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Red Sox vs. Brewers Series Preview

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Looking ahead to this week’s reunion with Travis Shaw.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Brew Crew Ball

The opponent in one sentence

The Brewers are in the middle of their rebuild, but are playing surprisingly well thanks to two of the hottest hitters in all of baseball.

Record

16-16

Trend

Down, slightly. The Brewers had a hot streak in the middle of April, but have mostly been a .500-caliber team since then. Over their last three series, they’ve lost five of nine games and lost two of those series. That includes this past weekend when they lost two of three in Pittsburgh in which they scored just three runs in the first two games. They also lost a series to the Braves before taking two of three in St. Louis.

Pitching Matchups

5/9: Drew Pomeranz vs. Wily Peralta, 7:40 PM ET

One of the big questions when Pomeranz came to Boston last summer was whether or not he can adjust to the American League. The jury may still be out on that, but it won’t be an issue in this game, which of course takes place in a National League park. The lefty has actually been pretty solid this year and is coming off just the second start of the year in which he didn’t allow a home run. The biggest issue for Pomeranz continues to be his efficiency. Considering who’s getting the start after him (teaser!), the Red Sox could use at least six innings from Pomeranz this time around.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Peralta, who is kind of a hard pitcher to figure out. Traditionally a ground ball guy, he’s inducing grounders on less than half of the balls in play he allows for the first time in his career. On the other hand, his normally pedestrian strikeout rate is now up near a respectable eight K’s per nine innings. That is being combined with career-worsts in walk rate and home run rate, leading to a 4.88 ERA, 5.20 FIP and 6.48 DRA. The pitch to watch for is his slider. If he has that working, the Red Sox could have a tough time against the righty.

5/10: Kyle Kendrick vs. Chase Anderson, 8:10 PM ET

Kendrick’s first major-league start since 2015 was....not good. That isn’t an entirely surprising result, as we all know by now that spring training performances have to be taken with a huge grain of salt. There’s not much reason to expect a big improvement from the former Phillie in this next outing, but the Red Sox were never going to call him up for just one start. If he struggles again this time out, against a nominally rebuilding team playing without a designated hitter, we could see Boston make a change for the next turn through the rotation.

Anderson is sort of an interesting pitcher, as his results have been quite good this year. Through his first six starts, he boasts a 2.86 ERA with a FIP that matches it exactly. His strikeouts are up a bit compared to early in his career to just under eight per nine innings and his BB/9 is right around his typical 3.0. The big difference for him has been the fact that he’s allowed just one home run this year. That seems to be an unsustainable trend, although it is worth mentioning he’s induced a career-high 45 percent ground ball rate. He’s expanded his repertoire a bit this year, relying much more heavily on his cutter and mixing between five pitches.

5/11: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Jimmy Nelson, 1:10 PM ET

Rodriguez had another strong start against Minnesota last time out, allowing three runs in six innings but also striking out six batters with just one walk. In the National League park, this could be a good time for him to work on his efficiency and really put forth a legitimately great outing. It could be argued that he has yet to do that in 2017, although his outing against the Cubs could be considered borderline.

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Nelson is a former top prospect who has never really been able to put it together. Now 27 years old — and turning 28 in June — the righty has a 4.83 ERA, a 4.19 FIP and a 6.43 DRA through his first six starts. Prior to his last time out, Nelson had a three-start stretch in which he pitched to an 8.62 ERA while allowing a 1.037 OPS. Over the weekend in Pittsburgh, he tossed three scoreless innings before being pulled following a long rain delay. He throws in the mid-90s with both his four seamer and his sinker, but hasn’t really developed consistent secondaries. If his changeup and/or slider aren’t working on Thursday, the Red Sox could put up a big number.

Old Friends

There is only one old friend on the Brewers roster, but he’s a popular one right now. I speak, of course, of Travis Shaw. Given his hot start to the year and the abysmal play for the Red Sox at third base, he’s been a hot topic of conversation early on this season. His overall line of .263/.303/.544 with a 115 wRC+ is good, although it may not fully reflect the amount of hype he’s gotten around these parts. Of course, it’s much, much better than what the Red Sox have gotten at the hot corner and they would welcome something close to that production. It’s worth noting that he’s gotten off to hot starts in the past and cooled off later in the year, although it’s also worth noting he’s still a young hitter and still has plenty of time to develop that consistency.

This is also the time I shout out Mauricio Dubon, who remains the Greatest Of All Time.

Notable Hitters

While Shaw has gotten most of the headlines around here, the real star of the show in Milwaukee is Eric Thames. The first baseman didn’t impress in his first short major-league stint back in 2011 and 2012, then went off to Korea and became a legend in the KBO. He was a fascinating free agent this winter as he looked to come back to the States and appears to have been a massive bargain for the Brewers. He already has 12 home runs on the year and is hitting .324/.438/.731 through his first 130 plate appearances. That power is scary, to say the least.

Ryan Braun is the longtime face of the Brewers franchise, steroid scandals notwithstanding. While it feels like he’s been around forever, he’s still a ripe 33 and off to a hot start hitting .284/.370/.580 in his first 100 plate appearances. Thames is probably the scarier hitter at this moment in time, but Braun is a consistent beast in the middle of that lineup.

Domingo Santana joins Shaw, Thames and Braun in the meat of their lineup and is a classic boom or bust player. He’ll strikeout his fair share of the time but he can hit it a long way when he makes contact. He also draws plenty of walks to make up for his lack of batting average.

Jonathan Villar was one of the most surprising players on 2016, but that has yet to carry over to 2017. Still a speedster, he’s been brutal at the plate thanks to a sky-high strikeout rate. If he gets on base he’ll test Boston’s catchers, but that’s been a tough job for him thus far.

Jett Bandy and Manny Piña split time behind the plate and have both been productive as hitters. The former does it with power but strikes out a bit while the latter makes plenty of contact without much power.

Keon Broxton was a popular breakout pick heading into the season but his overall numbers at the plate aren’t too impressive. He’s turned it on in his last two weeks, though, with a .988 OPS over his last 14 games.

Hernan Perez doesn’t have a permanent position in the lineup, serving as more of a super-utility player. When he does get in, though, he brings power and athleticism to the plate.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Brewers bullpen is highlighted by a quietly impressive three-headed monster in the back. Well, a two-headed monster with a closer who flashes some potential, at least. Neftali Feliz is that closer, and while the talent is there he’s never put it together consistently. He has a 4.91 ERA and a 6.29 FIP in 16 appearances thanks to control and home run problems.

Behind him are Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes, two young righties who look like they could be future ninth inning arms. The former is finally showing the potential he’s long boasted, striking out over 13 batters per nine innings with a respectable walk rate (for a reliever, at least) and no home runs allowed for the season. Barnes, meanwhile, gets more than a strikeout per inning and has been inducing a ton of ground balls in what figures to be his first full season in the majors.

Carlos Torres has also gotten late-inning opportunities, but the journeyman has struggled mightily this year with fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings and almost five walks per nine.

Oddly enough, there are no lefties in the Brewers bullpen. In fact, they don’t even have a lefty in their rotation. That is....very strange and also a thing I did not know until I researched for this post.

Injuries

The Brewers only have one player on the disabled list, but he’s also their best starter. Junior Guerra came out of nowhere as an ace after being claimed on waivers prior to last season. He was hurt just a few innings into his 2017 debut and probably won’t be back for at least a couple weeks.

Weather Forecast

Miller Park has a retractable roof, so the weather isn’t as big a concern here as it is elsewhere. That should come in handy on Wednesday, when there are scattered showers in the forecast. It should be clear skies for the other two games, but it will be the 40’s on Tuesday so the roof may be closed anyway.

Other Notes

Despite having two lefties in the middle of their lineup, Milwaukee has been the fourth best team against left-handed pitching by wRC+. The Red Sox, of course, send two southpaws to the mound this week.

National League rules are straight up garbage. That is a fact.