There are less than two weeks left in the regular season, and the Milwaukee Brewers are on course to secure their fifth playoff berth in the last six years. They’re in a prime position to capture their third division title since 2018, and they’ve done it on the back of one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
However, the big question remains for the Brewers: do they have the offensive firepower to make a legitimate postseason run?
On the one hand, the Brewers’ offensive production in the second half of the season has been a significant improvement on a rather lackluster offensive performance in the first half. They have embodied a patient approach at the plate while demonstrating improved situational hitting, and it has made their offense noticeably more consistent.
On the other hand, it’s fair to question the reliability and consistency of this lineup when the calendar flips to October. While the numbers do look better in recent months, the Brewers will be entering the postseason with some of the least impressive offensive metrics among National League playoff teams.
It’s likely Milwaukee will have the starting pitching advantage heading into most postseason matchups. But even so, in order for the Brewers to make a rumbling in the playoffs, their offense will need to catch fire in the final few series of the regular season, and they will need to build up momentum as they head into October if they wish to be legitimate contenders.
The table below highlights several offensive metrics for the eight National League teams who are either currently in the playoff picture or who are within one game of a playoff spot. For the Milwaukee Brewers, they will enter the playoffs sitting at the bottom in most of these categories.
Among the teams highlighted, the Brewers are last in batting average, slugging percentage, isolated power, OPS, and wOBA. They are middle of the pack in terms of strikeout rate, but for a team that doesn’t hit for a high average or produce a lot of power, you’d like to see Milwaukee posting better bat-to-ball numbers.
There is one area in which the Brewers have excelled this season, and that is their ability to work counts and draw walks at an efficient rate. Milwaukee ranks first in Major League Baseball in pitches per plate appearance (4.03), and they are tied for third in the National League with a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 0.42.
The Brewers have added key players to help contribute to the team’s success in this area. The promotion of former top prospect Sal Frelick, the key trade deadline acquisitions of Mark Canha and Carlos Santana, and the breakout of William Contreras have all been major contributors to the Brewers demonstrating a team-wide disciplined approach at the plate.
While Milwaukee’s numbers on the season as a whole are not overly inspiring, they have managed to improve their offensive production in the second half of the season, and doing so has been a big reason why the Brewers have a seven-game lead in the NL Central with just ten games left to play.
Tale of Two Halves
When it comes to predicting postseason success for a ball club, it’s crucial to look at both season-long performance, as well as how an offense is performing as the team approaches October.
Over the course of a full season, nearly every team will go through some sort of hot stretch and dry spell at the plate. With how long the MLB regular season is, it’s essential to analyze how an offense has performed as a whole over the course of 162 games.
However, I think it’s equally important to look at how teams are trending as they approach the playoffs. In all likelihood, a team’s offenses will look entirely different in September than they looked in April. So, if a team is getting hot at the right time, that can be critical in painting the full picture of a team’s postseason ceiling.
This approach for predicting a team’s postseason success is particularly relevant for the Milwaukee Brewers, as it has been a tale of two halves for their offense. After posting bottom-tier offensive numbers for a majority of the first half of the 2023 season, Milwaukee has performed significantly better since the All-Star break.
|Offensive Metric||Full Season (NL Rank)||First Half (NL Rank)||Second Half (NL Rank)||Last 30 Days (NL Rank)|
|Runs per Game||4.45 (10th)||4.22 (12th)||4.85 (6th)||5.29 (4th)|
|BA||.239 (14th)||.232 (15th)||.249 (7th)||.259 (3rd)|
|OPS||.701 (15th)||.689 (15th)||.718 (8th)||.747 (6th)|
|ISO||.144 (14th)||.145 (13th)||.143 (14th)||.146 (11th)|
|wOBA||.307 (14th)||.303 (15th)||.314 (8th)||.327 (5th)|
|wRC+||91 (13th)||88 (14th)||95 (8th)||104 (6th)|
For starters, there are a few historical trends working against Milwaukee as the postseason nears:
- The last time the National League World Series representative had a full-season team wRC+ outside of the top-five in the NL was the San Francisco Giants in 2010, when they ranked 6th with a wRC+ of 98.
- The last time the National League World Series representative had a full-season team wRC+ outside of the top 10 was the Houston Astros in 2005 (when they were still in the NL Central), when they ranked 12th with a wRC+ of 90.
- This season, the Milwaukee Brewers rank 13th in the National League with a full-season team wRC+ of 90.
With that being said, wRC+ is not necessarily predictive of future performance, and the Brewers have performed significantly better over the course of the past month.
In the first half of the season, the Brewers sat near the bottom of the National League in several offensive performance metrics. However, in the second half of the season, that is, since July 11, Milwaukee has been more middling in terms of offensive production.
While it’s still far from elite, it’s extremely encouraging to see the offense take a significant step forward since the All-Star break, and it was something that needed to happen in order to take this Milwaukee Brewers team seriously come October.
In fact, in the last 30 days, the Brewers are posting even better metrics than their overall second-half totals. While I wouldn’t say that the Brewers are catching fire, this team is undoubtedly trending in the right direction with under two weeks left in the regular season. Specifically, the Brewers have managed to significantly improve their situational hitting by maintaining their patient approach at the plate while putting the ball in play more often when necessary.
Since August 1, the Brewers rank fourth in MLB in batting average (.302) and second in wRC+ (138) when hitting with runners in scoring position. They also hold the best OPS (.893) and wOBA (.378), and that boost in situational hitting has played an enormous role in the Brewers having the second-best record in baseball over their last 30 games at 21-9.
For reference, prior to August 1, the Brewers were in the bottom third of MLB in batting average (.248) and OPS (.721) when hitting with runners in scoring position.
When comparing this Brewers team to rosters from past seasons, the 2023 Milwaukee Brewers have established an entirely new identity at the plate. It’s one that relies more so on timely hitting and quality at-bats rather than an over-reliance on the home run ball, and it could lead to more postseason success.
A Change in Offensive Strategy
One metric that I want to draw attention to is Milwaukee’s isolated power (ISO) over the course of the season.
Converse to nearly every other metric from the table in the section above, the Brewers’ team ISO hasn’t improved at all over the course of the 2023 campaign.
This feels foreign to see for a Brewers team that finished fifth in MLB with a team ISO of .174 last season, and since 2019, ranks fifth in the National League with a team ISO of .168.
An area of weakness for the Brewers over the course of the past few seasons, especially come playoff time, has been their over-reliance on the home run ball. Their inability to put the ball in play regularly led to spells of inconsistency for the offense, and, in turn, quick exits from the postseason.
However, that same issue has not been the case for the Milwaukee Brewers this season. Whether it was intentional or not, they have been noticeably less dependent on home runs as a form of run production.
Among National League teams, the Brewers rank last in slugging percentage (.383) and in the bottom five in home runs (156). For reference, this season is on track to be the team’s lowest power-hitting season in the David Stearns era, and by a wide margin.
|Year||Home Runs||Isolated Power||Slugging Percentage|
Granted, this 2023 Milwaukee Brewers team is constructed much differently than past teams and has seen a changing of the guard at several key positions. It’s the first year in quite some time where the Brewers have had a widespread influx of youth take over the big league roster.
Several former top prospects were promoted to starting roles this season, including Brice Turang and Sal Frelick, who bring more value with their legs and their gloves than with an explosive impact bat (the same applies to Garrett Mitchell, who was in place to be the team’s center fielder prior to tearing his labrum at the end of April). These are guys who impact the game with a good approach and strong bat-to-ball skills; they rack up hits rather than bring power to the lineup.
Furthermore, in a lineup with less power, you would expect to see a boost in contact rates as well as a reduction in swing-and-miss. However, that has not been the case for the Brewers this season.
As a team, the Brewers are still hitting just .239 on the year, which is the second-worst batting average in the National League. With that being said, that number has trended in a positive direction as the season has progressed, which is encouraging. The Brewers are hitting .249 in the second half of the season, and they have posted a team batting average of .259 over the last 30 days.
In terms of swing-and-miss, the Brewers are still in the bottom half of the National League in strikeout rate (23.4%). Meanwhile, their zone contact rate (per Baseball Savant) is the fourth-lowest in the National League. Even further, Milwaukee’s whiff rate sits below average at 26%, which is a half-percent increase from a season ago.
It’s concerning to see Milwaukee’s power numbers dip without seeing their contact hitting take a noticeable leap. When analyzing a ball club’s ability to compete at the highest level against some of the game’s more elite offenses, this is an area of concern as the playoffs approach.
On the surface level, Milwaukee’s offensive performance doesn’t resemble that of a World Series contender. Yet, the Brewers have managed to hold a division lead for a majority of the 2023 season, and they currently have the fifth-best record in all of baseball. While it hasn’t been pretty, they have managed to win games this season despite bottom-tier offensive production.
If the Brewers are able to continue their trend of impressive situational hitting, it boosts the outlook for this team in the playoffs, especially considering their dominant pitching staff.
However, if the offense is unable to put up the power numbers to compete with the likes of the Braves, Dodgers, and Phillies, and if they struggle to put the ball in play consistently, it could be a short-lived playoff berth yet again for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The storyline with the Milwaukee Brewers has been, and will continue to be, their elite starting rotation coupled with one of the more dependable bullpens in baseball. With how much potential the Brewers’ pitching staff possesses, it makes it easier to digest some of their uninspiring offensive metrics.
At the same time, no matter how effective the Brewers’ pitching staff is at neutralizing some of the National League’s best offenses, Milwaukee will need to pose a threat at the plate in order to make a run in the playoffs.
It’s unrealistic to believe the Brewers will substantially increase their power output once the calendar hits October, especially since their power numbers have remained stagnant throughout the season.
While they do have players in the batting order who pose a true power threat, the Brewers will need to continue to command the strike zone and lean on their disciplined approach that has led to success in the second half in order to see positive results at the plate.
Milwaukee’s uptick in timely hitting over the past few weeks may yield enough optimism for Brewers fans to believe that their team can make some noise in the playoffs if things fall into place. In the end, as is the case with most playoff runs, the offense will need to get hot at the right time in order to go deep into the playoffs and compete for a World Series title.