The Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers have never been rivals despite their close proximity. Members of the American League East for 25 years before the divisional alignment changed, the Brewers' heyday in the 1980s was immediately prior to the Tigers' 1984 World Series run. When the Brewers moved to the National League in 1998, the Tigers transitioned to the AL Central to fill the void.
That's a lot of words to say that the Tigers and Brewers haven't seen much of each other since then. Justin Verlander no-hit the Brew Crew in 2007 and the Tigers poached then-free agent Prince Fielder prior to the 2012 season, but the two teams have otherwise lived separate existences. The Tigers and Brewers haven't even played one another since 2009!
To get reintroduced to the Brewers, we reached out to someone who knows them best. Noah Jarosh, managing editor of Brew Crew Ball, SB Nation's excellent Brewers community, was gracious enough to answer some questions about the Brewers for us before this week's series.
1. Last season, the Brewers jumped out to a 23-14 record and were in first place for most of the summer. This year, they have done the exact opposite, dropping 24 of their first 37 games. This may be a loaded question, but what has gone wrong for the Brewers?
Everything. Can I say everything? Wait, hang on. Everything except first base which is very odd to say given the exact opposite was often true the past two seasons. Adam Lind has been carrying the offense in his first season as a Brewer, but nobody else has played well. Scooter Gennett was bad enough that he was just demoted to the minors, Jean Segura's nightmare 2014 has carried into 2015 where he's been hit in the head twice by pitches and is now on the shelf with a broken finger. Khris Davis is streaky. Jonathan Lucroy has been out for about a month now. Carlos Gomez hasn't found his groove. Ryan Braun is still working on finding his form again. Veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have struggled. Young pitchers Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta have been shaky. Mike Fiers has taken up the Marco Estrada mantle of being a home run launching pad.
So. Yeah. Pretty much nothing has gone right in 2015 for the Brewers so far. Really, it's almost amazing that they have 13 wins, even. But they have looked a little better recently by which I mean they actually have looked like a competent Major League Baseball team.
If 2015 is bizarro-2014, I wouldn't be upset, though. Because that would mean the Brewers are in last place all year, then come back to make the playoffs in August/September, right? RIGHT? PLEASE?
2. Ryan Braun was a controversial figure during the Biogenesis scandal a couple years ago, but we haven't heard much from him since. His numbers haven't been as impressive as usual, and he is hitting just .252/.321/.463 this season. Is there a reason for the drop-off? Will he ever return to his 2011 MVP form?
The big thing has been a damaged nerve in his thumb that he suffered back before his suspension in 2013. Which is unfortunate timing because it's made it extraordinarily easy for people to say that his struggles are entirely due to him being off PEDs. From everything we've heard from Braun and the team, he honestly has just not been able to swing normally since the start of '13 and, when he tried to, he would get sharp pains. At one point, Braun said that he's basically been swinging one-handed for the better part of two seasons. If that's accurate, a .266/.324/.453 batting line in 2014 is probably not so bad!
Originally, Braun tried to just rest the injury. That's what he did over his extended off-season between 2013 and 2014, and he said he felt good in spring training. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for him in the long run and, this past off-season, he underwent a cryotherapy procedure. To my best understanding, they basically froze the nerve so that he couldn't feel anything with it anymore which, the key part being, means he won't get that pain when swinging.
Early returns on that this season were rough as Braun himself said he was working back into getting his swing back to normal (two years of tentative batting can mess with a guys form, I guess). But he's looked a little closer to the Ryan Braun of old in May so far, with an 874 OPS and four homers. I don't think we'll ever see 2011 Ryan Braun again, but we can see consistent All Star Ryan Braun. Some sunlight is already cracking through those clouds.
3. Carlos Gomez recently came off the disabled list after suffering a hamstring injury, but like Braun, hasn't looked like his usual self this season. With just one more season left on his contract, do you think the Brewers will look to re-sign their All-Star center fielder? Would they consider trading him if this season continues to go south?
Carlos Gomez is the most fun and entertaining Brewers player to watch and I, like most of the fanbase in Milwaukee I think, love the guy.
Which makes it really, really, really hard to say that, yeah, the Brewers should probably trade him at some point soon. It's the smart thing to do, right? He's finally become a force at the plate, yeah, but he's almost 30 and his speed won't be there forever. I still think he's the best defensive center fielder in baseball (him or Juan Lagares, probably), but if he loses a step? The Brewers would want to re-sign him, I'm sure, but it's not a smart thing to do for that kind of player when he's going to cost as much as he will. Over $100 million, I'd assume.
The Brewers, and this is more anecdotal evidence than anything, seem to prefer holding on to players until the last possible moment, however. Which means Gomez might not go anywhere this season unless the Brewers get a king's ransom. The only other player worth as much in a trade on the team is Jonathan Lucroy, and most reports suggest he's 'untouchable'.
If the season does keep going downhill, and the Brewers commit to a rebuild/reset/whatever, Gomez is the one tradeable guy who will bring back top prospects. So my head says, yeah, they probably need to trade him and doing so sooner probably means more value.
My heart says never ever ever leave :(
4. Monday's starter, Mike Fiers, has been hit around quite a bit this season. However, he is striking out over 12 batters per nine innings and has a 3.93 FIP. Which set of numbers is closer to the truth? What do you expect from Fiers for the rest of the season?
Honestly, I don't know what to expect. He can go from being the most unhittable pitcher on the team to being the most hittable just like that. I assume it's because Fiers relies so much on deception to get by: His fastball is in the high-80s and he's never been overly praised for his pure stuff. But he somehow manages to post amazing strikeout numbers and, usually, good walk numbers too. This year, though, he's struggled some with his control which has also led to him allowing significantly more home runs than normal.
I think, normally, Fiers is going to be better than he has been. His stats are just too good to write off. He won't look Cy Young-esque like he was in half a season last year, but he should be a great back of the rotation option for the next few years. I hope. But he also seems like the kind of guy who is prone to these slumps. He was arguably the best Brewers pitcher in his rookie 2012 season, then was pretty bad (and hurt, eventually) in 2013. The second half of last year he was amazing. Starting off 2015 has been iffy. If Fiers is able to hide his pitches, I think he'll be OK. But if teams are able to see what he's got, his pure stuff isn't good enough to skate by.
5. The Brewers have been in the National League for nearly 20 years, but enjoyed the sweet, sweet nirvana that is AL baseball for nearly 30 years before that. Do you think the NL should adopt the designated hitter rule? Also, can we trade the Royals for the Brewers? The regional rivalries would make much more sense and nobody likes their stupid bullpen and defense anyway.
I love seeing pitchers hit, so I'm mostly against the designated hitter rule. It's too entertaining. It's kind of like the NFL talking about eliminating the extra point, right? Sure the kicker nails it almost every time. But the times they miss are fantastic! Same with, like...Bartolo Colon or Ben Sheets or Randy Johnson. They take the worst cuts, but sometimes the blind squirrel finds a nut.
And sometimes you get games where Yovani Gallardo pitches a complete game shutout and wins 1-0 because HE hit a home run. That's amazing! I don't hold especially strong opinions on the DH, but I prefer seeing pitchers hit. I think it's nice to have the two leagues different in that so we can have a taste for both.
The Brewers can't go back to the AL until they topple the Cardinals. Unfinished business there.
6. The Tigers are currently doing their best to get the Brewers back into the divisional race, winning their first two games against the Cardinals. Do you think that the Brewers can get back into the playoff hunt? If not, what would an ideal rest of the season look like for you?
I think I might be the most hopelessly optimistic Brewers fan around, despite also trying my hardest to be a realist. So, yeah, I'd like to say the Brewers could get back into the playoff hunt! The Pirates started 2014 as poorly as the Brewers have 2015 and made the postseason, so it's not, you know, that unlikely of a thing to happen.
That said, the Brewers need everything to go right from here on out. Scooter Gennett just got demoted to Triple-A. He needs to do what Rickie Weeks did when demoted in 2007: Come back and post a 995 OPS over the rest of the season (or, you know, something more realistic). Wily Peralta needs to be an ace. Lohse and Garza need to be steady above-average veterans. Ryan Braun needs to be RYAN BRAUN. Jean Segura needs to find and defeat whatever shaman cast a curse on him. Aramis Ramirez needs to show a sense of urgency in his final season.
In the end, the Brewers have almost no chance of everything going right. They've looked better, but not quite good enough. The good news is they didn't have a terrible month in the middle of the season, they had it in the beginning. So they still have two and a half months before the trade deadline. If they have a great run soon, awesome! If not, trade off what you can.
Trading now also means selling low on many players. So ideally, I'd see the Brewers find out what happens with Craig Counsell at the helm and, if little changes, trade players off at the deadline. They've gotten by and contended often the last few years, but that window is very nearly closed, nailed shut, caulked, boarded up, and bricked in. One last run would be great, but unlikely, and we'll probably soon see a few friendly faces leave.
Once again, thank you to Noah and the rest of the Brew Crew Ball staff for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Brew Crew Ball for any and all Milwaukee Brewers news and analysis all season long!