This year’s All-Star break came at an especially opportune time for the Brewers, allowing for a breather in the midst of their worst slump of the year. Starting on July 1, Milwaukee limped toward intermission on a 2-10 skid. St. Louis shaved the Brewers’ comfortable 6.5-game lead to a pulse-pounding margin of one game. With time on our hands during the break, stunned Brewers fans can look over this miserable run and try to grasp what exactly went wrong. While the latest stretch occurred because of offensive and bullpen difficulties, Milwaukee has cause for optimism going forward.
The Brewers struggled in just about every offensive category during the past two weeks. Overall, throughout the skid Milwaukee’s 77 wRC+ stood third-worst in baseball. The team reached base less frequently, as its on base percentage dipped to .289 from the .316 season total. Similarly, the Brewers had difficulty hitting for power. Milwaukee’s potent lineup lost its pop while posting a meager .356 slugging percentage and .121 ISO during the skid, both marks significantly lower than the season as a whole (.412 slugging and .154 ISO). Even worse, the Brewers began to make weaker contact. Typically, the club rips line drives 20.9% of the time, good for fifth in the National League. During the past awful fortnight, that rate dipped to 19.2%, standing at sixth-worst in the majors (and worse than every NL Central rival). The travails of Jonathan Lucroy (62 wRC+ during the losing streak) and Aramis Ramirez (59 wRC+) exemplify Milwaukee’s offensive anemia. Overall, the Brewers lineup did nothing right during the skid.
While the bullpen had serious issues, the rotation actually held its own throughout the difficult run. Milwaukee’s relief corps compiled an unacceptable 5.40 ERA. Similarly, the bullpen’s walk rate escalated from 2.96 BB/9IP on the year all the way up to 3.30 BB/9IP. Even normally reliable pitchers struggled during the losing streak, as Francisco Rodriguez had an ERA of 6.00, and Will Smith allowed a laughable ERA of 20.25. However, the rotation pitched surprisingly well amidst the carnage. The starters’ 3.80 xFIP in July is roughly comparable to their 3.70 xFIP throughout the whole year. During the past two weeks, Brewers starters have posted more strikeouts (7.11 K/9IP last two weeks, 6.97 whole year) and fewer walks (2.05 BB/9IP last two weeks, 2.45 BB/9IP whole year) than usual. Led by a resurgent Matt Garza (1.08 ERA during the skid), overall the Brewers’ rotation has kept the team afloat.
As we look ahead to the second half of the season, Brewers fans have reason to believe that the skid was nothing more than a fluke. The recent struggles of Jonathan Lucroy do not appear to represent long-term issues. Typically a patient hitter, Lucroy began pressing at the plate. In July he swung at more pitches (31.9%, up from 29.8% on the year) while making less contact (86.1%, down from 86.9%). Swinging more often and making less contact is a terrible combination. Lucroy should expect to rebound once he re-adopts his patient batting eye. Similarly, the bullpen also figures to recover. During the team’s recent rough patch, Milwaukee relievers suffered an unfortuitous .339 BABIP. That number should stabilize, allowing fans to project a rebound for the relief corps. More broadly, the other contenders for the NL Central crown all have blood in the water with key players on the disabled list. Ultimately, fans should expect the Brewers to put the recent struggles behind them and live up to their capabilities in the second half.