With injuries to key players Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart, the Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase could’ve adopted a simple mantra — just stay afloat.
If the Brewers could hover around the .500 mark until they get healthy, the team could still contend for a postseason berth.
One month into the season, they’ve done that. And surprisingly they’ve done that with below-expected production out of the likes of Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, Norichika Aoki and Rickie Weeks.
Braun has still put up solid numbers (.287/.386/.575 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs entering play Thursday night), but his strikeout % has gone up early in the season (26.7% compared to 18.9% last year and 14.8% in 2011). Lucroy and Aoki have had their moments but still are both batting .247 through the early stages of the year. Weeks, save for a big game Tuesday evening, has started out the season struggling in a big way (.186/.295/.309 while striking out 30.9% of the time).
If I told you the Brewers would get less-than-usual production to start the year from these four players, it would be safe to assume they would be well under the .500 mark.
But they’re not and the trio of Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Yuniesky Betancourt are a big reason why.
Gomez and Segura have taken big steps forward early in the year and have been the two most consistent offensive threats in Milwaukee. Gomez is hitting .367 with five home runs and 10 RBIs. He has benefitted from an inflated Batting Average on Balls In Play (.412, compared to marks closer to .300 in recent years), so his average should come down in time. But he has cut down a little on strikeouts (17.3% compared to marks above 20.0% in the previous five seasons at the big league level) and is bringing solid defense. His WAR (FanGraphs version) so far is 1.9, the same value he gave the Brewers in 2011 (that number was largely due to his top-flight defense).
Segura’s leap forward has jumped him up into the No. 2 spot in the lineup, just ahead of Braun. Segura is hitting .358 with a .408 OBP to go with three home runs and 10 RBIs and is playing good defense at shortstop. Like Gomez, Segura is getting the benefit of an inflated BABIP (.392), so his average should drop at some point. However, the speedy Segura has shown all the tools that made him the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade, a trade that is looking better and better for the Brewers each day.
Betancourt’s production might be the most surprising of the trio. Signed at the end of spring training, he was expected to be a bench bat until the Ramirez injury jumped him into the everyday lineup. Betancourt is hitting .279 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs splitting time between first and third base. He still doesn’t draw walks (3.3%), but his poor range is not as big of a deal at the corner infield spots, two places he’s combined to play slightly above average defense at so far (0.9 UZR).
The trio of Gomez, Segura and Betancourt have helped the Brewers stay near the top of the NL Central in the early part of the season. Ramirez is set to return this weekend and Betancourt figures to get most of the playing time at first base until Corey Hart returns later this month. Eventually the big bats of Milwaukee will heat up. But in the early stages of the 2013 season, those slower starters have been bailed out by a trio of hot-starting people that weren’t expected to play big roles for the offense.