Following a 5–4 homestand and a day off, the Brewers head to Kansas City for the first time since 2006 to resume interleague play.
Ned Yost’s Royals are losers of 6 of their last 8, which includes a sweep at the hands of the first place (?!?!) Pirates, and a series loss to the AL-worst Twins. During this stretch they’ve only scored more than 3 runs once, and they’ve scored less than 3 in five of the eight (that includes three shutout wins). Their offense is certainly struggling: they’ve scored a league low 24 runs in June, with just 4 home runs.
In same stretch, the Brewers won 5 of 8, and are 9 of their last 13. They have outplayed their Pythagorean record during that time: their 39-32 run differential suggests they won one more game than expected. And indeed, they needed some heroics from the likes of Norichika Aoki on Thursday and Jose Veras on Sunday to beat the two worst teams in the NL.
In watching the series, please consider the following:
Take some time to opine about Kansas City’s future. Much has been made about this young Royals squad: KC’s farm system has been established as one of the MLB’s best in recent years. Their new wave of talent is led by powerful first baseman Eric Hosmer, left fielder Alex Gordon, designated hitter Billy Butler, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and catcher Salvador Perez (who has yet to play this year due to a torn meniscus). A number of outlets, including Sports Illustrated, picked the Royals to finish second in a weak AL Central. While skeptics like me have been proven right—they sit at 24-34, good for fourth—this core of hitters has a bright future. This club reminds me a lot of the Brewers circa ’06–’07. Though they may be even richer in prospects, but also may need one more piece to elevate them to a winning record. Let’s make the rough correlation between this year’s versions of Hosmer, Butler, Moustakas, and Perez to Fielder, Hart, Weeks, and Hardy circa 2006. That core finally got off the ground the next year when Ryan Braun exploded onto the major league scene. Perhaps the Royals need that kind of hitting performance to contend.
More importantly, improvement must come from the pitching staff, and the Royals hope it will be from stud young arms Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy, but the latter of whom is headed for Tommy John surgery. Royals pitching has been notoriously bad over the past few seasons, and the acquisition of well-regarded lefty Jonathan Sanchez from the Giants has not helped: he has not adjusted well to pitching away from spacious AT&T Park (1–2, 6.75; on the DL with biceps tendinitis). The loss of Duffy and Perez, both viewed as key members of the up-and-coming 2012 Royals, who are trying to break a decade-plus long skid, bring to mind J.J. Hardy’s 2006 ankle injury that cost him the season for a similarly-identified 2006 Brewer team.
Try not to get too bummed about Alcides Escobar. It’s easy to say that the Brewers’ handling of shortstops since 2008 has been downright awful. The club manipulated J.J. Hardy’s MLB service time in order to raise his trade value in the midst of a poor season and turn the reins over to Escobar, who hit well in his late 2009 call-up, but struggled mightily in 2010 at the dish. The glove has always been MLB-caliber, and Escobar has rightfully become regarded as one of the league’s top defensive shortstops. His first year in Kansas City produced similar results to his final year in Milwaukee, but this year he has quietly improved his line to .288/.327/.380, prompting praise from Buster Olney for a better plate approach. While yes, he’s better than Ransom, don’t read into this too much. With this improvement has come a 4.2% rise in his strikeout rate, and his walk rate continues to fall, now at 3.2% from 6.5% in Milwaukee. Plus, the batting average is no doubt boosted by his .345 BABIP. He still seems like an all-glove, bottom-of-the-lineup shortstop whose contact abilities (and even power) displayed in Milwaukee’s minor league system won’t play in the majors.
Try not to get too bummed about the other prospects Milwaukee traded for Greinke. Lorenzo Cain has just 40 plate appearances in the majors since leaving Wisconsin, Jeremy Jeffress couldn’t stick and has bounced between AA and AAA, and Jake Odorizzi is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA with a 3:1 K/BB ratio in AAA.
Actually, forget that last one. Think about how Greinke will have his way with his former team tonight.