Brewers' Dave Bush, Yovani Gallardo Need To Be Milwaukee's Best

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2009

MILWAUKEE - OCTOBER 04:  Dave Bush #31 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game three of the NLDS during the 2008 MLB playoffs at Miller Park on October 4, 2008 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Ben Smidt/Pool-Getty Images)

When it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff, and who will shoulder the responsibility of replacing the production of departed aces C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, the discussion understandably turns to young phenom Yovani Gallardo.

Skeptics are concerned that Gallardo, 23, is too inexperienced to bear the pressure of anchoring a staff at this point in his career. Even manager Ken Macha has looked to ease the pressure on Gallardo, tabbing journeyman Jeff Suppan as his Opening Day starter in San Francisco.

But the young pitcher has already displayed he has the talent, makeup, and toughness necessary to be a No. 1 guy in Milwaukee.

He pitched with torn ligaments in his right knee following a brutal collision at first base with the Cubs' Reed Johnson last May, tossing a scoreless inning at Wrigley on the bad wheel in a 4-3 victory.

Then, he improbably returned from his knee injury just under five months later to give the Brewers’ worn-out pitching staff a boost as they successfully made the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Gallardo gave them four solid innings in a must-win game against the Pirates during the last week of the season, before courageously battling the Philadelphia Phillies in Game One of the National League Divisional Series.

On a pitch count, Gallardo surrendered no earned runs in four innings but was let down by his defense, giving up three unearned runs that led to the Brewers’ 3-1 defeat. Even in defeat, he displayed the moxie and mental toughness that a top-end starter needs to lead a staff.

When healthy, Gallardo has been dominant, as he went 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie in 2007. He also struck out 101 batters in just 110.1 innings. With a strong Spring Training under his belt, Gallardo has shown he clearly has the talent and the cojones to lead Milwaukee's pitching staff.

But he can't do it alone. For the Brewers to follow up with another winning campaign in 2009, Dave Bush will have to emerge as a reliable No. 2 pitcher for the Crew.

That may turn the stomachs of many Brewers fans who have grown tired of the inconsistent Bush, a talented pitcher who has never quite been able to put it all together. But he showed in his strong close to the 2008 season that he is Milwaukee's best shot to step up in 2009.

After an abysmal 2008 start saw Bush go 1-5 with a 6.04 ERA in April and May, Milwaukee was close to banishing him to the bullpen. However, as the weather in Brew City heated up, so did Bush.

Bush posted a solid 3.65 ERA in June and followed that with two sparkling months of strong baseball. He struck out 28 batters in July while walking only one, and compiled a minuscule .78 WHIP for the month.

He followed that up by going 4-0 in August with a 2.12 ERA as Milwaukee was locked in a tight wild-card race. And after an average September, Bush picked up the Brewers’ only playoff victory against Philadelphia.

Overall, he finished a very pedestrian 9-10 with a 4.18 ERA. But his 1.14 WHIP was the eighth-best mark in the Majors, ahead of stud aces Johan Santana, NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Brandon Webb, and Jake Peavy.

As the stat indicates, he doesn't walk anyone and he allows few baserunners, a recipe for pitching success. Bush just needs to cut down on his propensity to serve up the long ball.

He surrendered the eighth-most home runs in baseball last year, getting tagged 29 times in 185 innings. It's not rocket science here; that number has to come down for Bush to be successful.

Barring a trade, Gallardo and Bush are the guys who are going to have to carry the staff.

Braden Looper and Suppan are who they are at this point in their respective careers—average pitchers. Their records will hang around .500, they will eat innings, and they will post ERAs near the league average.

Every team needs guys like that. But they lack the ability to step up and help compensate for the losses of Sabathia and Sheets.

And Manny Parra is still a bit of a question mark. A highly-regarded prospect, Parra faded badly at the end of the 2008 season, and it remains to be seen whether he can be relied upon as a solid rotation guy.

For the Brewers to return to October baseball, Bush has to give them what he gave them down the stretch—solid starts all season long.

If he can keep the ball in the park a little more often and build on his strong close to 2008, the Brewers might just have another strong duo at the top of their staff that they can ride to the playoffs again in '09.

Their hopes, and ultimately their season, will depend on how good the young Gallardo and the inconsistent Bush will be, as scary as that may sound to Brewers fans.