No one expects the Milwaukee Brewers to be a contender this year. They have a rag-tag pitching staff and a few too many holes in their lineup. That said, the upper half of the lineup is crushing the ball right now, and if nothing else, Milwaukee should be a fun team in 2017 — for both real-life and fantasy pursuits.
The Brew Crew is all over the offensive leaderboard, for whatever 17 games mean to you. Never mind the messy .238 average, Milwaukee is tops in runs scored. Home runs are flying left and right — Milwaukee has 32, seven clear of the field (Bernie Brewer, they’re not paying you enough). Milwaukee strikes out a bunch (171 whiffs, second), but no one minds when your contact is this explosive.
Obviously the bus left on the Eric Thames train some time ago, but there are some affordable paths to the Milwaukee party. Despite a .254-10-5-16-1 push and plenty of Yahoo promotion,Travis Shaw merely trades at 53 percent. You can slot him at first base or third base, and Milwaukee is a dynamite park for left-handed power.
Catcher Jett Bandy (.314-4-6) is making the most of his time-share. Domingo Santana hasn’t hit for average yet, but he does have two homers and two steals. And if anyone gets hurt, Hernan Perez (last year’s surprise hero) is capable of filling in at several positions.
Jacob Barnes is turning some heads in the bullpen, the caddy for Neftali Feliz. Barnes recorded a rogue save Thursday, hasn’t been scored upon over 10.3 innings. The control can be a little dicey at times (four walks), but he also has 12 strikeouts — many of them courtesy of a 95.6 mph fastball.
• The Cardinals are one of those teams with too many good players for too few roster spots. With Jhonny Peralta (respiratory infection) on the disabled list, gridlock might be easing a bit.
Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter both homered in Thursday’s loss at Milwaukee, and they’re key parts of the lineup jumble. Gyorko could see semi-regular time at third, but Greg Garcia is also an option. There’s even been talk of Carpenter sliding back to third — perhaps to get the Matt Adams circus out of left field.
I’ll be keeping an eye on Gyorko in the next week or two, seeing if he can improve from his three-homer, .294 start. He was a 30-homer man last year, and he qualifies at every infield position. There’s fantasy juice here, if we can only get skipper Mike Matheny on board.
• For a second, I was considering a Wade Miley recommendation, given that he has 19 strikeouts in his last two turns. But maybe we have to consider the opponents — Toronto’s offense is in a funk, and Cincinnati can’t be too familiar with Miley. The top of the Reds lineup is also a giveaway at the moment — Joey Votto is off to a slow start, and Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza have messy, almost identical, slash lines.
Miley’s strikeout rate has jumped significantly — from 19.3 percent to 33.3 percent — but his swinging strike rate remains static. That’s when the fluke sign starts flashing. If the Rays don’t start the regression tour next week, the Red Sox probably will after that. Leery of the disaster risk, I’m not adding Miley, even in deeper head-to-head formats.
• Chris Devenski was already in our fantasy hearts as a ratio-dominating reliever, but maybe he could add to that profile. The Astros let him record a working-class save Thursday, securing the last seven outs against the Angels. Devenski allowed a homer to Mike Trout — entirely reasonable — but otherwise it was the Devo you know and love. With 31 of 39 pitches in the strike zone, Devenski is one of the most relaxing watches in the majors.
• Andrelton Simmons is an amazing defender, a nightly highlight film — we’ve known that for a while. Is this the year his offense takes a step forward, too?
Simmons has shown bits and pieces of fantasy value through the years. He clubbed 17 homers back in 2013. Last year he hit for a career-best .281, stole ten bases. Unfortunately, that one power season is the outlier thus far.
Simmons is off to a quiet but encouraging 2017 start. His walk rate has jumped significantly, about even with his strikeout rate. His hard contact has spiked appreciably. He’s already hit two homers, swiped a couple of bags. For the last two weeks, he’s mostly occupied the fifth and sixth slot in the order.
I’m not trying to sell you on Simmons as an offensive star, but he’s 26, around the time a career jump would make sense. In deeper leagues, this could be a reasonable utility middle. He’s only rostered in seven percent of Yahoo.
• Michael Conforto’s up-and-down career is well-documented, though I’m encouraged by his .320/.387/.600 start. And with Lucas Duda battling an elbow injury, the Mets have another way to get Conforto into the lineup.
Jay Bruce shifted to first base on Thursday’s card, while Conforto (2-for-4) started in center field. That’s one way for Conforto to play. The Mets could also bench slumping Curtis Granderson (.143/.197/.214) more liberally, and now there’s a minor Yoenis Cespedes injury (hamstring) to worry about.
Sounds like we’ll see plenty of Conforto this weekend, as the Mets have their showdown series with the Nationals. Mindful of the plausible upside, I’d like to see Conforto owned in more than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.