I sent off some questions to Noah Jarosh manager of Brew Crew Ball, SB Nation's Milwaukee Brewers blog and he replied with some answers.
The Brewers are at the top of the NL Central, how confident are you that they will hold on to first place? Have you bought your playoff tickets yet?
I feel pretty good about it. The great thing about the Brewers is that their biggest weakness is a pretty poor bench (made a little better by adding Gerardo Parra at the deadline). When that's the biggest problem, things are going well. Both the offense and defense have this synergy where they can pick one another up in any given game, and when both are going right they're outstanding. When both are going right, you have things like this past weekend where Milwaukee swept the Dodgers. They have a 2.5 game lead in the division now -- it's not huge, but the Cardinals are the only real threat anymore. I'd be more comfortable if it were Cincinnati or someone and not St. Louis and their voo-doo magic, but I think the Brewers are in a solid position.
How is our old friend Jeremy Jeffress doing?
So far, he's been nothing short of delightful. After a fantastic run in Triple-A, he's allowed just one run in nearly 11 innings of major league work. It's a small sample size, of course, but he's been keeping his walk numbers reasonably in-check and his fastball is as powerful as I remember it being during his first run with the Brewers. The bullpen has been wrecked by injuries, and a lot of top guys have been overworked as a result. Having Jeffress able to maintain some success would be an enormous boon.
And our other old friend Lyle Overbay?
You wouldn't happen to want him back, would you? In all honesty, he's had some good moments. But he's nowhere near what the Brewers need, and is taking away roster space to make room for a more valuable player. The team already has a (more effective) platoon at second base where both players can't play another position. Though Mark Reynolds can play third base, he probably shouldn't. That leaves Overbay and Reynolds as two more guys in a stuck platoon. Reynolds is the better of the two, but Overbay has at least been effective as a pinch-hitter. He's not optimal, but he has more value than I and many other Brewer fans like to admit. That's still not saying much.
Can we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see?
Interestingly enough, depending on who you ask you'll get different responses as to which of Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson should stay in the rotation when Matt Garza returns. Most will likely say Nelson, who rose as high as the top-50 prospects nationwide according to Baseball America before being called up. He has a big (literally at 6'6"!) arm and can throw hard. He also has been outstanding in six of his seven major league starts this year. His fastball is his best pitch, and he has a nice slider. He needs to work on his other offerings if he's looking to have long-term success, probably.
Fiers, meanwhile, is the complete opposite. Never really regarded as a top prospect, he always put up good numbers before getting a shot in the Brewers' rotation in 2012. There, he was a delight and surprise and was actually arguably the best pitcher the team had for a time. Injuries turned 2013 into a lost season, then he started this year in Triple-A and was superb. After being passed up in favor of Nelson when Marco 'Home Run' Estrada was pulled from the starting staff, Fiers got his chance again with Garza out. In two starts, he has pitched 14 innings, has allowed one run on six hits, and has 19 strikeouts to just two walks. Yeah. He also does this without great 'stuff'. But he's very deceptive and his pitches look like they're being thrown harder than they actually are. He also has pinpoint control. A fascinating case-study of how soft throwers can still be effective.
I see there is a story on MLB.com suggesting Ron Roenicke for the Manager of the Year award. Is he deserving? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
He's deserving in that he's taken a Brewers team that wasn't expected to do much and has them on the verge of the playoffs. Isn't that what the Manager of the Year award is all about? Roenicke is a pretty polarizing figure among fans -- some like him because, well, what he does seems to work. He also seems to have created a great clubhouse atmosphere that keeps things loose. That can be invaluable in a long season, especially down a stressful stretch run. He does have some problems: He can be both too aggressive and not aggressive enough. The Brewers will push for another base a lot, which doesn't always work. They also will bunt way too often. I believe they still lead the league in sac bunts. As far as bullpen management and all that...well, that's all subject to different opinions. On my part, I think he's fine.
Much of the ire for him stems from starting Mark Kotsay in center field against the Cardinals in the '11 NLCS (which ended horribly) and playing Yuniesky Betancourt often while he was in town (not much else Ron could have done given the roster construction). Like any manager, he has his ups and downs. Like any manager, he's ultimately graded on wins and losses.
Who has been your biggest surprise this season?
Probably Mark Reynolds. The Brewers haven't had a first baseman since Prince Fielder left and Reynolds has helped bring some stability after originally being brought in on a minor league deal. He's hit 21 home runs and has a 713 OPS. After the horrors of 2012, that production at first base is amazing. Most of it comes from his power, but that's OK. It's still a positive.
Besides that, Reynolds has especially been surprising on defense. It sounds weird, but it's completely true. He's been one of the best defensive players on the team this season. Every week there's a great play from him. I don't know what he did in the offseason, or if he just needed to move off third base, or what. But he's been absolutely fantastic in the field.
After a great rookie-ish campaign last year, Jean Segura has been really bad in 2014. His defense is still good which, for a shortstop, is enough for him to keep a job. But at the plate he has hit just .232/.266/.316 with 16 stolen bases in 24 attempts. It's not the step forward from his '13 752 OPS that we all wanted. He's had a lot on his mind after losing his months-old son around the All Star break. He rejoined the team shortly after, but it's hard to imagine the 24-year-old can focus much at the plate. Obviously the fans, team, front office, everybody having anything to do with the team are all with him. Every now and then he has a good game or two and you think he's starting to pick it up and you feel so good for him, but he falls back to his poor ground-ball hitting again. I think he'll be fine in the coming years. But this year, he's been a disappointment at the plate as he has more important matters on his mind, I'm sure.
Anything else we should know about the Brewers?
If not for Jean Segura, Ryan Braun would probably be the biggest disappointment this year. His 809 OPS is by far the worst of his career, particularly due to a terrible (for him) OBP of 328. The problem with him has been that he has a nerve issue in his thumb that has been hampering production since before his suspension in 2013. Were it not for the suspension, he might still have missed a lot of time because of the injury. He can't swing properly and though it is reportedly fine for stretches of the time, anytime he jams it he'll be back to struggling for a while. It's rough, and surgery could make it worse. It also has put some doubt into his long-term viability. Hopefully a restful off-season and the magic touch of a World Series trophy can help cure him!
Editor's Note: SB Nation partner FanDuel is hosting a $18,000 one-day Fantasy Baseball league today. It is $2 to join and first prize is $2000. Deadline to enter is 7:05 Eastern. Here is the link. If you haven't tried it, take a look, it is fun.