by Tim Muma
After the Brewers 5-2 victory Wednesday night, I was feeling rather optimistic about the club moving forward. A guarantee of a .500 trip West (albeit a 4-game stretch), finally scoring more than a couple runs on the road, and the prospect of a terrific rotation in full swing all contributed to my excitement as I thought about the rest of the season.
No doubt there are still plenty of concerns, specifically the bullpen, Yuniesky Betancourt and a sometimes frustrating offense.
The bullpen could be solid, especially if the starters can continue to get through six innings each start - ideally pitching into the 7th or 8th. In that case, Ron Roenicke can avoid counting on the soft part of the pen except in blowout situations. I have faith in LaTroy Hawkins if he's not overused. I have faith in Kameron Loe if he's not overused. I have faith in John Axford, though I know he'll occasionally be a high-wire act.
Hopefully, Zach Braddock can come back and be a solid contributor as he was last season, and maybe they'll get something out of Takashi Saito in the 2nd half of the year. Sergio Mitre and Marco Estrada have actually been impressive as well, and they may well be X-factors throughout the summer.
In regards to Betancourt, I've been pleasantly surprised by his defense. His range is limited, but the defensive shifts have helped lessen the impact, while his glove has been pure. Unfortunately, his lack of prowess with the stick is quite evident. Maybe if he was contributing some more pop or taking a few more pitches it would be more manageable.
There may come a point the Brewers need to make a move for a shortstop, but it may be difficult to find a match. Stephen Drew of Arizona would be an intriguing target, but in the winter the Diamondbacks' general manager said they weren't interested in dealing him. Of course, things change quickly when your team is out of it and there's a chance to save some coin.
The Mets' Jose Reyes is going to garner too much in return, and there just aren't too many other shortstops available. Jason Bartlett of San Diego could possibly be had and he would be an upgrade defensively and in getting on base.
The one other player the Brewers' could target would be Seattle's Brendan Ryan. The former Cardinal is an excellent defender, but his bat has been awful the last year-and-a-half (though his '09 season was great - .292/.340/.400/.740. Depending on GM Jack Zdurencik views Ryan moving forward - the current struggling hitter or the '09 version - Milwaukee could find the right fit for a Mariners offense that needs help.
Offensively, three truly is a magic number for the Brewers. Despite their solid pitching thus far, it's not fair to ask a staff to win a majority of games when the team tallies just 3 runs (at most). Here are the simple facts regarding the Brewers' offense and the impact on their record.
Three Runs or Less
3-15 overall, 2-1 at home, 1-14 on the road
Four or More Runs
18-7 overall, 11-5 at home, 7-2 on the road
Four runs really should be an attainable goal every night for this club. At this point, the top 6 hitters in the lineup should consist in some order of Weeks, Hart, Braun, Fielder, McGehee and Lucroy - with Kotsay a viable option occasionally against righties. I'm not sure why Betancourt continues to hit in front of Lucroy when he's been the worst regular hitter on the team - quite a bit worse than even Carlos Gomez.
A nice lone homestand awaits the Brewers after they finish up in San Diego. The Rockies and Giants will provide stiff competition, and lest not forget, the Nationals swept the Crew in D.C., so nothing is guaranteed the next week-and-a-half at Miller Park. However, the Brewers should have a ton of confidence with the way they've played at home thus far, especially on offense.
Even sweeter would be kicking off the homestand back at .500 after a 3-1 road trip. And if you need a reminder, both the 1982 team and the 2008 club didn't start to takeoff until after the 50-game mark.
See the article below for a comparison of the 2011 team to '82 and '08.
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