May was not a kind month for the Milwaukee Brewers.
After opening the month atop the National League Central Division thanks a dominant starting rotation and lockdown bullpen that helped the team a slumping offense that had been ravaged by injuries, the Brewers dropped 14 of their first 18 games in May as the offense continued its moribund ways.
Milwaukee closed the month on a high note, winning a season-high five games including a 10-inning walk-off victory against Detroit on Memorial Day, but goes into June third in the Central, 1 1/2 games behind front-runners St. Louis and Chicago and 2 1/2 back of the Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card Spot.
Here’s a look back at what went wrong, what went right and a look ahead at what’s to come as the Brewers try to take back control of the division.
Starting Rotation Keeps Dealing
Milwaukee’s starters were the talk of baseball in April as they compiled a 2.52 ERA, the second-best mark in all of baseball, while leading all of MLB with a 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .187 opponents’ batting average.
It was more of the same in May. Though there were a handful of blowup outings, Brewers starters combined for a 3.48 ERA during the month (6th NL, 10th MLB) but held opponents to a .199 average (2nd NL, 4th MLB) while ranking second in the league with a 1.03 WHIP and third 162 strikeouts and 10.1 strikeouts/nine innings.
Brandon Woodruff (2-2, 1.07 ERA, 6 starts) and Corbin Burnes (0-2, 3.71, 3 starts) led the way again but right-hander Freddy Peralta (2-1, 2.51, 5 starts) had a phenomenal month as well. After allowing a season-high five runs over four innings against the Phillies on May 5, Peralta gave up just three runs in 24 2/3 innings over his next four outings, culminating in a seven-inning complete game against the Nationals on May 29 that kicked off the Brewers’ five-game winning streak.
Kolten Wong’s Defense
For all the starters’ efforts in May, they also owe a tip of the cap to Milwaukee’s defense for helping keep runners off the basepaths and, ultimately, from scoring and digging an even deeper hole for the slumping offense.
Second baseman Kolten Wong has anchored that defensive effort, accounting for three of Milwaukee’s 10 defensive runs saved in May according to FanGraphs.com.
What makes Wong, a two-time Gold Glove Award, winner stand out, though, isn’t his ability to make the big, fancy plays. Instead, it’s his ability to make difficult and challenging plays look routine and ordinary.
“They aren’t easy (plays),” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after Wong turned in a pair of defensive gems in a victory over the Nationals on May 30. “They make me go “wow.’ His balance and his agility and his ability to stop after running full-speed and control his body weight, those just are not easy plays. He almost spoils you with the way he makes them look. They’re incredibly difficult plays. The agility that he possesses is incredible to watch.”
Luis Urias, Starting Shortstop
The Brewers had hoped Luis Urias would become their shortstop of the future, so much so that they traded Orlando Arcia — who previously held that title — to the Braves less than a week into the season.
But Urias’ time as Milwaukee’s starter at the position lasted all of 36 games as the Brewers traded for Rays shortstop Willy Adames on May 21, following a frustrating stretch that saw Urias commit four errors in a two-game span to give him nine for the season.
With Adames taking over at short, Urias will move into a super-utility role for the remainder of the season and get most of his starts in a platoon with Travis Shaw at third base but the team still has high hopes for Urias, 23, in the future.
“We still believe in Luis and believe that he is and will be an important member of our organization,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said.
The Brewers hoped that the return of several key plays, most notably outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, would jumpstart an offense that finished last in the NL with a .215 batting average and .666 OPS.
Instead, things somehow got even worse as the Brewers hit an NL-worst .207 in May while scoring a total of 97 runs — the second-fewest among NL squads.
The numbers were even uglier with runners in scoring position: a .175 average (39-for-223) with 71 strikeouts.
“We’ve had a little bit of difficulty getting that big hit,” said Woodruff, who’s been burned by a lack of run support this season. “But that will come as long as we keep getting guys on and having opportunities to drive guys in. They’re eventually going to fall. We’ll start coming up with some timely hits. I know it hasn’t happened a lot recently. Every day we have the confidence in each and every guy that comes up in those situations.”
Just as the Brewers closed April without Yelich, they played the first part of May with him sidelined as well after his return from a back injury lasted all of one game. Since returning for good on May 18, Yelich is batting .133 (4-for-30) with eight walks and 12 strikeouts.
For now, Counsell is focused on Yelich staying healthy, confident that keeping on the field on a reglular basis will be the best way to get his bat back to its MVP-caliber form of 2018 and ’19.
“As we get at-bats here, we’re starting to see better at-bats, and that’s a good sign,” Counsell said. “So, we’re going to continue on this path.”
The June schedule, though challenging, is a favorable one. The Brewers will play 11 of their first 14 games and 17 of 24 overall at home this month with 10 against the Pirates, Rockies and Diamondbacks, teams that currently hold the three worst records in the National League. A three-game series at Cincinnati next week kicks off a string of 16 games in as many days but six of those are in Milwaukee against the Pirates and Reds while the remaining seven come at Colorado and Arizona. The Brewers close out the month with visits from the Rockies and their NL Central rival, the Cubs.