MILWAUKEE – They are in last place in the Central Division and have the fourth-worst record in the National League, but they're also the hottest team in baseball.
Say hello to the Milwaukee Brewers, coming off a 7-0 road trip and riding an eight-game winning streak as the Braves roll into town for a three-game series starting tonight at Miller Park.
Young Matt Wisler, the Braves rookie who’s pitched so well in his first two home starts and got knocked around in his only road start at Washington, faces baseball’s hottest team after facing Jacob deGrom in his first start and the first-place Nationals in his second and third starts.
But at least this time, the matchup is about as favorable as anyone could ask, under the circumstances. It’s Wisler (2-1, 2.60 ERA) against Kyle Lohse, who is not pitching at all like the guy who performed so well against the Braves over the years.
Lohse is 5-9 with a 6.24 ERA, including an 8.16 ERA and .313 opponents’ average in nine home starts. He’s allowed 12 homers in 46 1/3 innings at Miller Park. Like I said, this isn’t the Lohse that Braves fans are used to seeing.
You know, the Lohse who is 5-1 with a 3.27 ERA in the past 12 of his 13 career starts against the Braves, including 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA and .170 opponents’ average last season, when he struck out 16 and walked just two in 15 innings against Atlanta.
Few Braves from those teams he faced are still with the team, and he won’t have to face one that’s hurt him the most: The DL’d Freddie Freeman, who is 5-for-8 with two homers against Lohse. The only other current Brave with a homer against him is Kelly Johnson (5-for-18, one homer). Cameron Maybin is 3-for-7, Nick Markakis is 2-for-7, Juan Urbe is 4-for-24 and Chris Johnson is 2-for-19 against Lohse.
Lohse is on a two-game winning streak, but that’s because he got 10 and eight support runs while he was in those games. He gave up four runs in each of those starts, lasting six innings against Minnesota and 6 1/3 innings at Philly.
Now, about this Brewers offense that young Wisler will face. (We should note, Wisler has a 0.68 ERA and .163 opponents’ average in two road starts, and a 9.00 ERA and .450 opponents’ average in his one road starts. Is that the mother of all small sample sizes, or what?)
The Brewers’ resurgence has been stunning,. They’ve hit a gaudy .353 with nine homers, 58 runs and a 3.16 ERA during their current eight-game winning streak.
They just completed a perfect road trip to Philadelphia (four games) and Cincinnati in which they batted .364 and scored 73 runs (nearly 7.6 per game), including six or more in six of seven games. The only other 7-0 road trip in franchise history was to San Francisco and St. Louis in July 2008, when the Brewers went to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
The big difference between then and now? These Brewers are in last place, still 18 ½ games behind first-place St. Louis.
There was no hint of this coming. In the 24 games before the eight-game streak, the Braves were 10-14 with a 4.07 ERA, a .262 batting average and 84 runs scored (3.5 per game). During that same stretch, between June 2 and June 27, the Braves were 9-15 with a 4.08 ERA, .272 batting average, and 92 runs. In other words, roughly the same statistics across the board as the Brewers had.
But the Brewers haven’t lost a game since then, and have hit about 100 points higher in the past eight games than they did in those previous 24.
The Braves have gone 5-2 during the Brewers’ eight-game surge, but Atlanta’s done it mostly in spite of the offense, not because of it. The Braves in that seven-game stretch have posted a 2.39 ERA, but hit just .231 with 20 runs, nine of which came in one win against the Phillies on Saturday. The Braves have scored two runs or fewer in five of their past seven games.
Just look at some of the Brewers’ ridiculous individual stats during the road trip: Aramis Ramirez went 12-for-22 (.542) with a homer and 11 RBIs in seven games, after totaling just 28 RBIs in the previous 63 games. Gerardo Parra hit .448 with two homers on the trip. Ryan Braun hit .412 and has a 10-game hitting streak. J
Jean Segura is 10-for-16 (.625) with a .684 OBP in July. Adam Lind has three homers and nine RBIs in five July games, had 12 RBIs during the trip, and set a club record by collecting at least one RBI in nine consecutive games. Scooter Gennett hit .393 with seven RBis on the trip.
Oh, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, whom the Braves would like to trade for if the Brewers would be willing – so far they haven’t been -- hit .428 on the trip and has a .478 OBP in July.
Now they’ll try to keep it going at home, where the Brewers have been uncharacteristically bad. They’ve hit plenty of homers – 40 in 41 games, fourth-most in the NL and 15 more than the Braves have hit at home – but the Brewers have batted just .239 with a .293 OBP at Miller Park, second-lowest home OBP in the league, ahead of only the Padres (.287).
Lucroy, by the way, has hit .162 (11-for-68) with a .230 OBP in 17 home games, compared to .308 (32-for-104) with a .362 OBP in 24 road games. Braun has hit .261 with four homers and a .391 slugging percentage in 39 home games. Segura has hit .256 with a .291 OBP at home. Ramirez has hit a meager .216 with three homers and a .254 OBP in 32 home games. Gennett’s hit .234 with a .272 OBP at home.
You get the point.
Then again, the Brewers weren’t a house afire on the road, either, until this last trip. So perhaps it was more about just getting hot as a team, regardless of location. The Braves will try to prove otherwise and chill those scorching Brewers bats for the next three days.
• Here's something I wrote earlier today on Braves trade for lefty Mitch Lambson from Astros.
• Here's one from Wisconsin music maestro Bon Iver.
"TOWERS" by Bon Iver
in the swampy August dawn
what a mischief you would bring young darling!
when the onus is not all your own
when you’re up for it before you’ve grown from the faun forever gone
in the towers of your honeycomb
I’d a tore your hair out just to climb back darling
when you’re filling out your only form
can you tell that itʼs just ceremon’
now you’ve added up to what you’re from build your tether rain-out from your fragments…
break the sailor’s table on your sacrum…
(bleep) the fiercest fables, I’m with Hagen for the love, comes the burning young
from the liver, sweating through your tongue
well, youʼre standing on my sternum don’t you climb down darling
oh the sermons are the first to rest
smoke on Sundays when youʼre drunk and dressed
out the hollows where the swallow nests