The Brewers, the Cubs, and the second half

Max Rosenfeld asks (bold and italics his):

In assessing this pesky Milwaukee Brewers team, I find myself asking a simple but powerful question- why not?

Why can’t these Brewers be for real? Why can’t they build upon their solid first half and win the National League Central? And who’s to say that the Cubs are bound to turn it on at some point?

The Brewers are an unknown largely because they are unexpected. This was supposed to be year three in the midst of a Cubs-dominated era, a season in which Chicago would defend their World Series championship with ease. The Cubs’ only priority would be to win another championship, and with the majority of last year’s cast reassembled it seemed entirely possible. Surely, the NL Central crown was just a formality.

But the Brew Crew have made it abundantly clear otherwise.

Unlike the Cubs, it’s difficult to find a glaring weakness on the Milwaukee roster.

They’ve scored the 6th most runs in baseball thanks to a powerful attack that is capable of putting the ball over the fence at any moment. Although the club ranks 16th in baseball with a .255 batting average, the Brewers are second in the Major Leagues with 138 home runs. This comes in front of clubs such as New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Washington Nationals who are receiving more notoriety due to their well-known stars.

Travis Shaw and company are out to change this perception.

Shaw, a Red Sox castoff, is having a career year. A lifetime .265 hitter, Shaw is batting .299/.367/.570 19 home runs and 65 RBI’s at the break, making him an obvious All Star snub. Shaw is like many of his teammates, doubted by others before given a chance in Milwaukee. The Red Sox moved on from Shaw in favor of Pablo Sandoval at third base. That’s a move Boston General Manager Dave Dombrowski would likely want back.

But despite Shaw’s presence, it’s first baseman Eric Thames who leads the power laden Brewers in home runs with 23. Thames spent the last five years playing in South Korea.

Thames’ success is a microcosm for the entire season thus far for the Brewers. He was brought on by Milwaukee to replace Chris Carter, last year’s National League home run leader. Not much was expected of Thames, and though many were excited to see how he might progress in his return to the United States, his arrival was just that- a transition. A roadblock, even. Because at the end of the day, the Brewers were supposed to be Chicago’s little brother. But after pounding the Cubs to a score of 11-2 last Thursday, Milwaukee sent a very real message that they are here to stay.

It seems that the main reason nobody believes in the Brewers quite yet is because they are caught up in Cubs nostalgia. Most baseball fans expect the Cubs to go on a dominant stretch and surpass the Brewers by season’s end. Like last year’s World Series title, it seems like a formality.

But it isn’t.  I’d even argue that it’s more likely the Cubs do not turn it on. A look at the Cubs beyond what we expect of them reveals that they are simply a mediocre baseball club. And the Brewers, with the game’s 6th best offense and 8th best pitching staff, are a good one. A better one than the Cubs.

There’s a number of factors as to why the Cubs aren’t that good this year, and they all add up to a less than ideal outcome on the North Side.

The first thing is that with all of the big names the Cubs have on their team, it’s really easy to forget how important Dexter Fowler and David Ross were to the clubhouse. The value of these players goes beyond tangible stats, even though Jon Lester has a 4.25 ERA without Ross as his personal catcher, the first time he’s had to pitch to someone else in quite a while. Fowler and Ross were glue guys, crucial leaders on a mostly young team.

The second is that the veteran arms on the Cubs are obviously fatigued. Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Arrieta are all putting together their worst seasons in recent memory. This can be credited to the fact they all had to pitch deep into October last season.

Third, we might have over-hyped them to begin with. For all the love that guys like Kyle Schwarber have received, he’s only a career .210 hitter and Javier Baez has a measly lifetime .290 on base percentage.

And last, the World Series hangover can be real, especially for a situation like the Cubs just went through. Between all the press rounds, congratulations, and fan fare that team receives after winning a championship, it’s easy to lose sight of the upcoming season. It appears that is what’s happened for the Cubs.

And so here are the Brewers with only one All-Star (closer Corey Knebel), a bunch of no names, and some castoffs, they are prepared to steal the NL Central.

The first problem is that the Cubs aren’t just going to let the Brewers win the division. White Sox (Sock?) pitcher Jose Quintana, one of the five pitchers the Brewers reportedly were after, went instead to the Cubs (arguably for too many prospects), who also may be after Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray. The Brewers seem unlikely to make a deal, and it’s arguable whether or not they should. Trades don’t always work out (see Gorman Thomas for Rick Manning, 1983), but trades that don’t take place never work out.

And there remains the lurking Cardinals, whose season has been slightly worse than the Cubs. A Cardinals blogger suggests his team could be buyers and sellers in the next month:

They have several players that are now more valuable to other teams than the Cardinals. Top of that list is Lance Lynn. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Cardinals are not going to re-sign Lance Lynn, nor should they at this point. The money they will save by using internal options to replace Lynn next season can go to other areas where the needs are greater, such as first and third base. Sueng-Hwan Oh is another possible victim of his contract situation and could be moved in the next few weeks. Kolten Wong’s return could be the straw that strained the oblique muscle, in this case making former All Star Matt Carpenter the odd man out.

All this trade speculation is fun because few of the rumors or preposterous ideas ever happen. That said, there is one deal out there, that should it become available, Girsh and the Cardinals need to go all in and end their string of second place finishes.

That deal is Giancarlo Stanton, and there are two words that explain why this deal is perfect for the Cardinals. Oscar Taveras. …

In 2015, then General Manager, John Mozeliak, felt that Braves slugger, Jason Heyward, might be the guy, not to fill Taveras shoes, but to build that next core around. As the 2015 season played on, many fans began to believe that as well. Sadly, that was not to be as Heyward opted for free agency and signed with the NL Central rival Chicago Cubs. Though his contributions there were on the meager side, the Cubs did win it all in 2016. Like the Cardinals, the 2017 Cubs are more than one player away from standing up to Washington or Los Angeles in a short series, though the acquisition of Jose Quintana improves their chances to prove everybody wrong.

So who would be an Oscar Taveras like player to anchor the next round of talent expected in 2019 ? That would be Giancarlo Stanton. Though this is his eighth season in the big leagues, Stanton is only 27 years old, two years younger than Matt Holliday was when Mo made his blockbuster deal in 2009. Though he has an opt-out after the 2020 season, Stanton is under contract where Matt Holliday was potentially a summer rental. …

Now let’s look at the reasons to do this deal.

  1. There is no power or RBI bat coming up in the minor leagues. None.  There are plenty of speedy table setters, but the Cardinals still need that cornerstone offensive player – the one that Mo had hoped Taveras would be by now.  Stanton’s 58 RBIs would lead the Cardinals by 13.  Put Magneuris Sierra, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham or Oscar Mercado on base ahead of Stanton and it will be Jack Clark all over again, maybe not to the ridiculous running of 1985, but certainly a more dynamic and fun offense than we have seen in St. Louis in a long time.
  2. The contract is a big one, but the Cardinals can absorb it and still have room to add other needed players.  It will take more than Stanton, to be sure, but with Stanton on the roster, Girsch’s has many options to fill out the 2019 roster.   It also keeps the Cardinals out of the Machado or Harper bidding war.  Sure, I’d rather have Machado but a bird in hand, so to speak.
  3. The outfield will be set for years.
  4. Stanton’s career OPS is .899, his OPS+ is 145.  Wouldn’t that look good in the Cardinals side of the box scores ?

Giancarlo Stanton would be the perfect deadline deal for the 2017 Cardinals.

Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish could be considered 2017’s answer to C.C. Sabathia, acquired for the second half of the 2008 season by previous Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. (Or, for my generation, Don Sutton, acquired late in 1982; he went 4–1, winning the final game of the season to clinch the American League East, and won a key American League Championship Series game.) No Sabathia, no playoff berth. Suffice to say that’s not going to happen with current GM David Stearns, not merely this season, but probably ever. As a small-market team with resources inferior to the Cubs and Dodgers, Stearns may well be baseball’s answer to Packers GM Ted Thompson — draft and develop, let people go if they become too expensive, and never (in the opinion of fans) bring in someone new and expensive.

Fanrag Sports has a different opinion (bullet points theirs):

  • The Brewers are planning to be buyers. But there’s a question how big they’ll go. They were linked to Jose Quintana in some reports, and they clearly hac the prospects to do it, but one rival said he believes they’ll be “reluctant buyers,” and doubts whether they will go for the gusto. The Brewers have a 5½ game lead in the otherwise disappointing NL Central, but they love their stash of prospects (who wouldn’t? It’s extremely good) and have to wonder if they are ready to compete with the biggest boys yet.
  • It’s only his opinion, but he may be onto something. That person said he does see the Brewers bulking up their bullpen. Which would take far less in terms of prospects.
  • The Brewers are definitely looking at upgrading the pen. They are checking in on the better relievers available. Obviously Corey Knebel had a terrific first half. But they probably need to augment the pen, especially with veterans, if they hope to stave off the rest of the NL Central, such as it is.

Sometimes seemingly small transitions have big impacts. The other 2008 second-half acquisition was second-baseman Ray Durham, who batted .280 in 41 games, replacing Rickie Weeks, whose season-long slump dropped him to .234. Three years later, a late July trade for Jerry Hairston Jr. brought in a valuable infield backup and pinch-hitter, and a trade for relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez … well, his Brewers stats: 4–0 and a 1.86 ERA.

Owner Mark Attanasio approved the trades for Sabathia and, before the 2011 season, Zack Greinke. But I’m not sure Stearns is inclined to make a big trade, and Attanasio doesn’t overrule his baseball people. Whether Stearns’ approach is correct depends on how the rest of this season turns out — more like 2011, or more like 2014.

 

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