After winning 95 games last year and returning a team with three legitimate aces and a power-laden lineup — all under Craig Counsell, considered by some to be the best manager in baseball — the Milwaukee Brewers were popular. Opt to repeat as National League Central champions.
A week before the annual trade deadline, the Brewers actually led the Central with a 53-44 record heading into Monday. And with an expanded playoff field creating a third wild-card spot in each league, Milwaukee seemed able to rest on its laurels and coast until the postseason.
Maybe they don’t want to start hanging yet, and they could use a boost if they want to make it to October.
While there’s no way to perfectly predict future results, the run differential—a simple calculation of a team’s runs scored compared to the runs it allows—has proven to be one of the more accurate measures of a team’s quality. And based on the formula originally developed by Bill James, in which run differential is used to create a team’s “expected” record, the Brewers should actually be trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by four games in the Central, not leading them. two.
The competition is pretty wide open for the three NL wild cards as well, once you adjust for the differential. The Atlanta Braves, 58-40 through Monday, were in first place and their expected record would be 57-41. But instead of the San Diego Padres finishing second and the Philadelphia Phillies third, the odds indicate the order should have been Braves-Phillies-Brewers, with the Padres and San Francisco Giants hot on the trail of Milwaukee, just one-half. – Game from third place.
The vulnerability of breweries is not at all surprising.
One of the team’s aces, Freddy Peralta, has been on the injured list since May with a shoulder injury. Center back Lorenzo Cain has been released after a solid career in recent years. Shortstop Willy Adames, who bolstered the team dramatically after last season’s trade in May, has regressed significantly. Third baseman Jace Peterson, who leads the team in ERA this season with 2.4, was recently placed on the disabled list.
Even Josh Hader, the team’s All-Star closer who was tied for the major league lead in saves before Monday, has struggled quite a bit in July, watching his ERA balloon from 1.05 on July 3 to 4.50. Opponents were crushing the ball against him, resulting in a .722 on-base percentage, 301 points worse than he allowed last season.
Given this list of obstacles, the brewers have done remarkably well. The question now is who they can add to hold St. Louis at the deadline, as well as the wits of the wild card contenders.
The jewel of this year’s trade options is outfielder Juan Soto. The Washington Nationals may try to trade Soto, the 23-year-old superstar who has two more years of team control after this game after he recently declined a $440 million contract extension. The price tag, however, would be extraordinary and likely rule out any team that doesn’t have a stacked minor league system.
However, there are plenty of sellers who don’t require the kind of shipping that Soto needs. The Chicago Cubs will look to get some payback for catcher Willson Contreras, a three-time All-Star who is eligible for free agency this offseason. Teams looking for a starting pitcher might approach the last-place Cincinnati Reds about Luis Castillo, or the hapless Oakland Athletics about Frankie Monta. And the surprising Baltimore Orioles, who have embraced their youth movement and found some semblance of legitimacy, may be looking to further stock their locker, offering Trey Manchin, a veteran slugger, with some positional versatility.
The Brewers could also sit back, wait for Peralta and Peterson to return from the injured list, wait for Hader to straighten himself out, and wish for Adams to rediscover his second-half magic of a year ago.
But baseball is often a game of leaders, and 29 teams watched the Bruins, who fell behind their division at the deadline last year, make some savvy trades and then run past the Mets en route to the World Series. title. So teams on the bubble this year are likely hoping to find their own Eddie Rosario or Jorge Soler.
If the Brewers want to contain the Cardinals, they may want to make some phone calls.