With three more days to go before we start to get answers, and maybe answers we don’t want, there’s plenty of time for Cubs fans to try and either dream up how they’re going to catch the Brewers, or conclude all the reasons they can’t. So let’s do something of a deep dive and find out what we can.
If you’re looking for hope, and you’re a Cubs fan so it’s something you specialize in, the one thing you can surely bank on is experience. That could play a pretty big role.
Offensively, some of the guys lighting it up for the Brewers don’t have a track record. That can go one of two ways. One, the league can figure them out in the next three months and nullify them. Or two, the book on them won’t arrive in time and in the mean time with the lack of information they could still rake. Either way, Domingo Santana, Orlando Arcia, Jesus Aguilar, and really Eric Thames barely have four seasons combined in the majors before this year. We know that already caught up to Thames, and could to the others. Arcia isn’t really hitting all that well but the others are and if they deflate, the Brewers aren’t going to have much of an offense outside of Ryan Braun.
Travis Shaw also isn’t that experienced, with a season and a half in Boston. He’s never shown this kind of pop before, with his .272 ISO dwarfing his career .215. Maybe he just needed the time, and might be a surer bet than the others, but still not definitely.
If you’re really looking for hope on a team-wide stat, check out the HR/FB for the whole team. The Brewers lead the NL with a 19.2%, and the next is the Dodgers at 16.2%. That three-percent gap is the same between the Dodgers in 2nd and the Cardinals in 10th.
The problem is this just might be juiced-baseball inflation. The Brewers led the NL in this category last year, by a full percentage point over Arizona. But 19%? That seems ambitious to hold onto for another two and a half months. So their power could come down a touch.
Which they need, because this is not a great on-base team. Santana, Thames, and Braun take their walks, but Thames has to since he stopped hitting. Everyone else has just about a league average walk-rate. They’re not a terrible on-base team, just not great. If the homers dry up just a touch, their runs will lower.
As for individuals who might be riding the winds of good fortune…hi Eric Sogard! While his greater walk-rate can be sustained, his .372 BABIP cannot. But he doesn’t play every day, so that’s not an answer. Santana also has a .372 BABIP, but in 77 games last year had a .359. Given over a quarter of his contact is line drives, he might just be one of those high-BABIP guys. But not .372 high. That’s silly. Aguilar is another at .383. I think you can say safely that it’s more likely than not the Brewers offense will perform at least slightly below the level of the first half, especially when the season gets real long in August and September and the coffee pots in the clubhouses aren’t spiked.
In the rotation… again, experience is something you can focus on. None of the Brewers starters have thrown more than 180 innings in a season. Chase Anderson is already hurt, and has never topped 151 innings. Zach Davies has never topped 163. Those who have, like Garza and Peralta, just aren’t that good. Brent Suter, apparently the lovechild of confused hockey players, had a 4.00+ FIP in triple-A this year. He also has never thrown many innings. They might gag to the finish line here, assuming they don’t make a trade.
When Anderson does return, he’s been riding his luck a bit too, with a BABIP against 20 points under his career average. Add a juiced ball to the equation, and you wouldn’t be shocked if that goes up. He has cut down his line-drive rate though, so it probably won’t skyrocket.
All of it could certainly lead you to conclude that the Brewers pace might slow. So then it’s about what the Cubs can do. If the Brewers finish out the rest of the season .500, hardly a huge leap, say 36-35, that’s 86 wins. For the Cubs to get to 87, that’s 44-30 from here on out. That might sound ridiculous considering how the Cubs have played. It’s basically .600 ball over 10 weeks.
I’ll leave it to you to decide how likely these things are.