The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t stirring much buzz in the National League. Surprising teams such as the Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, and Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be more interesting story generators among the current playoff contenders.
Yet, while Milwaukee ranks 26th in team batting and 15th in pitching at the All-Star break, somehow the Brewers are seven games above .500. They are one game behind the Reds for first place in the National League Central and a half-game out of the final wild-card spot in the NL.
Heading into the break, Milwaukee won 10 of 15 games, and the overlooked Brewers might make more noise in the weeks ahead. One key to remaining in contention or making a bigger push after the break is the team’s pitching.
“I think we’ve got room to get better,” Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook told The Game Day Baseball. “Our guys are making subtle adjustments to their stuff and location and how they attack, and I think that’s going to get better in the second half.”
Baseball is a constant game of trying to tweak and refine pitch arsenals and mechanics in an effort to maintain advantages. The word “adjustment” is one I regularly heard from Hook and his pitchers as they discussed first-half performances while peering ahead to the second chunk of the schedule.
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While making needed changes and alterations is nothing new for pitchers, it is regularly emphasized by Milwaukee’s staff. Wade Miley, who has been one of the steadiest performers in the starting rotation with a 6-2 record, 3.06 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP, said he is constantly trying to stay ahead of hitters, and doing so is one of his keys to remaining effective at age 36.
“One thing about this game is the longer you play, the more adjustments you’ve got to make to try and hang around," Miley said. “I just try and make those adjustments on the front end before things get sideways.”
This season in particular, Miley has increased his four-seam fastball usage from 14.1% to 23% and dropped his changeup usage from 31.6% to 20.9%, according to Baseball Savant.
“You can go through a game and feel like the hitters are maybe trying hard to get to a certain pitch. Rather than waiting for them to get to it, I maybe try to make an adjustment for the next start,” Miley said.
Miley may be delivering his best season yet, and Hook said he is performing beyond expectations. The same is true for veteran Julio Teheran, who has shockingly resurfaced after bouncing between the Atlantic League, Mexican League, and the minors in 2022 and early 2023.
An All-Star in 2014 and 2016, Teheran has delivered a 3.64 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He did allow 13 runs in his two starts prior to the All-Star break, but if he can recapture the form of his previous six starts, in which allowed a total of six earned runs, his return to stick in the Milwaukee rotation will qualify as one of the biggest comeback stories of the season.
“Overall he’s a guy that really knows what he is doing and he is attacking the strike zone,” Hook said. “He controls counts and I think that’s the biggest thing. He knows who to attack, and who not to attack.”
Getting more quality outings from Teheran can be a bonus, but it is essential for the Brewers that Corbin Burnes pitches near his usual level, even if he is not quite vying for a Cy Young award again this season.
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Burnes’ ERA of 3.94 is his highest in the last four seasons, and his xFIP of 4.17 is a career high. Yet Hook, following the Milwaukee mantra, noted that the staff’s ace is going through a self-evaluation process with an eye on improved results ahead.
“The league, just like with any pitcher, is [about] making adjustments. He’s going through an adjustment period on how he’s attacking hitters and how the hitters are attacking him,” Hook said.
“It’s a chess match that’s always going on. The stuff has been really, really good. It’s just a little bit better attack plan on their part, something that we’ll make an adjustment to.”
Hook used Freddy Peralta as an illustration of Brewers pitchers that may be perceived as not quite matching first-half projections, yet should perform even better after the break as they alter their approaches. Peralta has a 5-7 record and a 4.70 ERA, yet his xFIP is at 4.07, suggesting that some optimism is warranted.
“A lot of our guys, they’ve been [here several] years now, they’ve had incredible success, and now they’ve got to make a pivot,” Hook said.
Another starter that has given the Brewers more than expected is Colin Rea, who is in his second stint with the team and has played for three other MLB teams with two additional separate seasons in Japan. He started this season in the minors, yet Rea has five wins and has sported a 4.05 ERA in June.
“What a great story he’s been. He came into spring training as maybe a fill-in starter here and he’s really solidified himself as a quality Major League starter,” Hook said. “He’s another guy that’s spent some time in Triple-A, in Japan, he’s got some experience, and he’s done a really good job and kept us in baseball games.”
Miley, Teheran, and Rea have helped the Brewers stay in the playoff hunt by providing more quality outings than projected.
However, Hook said that Miley’s presence has also been a strong one in the clubhouse, and that he has served as a staff ace in terms of intangibles and team chemistry.
“He’s been terrific on the field and off the field,” Hook said. “We don’t have a lot of youth on this club, but everyone is impacted by him.”
“He forces everybody to be a little bit better and to think a little harder when they’re playing the game. That’s great to have on your staff.”
When the Brewers get two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff back from a shoulder injury, possibly as soon as August, the starting staff may be primed for a final playoff push.
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The bullpen has helped the team fashion a 38-5 record when leading after seven innings, and a 41-3 record when ahead after eight innings.
Closer Devin Williams is continuing a fine tradition of premier relievers for the Brewers as closers who have been honored as All-Stars more than once, which include the likes of Rollie Fingers and Josh Hader. He earned a second consecutive All-Star selection this season, having blanked opponents in 31 of 34 relief appearances before the break.
Like his staff mates, Williams has continued to tinker with his mix of pitches to maintain an advantage over hitters. He has increased his four-seam fastball usage from 37.7% to 42.8% to complement his highly effective changeup.
“It’s just trying to grow as a pitcher and continue to get better," Williams said. “That’s one of the things I kind of need to do, up that pitch usage.”
We may have not seen the best out of Milwaukee’s pitching staff so far this season, but the team is still in striking range of a playoff spot. While Hook said his staff has been treading water, the outlook can be even better when Woodruff returns.
“As long as we hang on here, we will be in the mix like we usually are."