by Tim Muma
Being a Milwaukee Brewers fan my whole life, I understand the "typical" baseball fan in the Brew City is pessimistic and quick to give up all hope. Part of this mental block stems from the perceived inability of the Brewers baseball club to ever make things easy - and often failing in the end. Instead of hope and optimism, many fans are simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I like to believe - for the most part - my knowledge and experience with this great game allows me a solid perspective on the ups and downs of players and teams over the course of a 162-game schedule. Thus, I actually think the Brewers are poised for a tremendous 2nd-half run, though I can't pretend this group doesn't have warts.
The important thing to remember is that despite all of the issues during the 1st part of the season (Casey McGehee, Yuniesky Betancourt, bullpen, Zack Greinke, etc.), the Brewers are still tied for 1st place in the division with a respectable 49-43 record. Just a few improvements in the 2nd half could go a long way.
Reasons for Hope in Milwaukee
1) Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt
--I'm sure you questioned my insanity by listing these guys as reasons for hope, but let's look at it from a reverse angle. If you believe in an advanced stat like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), then on paper, the Brewers would have been better off this season playing without a third baseman or a shortstop. Betancourt (-0.8) and McGehee (-1.2) have negative value, meaning they are playing worse than a replacement level player (0).
--Despite McGehee's .594 OPS and Betancourt's .598 OPS, the Brewers entered the break 4th in the NL in runs scored and 2nd in OPS. At this point, McGehee can't play any worse and we should focus on his numbers from here on out. Either he needs to show major improvement in the next two weeks or he should be replaced. Betancourt on the other hand - his track record screams for Doug Melvin/Ron Roenicke to make a change ASAP.
2) Zack Greinke's "stuff"
--Count me as one of the many disappointed in Greinke's overall production with the Crew. It seems that many, however, are completely giving up on Greinke as even an effective pitcher and that's the furthest thing from the truth.
--Though the switch to the NL should have helped Grienke in theory, perhaps he is one pitcher somewhat unaffected by the change. Meanwhile, a move to a new team, the Spring Training injury and subsequent "accelerated" schedule may have been too much for Greinke to handle in the 1st half.
--I fully expect a rejuvenated and improved Greinke after the break. Save for his 2009 Cy Young campain, Greinke has actually been rather streaky, putting together 5-6 dominating performances folowed by 4-5 below average to poor ones. Clearly something is just a touch off right now, but the extended rest and mental recuperation can make a difference.
--Considering he's been rather unlucky - a batting average of balls in play at .349 (career .310), things should even out a bit in that department. I'd expect a 2nd half with a 3.60 ERA and 8-9 more wins.
3) The Schedule
--Nine games against the Chicago Cubs (37-55)...6 at home, 3 on the road
--Nine games against the Houston Astros (30-62)...3 at home, 6 on the road
--Ten games against the Pittsburgh Pirates (47-43)...6 at home, 4 on the road
>Though the Pirates are playing well right now, the Brewers are owned them the past few seasons, including a 5-0 mark this year. I also believe the Pirates are playing way of above their heads right now.
--Zero games at Boston, at the New York Yankees or against Tampa Bay
--Following the Brewers' 11-game, three-city trip to start the 2nd half (one that could bury them if they aren't careful), Milwaukee will have 35 home games and 26 road tilts.
4) A Healthy Bullpen
--If Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins are fully back and recovered from their injuries, the bullpen is fairly well stocked to be effective throughout the summer months and into fall. John Axford has been lights out and Hawkins and Saito have been solid whenever called upon.
--With Hawkins and Saito back, Kameron Loe shouldn't be used much in late, high-leverage situations like the 8th inning, though it is bound to happen occasionally. The Brewers could use a more effective left-hander with Zach Braddock scuffling, but overall it will be Ron Roenicke's responsibility to handle the staff appropriately - he's done a poor job of that so far.
NOTE: Less than 24 hours after posting this article, the Brewers traded for Francisco Rodriguez of the New York Mets. Adding his arm to the 8th inning creates a tremendously improved situation for the Brewers out of the bullpen. Now matchups, performance and rest can dictate the use of Saito, Hawkins, Loe and Braddock in the 6th and 7th innings while Rodriguez gets the 8th and Axford closes out the 9th. Of course, the starters could throw seven innings and set up their two "closers" on their own.
So kick back, relax and enjoy a thrilling race to the division crown. I picked the Brewers to reach 88 wins this season, enough to take the NL Central. I'm going to stick with that number, meaning the Brewers need a 39-31 mark to the end of the year. With just slight improvements - average production at 3B and SS, a Greinke boost and solid bullpen performances, playing 8 over .500 is terrifically feasible.
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