The Cardinals are in Milwaukee for the weekend. Let there be plenty of cheese, all-you-can-eat bratwurst, and an abundance of good starting pitching by the visitors from St. Louis.
As early-season series go, this one has added importance because the Brewers have won five consecutive games and lead the NL Central with a 5-1 record. The Cardinals have lost three in a row to sag into last place with a 2-4 mark.
Yeah, it’s only April 7. It’s Easter Weekend. A standings check would have more relevance on Memorial Day Weekend. Or the 4th of July. But I’m pretty sure the Cardinals would like to have a successful stay in Milwaukee to reverse the early trends.
This is a terrific and underrated rivalry. Since the start of the 2018 season, the Brewers and Cardinals have each made the playoffs four times. Milwaukee has the third-best winning percentage (.559) in the National League, and STL ranks fourth at .553.
I believe the Cardinals and Brewers will duel in a close race for first place in the NL Central. The Cardinals have a sizable advantage in payroll, having invested $61 million more than the Brewers on the season-opening 26-man payroll.
The Cardinals’ financial edge over Milwaukee has been in place for a long time, and that hasn’t prevented the Brewers from winning more regular-season games (400) than the Cardinals (394) since 2018.
The Brewers have a superior rotation, one of the best in the majors. And that almost certainly will be a huge factor in the 2023 fight for the NL Central.
The Cardinals go into American Family Field with a starting-rotation ERA of 7.14 that ranks 28th among the 30 MLB teams.
Here’s what you should know about the 2023 Milwaukee Brewers …
1. In their current five-game winning streak, the Crew have averaged 7.6 runs per game and their pitchers have a 2.40 ERA. The Brewers currently rank tied for second in the majors for average runs per game (6.33) and sixth in runs allowed per game (2.67.)
2. Milwaukee is thrilled with the strong start by their rookies: center fielder Garrett Mitchell, second baseman Brice Turang, and right fielder Joey Wiemer. The three have combined for a .321 average, .679 slugging percentage, five home runs and 13 RBI. Mitchell, who supposedly lacked power, has three homers, a triple and an .850 slug so far.
2a. Milwaukee has MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect, outfielder Jackson Churio. The scouts rave about him. But Churio is only 19 and probably won’t arrive in the majors until 2024.
3. The Brewers have benefited from their offseason pickups of Brian Anderson and Jesse Winker. Anderson, the former Marlin, is healthy again after two poor seasons and it shows. He’s slammed three homers, driven in 10 runs and has a robust 1.621 OPS. Anderson has played at third base and in right field. Here’s an early-season headline from FanGraphs: “Brian Anderson Is Back, and He’s Better Than Ever.”
Winker – the DH acquired from Seattle – hasn’t homered yet, but he’s batting .333 with seven RBI. His left-handed swing is an ideal fit for American Family Field. In 121 career plate appearances hit in the ballpark Winker has a .340 average, .438 OBP, .583 slug, and 1.021 OPS.
4. Christian Yelich is off to a slow start, going 5 for 23 (.217) with no homers or RBI and a glaring 39 percent strikeout rate.
5. Milwaukee’s starting rotation ranks 10th in the majors with a 3.58 ERA. Ace Corbin Burnes is off to a bumpy beginning, getting clobbered for a 9.64 ERA though two starts. But the other starters have made up for it. Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer and Wade Miley have given up only three earned runs in 23.1 innings for a collective 1.16 ERA.
6. St. Louisan Luke Voit is 2 for 9 (.222) with four strikeouts. But in 30 plate appearances against his former team, the Cardinals, Voit has a .346 average with two homers and a .615 slugging percentage.
7. The Milwaukee bullpen has a shockingly low strikeout rate (12.7%) but closer Devin Williams and the relief crew rank second in the majors with a 1.33 ERA.
8. Manager Craig Counsell’s contract is set to expire after the season. Team owner Mark Attanasio wants to work out a new contract for Counsell, who is one of the best in business.
9. Brewers catcher William Contreras, acquired from the Braves this past offseason, is the younger brother of Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras. This adds spice to the Cards-Brewers rivalry. William is batting .250 with three RBI for the Brewers.
10. Even after trading super closer Josh Hader to San Diego last season, the Brewers’ 2023 payroll is down about $13 million from a year ago. Speaking with reporters earlier this week, Attanasio addressed the subject of the franchise’s finances.
“You can look at where we sit in media revenues,” he said. “We are 30 out of 30. That’s just a mathematical truth. We punch above our weight with the fan attendance, and we have again this year a record number of new sponsorships. With everything, we’re running our businesses, as well as could be run.”
11. Brewers fans are fretting over the possibility of ownership-management trading Burnes or Woodruff during or after the season. Burnes was openly critical of the front office after Milwaukee defeated him in a tough salary-arbitration challenge. Burnes said his relationship with Milwaukee’s upper management was “damaged” in the process.
Burnes, Woodruff and popular shortstop Willy Adames can become free agents after the 2024 season.
12. The Brewers have four players on the Injured List: infielder Luis Urias, outfielder Tyrone Taylor, and pitchers Aaron Ashby and Adrian Houser.
Friday, 7:10 pm STL time: Jack Flaherty vs. Brandon Woodruff.
Saturday, 6:10 STL time: Jordan Montgomery vs. Eric Lauer.
Sunday, 1:10 STL time: Jake Woodford vs. Freddy Peralta.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform or at 590thefan.com. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Statcast and Bill James Online.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.