Thursday night, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun left a game against Atlanta with tightness in his right oblique. This after Braun had already missed 14 games with a rib-cage strain. The Brewers couldn’t hold a seventh-inning lead against Atlanta, and lost for the fifth time in six games. Milwaukee, for the first time in the season’s first eight weeks, is dealing with some adversity.
Here comes Memorial Day weekend, as good a time as any to separate the fast starters from those with staying power. And Milwaukee just might head the pack.
The Brewers entered 2014 with some reason for optimism, having added veteran right-hander Matt Garza to a rotation anchored by Yovani Gallardo (72-48, 3.78 ERA from 2009 to ’13). For all the controversy surrounding Braun and his repeated dalliances with discipline for using performance-enhancing drugs – including his suspension last year for his ties to the Biogenesis investigation – he is one of baseball’s best hitters, and his return was sure to improve an offense that was middling in 2013. (Since 2009, Braun’s on-base plus slugging percentage of .935 is exceeded only by the best in the game: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.)
So when the Brewers started 10-2, including sweeps of World Series champion Boston and 2013 wild-card team Pittsburgh, they seemed like a nice early-season surprise. On May 16, they beat the Cubs to get to 27-15, five games up in the National League Central.
That game, though, is instructive. The Brewers won 4-3, the 10th time in their first 14 one-run games they came out on top. Such a winning percentage (.714) isn’t sustainable over an entire season.
Nor is winning baseball games by barely outscoring opponents. Entering play Friday, the Brewers had scored just three more runs than their opponents over 48 games – the worst run differential of the teams with the nine best records in the game. (Only Minnesota, the Yankees and Baltimore entered the weekend with winning records despite being outscored.)
If the Brewers keep that rate up, they’ll outscore opponents by 10 or 11 runs for the season. The only teams in the wild-card era – which dates to 1995 – to reach the postseason with a run differential that poor: the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks, who won 90 games despite scoring 20 fewer runs than they allowed; the 2005 San Diego Padres, who won a terrible National League West even though they were outscored by 40 runs; and the 1997 San Francisco Giants, who won 90 games and were outscored by nine.
Baseball seasons, and baseball teams, have an amazing penchant for correcting themselves over 162 games. Approaching Memorial Day, the Brewers’ correction may already be arriving – whether Braun is in the lineup or not.
BY THE NUMBERS
OPS of all Red Sox shortstops, second in the American League. Still, floundering Boston chose to sign free agent Stephen Drew, who helped win a World Series, to help its offense, which entered the weekend 13th in the A.L. in runs scored.
Position players who have pitched in the majors this year. Detroit’s Danny Worth was the latest on Thursday, when he threw a scoreless inning against Texas that ended with a strikeout on a knuckleball.
Games, out of a possible 852 from the beginning of 2009 through May 16, for Texas 1B Prince Fielder. Fielder is expected to undergo neck surgery and miss the rest of the year.