respectively. In contrast, the Brewers rotation has given up 63 long balls, more than any team besides the cellar-dwelling Diamondbacks. Similarly, the Brewers’ rotation has had worse command than the Giants’ and Nationals’ staffs. While Milwaukee’s 2.78 starters’ K/BB ratio ranks tenth in baseball, it pales behind the totals for Washington (3.76) and San Francisco (2.98). In short, while the Brewers rotation is solid, it ranks a tier below the starters of the Nationals and Giants.
Still, the Brewers have the best bullpen of N.L. division leaders. Featuring a resurgent Francisco Rodriguez and other breakouts like Will Smith, the Milwaukee pen has the best xFIP in the majors (3.36), well ahead of the Giants (3.55) and Nationals (3.63). Similarly, the Brewers pen has better command than their first-place rivals, with a 2.95 K/BB ratio that is second-best in all of baseball. Meanwhile, in an era where flame-throwing relievers are at a premium, the Giants bullpen actually has the lowest average fastball velocity (91.0 MPH) in the league. The Brewers’ bullpen has better velocity, better command, and is better at preventing runs than the Giants and Nationals.
Milwaukee sports a deeper and more potent lineup than Washington or San Francisco. The Brewers have more power than the other division leaders, as their .420 slugging percentage and .160 ISO both rank fourth in the majors. In contrast, while the Giants do rank in the top ten in both categories (.405 slugging and .152 ISO), Washington’s power (.382 slugging and .135 ISO) lags far behind the other division leaders. The Brewers are also the best at getting on base, as their .318 OBP edges out Washington (.315) and San Francisco (.314). In both key facets of offense – power and reaching base – the Brewers lead their first-place rivals.
Of course, the division leaders in June are often very different than those in October. The Giants and Brewers each have a potent rival lurking behind them in second place. Similarly, the Nationals’ grip on the East division is more tenuous than the al-Maliki government’s hold on Iraq. Still, fans can take encouragement from these premature rankings. Despite rotation vulnerabilities, Milwaukee seems capable of hanging with the crème de la crème of the National League.