The Miami Marlins have an upcoming four-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers, and if the last meeting between these two teams was any indicator, we are in for an exciting and tumultuous set of games. Of course, the Marlins of early July are not the Marlins of early September, so there is also that to consider.
Due to a lack of time, I am just going to bring you my Q&A with Kyle Loebner of the SB Nation Brewers blog Brew Crew Ball. They will have their own series preview up soon, but since I will be away for today (visiting Six Flags Over Georgia on a rainy morning), please make sure you click over to Brew Crew Ball to see the questions I answered for Kyle.
1) Explain the joy of having Ryan Braun on your team.
I think calling it a joy is really a pretty fair description of getting to watch Braun every day. The Brewers have had some great hitters in franchise history (including a couple of Hall of Famers), but I'm not sure they've ever had a player with a bigger flair for the dramatic than Braun or the ability to turn a game around so quickly in multiple ways. If you had to choose one current or former Brewer to come to the plate in a key situation, I'd take Braun.
Braun was the NL MVP a year ago but in my opinion this has been his best season: Despite losing Prince Fielder behind him in the lineup and all of his offseason distractions, Braun's numbers have remained steady and he leads the NL in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases. I doubt he'll repeat as MVP because of his offseason issues and the fact that the Brewers aren't really in contention, but he deserves consideration.
All told I think Braun is an average to slightly above average defensive outfielder, but he reaches that point in an interesting way. He's a superior athlete, so he'll make a fair number of spectacular plays with dives or at the wall. He'll also have occasional lapses where he breaks the wrong way on a ball or takes an awkward route. He's fast enough to make up for some mistakes, though. He'll also make some highlight reel throws but his arm isn't exceptionally accurate.
One of the things that's worth noting re: the advanced metrics and Braun is that nearly all of his games in left field as a Brewer have been played alongside a center fielder with very good range, most notably guys like Mike Cameron and Carlos Gomez. Because those guys cover so much territory, they frequently catch balls that Braun also could have gotten to but was called off. I'm not an expert on defensive metrics but I'd suspect that has an impact on his overall number of outs recorded.
3) Since we last spoke, Zack Greinke was traded before the trading deadline. How has the return from the Los Angeles Angels looked thus far?
The Brewers surprised everyone by calling Jean Segura up to the majors from AA after about two weeks in the organization. He's still really young but hasn't looked that overmatched in the majors, and there's a chance the Brewers will opt to keep him in the big leagues as the primary shortstop again in 2013. He's got very good speed and, despite the fact that he recently moved over from second base, his defense at short has been solid to above average. He's got a fair amount to learn about hitting major league pitching, but the Brewers hope he'll pick that up in time.
The other two players in the deal were AA pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg. Both pitchers have a high upside but Pena has really struggled with control issues in his brief stint in the organization and the Brewers have moved Hellweg to the bullpen in an effort to keep his inning count down.
4) Tell me about one underrated player on the Brewers roster this season.
I think Rickie Weeks isn't getting the credit he deserves for overcoming a dreadful start. Weeks probably came back too early from an ugly ankle injury in 2011 and still struggled long into 2012: On June 8 he had already appeared in 54 games this season despite posting a .157/.291/.284 batting line. He's hitting .276/.366/.455 since, which is much closer to the level we've become accustomed to seeing.
Weeks will occasionally have a bad at bat and he strikes out a lot (he's currently fourth in the NL with 144), but he works the count well and he's one of the few Brewers that can be relied upon to force an opposing starter to throw a lot of pitches. You'll notice above that even when he was hitting .157 in June his OBP was near .300. At his lowest point, Weeks was still finding ways to get on base and help the team.
5) Are there any interesting prospect names that we can expect to see on the Brewers roster with the rosters expanding for September?
The Brewers' AA and AAA affiliates wrap up their respective seasons today, and the Brewers aren't expected to make any callups until after that. Brewer Assistant GM Gord Ash was on TV yesterday and said they won't call up as many as the seven players they added down the stretch last season, but I expect to see pitchers Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos along with a bench player or two. None of the callups are likely to be a major factor in September games.
I want to thank Kyle for answering those questions for me. Here is a preview of my answers to his own questions.
1) I might as well start with the obvious question: Obviously a 59-74 record (entering play Sunday) isn't what the Marlins were expecting from this season. What's gone wrong?
Essentially, all but two or three players performed below their expectations, and some by such an extreme margin that the Miami Marlins simply could not recover. Names like Logan Morrison, John Buck, Gaby Sanchez, and even Jose Reyes up until recently performed so poorly that they cost the team up to five wins total compared to what they were expected to do. When half of your lineup eats up five wins from your expectations, you are bound to look bad by midseason.
In fact, the team looked so bad through June that the Marlins front office compounded the problem by trading away two contributing (if underachieving) players in the starting lineup, further damaging the club's talent level. By the time those trades and certain injuries were taken into account, the Marlins were suddenly left with an empty lineup and all of their starting pitching depth depleted. Thus, their season went from "underachieving" to disastrous during July and August.
I want to thank Kyle for answering my questions and sending his own. Good luck to both teams this series!