After winning 95 games last yr, and bringing back a team with three legitimate aces in its rotation and a lineup loaded with power — all under the direction of Craig Counsell, whom some view as the perfect manager in baseball — the Milwaukee Brewers were a well-liked pick to repeat as champions of the National League Central.
With the annual trade deadline every week away, the Brewers were indeed leading the Central through Monday with a 53-44 record. And with an expanded playoff field making a third wild-card spot in each league, Milwaukee could seemingly rest on its laurels and coast to the postseason.
They might not want to begin hanging bunting just yet, they usually could use some reinforcements in the event that they want to succeed in October.
While there is no such thing as a strategy to perfectly predict future results, run differential — an easy calculation of a team’s runs scored versus the runs it has allowed — has proved to be one in all the more accurate measures of a team’s quality. And based on a formula originally developed by Bill James, through which run differential is used to create a team’s “expected” record, the Brewers should even have been trailing the St. Louis Cardinals within the Central by 4 games, fairly than leading them by two, in response to ESPN.
The competition is fairly wide open for the N.L.’s three wild cards as well, when you adjust for run differential. The Atlanta Braves, at 58-40 through Monday, held the highest spot, and their expected record of 57-41 would have as well. But as an alternative of the San Diego Padres holding the second spot, and the Philadelphia Phillies having the third one, run differential indicates the order must have been Braves-Phillies-Brewers, with the Padres and the San Francisco Giants hot on Milwaukee’s trail, only a half-game out of the third spot.
The Brewers being vulnerable isn’t all that surprising.
Freddy Peralta, one in all the team’s aces, has been on the injured list since May with a shoulder injury. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain was released after bottoming out following years of solid service. Shortstop Willy Adames, who boosted the team dramatically after a May trade last season, has regressed considerably. Third baseman Jace Peterson, who leads the team with 2.4 wins above substitute this season, recently hit the injured list.
Even Josh Hader, the team’s All-Star closer who was tied for the key league lead in saves through Monday, has struggled quite a bit in July, watching his E.R.A. balloon from 1.05 on July 3 to 4.50. Opponents have been crushing the ball against him, leading to an on-base plus slugging percentage of .722 that was 301 points worse than what he allowed last season.
Considering that list of obstacles, the Brewers have done surprisingly well. Now the query is who they could have the option so as to add on the deadline to carry off St. Louis, in addition to the gaggle of wild-card contenders.
The jewel of this yr’s trade options is outfielder Juan Soto. The Washington Nationals could look to trade Soto, a 23-year-old superstar who has two more years of team control after this one, after he recently turned down a $440 million contract extension. The value tag, though, could be extraordinary and could be prone to rule out any team that doesn’t have a stacked minor league system.
There are many sellers on the market, though, who won’t demand a haul just like the one essential for Soto. The Chicago Cubs will look to get some return for catcher Willson Contreras, a three-time All-Star who’s eligible without spending a dime agency this off-season. Teams searching for a starting pitcher might approach the last-place Cincinnati Reds about Luis Castillo, or the hapless Oakland Athletics about Frankie Montas. And the surprising Baltimore Orioles, who’ve embraced their youth movement and have discovered something much like legitimacy, may look to further stock their cupboards by offering up Trey Mancini, a veteran slugger with some positional versatility.
The Brewers could also stand pat, wait for Peralta and Peterson to get back from the injured list, expect Hader to right himself and want for Adames to rediscover his second-half magic from a yr ago.
But baseball is usually a game of follow-the-leader, and 29 teams watched the Braves, who were trailing of their division on the deadline last yr, make just a few savvy trades after which race past the Mets on their strategy to a World Series title. So teams on the bubble this yr are prone to be hoping to seek out their very own Eddie Rosario or Jorge Soler.
If the Brewers need to hold off the Cardinals, they will probably want to get on the phone.