Now that the All-Star break is over, we can get back to regular season baseball and focus on the final stretch of the season. With everything yet to be decided, the Brewers are still in the thick of the fight for the NL Central.
But there are aspects of this team that need to either remain the same as they have been thus far in the season or need to improve if Milwaukee hopes to make the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Of course, a trade for a starting pitcher who can help the rotation tops everyone's list, and may very well be required depending on what the opponents do in the open market. The pennant will also depend on how healthy both the Cardinals and the Cubs can get over the last few months of the season. But the Brewers need to focus on their own game and manage what is under their control rather than rely on good fortunes.
So let's do a quick rundown and see what it would take for the Crew to enjoy another celebration at Miller Park later this season.
And allow me to start with Braun.
No, I am not going to bore you with yet another piece discussing who was right and who was wrong about 10 days ago when Ryan and Melvin went at it in the media. This is not the point of this column, especially since I already wrote an article on the topic.
But what I do want to point out is what Ryan Braun has done—or has not done—in the month of July, and how inappropriate the timing of his media stint appears to be when we have the luxury to know what happened in the last two series the Brewers played before the All-Star Break.
Those are the same two series that followed Braun's urging words in front of the media.
The statistics show that the young slugger has gone 3-for-24 with no home runs and one extra base hit since the series against the Cubs. In fact, if we include the two at-bats Braun took as a National League All-Star, the numbers look even worse. What is most concerning is the fact that throughout the entire month of July the face of the Brewers franchise has had a single walk and has batted in a single run.
If you are considered to be among the best hitters in baseball, you probably feel uncomfortable with those numbers.
And if you are Braun, you are probably wondering why you went public with your concerns over pitching when your personal offensive contribution, as well as that of the team as a whole, has been quite bad.
Aside from one big game in Chicago and a random shootout against the Dodgers, the Brewers offense has been a serious question mark over the month of July.
In terms of pitching, Burns held his own by going 2-2 over his major league starts. Manny Parra returned and pitched a great game only to watch the lack of run support and the bullpen give the game away. Even Suppan has done comparatively well over the course of the last month.
But where has the offense been?
Braun seems to be pressing too much, trying too hard to break out of his hitting slump. He needs to find his comfort at the plate soon if the Brewers would like to stay in contention. The rest of the roster has had its ups and downs.
There are two players whose performances will hopefully remain as good as they were during the first half of the season. Unexpectedly for most, Craig Counsell and Casey McGehee have found their comfort zone and have transformed into regulars from predicted bench players for Ken Macha's formation.
Counsell adjusted his swing during the offseason and is currently batting .281 with 24 recorded walks in 224 at-bats. His leadership and his solid defensive performances have been detrimental to keeping the Brewers afloat, especially after Rickie Weeks went down with a season-ending wrist injury.
The second player who the Brewers need to thank for being where they currently are is Casey McGehee. The former Cubs reserve was picked up from waivers in the offseason, and is doing miracles with the Brewers.
"Baseball is baseball anywhere you go", he said recently in front of the Milwaukee media. "It was a different experience but it seems like the guys in this clubhouse are on the same page and pulling in the same direction, so that makes things easier."
And easier it has been for the flexible infielder, who has shifted between second and third base this season. His batting average of .329 has put Macha in a position to use him as a lead-off hitter after Weeks vacated the spot.
Another major positive has been Fielder's discipline and patience at the plate. Prince leads the Brewers in home runs and is also on pace for a season not too far off the one he had two years ago when he hit 50 long balls.
And finally, we cannot overlook the performances of the young ace of the starting rotation, Yovani Gallardo, as well as that of the all-time leader in saves, Trevor Hoffman. Both pitchers have risen up to the occasion and are delivering solid seasons that are pulling this team forward.
Now that we reviewed the good, it is time to take a look at the not-so-good.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently featured a post on the Brewers blog about the things that went right and wrong for the Brewers over the course of the season.
One of the things mentioned was that all Brewers players with a last name starting with the letter "H" have struggled at the plate. For those of you who are wondering who those players are, their names are Hall, Hart, and Hardy.
At one point Hall was considered the starter at third base, but things changed quickly after the third baseman's inability to bat for an average equaling his weight during prolonged stretches this season.
The call-up of Mat Gamel proves that the void Hall left in the order was big enough that Doung Melvin and Ken Macha trusted the unpolished Gamel with the starting job in games when McGehee was unavailable due to having to fill in other holes in the infield.
And these holes emerged less than 90 feet to the left of Hall. Yes, JJ Hardy is above average on defense, but his offensive funk this season has made many fans ask for him to get traded.
Similar concerns have grown out in right field, where Corey Hart keeps swinging at anything that moves in the air. The panic light goes off the moment a pitcher with pinpoint control throws a slider traveling half-way around the Milky Way on the outside of the plate.
Add to that the struggles of Cameron and Kendall and you have a bottom part of the order that brings a smile to the faces of opposing pitchers. Someone has to step up and balance things out at the bottom of the order so that the automatic outs are reduced to a minimum.
I look forward to seeing Escobar being brought up at some point unless the Brewers are completely out of the race or unless Escobar becomes part of a trade—something Melvin has been adamant about not doing.
And finally, the bullpen needs to get back to performing the way it did earlier in the season, or else even a trade for a starter will not lead to the desired results.
The next two series on the road against the Reds and the Pirates will likely determine the direction in which the team will head this season. If the Brewers can win five games on the eight-game road trip, they will come home to host the Braves and Nationals—two series which the Brewers should be favored in if they perform up to par with their abilities.
And if things do not go the way everyone is hoping for, then Brewers fans should be on the lookout for some trades to occur, and for some unlikely players to depart.
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