MILWAUKEE BREWERS STORY BY MATTHEW TRUEBLOOD OF BREWERS FANATIC
MILWAUKEE — The Brewers’ scorching September has given them an unexpected luxury. They can look ahead to the playoffs, rather than scrape and scrap for every win over the final two weeks. They should use this time to answer two key questions before the postseason begins.
1. What’s the Brewers’ bullpen hierarchy after Devin Williams?
No team in baseball, perhaps, has as secure and reliable a closer as do the Brewers. Williams still has the highest average Leverage Index of any pitcher in baseball. Although he and Counsell have given us a glimpse or two of a future in which he might pitch multiple innings for a playoff save, he’s not likely to work solo during October. Behind him in the relief corps pecking order, meanwhile, things have been much more fluid.
Joel Payamps was the clear-cut primary setup man for the meaty middle chunk of this season, and after a slightly later emergence, Elvis Peguero became a reliable secondary one. Lately, though, Counsell has experimented pretty liberally, making later and more high-stakes use of both Abner Uribe and Trevor Megill.
Those guys have the utterly overwhelming stuff to rack up strikeouts late in playoff contests, whereas Peguero and Payamps lean more toward managing contact and throwing strikes. If Counsell is going to trust either of his triple-digit terrors with a slim lead in the seventh or eighth inning of a postseason game, he’s going to have to see that they can find the zone consistently, too.
2. Who will start at Second Base for the Brewers?
Remember when Brice Turang returned from Triple-A Nashville and looked downright competent at the plate for an extended period? In his first 40 games after that sojourn in the minors, he batted .230/.331/.353. That sounds underwhelming, but it’s all the team needed from him and more. He’s an excellent defensive second baseman, and he had an above-average on-base percentage in 142 plate appearances. Over that span, he had 19 walks and just 21 strikeouts.
Now, the league has adjusted back to him, and it’s a nightmare. In 98 plate appearances over the last 30 days, he’s hitting .239/.292/.250. Just as he’s sagging toward inutility, Josh Donaldson has arrived, giving the team a credible third baseman and freeing up Andruw Monasterio to slide to second base if needed.
Monasterio isn’t a Turang-caliber fielder at the keystone, but he’s above-average, and he’s a much more valuable hitter. The most dangerous formulation of this team is likely to include Monasterio at second most days, with Turang available for late defense and as a pinch-runner–especially for Donaldson, if he gets on base with a potentially game-changing run late. Because Turang and Willy Adames work so well together around the bag, though, the team is likely to give the lefty swinger a chance to snap out of this deep slump before the playoffs roll around.
At any rate, it’s nice that none of the remaining questions about the Brewers’ playoff push are, “Will they make it?”, or even “Will they be at home for the Wild Card Series?” They’ve won the regular season. Now, they can focus on the kinds of difficult problems that only teams who earn the privilege of doing so have to solve.
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