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Milwaukee Brewers Series Preview: Lorenzo Cain returns

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We need the Spiderman pointing meme here for two teams that were seven games over on May 1 and then have crumbled. Only the Brewers have crumbled a bit less.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There once was a time that the Brewers were full of former Royals players, but they’re down to only two in their position player group (Lorenzo Cain and Manny Piña) and just one on the pitching staff (Brad Boxberger). They’re probably better for it, but they’ve just sort of treaded water this season on the backs of some incredible pitching, which I’ll get to in a minute and an offense that seems to have the ability to score a lot, but just hasn’t. They’ve been as many as seven games over .500, last on May 1 and as many as two games under. Since they got to 17-10 on May 1, they’ve gone just 4-10. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Royals have gone 2-13 since they got to seven games over .500 on May 1. So these two teams are in similar boats, though I think the Brewers have a better chance of getting their way out of it.

I believe that because while they’ve struggled offensively, they seem to have the pieces to start to hit eventually. I think they’re probably relying a bit too much on a guy like Travis Shaw, but if they can get Christian Yelich back (and he may be for this series, we’ll update if he is), they can add him to Cain, who has been back for a bit and the good bat of Omar Narvaez this year and Avisail Garcia and at least have a formidable lineup. They can work a walk and there’s some pop there, so they have a chance to score some runs. Of course, their pitching will take them everywhere. They have two early season Cy Young candidates in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. Lucky Royals get to see them both in a two-game series. But they’ve also gotten great work from a nasty bullpen and an underrated rotation that also includes Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and whatever Brett Anderson has left in his arm. I think this is a better team than they’ve played and I hope the Royals don’t awaken that.

Royals vs. Brewers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Brewers
Category Royals Brewers
Winning % .450 .512
Team wRC+ 91 83
Team xFIP 4.36 3.64
Run Differential -30 -16
Highest fWAR Danny Duffy, 1.6 Corbin Burnes, 2.0

Brewers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kolten Wong 2B 123 .266 .341 .385 8.1% 14.6% 101 0.8
Lorenzo Cain CF 74 .222 .338 .397 13.5% 18.9% 106 0.5
Christian Yelich DH 41 .353 .463 .382 14.6% 31.7% 144 0.3
Travis Shaw 3B 147 .223 .306 .392 9.5% 25.9% 93 0.2
Avisail Garcia RF 145 .258 .338 .430 9.0% 26.2% 110 0.7
Omar Narvaez C 93 .359 .452 .513 11.8% 12.9% 166 1.5
Daniel Vogelbach 1B 102 .205 .314 .352 13.7% 21.6% 86 -0.2
Jackie Bradley, Jr. LF 140 .156 .229 .281 4.3% 31.4% 43 -0.3
Luis Urias SS 137 .209 .316 .365 13.1% 25.5% 87 0.2

Brewers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Manny Piña C 46 .211 .326 .474 15.2% 19.6% 116 0.4
Pablo Reyes INF/OF 32 .250 .250 .313 0.0% 21.9% 52 0.0
Billy McKinney OF/1B 97 .211 .268 .367 7.2% 24.7% 71 0.1
Tyrone Taylor OF 76 .212 .316 .379 6.6% 23.7% 96 0.1

Brewers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Josh Hader 16 15.2 3 0 45.9% 11.5% 1.15 2.32 0.9
Devin Williams 16 15.0 1 0 31.8% 16.7% 4.20 3.88 -0.2
J.P. Feyereisen 20 18.1 0 1 27.1% 14.3% 2.45 4.20 0.3

Probable Starting Pitchers

May 18 - Brandon Woodruff vs. Kris Bubic, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brandon Woodruff 8 49.1 2 1 33.2% 6.5% 1.64 2.69 1.7
Kris Bubic 4 12.2 0 0 20.0% 14.0% 1.42 4.70 0.1

When I picked my awards for Baseball Prospectus to start the season, I gave Woodruff the Cy Young, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. He really does just keep getting better. This year, he’s been nearly impossible to hit, allowing just 24 in 49.1 innings. And he doesn’t give up free passes either, so it’s easy to see why his ERA is what it is. He works primarily with hard stuff, mixing a four-seam fastball and a sinker, both averaging about 96.5 MPH and both awesome. Opponents are hitting just .092 on the four-seamer and .243 on the sinker. If that wasn’t enough, he has a slider that gets whiffs about ⅓ of the time and has opponents hitting .185 on it. But it’s amazing that even with that slider, most of his strikeouts have come with the four-seamer. He can freeze hitters with it or get them to chase. He’s actually been better against lefties than righties, though he’s been great against everyone. There isn’t really a good way to beat him other than to have the kind of approach the Royals had in the White Sox series when they did get to some good pitching.

Kris Bubic gets his first start of 2021 after a solid rookie campaign that saw him finish strong with a 2.96 ERA in 27.1 innings over his final five starts. He struck out a batter per inning and limited walks enough to be successful. After struggling with command in spring training, he was sent to the alternate site to work on some things and has been really good for the Royals since coming back. Of course, two of his outings have come in relief of Daniel Lynch and he’s done a fantastic job of stopping the bleeding with 10.2 scoreless innings in those two games, earning him this start. He hasn’t been as good with the strikeout and he’s walked too many, but I’m excited to see what he can do is starting debut this season. The Brewers offense has struggled, but they are better against lefties, so this is a bit of a test.

May 19 - Corbin Burnes vs. Brad Keller, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Corbin Burnes 6 34.1 2 3 45.3% 0.8% 1.57 1.25 2.0
Brad Keller 8 33.1 3 4 17.8% 9.8% 6.75 4.75 0.0

The only reason Woodruff isn’t getting more attention for his impressive work to start the season is that he shares a rotation with Corbin Burnes who just happened to set the record for most strikeouts to start a season without a walk. He did finally walk a batter, but it probably goes without saying that his 58:1 strikeout to walk ratio would be the best of all time. A cutter has been all the difference for Burnes, who had a season to forget just two years ago when he gave up 17 home runs in just 49 innings. He was great last season, but has been even better this year and the command is the reason for it. He’s not quite Mariano Rivera with the cutter, but he does throw it about 55 percent of the time and it comes in hard, at around 96 MPH. It spins a lot and even if you know it’s coming, there’s not much you can do about it. He also has a sinker, curve, changeup and slider. He throws all them about equally after the cutter, but it’s worth pointing out that he gets a swing and miss on two out of every three swings against the changeup. That’s just crazy. If you’re looking for a weakness he has, you have to squint pretty hard, but he’s allowed two steals without a runner getting thrown out and for his career, base stealers are 21 of 23. So you have to get on, but if you do, it can work.

I thought Brad Keller looked solid against the White Sox in the first game of that double header on Friday. It wasn’t as good as he was the Friday before against them, but the results were better. And now over his last four starts, he’s 2-2 with a 3.80 ERA in 21.2 innings with 20 strikeouts and seven walks. He’s still allowing more hits than ever before and just doesn’t seem quite back to what we saw last season, but what he’s giving the team is much better and they can work with it. He’s even gotten double digit swinging strikes in three of those four games, which is very unlike him. He’ll have to deal with Daniel Vogelbach in this one, though. Last year, Keller allowed just two home runs and both were to Vogelbach, so he’ll need to exorcise some demons.

Prediction

Both teams are struggling after starting super hot. The Brewers have the clear edge in pitching in this series, but I think I’ll predict a split because that’s super boring and predictable.

Poll

How does Lorenzo Cain’s return go for the Royals?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    They’ll sweep and make him wish he never left.
    (17 votes)
  • 42%
    They’ll split the series.
    (50 votes)
  • 43%
    The Brewers sweep, Cain taunts Salvy and a friendship is ruined. For like a minute and a half before they love each other again.
    (51 votes)
118 votes total Vote Now