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Milwaukee Brewers Series Preview: It doesn’t get any easier for the Royals

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Manny Pina and Brad Boxberger are out for revenge on their former team.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With a chance wasted to get off to a fast start after the break against another also-ran, the Royals now head north for a two-game series against the best team in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers. And it’s not just that they’re the best team in the division; it’s that they’re the best team by far. And it’s not just that they’re the best team in the division by far; they’ve hit their stride and look like one of the better teams out there right now. The Brewers were swept in a quick two-game series in Kansas City earlier this year to fall a game under .500. While the sort of hovered there for the next few games, they got back to .500 for good with a walkoff win against the Padres. They’re 32-14 since and including that walkoff win. That is quite good.

How do they do it? They’re super balanced. They have an offense that has figured a lot of things out. Maybe they were impacted by the sticky stuff more than other offenses? I honestly don’t know, but since the implementation of the checks through Sunday’s action, the Brewers had a 114 wRC+, which is significantly higher than their season number and they’ve been third in baseball in runs scored in that time period. When you can score runs like that with the starting pitching they run out there with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta and the bullpen they have with Josh Hader, Devin Williams and others, well it’s easy to see why they’re so good. The Royals are fortunate a bit in this series as they are missing all of the top starters and Williams is on the shelf, but this team is still head and shoulders ahead of the Royals. And that should be frustrating because they should be in a similar playing field given their market limitations and all that.

Royals vs. Brewers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Brewers
Category Royals Brewers
Winning % .402 .589
Team wRC+ 89 91
Team xFIP 4.56 3.73
Run Differential -101 62
H2H Wins 2 0
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.0 Corbin Burnes, 4.7

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 225 .298 .356 .483 5.8% 16.0% 126 1.9
Willy Adames SS 353 .265 .340 .492 10.2% 29.2% 126 2.8
Christian Yelich LF 254 .244 .398 .383 19.3% 27.2% 118 1.3
Omar Narvaez C 261 .293 .387 .455 11.5% 17.6% 129 3.0
Avisail Garcia RF 325 .257 .317 .466 6.5% 25.8% 108 1.4
Jace Peterson 1B 151 .254 .384 .418 17.2% 21.2% 122 1.0
Luis Urias 3B 346 .246 .336 .435 10.4% 22.5% 109 1.1
Jackie Bradley, Jr. CF 311 .173 .254 .289 7.4% 29.6% 50 0.0

Brewers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Manny Pina C 115 .122 .243 .296 12.2% 18.3% 51 0.1
Rowdy Tellez 1B 167 .199 .275 .318 7.2% 22.2% 63 -0.6
Keston Hiura INF 186 .167 .261 .309 7.5% 38.7% 58 -0.6
Tyrone Taylor OF 164 .243 .329 .431 7.3% 24.4% 107 0.8

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 38 37.1 3 2 45.4% 9.9% 1.45 2.33 1.8
Brad Boxberger 42 38.2 3 2 29.4% 11.7% 3.03 4.16 0.1
Brent Suter 37 46.1 9 4 22.3% 8.4% 3.30 3.81 0.1

Yes, that’s the same Brad Boxberger.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Tuesday - Mike Minor vs. Brett Anderson, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 19 106.1 6 8 22.8% 7.3% 5.67 4.40 1.4
Brett Anderson 13 52.0 2 5 14.1% 6.6% 4.33 4.25 0.3

I’d have believed you if you told me that Brett Anderson was 40 years old. It just feels like he’s been around for decades. In reality, he’s 33 and has been around since 2009. Injuries have always been an issue with him. He’s made 30 starts just three times in 13 big league seasons, including this one. But he’s generally been solid when he’s out on the mound, with just a few exceptions throughout his career. I’m not entirely sure how he’s not getting his brains beat in with the low strikeout rate he has, but he’s been able to survive. Unlike Lauer, he gets hit hard with his hard hit rate ranking in the bottom four percent of the league. He lives in the upper-80s and his hard stuff gets hit around a bit. His changeup, though, is the money maker and even though he only throws it to righties, it’s been good enough to keep him effective. Because of that, it’s not really a surprise that lefties have hit him better. He doesn’t use his best weapon against them. He’s also pitched past the fifth just twice this season, so I wouldn’t anticipate seeing him deep in the game, no matter how well he’s throwing.

Mike Minor was on a roll before the sticky stuff initiative took place, and while I don’t know if that’s impacted him, the timing is at least curious. In an eight-start stretch from May 15 to June 20, he went 50.1 innings and struck out 55 while walking 10 with a 3.58 ERA. Since then, he’s made four starts, gone 20 innings, struck out 11 and walked eight with a 10.80 ERA. So that’s not good. His spin rates haven’t really been impacted, but the longer this goes, the harder it’ll be to ignore that it was likely a factor. Minor is 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in six career starts against the Brewers. He last faced them in 2009, though, when he went eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and just one walk. A repeat of that would be pretty nice.

Wednesday - Brad Keller vs. Eric Lauer, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 19 95.0 6 9 18.6% 10.7% 5.97 4.68 0.5
Eric Lauer 12 56.1 3 4 22.3% 9.9% 3.83 4.39 0.2

Eric Lauer came to the Brewers in a deal with the Padres before the 2020 season after he’d been fairly reliable in San Diego. He immediately had just a terrible season for the Brewers last year with 16 runs allowed in 11 innings. This year, though, he’s been much better, getting his walks back in check and he’s been a very helpful part of their rotation to fill out the back end. He’s been elite at limiting hard contact with a hard hit rate of just above 31 percent, among the best in baseball. His fastball is 91-93 and he gets a lot of whiffs on it. He’s also been using his cutter more this season and it has been outstanding. Opponents are hitting just .203 on it with an exit velocity of 83.1 MPH. His changeup and slider have also been very useful weapons for him this season. Getting ahead against Lauer is very important. He has a good first pitch strike percentage, but if he falls behind, he allows a 1.075 OPS. That part isn’t that interesting. Most pitchers struggle. But when he’s even, it’s a .605 OPS and when he’s ahead, it’s .494. So he’s especially good when the hitter isn’t ahead of him. Get ahead and good things will happen. Don’t and it’ll be a long night.

Brad Keller had two really nice starts to end his first half, which was much needed after a terrible half in general. He seems to have really found his slider and had double digit swings and misses in each of the last two. It’s not his first good stretch of the year, but it’s the first one where it sort of seems like what he’s doing is sustainable. Of course, I say that knowing that he’s lost his slider multiple times. It took a pandemic to find it last year and it took nearly the entirety of the first half to find it this year, so maybe that’s not something that we can count on. Either way, his 14 innings over his last two starts are tied for the most in a two-start stretch for a Royals pitcher this season. If he can throw 6.1 in this one, he’ll have the best three-start stretch of the year. He’s been hit around a bit by the Brewers in his career with three games spanning 11 innings. He has a 6.55 ERA in that time with three home runs allowed, though two were to Dan Vogelbach last year and Vogelbach is on the injured list, so Keller can rest a little easier. He went 5.1 innings earlier this year and gave up three runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and a walk against them.

Prediction

You don’t lose a series against the Orioles at home and then waltz into a series preview and expect me to predict a win against one of the best teams in baseball. No sir. So yeah, it’s a Brewers sweep and I don’t even feel the slightest bit uneasy about that prediction, which means the Royals will win both games. Still, I say the Brewers get a couple easy wins.

Poll

Can the Royals get a win against the Brewers?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Not just one, but two. They’ll sweep.
    (5 votes)
  • 27%
    Yeah, sure, why not? It’ll be a split.
    (23 votes)
  • 67%
    They couldn’t beat Matt Harvey and Jorge Lopez. No way they’re beating anyone on the Brewers.
    (57 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now