The Milwaukee Brewers were the hottest team in all of baseball not too long ago, but now the Crew is struggling to stay on track.
They recently fell out of first place in a division where the six teams are separated by a total of six games. That means a streak by someone here, or a streak by someone there and a mass shuffle occurs.
Milwaukee lost second baseman Rickie Weeks for the rest of the year a month ago, and somehow the offense has also lot its consistency.
I'm not hitting the panic button just yet, but I'm still trying to figure out how a team goes from getting swept by the Rockies at home, to sweeping the Indians on the road, to getting swept yet again, this time by the Tigers.
With any ball club, questions begin to swirl as the All Star break nears, and I think that the Brewers have plenty of questions that need answering.
These questions need to have solutions rather quickly if Milwaukee plans on making back-to-back playoff appearances.
Yovani Gallardo may be young, but he his undoubtedly the ace of the Brewers. At 7-4, an ERA right around three and 93 strikeouts, he is the best option for the Crew to get a win.
The problem is that no one else seems to be stepping up to provide Yo some backup, as well as giving relief to the bullpen.
This is what fans have to deal with on the days that Gallardo isn't on the hill:
Dave Bush (4-5, 5.67 ERA, 81 IP, 56 K); Jeff Suppan (5-4 4.448 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 76.1 IP, 41 K, 32 BB); Braden Looper (5-4, 5.21 ERA, 77.2 IP, 48 K); Manny Parra (3-8, 7.52 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 64.2 IP, 55 K, 41 BB).
Suppan has been slowly getting better each passing start, but he's still known for pitching his best in September. If the starting rotation can't find wins though, pitching in September becomes meaningless.
Parra was recently sent down to Triple-A, but the Brewers still believe he can be the No. 5 in the rotation. Really!!
A 3-8 record with an NL ERA well above seven and a WHIP around two is still good enough for the rotation?
If this belief doesn't change, Milwaukee will surely be on the outside looking in come October, sooo...
McClung, DiFelice, Narveson, none of the above, who?
MClung is too valuable in the bullpen, as he provides early relief for a rough start by one of the five.
DiFelice has been primarily a reliever and a switch to the starting rotation would most likely wear down his arm. After all, he his 4-0 with 25 K and 5BB in 28 innings.
Narveson has pitched some already this year and has gotten knocked around pretty good. Perhaps some more time in Triple-A Nashville could prepare him better a full-time spot next year.
That fifth starter in all rotations may be mostly no-namers, but it is an important role nonetheless, and the Brewers don't seem to a good have one.
I don't think a promotion from within is going to help, so it looks like Milwaukee will heavily pursue a pitcher as the trade deadline gets more hectic.
Craig Counsell, Casey McGehee, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are all hitting .300 for the time being.
Sounds good yes, but they are usually the first four hitters in the lineup, leaving 5-9 with a lot of work to do.
Nobody that normally bats past Fielder is hitting higher than Corey Hart's .263 average: Hardy (.213), Cameron (.248), Gamel (.244), Kendall (.228), Hall (.201).
Either a shuffle of the lineup or around the clock batting practice is in order. The man to lead this achievement-lacking group is the guy with one of the lowest averages on the team, J.J. Hardy.
Hardy is extremely streaking being white hot, or ice cold, and right now something needs to get him out of the deep freeze he is in.
Past seasons have shown that when Hardy is hitting, the rest of the team follows. So let's hope that J.J. can start hitting the ball where defenses are not.
The Brewers have a couple of speedsters still on the roster, but manager Ken Macha doesn't want his team to "waste" outs on the base paths.
But sometimes, you need to steal, and steal often. Some pitchers are easy to swipe bases off of too.
Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Mike Cameron could all steal around 25 bases apiece, but Macha is having none of it.
How many times have you seen a catcher miss on throw to second or third though? Too many right; so steal away.
The more your steal, the better chance you have of a catcher throwing one into the outfield, thus resulting in better chances to score runs.
Macha also doesn't seem like the type of manager that will lose his top, and teams need that every so often.
On past bad calls, Macha runs out to the umpire and simply wants an explanation, even if the ump is dead wrong. I, and I'm sure most Brewers fans, want to see Macha defend his team sometimes and get tossed every now and again.
I'm not saying that he should turn into Lou Piniella or Bobby Cox, but show some spirit if you're going to pop out of the dugout.
We all know that the Brewers love the long ball, but when guys aren't hitting, small needs to be the game of choice, especially since Milwaukee grounds into plenty of double plays.
Even early in the game with a runner on first and no one out, lay one down and move the runner over.
Home runs are nice, and they have allowed the Crew to win many games already this year, but if they want to play in October, the knowledge and ability to play small will be key.
Sometimes 1-0 is good enough in the playoffs.
I'm not questioning Kendall's durability behind the plate, because he can still catch all 162 games if he wanted to.
The problem is that his bat has gone AWOL, and balls aren't finding the green grass anymore.
Opposing defenses have been playing him perfectly, taking away shallow right field where Kendall used to set up camp.
This is leading him to try and pull the ball more in hopes of getting right field back, but he has hit several ground balls which lead to some key double plays.
For a guy who was once one of the toughest batters to strike out in the entire MLB, he's sure making it easy on opposing pitchers now.
Mat Gamel was called up to the Brewers because of the extensive DH opportunities he would get, but he has also shown some promise at third.
Bill Hall has expressed his discomfort with his situation as Gamel has taken away plenty of at bats from him.
With the 2009 version of interleague play ending, does Gamel stay in Milwaukee? Does he continue to play third too? Will there be a platoon?
Macha doesn't like platoons, so one man will get the majority of the starts, but who?
Hall is still trying to prove that he's worth the money the Brewers are paying him, but to a losing effort.
Gamel is trying to prove that he was worth the high draft pick and that he has a future with this Brewers club.
Just like third, second base is still in question for the Brewers.
The lose of Rickie Weeks looks like it is hurting Milwaukee more than expected because Weeks was finally playing like the guy they drafted in the first round of 2003.
Even better was that he was also getting his defense in order, which was his Achilles' heel.
Casey McGehee has shown that he can swing the big stick, as he should have a solid position up the middle.
The Brewers can't take Craig Counsell out of the lineup for too long though, as he is also hitting the ball well.
A platoon at second may be the best option for the Brewers as the season goes along, and hopefully someone will emerge as the everyday player.
There have been many rumors on who the Brewers could be shopping around for in the next month of the deadline.
Jake Peavy and now Brad Penny (shown in picture) have been the headliners. Peavy's now injured and looks to be a none option, so Penny could be sought after.
Penny is 6-2 with an ERA of 4.94 so far for Boston, with just 47 K in 71 innings.
Those last three numbers probably weren't what Red Sox fans were expecting, but would they still part with him?
Another option for Milwaukee would be to try and win the Pedro Martinez sweepstakes. Sure he may be aging, but he has experience in the playoff race and has pitched in some high octane moments.
The other half of the equation (outside of the Pedro scenario), is who do the Brewers give up in a potential trade.
GM Doug Melvin has already closed the doors on Gamel and Alcides Escobar to knock off another CC deal (three-month rental).
Things will start to heat up through the month of July as the Brewers try to fix their biggest hole; the starting pitching.
The main guys that have continued to produce for the Brewers are the two young guns in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
They are the leaders of this team, and the offense will always run through these two guys.
Fielder sits atop the NL in RBI and is finally hitting .300, while Braun's power is lying back in the weeds and still hitting .320.
Other things that are running smoothly is Trevor Hoffman as the closer, and the rest of the bullpen.
Hoffman had a brief hiccup recently, but all that's proven is not even he can be perfect all year. The rest of the bullpen has also been putting up zeroes with regularity.
So if the starters are able to leave games with a lead, there's a good chance that Milwaukee will come away victorious. The only problem is that they haven't been able to do that lately.
The Brewers don't need to fix all of these holes to make it to October, but they need to find answer to some of them.
May I suggest beginning with the starting rotation, then moving on to fixing the rest of that lineup.