Another day, another blown save.
The Brewers 2012 season is effectively over. There was hope following the All Star break that the Brewers could jump right back into contention with a well-timed winning streak against the teams ahead of them in the NL Central. Despite the disappointing and inconsistent 1st half, there was still optimism that the Brewers could make up ground.
Nine consecutive games would be played against division foes, setting up a scenario where the Brewers could close the gap in the standings.
NL Central Standings, as of July 12:
- Pittsburgh - 48-37 (.565)
- Cincinnati - 47-38 (.553) 1 GB
- St. Louis - 46-40 (.535) 2.5 GB
- Milwaukee - 40-45 (.471) 8 GB
Up first was the division leading Pirates. The series got off to a rocky start, as ace Zack Greinke struggled through 5 innings, allowing 6 runs (5 earned). Cody Ransom saved the day with an 8th inning grand slam. Brewers win, 10-7.
There was life.
The teams split the remaining two games, allowing the Brewers to make up one game on the Pirates in the standings.
NL Central Standings, as of July 15:
- Cincinnati – 50-38 (.568)
- Pittsburgh – 49-39 (.557) 1 GB
- St. Louis – 46-43 (.517) 4.5 GB
- Milwaukee – 42-46 (.477) 8
Up next was the 3rd place Cardinals, just 3.5 games ahead of Milwaukee. Rookie Mike Fiers pitched well, giving holding the Cards scoreless for 7 innings. K-Rod pitched a scoreless 8th, allowing the Brewers to enter the 9th with a 2-0 lead.
Then the wheels fell off.
Closer John Axford began the 9th with a walk. After retiring Berkman and Beltran in consecutive at-bats, the Cards went single, walk, single, single to take a 3-2 lead. Kameron Loe was called upon to get the final out, but the damage was already done.
The Cardinals held on for the win, and Axford was relieved of his duties as closer, following his 6th blown save of the year.
The Brewers went on to win the next two games with new closer Francisco Rodriguez picking up two saves. The 9th inning wasn’t any less intense with Rodriguez, who allowed 6 base runners but thankfully just one run, on the mound in those two games.
Even so, the Brewers still managed to make up ground on the Cardinals and in the division.
NL Central Standings, as of July 19:
- Cincinnati – 52-40 (.565)
- Pittsburgh – 51-40 (.560) 0.5 GB
- St. Louis – 47-45 (.511) 5 GB
- Milwaukee – 44-47 (.484) 7.5 GB
So far, so good. Milwaukee was 4-2 against division foes thus far, and a sweep would bring Brewers back to .500 and truly turn the NL Central into a 4 team race. Unfortunately, it was the Brewers, and not the Reds, who were swept.
Starters Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto effectively silenced the Brewers bats, combining for 21 IP and just 4 ER.
The first nail had been driven into the coffin, as the sweep allowed the Reds to push Milwaukee’s deficit into double digits.
NL Central Standings, as of July 22:
- Cincinnati – 55-40 (.579)
- Pittsburgh – 54-40 (.574) 0.5 GB
- St. Louis – 50-45 (.526) 5 GB
- Milwaukee – 44-50 (.468) 10.5 GB
The Brewers exited their most crucial stretch of the season thus far with a 4-5 record, losing precious ground in the division race.
Then came the three game set in Philadelphia.
In each of the first two games, the Brewers blew comfortable leads in the 8th inning or later. In game 1, the Brewers led 6-3 heading to the bottom of the 9th, before a 4 run rally saddled newly appointed closer Francisco Rodriguez with the blown save and loss. In Game 2, the Brewers scored 3 runs in the top of the 8th to once again take a commanding lead, up 6-1 heading to the bottom of the 8th.
Milwaukee brought three pitchers to the mound in the 8th. Jose Veras began the inning allowing a base hit and recording an out before being pulled for Manny Parra. Parra promptly allowed a 2 run homer to pinch hitter Eric Kratz. 6-3 Brewers. Jimmy Rollins lined out before Parra walked the bases loaded, before being pulled for Kameron Loe. Carlos Ruiz then hits a base clearing double to tie the game. 6-6 tie. Hunter Pence gives the Phillies the lead in the following at bat, 7-6.
All told, the Phillies brought 11 men to the plate on 4 walks and 4 hits, resulting in a 6 run 8th.
The Phillies would hold on for the 7-6 win.
Game 3 was more of the same, another day, another blown save. After trailing most of the game, Ryan Braun tied the game at 5-5 in the 8th with a 2 run homer. Milwaukee would eventually take the lead in the top of the 10th thanks to Carlos Gomez’s hustle.
Rodriguez would once again pitch with the game on the line. Following a walk and a double, the Phillies had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Carlos Ruiz drove in the game tying run on a sac fly before Jimmy Rollins walk off single.
7-6 Phillies. Again.
Six straight losses have all but closed the door on the Brewers postseason chances.
NL Central Standings, as of July 25:
- Cincinnati – 58-40 (.592)
- Pittsburgh – 55-42 (.567) 2.5 GB
- St. Louis – 52-46 (.531) 6 GB
- Milwaukee – 44-53 (.454) 13.5 GB
It’s not just the division that’s out of reach, as the losses dropped the Brewers to 9.5 games out of the 2nd wild card slot.
Milwaukee was in a great position to return to the postseason this year, even with the loss of slugger Prince Fielder. A combination of factors has led to the Brewers becoming trade deadline sellers this year.
1. Injuries – Ok, so the injuries weren’t too bad, but they prevented this team from getting into a rhythm early on. The most notable injuries for the Brewers were to 1B Mat Gamel, SS Alex Gonzalez, and C Jonathan Lucroy.
In my opinion the injury to Mat Gamel was a blessing in disguise, as Ron Roenicke finally gave Corey Hart a shot at first, opening up RF for ROY contender Norichika Aoki.
2. Bullpen – This is the main culprit this year. From last year to earlier this year, John Axford had converted 49 consecutive saves. Even I was convinced that Axford had turned into a reliable closer (although he had a knack for flirting with disaster). The unusually reliable bullpen of the Brewers had been taken for granted, and more and more we watched as late inning leads disappeared.
The closer role for the Brewers has seen its share of highs and lows since the Derrick Turnbow’s exciting 2005. He seemingly lost it in 2006, blowing 8 saves before losing the job to newly acquired Francisco Cordero. When Cordero left following the 2007 season, the Brewers gambled on Eric Gagne regaining his form. After that didn’t work out, Saloman Torres filled in the Closer role respectably for the Brewers.
In 2009 the Brewers turned back the clock for future HOFer Trevor Hoffman, as he converted 37 of his 41 save opportunities. Continuing with the trend, Hoffman’s ERA ballooned from 1.83 in 2009 to 5.89 in 2010 as he blew 5 of his 15 save opportunities, allowing John Axford to seize the role. 2011 was another high note for Axford. But the short shelf life of Brewers closers reared again this year. So here we are in 2012, but this time, the Brewers don’t have a reliable option waiting in the wings to take over the role.
3. Slow Starts – The Brewers dug themselves an early hole, in part thanks to the slumps endured by Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, and Aramis Ramirez to begin the season.
Gallardo struggled through April, posting a 1-2 record and 6.08 ERA. Ramirez, perhaps under pressure to fill the shoes of Prince Fielder, began the season with a .214 BA, .264 OBP, and .381 SLG. Both men have since turned it around.
Then there’s Rickie Weeks. His struggles weren’t limited to April, like Gallardo and Ramirez. Through April, Rickie Weeks posted a .186 BA and .360 SLG. By the end of May, those numbers dropped to .158 & .294.
It’s a slump that Rickie has only begun to snap out of this month. His 4 hit game from yesterday raised his BA 10 points, all the way to .200 for the season. His July numbers (.264/.354/.514/.868) more closely reflect his career totals, but it may just be too late to help the Brewers this year.
Through it all, Roenicke stubbornly refused to drop Weeks any lower in the batting order than 6th, in hopes that he would play himself out of his slump. Seeing as it took 3+ months for that to happen, it doesn’t look like it was the right decision.
So where does that leave the Brewers going forward? Is it time to scrap the team and begin to rebuild? Do they ride out the season and fill holes this offseason?
Here’s my take:
Don’t trade Greinke unless there are a number of ML ready players offered. Clearly this isn’t going to happen with a two-month rental, so I would prefer that Greinke not be moved. The Brewers have reportedly offered a 5 year deal worth $100 million.
Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez and others have been rumored to be available following the Brewers latest slide. Ok, if they can flip a one or both or even a couple of these guys for youth and bullpen help, then do it. I’m not crazy about trading Ramirez, but with Gomez, Morgan, and Aoki sharing center and right field, Hart could be expendable.
The thing is, if Milwaukee could shore up the bullpen, this team is still built to compete. Braun and Gallardo are both young enough and in their prime and under contract that you don’t want to waste these years rebuilding. Weeks, Hart, Lucroy, and Aoki are excellent complimentary pieces, and rookie RHP Mike Fiers has been great this year, posting a 1.96 ERA, .222 BAA, and 1.06 WHIP.
Please Milwaukee; don’t deal away Greinke for nothing but middling minor league prospects. I still believe there’s a chance that Greinke returns to Milwaukee after testing the FA waters. If anything, the compensation picks awarded for losing Greinke to FA wouldn’t be much further away from the bigs than whichever prospects Milwaukee would get in return for renting Greinke for two months.