Team Profile – Milwaukee Brewers
In 2011, the Brewers made their way to the top of the N.L. Central, winning the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks before falling in the NLCS to the future World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. After it was all said and done, there was little doubt that the Brew Crew potentially had the pieces in place to make a second run. But Prince Fielder wanted a long-term contract, which he got from another team, and left Milwaukee for Detroit. If the only problem for the Brewers had been replacing their first base slugger, then things would have been okay. Unfortunately, following a flurry of reports, N.L. MVP Ryan Braun was suspended 50 games for use of performance-enhancing substances. While Braun got his sentence overturned on a procedural issue, the extra attention didn’t help any.
Braun has put up good numbers so far this season, but the media firestorm in the offseason and a whole host of untimely injuries have pushed the Brewers down to fourth in the N.L. Central with a 33-40 record (seven and a half games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds). But with the all-star break just around the corner, there’s still plenty of time to get back into the race. What does Milwaukee have to do for a come-from-behind win?
The Milwaukee rotation is currently riddled with injuries, making it nearly impossible to keep the same five starters ready to go at the same time. Shaun Marcum is currently on the Disabled List with shoulder tightness, while Marco Estrada is out with a quadricep strain. Chris Narveson is gone for the season after having surgery on May 1st. That leaves Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Randy Wolf to be paired with whomever can stay healthy long enough to pitch (which is currently Mike Fiers and a fifth spot that’s up for grabs). Overall, they haven’t been bad. It’s just the health issue that needs to be resolved.
They absolutely need Marcum to get healthy soon, as he’s having a heck of a season so far. With a 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Marcum could easily be an ace on many pitching staffs. Unfortunately, he’s overshadowed on this staff by former Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke, who is bouncing back from two years of (relatively) elevated ERAs by starting the year with a 2.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Greinke’s Cy Young win in 2009 was a bit of a surprise to me. It wasn’t because Zack wasn’t great that season, because 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA IN KANSAS CITY is an incredible season (especially considering how well both the Tigers and Twins were playing that season in the A.L. Central). What was surprising was that he didn’t have the best numbers in any category except ERA. I think it was just the combination of the excellent overall numbers, and the fact that it all happened with the Kansas City Royals that made him come out ahead of Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, and others.
Luckily for the Brewers, the offense has finally gotten relatively healthy, especially Ryan Braun. Despite all the preseason problems off the field, Braun has picked up right where he left off in his 2011 MVP campaign. In 69 games, Braun is hitting .314 with 20 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a .602 slugging percentage. He is easily leading this team, and making up for the lack of a Prince Fielder-esque hitter in the lineup behind him. Norichika Aoki, while doing an admirable job so far this season with a .280 average, is not replacing Prince anytime soon. Luckily, though, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart are providing a little bit of power threat in the lineup, with nine and 15 home runs respectively. It would probably help, however, if their averages were a shade better (especially Hart, who currently owns a .244 average).
The Milwaukee bullpen has been a bit of a problem this season. The biggest issue seems to be that when the starters keep games close enough to win, the bullpen blows things up, and the Brewers lose. So far, Milwaukee relievers have 18 losses to only nine wins. Granted, the starting rotation should, of course, have more wins than the bullpen. But considering that the bullpen has blown and lost almost as many games as the rotation (18 to 22), that’s not what you want out of the late inning guys.
The worst part about it is probably the closer situation. Closer John Axford is 13/17 in save opportunities, but he’s not the only one who’s had opportunity to close things out. Four other relievers have had save opportunities, and they are a combined 2/9. This group includes former Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez. The same K-Rod that went 62/69 in save opportunities in 2008 is 1/3 in 2012 for the Brewers. It doesn’t help that when your closer can’t pick up the slack there’s no one else who can step in.
Keys to Success
The Brewers are going to need to make a move for the bullpen here in the next month. The fact of the matter is that Braun and the offense can win games and back the starting rotation (which is going to need to tread water until everyone is healthy again), but the bullpen is giving up way too many games for a team with championship potential. If the current cast of characters isn’t getting the job done, then it may be time in the next month (before the trade deadline) to put together a package that can fetch a decent reliever or two on the market. If the bullpen doesn’t do something, then the Brewers are going to stay as far behind as they currently are, and will have to watch the postseason from their living rooms this year.