The Brewers produced a fun video before the All-Star Game, a light-hearted “attack ad” encouraging fans to vote catcher Jonathan Lucroy into the National League starting lineup ahead of Yadier Molina. The video emphasized that Lucroy not only was the best catcher in baseball, but “most importantly, he is not a St. Louis Cardinal.”
Lucroy fell roughly a half-million votes short on the National League ballot (those St. Louis fans get out the vote), but he wound up starting anyway when Molina got hurt. He deserved to be the starter even if Molina had been healthy, though. For once, a political ad actually was accurate -- Lucroy, who was undrafted out of high school, is having the best season of any catcher in baseball this season (he also had two doubles and drove in two runs in place of Molina at the All-Star Game).
Among all major league catchers with at least 250 plate appearances, only Atlanta’s Evan Gattis has a higher OPS than Lucroy, and just barely (.884 to .881, and also with 100-some fewer plate appearances than Lucroy). Only Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki has a higher batting average, and again, just barely (.312 to .310). Only Miguel Montero and Buster Posey have more RBIs. Only three catchers have more home runs than Lucroy’s 11. No other catcher has scored more runs (48). No other catcher has anywhere near as many doubles (33). No other catcher has as many hits. No other catcher has a higher WAR (4.2 according to Baseball-Reference.com, with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez the only other catcher above 2.9). He has almost as many walks as strikeouts.
He’s also very good behind the plate in addition to beside it, with exceptional skill in framing pitchers.
Lucroy had been in a slump in recent weeks, hitting just .200 in his previous 25 games, going 3 for his previous 30 at-bats and dropping his average from .341 to .308, but he had a big night Tuesday. He homered twice, including a game-winning shot in the bottom of the ninth off Cincinnati’s Sam LeCure that gave Milwaukee a 4-3 victory over the Reds. The victory edged the Brewers up to 1 1/2 games in first place, a spot they have held alone or in a tie every day since April 5. It also handed the Reds their fifth consecutive loss, just when it appeared Cincinnati was finally on track in the National League Central.
“Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come,” Lucroy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If we can keep playing this good, if guys keep pitching this good and we keep getting big ABs, we’ll get the job done.”
Milwaukee got off to a great start this season, surprising everyone by winning 20 of its first 27 games to take a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL Central in April. The Brewers went roughly .500 in May as the Cardinals crept closer. Then they got hot again in June, pushing their record 51-32 with a 6 1/2-game lead. And then they started tumbling in July -- while Lucroy was slumping -- losing seven in a row just before the break as the Cardinals briefly tied them for first.
But every time I start to write them off, here the Brewers come again. There are many reasons for this. Carlos Gomez is having another excellent, under-the-radar season (.304/.369/.504/.873 and 18 stolen bases). Ryan Braun’s power might be down a bit as Buster Olney wrote Tuesday, but he, too, is producing, as is most of the lineup -- Milwaukee is second in the National League in runs. Kyle Lohse (10-4, 3.16 ERA), and Wily Peralta (11-6, 3.58 ERA) have been solid in the rotation while Zach Duke has been great out of the bullpen.
Can they hold up over the final two months? We’ll see but if Lucroy keeps playing the way he has this season, I wouldn’t be surprised. The Brewers probably won’t feature him in any political ads this November, but it would be refreshing to see Milwaukee's superb catcher get some national air time in October.