Series Preview: Mets vs. Brewers Part 1

Geoff Jenkins is swinging a hot bat for the Milwaukee BrewersIt will be a big test this weekend for both teams, as the surprising Milwaukee Brewers head into Shea for a three-game series with the Mets.

At 24-10, the Brew Crew currently has the best record in Major League Baseball, and don’t show any signs of slowing down. Similar to the Mets’ steamrolling of 2006, the Brewers have won all seven of their series so far this year, and look to continue that streak in Flushing. Of course, the Mets are no slouch themselves, with a 21-12 record of their own, and hope to improve upon their .500 slate (7 wins, 7 losses) at home.

As this is a such a significant series, and most Mets fans don’t know much about the Brewers beyond Ben Sheets, Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall was kind enough to give us some insight on MLB’s hottest team.

At the time, did you think giving up Doug Davis — a solid if unspectacular innings eater — in the Johnny Estrada / Claudio Vargas deal was a smart one? And how do you feel it is panning out so far?

I liked it. (And I have proof) Estrada has always gotten a rap as an “offensive” catcher, but I think he’s had more value on the other side of the ball so far. And Vargas has far exceeded my expectations; an ERA under 3.00? I figured he was a stopgap until Yovani Gallardo showed up, but at this point he’s going to make the Brewers think long and hard before booting him from the rotation.

How much of an impact is Estrada having on the 2007 Brewers — outside of his bat (i.e., defense, working with pitchers, in the clubhouse, etc.) ? Was his acquisition and the intangibles he brought to Milwaukee in any way comparable to what Paul LoDuca brought to the Mets in 2006?

I guess that depends on what you think about Lo Duca. (I’m not a fan.) But for someone who got his reputation largely due to hitting .300 a couple of times, Estrada appears to be doing all the right things behind the plate. The nice thing about this team is that no one guy is making a huge difference: everybody is chipping in.

Right now, Geoff Jenkins is swinging as well as he was in 2003-2005. Back then he was a cornerstone of the organization. Now he’s a salty veteran in a sea of young up-and-comers. Do his teammates look to him for leadership, despite his reduced role in 2006?

Beats me. It doesn’t seem like a team with a clear-cut ‘leader’ in the clubhouse, though Prince Fielder may be emerging as that guy. I just appreciate the fact that Jenkins has accepted his reduced role and seems to be enjoying performing well on a first-place ballclub.

Can the Brewers win the NL Central with Craig Counsell at 3B if Corey Koskie can’t come back? What’s Koskie’s status? How is Ryan Braun’s glove coming along?

Based on early returns, it doesn’t matter if the Brewers put Bob Uecker at third base, they’ll still win. That said, Braun will be up before the All-Star Break, and the team will be better for it. Koskie has said he’s getting better, but as far as I know, he hasn’t done any baseball-related activities, so I’m not holding my breath. Braun has only made two errors so far at Triple-A, but that’s only half the battle; when he does get playing time in the bigs, the Brewers will have to sacrifice some defense for his bat. On the bright side, Rickie Weeks’s glovework so far this year has suggested that a young player CAN become a much better defender in a year or two’s time.

Right now, the Brewers are hitting on all cylinders — the offense is strong, starting rotation looks great, the bullpen one of the best in the NL. Is there a vulnerability ? What’s a Brewer’s fan greatest fear?

Third base is the hole in the lineup, but that doesn’t matter much as long as it’s only one hole in eight. The middle of the bullpen–and, more specifically, Ned Yost’s management of it–may be the achilles heel. He’s brought in bad relievers to handle tie games, and gotten predictable results. If the Brewers do make a deal and it isn’t to plug up the gap created by some unforeseen injury, it will probably be for another relief pitcher to put in front of Matt Wise and Derrick Turnbow.

Interesting insights from Jeff, who in addition to the well-written report on the Brewers, BrewCrewBall, also pens the PackerBackerBlog, still finds time to crunch numbers for the outstanding resources MinorLeagueSplits, and BeyondTheBoxscore, AND contributes to The Hardball Times every Wednesday and Friday.

With the day off today, we’ll have more on the series shortly. Check back soon, or subscribe to either the RSS feed or the email alerts.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. fafhrd316 May 10, 2007 at 1:53 pm
    The Brewers are clearly the team to beat in the NL Central at least for now, but they have some problems that they’ll need to work on if they want to be a serious title contender. The big problem is that they strike out. Alot. They’ll either hit, or swing and miss. More often than not, they’ll miss. That means that they’re not all that good at manufacturing runs. Plus, they don’t have the kind of lineup that features some true heavy hitters. I’m not yet sold on Prince Fielder as a All Star type of hitter. He’s good, but is he a 35-40 homer guy? I don’t know. And after Jenkins, what do they have for a power bat? Bill Hall? JJ Hardy? Neither scare me. They also lack veteran depth other than Jenkins, who’s never seen what a pennant race even looks like.

    Their starting rotation is very good, though. And their bullpen’s nice as well. They’ll need to rely upon the Suppan/Sheets/Capuano/Bush/Vargas rotation to carry them for much of the season since they just don’t have the power to do so. If they get a veteran power bat to augment their lineup- watch out. I think they’ll be in the thick of things come August/September, it just remains to be seen as HOW thick it will be.

  2. Trent Durrington May 10, 2007 at 3:55 pm
    To start I want to say that I am a Brewer Fan and that should probably be kept in mind, but I think your assement of Brewer weaknesses is a little off. To say the team lacks power just seems kind of silly to me when they have ranked at or near the top of the league in home runs all year. I have very little doubt Prince Fielder is the slugger that Brewer fans think he is, he hit 28 homeruns last year as rookie and unless you think his rookie year is a fluke I don’t see how he doesn’t improve on that. To say that Billy Hall isn’t a hitter you need to be afraid of I think is a mistake when he hit 35 homeruns last year. He was only six homeruns and one or two stolen bases behind Carlos Beltran. Billy’s rate stats weren’t terribly far behind Beltran’s either. I’m not saying Bill Hall is better than Carlos Beltran but they aren’t that far apart so I think that makes Hall somebody that you shouldn’t be writing off. As far as the lack of veterans goes, they have quite a few if look past the starters Counsell, Graffinio, Shouse, Suppan, Miller, and Estrada have all been around awhile. A guy doesn’t need to be starting to have a postive influence in the clubhouse. Even so I don’t put much stock in the logic of needing salty veterans to win in the post season, look at the 03 Marlins.
  3. j23 May 10, 2007 at 4:12 pm
    To fafhrd316:

    You must be thinking of a previous incarnation of the Brewers. This 2007 squad isn’t the free swinging group from not-so-long-ago. In fact, the Brewers’ batters currently rank 14th in the majors in strikeouts with 218. (In comparison, the Mets rank 20th with 201). The Brewers are also 9th in OBP with a .339 (The Mets are 4th with .356).

    When a team is so bad for so long, I can see how their previous sins can continue to haunt them. This is the the year we Brewers fans hope will break those stereotypes.

  4. fafhrd316 May 10, 2007 at 6:51 pm
    First, to Trent- You’re right about Counsell, he’s a gamer. So’s Suppan. But the rest of their staff doesn’t really have playoff experience. You guys should be on the look out for a veteran player/power bat at the trade deadline.

    Secondly, Bill Hall’s had one good year, and has yet to duplicate it. In that year, he had more strikeouts, less walks, isn’t a stolen base threat, and less RBI’s than Beltran did. And Beltran’s been doing this since 1999. Plus, Beltran played for part of last season with a bad hamstring, and Hall had Carlos Lee in the batting order last year. I’ve been through Todd Hunley and Bernard Gilkey, so when I see a player with one good year- that’s all it is. One good year. And compairing him to Beltran? C’mon. You want to know who I- as of now- compare Hall to? Pat Burrell. Maybe even Jason Giambi (minus his K/BB ratio). And as for Beltran- I compare him to Andruw Jones, Lance Berkman, and even Albert Pujols. And if you want to ask anyone about Beltran: ask Cardinals fans about how much Pepto he’s made them drink over the years.

    Fielder’s good, and I like him alot. He’s not a player I’d turn down. But is he the power bat that the Brewers need to lead their team? I don’t know. He’s a 2nd year player- I wouldn’t bank on him. In fact, if it wasn’t for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell, I wouldn’t even bank on Ryan Howard. The Brewers don’t really have the Phillies’ luxury right now, even if we get high numbers out of Lee, Jenkins, and Hall. Hardy, Estrada, and Weekes are good players but I wouldn’t rely on them to hit for power. Bottom line- you’ll make or break your team at the trade deadline for a power bat and a veteran presence.

    None of this says you’re not a good team. You are. Your rotation is excellent (although I’m sure Ben Sheets is giving you fits with his sporadic brillance), you’ve got a good bullpen, and a lineup that won’t make too many mistakes (other than strikeout). The problem for you is that you’re at least one bat away from being a VERY good team, and you still strike out alot. Right now, I’d be content to watch Fielder grow, and your pitching.

  5. fafhrd316 May 10, 2007 at 7:25 pm
    j23, the Brewers last year struck out a ton. I don’t see that changing this year- the same guys are still striking out alot. You guys have about 19 games where you strike out at LEAST 5 times against the opposing team so far. You guys also haven’t faced many Grade A pitchers yet, either (you’ve faced Oswalt, Zambrano, Hill, and Schmidt). And as for the Mets and their overall strikeouts, wait a month to see if Delgado breaks out of his .214 batting average. D-Wright’s already stopped striking out, and Reyes will probably have 20 less K’s this year than last. Plus, the Mets have faced Smoltz, Hudson, Randy Johnson, Moyer, Morris, Zito, Garcia, Willis, Webb, Livan and Carpenter. And they actually haven’t struck out much against most of them.