Left-handed options to balance Brewers’ lineup
PHOENIX — Striking the right balance could help the Milwaukee Brewers reach new heights this season.
That means striking out less and using the team’s upgraded left-handed options to counter opponents. The Brewers added lefty-swinging Christian Yelich from Miami in the offseason to balance a lineup that also boasts power-hitting lefties Eric Thames and Travis Shaw.
“That’s part of building a team that can compete against whatever another team throws against us,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I thought last year we took a step, adding Eric and Travis, and now we’ve taken another step in adding Yelich to make us a really balanced offensive team.”
“We want that to lead to runs,” Counsell added. “We need to improve on what we did last year from a run-scoring perspective.”
The Brewers ranked 21st among 30 major league teams while averaging 4.52 runs per game last season, and they were the league’s worst in average strikeouts (9.7 per game).
“I consider myself more of a double guy than a homer guy,” said Shaw, who had 34 doubles to go with 31 home runs in his first season in Milwaukee last year. “I think I could hit 40-plus doubles if I have a good year. That’s kind of my goal this year, to add to my doubles total and cut down on my strikeout percentage.”
Shaw said the lineup could have five players who could hit third in the order on any day. Milwaukee added flexibility after signing free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain and trading for Yelich, which means veteran Ryan Braun could play at first base as well left field.
It could affect playing time for Thames and Jesus Aguilar, who shared first-base duties last season.
“It’s very exciting for us,” Thames said. “There are a lot of decisions for Counsell and everybody. All of us are just kind of sitting back waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
Thames had 31 homers and 63 RBIs in 138 games with Milwaukee last season, after playing in South Korea the previous three years. But he slowed down a bit after hitting 11 homers and driving in 28 runs in April.
“It’s all a matter of what you get to hit,” Thames said. “When pitchers throw nasty pitches around the zone, it’s tough to hit those balls. But when they hang one, you better capitalize on it. I feel I did get balls to hit; I just didn’t capitalize on it. This year that’s the goal.”
The right-handed hitting Aguilar, considered a clubhouse leader, could be the odd man out if Braun plays frequently at first base. The Brewers open the regular season March 29 in San Diego.
“We’ve added players and we’ve added talent, and we’re asking Ryan to play first base,” Counsell said. “That puts Jesus in a tough spot right now. It’s part of the next two weeks, and obviously we’re getting closer to that. It’s part of some of the tough decisions we have to make.”
Pondering a productive lineup has the Brewers optimistic about their chances in 2018, after they fell just short of a National League wild-card spot last year.
“It could be really good,” Thames said. “We could be one of the top offenses in baseball. Everything looks good on paper but we’ll see how it is.”