After finally getting over the hump against the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals (39-35) will kick off a road trip with a visit to the NL’s best team: the Milwaukee Brewers (47-30).
The last time the Nats visited the top team in the senior circuit, they took three of four games from the San Francisco Giants. But the Brew Crew are on a tear, having won six of their last seven and 11 of 15.
Milwaukee was not expected to be a major factor in the NL Central after a 74-88 season in 2013, but jumped out to a big division lead with a 20-7 start. But they slowed down and played like the team many expected them to be as the season entered May, posting a 16-19 record over their next 35 games. The Brewers’ recent hot stretch has reestablished their stranglehold on the division, which they now lead by 5.5 games.
The biggest key to Milwaukee’s success is certainly their offense. The Brewers rank fourth in baseball in runs scored, and are hitting .260/.318/.420, ranking sixth, 16th, and fourth respectively. Leading the charge is not former NL MVP Ryan Braun, but instead catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He leads the team with a .331 batting average, .397 OBP, .917 OPS, and 3.4 fWAR. The team has also gotten a big contribution from center fielder Carlos Gomez, who has produced 3.5 fWAR.
Despite a relatively down year from Braun so far, the Brewers have also seen the breakout of sophomore outfielder Khris Davis. He has slugged 13 home runs so far despite a tough beginning to the year, and is posting an impressive .260/.310/.492 line.
While offense may be the team’s driving force, the pitching staff is an underappreciated part of their success. After having the sixth-worst bullpen in baseball by fWAR in 2013, the Brewers have now climbed to a respectable 13th in 2014. The starters are tenth in baseball in ERA, led by three starters with ERAs below 3.35: Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Wily Peralta. Fortunately, the Nats will face just one of these pitchers, and instead be treated to Matt Garza’s 4.02 ERA and Marco Estrada’s 5.22 ERA. Estrada, a former Nat, has given up the most home runs in baseball at 24.
The Nationals will certainly not have an easy go of it in Milwaukee. But this team has shown that they are unafraid of playing the best teams on the road, and with some favorable pitching matchups, they certainly stand a chance of grabbing a few wins before heading to Chicago.
In The Zone (June statistics)
Anthony Rendon (3B) .299/.373/.582, 5 HR, 1.0 WAR
Jonathan Lucroy (C) .354/.416/.646, 6 HR, 1.4 WAR
Scooter Gennett (2B) .413/.456/.683, 16 R, 1.3 WAR
Denard Span (CF) .288/.326/.475, 5 SB, 0.6 WAR
Jean Segura (SS) .188/.241/.313, 4 XBH, -0.1 WAR
Ryan Zimmerman (LF) .192/.250/.272, 0 HR, -0.3 WAR
Probable Starters (full season stats)
6/23: Gio Gonzalez (3-4, 4.85 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 0.8 WAR) vs. Matt Garza (4-4, 4.02 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.3 WAR)
6/24: Jordan Zimmermann (5-4, 2.95 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 2.1 WAR) vs. Yovani Gallardo (5-4, 3.34 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 0.6 WAR)
6/25: Stephen Strasburg (6-5, 3.24 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 2.8 WAR) vs. Marco Estrada (6-4, 5.22 ERA, 5.76 FIP, -0.8 WAR)