Series 48 Preview: Cubs at Brewers
Carlos Gomez has filled the void for an underachieving Brewers offense. (By Tom Lyons/Getty Images)
The Cubs’ September schedule is brutal, with 16 games against likely playoff-bound teams. But this upcoming four-game set against the Brewers features a team similarly struggling at the big league level. It also represents an opportunity for the Cubs to leap the Brewers for fourth place in the NL Central, with 2.5 games separating them prior to tonight’s game. Milwaukee’s lack of depth has been tested this year, with the team’s few breakout performances obscured by the suspension of 2011 MVP Ryan Braun to a violation of the league’s drug policy, the regression of pitcher Yovani Gallardo, and the inability for 24-year-old starter Wily Peralta to meet his potential. The late-spring signing of Kyle Lohse has looked good on its own but insufficient in context. That could be said about the entire squad: There are some solid pieces, but none that can carry the team.
HITTING: 3.9 Runs Scored/Game (8th in NL)
With Prince Fielder long gone, Braun suspended, outfielder Corey Hart missing the season, and second baseman Rickie Weeks out the last two months, the Brewers’ offense is no longer a lineup with crooked-number potential. Center fielder Carlos Gomez has taken over as the team’s best position player, not only powering the offense with a mix of speed and pop but also stealing no fewer than five home runs this year from opposing hitters. The four-year, $28 million deal GM Doug Melvin inked Gomez to before the season may turn out to be an excellent play, as it buys out his next three years of free agency. Shortstop Jean Segura, just 23, looks like a piece to build around as well. He was plucked from the Angels in the Zack Greinke deal last summer. Segura also has outstanding speed, a good contact bat, and plays solid defense. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is one of the league’s best offensive catchers—not named Buster Posey or Yadier Molina—and outfielder Nori Aoki provides good on-base skills and more speed from the leadoff spot. On the other hand, 35-year-old third baseman Aramis Ramirez is on the decline and missed significant time this year. Milwaukee has some solid pieces, but aside from Gomez’s sudden offensive spike, there’s no real difference-maker in the lineup.
PITCHING: 4.4 Runs Allowed/Game (12th in NL)
The Cubs will see two of the Brewers’ top prospects this series: Peralta tonight and Tyler Thornburg on Wednesday. The 25-year-old Peralta is a power pitcher, working his fastball into the 95-97 mph range and complementing it with a sharp, mid-80s slider. But his lack of command has gotten the better of him this year, costing him walks and home runs. He also produces surprisingly few strikeouts. Peralta is the polar opposite of Tuesday’s starter Marco Estrada, who sometimes pays for his utterly average three-pitch mix but also has a 40 percent higher strikeout rate (22.2 percent vs. 15.8 percent). Drafted in the third round in 2010, Thornburg might look small, but he has the ability to work downhill and rear back for a mid-90s fastball. His curve and change-up both show promise for the future, and he has done a good job in 16 big league appearances (five starts). Milwaukee will send out their ace, Lohse—the Cubs’ 29th-round pick in 1995—to close out the series on Thursday. Lohse found the market dry because of draft-pick compensation that was tied to him, but he finally signed a three-year deal with the Brewers in March that has been a relative bargain so far. Command is vital for Lohse, who has an average five-pitch mix, but it seems the gains he made in that area with the Cardinals have stuck. It’s paying off with a 3.46 ERA despite a well below-average strikeout rate. Jim Henderson, who features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a hard slider, closes out a mediocre bullpen.