Dull Axe: Brewers Need Sharper Approach to Closing

Andrew Prochnow@@AndrewProchnowAnalyst IApril 5, 2013

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 07:  Pitcher John Axford #59 of the Milwaukee Brewers walks towards the dugout in the 10th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Miller Park on October 7, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Sometimes it doesn't take long for the excitement of a new baseball season to get derailed by an ugly collision with reality. In the case of the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans, it took about five seconds.

That's roughly the total amount of time it took on Monday for a baseball to travel from John Axford's pitching hand to its final resting place somewhere over the outfield wall at Miller Park.

Call me a knee-jerk reactionary all you want, but Monday's performance by Axford was horrific.   

In a matter of seconds, Axford managed to transform the excitement of opening day into a flashback of some of the worst times in recent Brewer history. 

Fortunately for the team and its fans, a few other players picked up the slack on opening day and helped the team clinch a victory over the Rockies in extra innings.  

One of those players was Jonathon Lucroy, who hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning. In the aftermath, Lucroy seemed to capture the thoughts of everyone in Brewer nation when he said, according to Tom Haudricourt at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "We’d rather win in nine, but it was a good win.”

Yeah, no kidding.

With a win in their back pockets, it was probably easier for most fans to push Axford's performance out of their minds as they exited the stadium. Nobody's perfect, right? Everyone has a bad day.  

However, that mental framework wasn't long for this world either. On Wednesday, a mere two days after blowing his first save opportunity of the year, Axford entered another close game with even more disastrous results.  

This time, rather than giving up one home run, Axford decided to double his pleasure and give up two—as well as three additional hits outside the home runs. Axford entered the game with the team down by one run. When he exited, the team was down by four. If you are reading this I'm fairly certain you know the rest.

A record of 1-2 is by no means a death sentence for a team with such a long season left in front of them. There were also more problems observed in the first three games of the season than just John Axford. He was only responsible for six of the 41 hits given up by Brewer pitching in the three-game series against the Rockies.

Having said that, two of those games were winnable and Axford's "contributions" nearly cost the team both of them. Even more frightening is the fact that both performances closely resembled Axford's body of work from last year, which included 9 blown saves and a sky-high ERA of 4.67.

Tack on the fact that the Brewers signed Axford to some serious money this past offseason and things really get depressing. Hindsight is always 20/20, but one certainly has to wonder why the Brewers decided to pony-up $5 million in salary this year to a guy that struggled so mightily at times in 2012.  

How many times do the Brewers need to overpay a closer before they realize it's probably not the best idea? Probably a good question for Mr. Doug Melvin, the same guy who paid Eric Gagne $10 million for one year back in 2008. And didn't the Brewers just finish paying Francisco Rodriguez $8 million to stink it up in 2012? 


Unfortunately, Axford's contract is in the past. It's a done deal and right now the Brewers are better served dealing with the present.

After Axford’s latest implosion, Ron Roenicke said, according to Tom Haudricourt at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “(His velocity) was way down. We’ll talk to him and see how he’s doing, but I noticed it was way down.”  Most Brewer fans will recognize this as Roenicke’s way of saying that we can all expect to see Axford closing another game soon.   

My opinion is there are better solutions than effectively sticking one's head in the ground and pretending the problem isn't there. We all know “how he’s doing.” It doesn’t take eons of baseball experience to see that Axford’s stuff isn’t fooling anybody.   

He looked bad in spring training. He looked bad in the World Baseball Classic. And he looks bad now. What does it actually take to get benched around here? 

It can be excruciatingly painful to watch the Brewers try to address problems on the team.  In 2012, Ron Roenicke, or whoever is ultimately calling the shots, left a struggling Ricky Weeks at the top of the order for way too long.

This year, I doubt there's a single person in Milwaukee that wants to see Brewer coaches put lipstick and a wig on John Axford and try to convince us there’s someone else out there throwing meatballs.  

It's time for Roenecke and Melvin to put their heads together and figure out a new perspective on how to use John Axford as well as sharpen the team’s overall approach to closing down baseball games. Whether those solutions are the teams' bus driver or bringing back Rollie Fingers, it is up to them.

What Brewer fans don't want to see is the team continually throwing away good money on what can often be a one-and-done position and then walking and talking like there isn't a problem.  

Axford gave up three taters in two innings of work. I’m sure glad Roenicke is going to see how he's doing, but I'd prefer if he simply gave Axford a map to the bench and told him where he could park his keester.       

Fans create the millions of dollars used to line player, manager and owner's pockets. These are supposed to be stressful jobs because they demand high-level, consistent performance. It's time for Brewers' coaches and players to find some solutions or ownership should go find some new people that can.