The Milwaukee Brewers are 5 1/2 games up on the Chicago Cubs. Is that lead big enough to hold on to the division or should the Brewers be looking over their shoulder all the way to September? Let’s take a look at what got the teams to where they are in the standings, and consider where they’ll go from here.
Why Are The Cubs Struggling?
A lot of reasons, actually.
First, their pitching has regressed across the board. Former Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta has logged almost 550 innings from April 2015 to July 2017. That’s a lot of work for a guy went over 150 innings once in his previous four seasons. His average fastball velocity is down to 92.0 MPH this season and it’s showing up in his elevated line drive rate. He’s clearly not the same guy he was even a year ago.
John Lackey is in a similar situation with velocity and he’s giving up homers at a near record pace. Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler shouldn’t be counted on to fill a rotation spot by a legit contender, and Kyle Hendricks is hurt.
They’ve also stopped playing ungodly defense. They allowed only 556 runs in 162 games during the 2016 season. In 2017 they’ve already surrendered 399 runs in 88 games. A lot of line drives and grounders that found gloves in 2016 are finding empty space in 2017.
They clearly miss Dexter Fowler in center field, as their outfield defense has been rough. Jon Jay and Albert Almora have struggled in center, while Kyle Schwarber isn’t the answer in left field…or anywhere, really.
Their offense has also struggled. Only three everyday players on the Cubs have an OPS over .800. Two of them are Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The third is prospect Ian Happ. They had five players post an OPS over .800 last year
Are There Changes Coming?
Probably not? The Cubs have essentially cleared out their upper Minor Leagues of big time prospects. They still have Eloy Jimenez to dangle in trade talks, but it’s going to take more than one elite prospect to bring Sonny Gray or Jose Quintana to the North Side. They could try to deal Kyle Schwarber, but his value is at an all-time low. Selling this low on a player as highly regarded as Schwarber rarely returns value.
Should The Brewers Look Over Their Shoulder?
Right now? No. A 5 1/2 game lead means the Brewers could suck for a week and still be in first. The Milwaukee Brewers are clearly in the driver’s seat. As long as they focus on winning the next game, they’ll be fine. Keep an eye on the Cubs, but don’t start scoreboard watching until September.
The larger concern for the Milwaukee Brewers is the health of their own players. If the Brewers lose the division, injuries and fatigue are more likely to be their downfall than the Cubs suddenly getting good again. This isn’t the same Cubs team that steamrolled their way to a World Series championship. The current Cubs roster has questionable pitching, mediocre outfield defense, and an offense that lacks table setters at the top of the order.
The Brewers have a clear path to a division title. It remains to be seen if they can follow it.