Brewers’ Early Offensive Woes Reminiscent of 2021

Christian Yelich and the rest of the bats are struggling.

When the Milwaukee Brewers started the season 1-3, a lot of fans were smashing the panic button. They also started 2021 1-3 and finished 95-67, good for the second-most wins in franchise history, a National League Central title and the club’s record fourth consecutive playoff appearance.

So the fact that the Crew is 13-7 after sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates (for the second time) on Thursday and again leading the division isn’t much of a surprise. Should everyone expect another 95 wins? The potential is there, but there are questions that need to be addressed.

For the Brewers, it mainly centers around their offense. Twenty games is a small sample size, but the Crew has a team OPS of .614, which is 24th in MLB, and a batting average of .209, which is 25th. The Brewers’ 175 strikeouts are tied for the sixth-most in baseball and they have scored 75 runs, which is 18th.

Offense was a problem last season. They ranked 20th in OPS (.713), 27th in average (.233), tied for seventh in strikeouts (1,475) and 12th in runs (738). Like last season, they have been winning in 2022 with a different guy producing each night.

In this debut edition of Hangin’ With The Crew — a periodic update on the Brewers — we’ll check in on each position group and what the key individuals are doing as the first month of the season comes to a close.

 

Infield

 

Willy Adames‘ monster game Tuesday (4-for-5, two homers, seven RBIs vs. Pittsburgh) triggered a much-needed 12-run outburst. Otherwise, the spark plug shortstop has been off to a slow start. Even with that big day, Adames is slashing .213/.306/.413 with a team-high four homers and 12 RBIs. With a couple of minor exceptions, Adames has played every inning of every game this season, as there is currently no legitimate backup until Luis Urias returns from his hamstring injury. Aside from anchoring the defense, Adames does lead the team with 12 runs scored.

At the top of the order, second baseman Kolten Wong has similarly been slow out of the gate, slashing .209/.250/.299 with no homers, seven RBIs and nine runs scored. First baseman Rowdy Tellez, who hit .272 in 56 games after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last season, is slashing .211/.274/.421 with three homers and nine RBIs. He has been the primary first baseman this year after platooning in 2021.

With Urias out, third base has been handled by Jace Peterson and newcomer Mike Brosseau, who have combined for one homer and four RBIs and a .177 average. Keston Hiura has seen time at first base, second base, and designated hitter, but has yet to find his groove. After a miserable 2021 that included his mother being diagnosed with cancer and extended time in the minors, Hiura is off to a .222/.344/.333 start this year, with a homer and three RBIs.

Urias, meanwhile, is on a rehab assignment that is expected to last through the weekend before he returns.

Behind the plate, Omar Narváez and trade pickup Victor Caratini have essentially split time, with Narváez seeing a bit more action. The 2021 All-Star is slashing .244/.340/.341 with one homer and five RBIs. Caratini, picked up from the San Diego Padres just before Opening Day, had one homer and an RBI before going on the COVID-19 injured list Tuesday.

 

Outfield

 

Concern still lingers over former NL MVP Christian Yelich and his struggles at the plate. After back-to-back seasons of slashing .326/.402/.598 and .329/.429/.671, hitting 36 and 44 homers in his first two years with the Crew, Yelich’s 2020-2022 numbers are .205/.356/.430, .248/.362/.373 and .197/.286/.303 with a combined 22 homers. The left fielder is in the third year of a nine-year, $215 million deal and the Brewers overhauled their hitting coaches this offseason to bring in new voices, not just for Yelich but for all the hitters; unfortunately, the results are not there yet. Yelich has been getting more barrels this season (10.4 percent compared to 2021’s 7.6 percent), but not much else has been going right for the left-handed hitter. The fact he bunted against the shift in a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning Thursday says as much.

Center field has been shared by Lorenzo Cain and Tyrone Taylor, primarily to keep the former healthy but also to give the latter more playing time. Cain is slashing .140/.174/.186, while Taylor is at .195/.233/.341 with a combined no homers and six RBIs.

Hunter Renfroe, acquired in the offseason Jackie Bradley Jr. trade to play right field, was expected to be a power source, but he has two homers and five RBIs so far with a slash line of .212/.254/.364.

Andrew McCutchen, signed to be the DH, has held down two unique spots in the lineup: cleanup vs. right-handers and leadoff vs. lefties. He has been more aggressive this season, slashing .250/.309/.347 with one homer and nine RBIs. McCutchen, out of the leadoff position, hit his first homer Thursday against his original team, the Pirates. That came a day after joining a rare club: the 200 homer, 200 steals club. With 271 homers and 200 steals, he is one of only two active players with those numbers (Mike Trout, 315 HRs, 203 SBs).

 

Rotation

 

After a record-setting season, this group has picked up where it left off last year after a rocky first trip through the rotation.

Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes has a 1.75 ERA in four starts, with six walks and 33 strikeouts in 25⅔ innings. Brandon Woodruff, who had started the three previous Opening Days before Burnes had the honor this year, has a 5.30 ERA with eight walks and 19 strikeouts in 18⅔ innings.

All-Star Freddy Peralta threw six shutout innings Thursday to lower his ERA to 5.00. He has issued eight walks and struck out 23 in 18 innings. Unsung hero Adrian Houser has posted a 3.52 ERA, walking seven and striking out 10 in 15⅓ innings. Eric Lauer, the only lefty regularly in the rotation, has posted a 2.20 ERA and walked four with 23 strikeouts in 16⅓ innings. He made a splash on national TV in his last appearance, striking out 13 in six shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Left-hander Aaron Ashby has made two starts in his five appearances, registering a 2.65 ERA. Walks have been an issue with 13 in 17 innings, to go along with 19 strikeouts. Ashby pitched 5⅔ shutout innings Wednesday, but walked five and struck out six.

 

Bullpen

 

Josh Hader has been pretty lights-out. The left-hander is 10-for-10 in save opportunities, with four walks and 15 strikeouts in 9⅓ innings. And he hasn’t allowed a run. Hader is three strikeouts shy of 500, while pitching just 291⅔ innings. He is tied for second in Brewers history with John Axford at 106 career saves (Dan Plesac, 133).

Setup man Devin Williams seems to have righted himself after some early struggles. Williams earned his fourth career save Thursday and now has a 4.32 ERA with eight walks and 16 strikeouts in 8⅓ innings. He and Hader lead the team with 10 appearances.

Trevor Gott has been the biggest surprise out of the bullpen, posting a 2.45 ERA with no walks and 10 strikeouts in 7⅓ innings. He has earned a late-inning role. Brad Boxberger, another late-game option, has a 2.35 ERA (one walk, six strikeouts, 7⅔ innings). Brent Suter, Jake Cousins, Jandel Gustave, Hoby Milner and José Ureña have held down their roles.

 

Dugout

 

There haven’t that many challenges for manager Craig Counsell to deal with thus far. No injuries to speak of and the only roster move thus far has been due to Caratini landing on the COVID-19 list. His biggest concern has to be getting the offense going. But how does he do it? Urias should be returning in the next week as he has been getting at-bats during a rehab assignment after missing most of spring training. Urias, however, is not a top-of-the-order guy at this point, so there is no one to alleviate the pressure on Yelich. The next couple weeks will be key.

 

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a lifelong baseball fan who retired as a player before he had the chance to be cut from the freshman team in high school. He recovered to become a sportswriter and have a successful journalism career at newspapers in Wisconsin and California. Follow him on Twitter @DrummerWrites.

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