The Milwaukee Brewers were hoping to come out of the gates strong after the All-Star break. They were, and still are, looking to maintain hopes for postseason play for a second straight season.
The Reds were without injured young star Jay Bruce and their youth and inexperience inevitably started to take a toll on the team's hopes for joining the three-horse race that has been the NL Central Division in recent years.
On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Pirates had not won a game against Milwaukee in 18 attempts.
None of this mattered as the Brewers recorded four losses on the seven-game road trip, maintaining the two-game deficit behind the Cardinals, but dropping to fourth place in the division behind the emerging Houston Astros.
I did write a few columns at the end of June and in early July about the possibility and the need for the Brewers to pursue a solid arm on the market to improve the team's chances of making the post-season once again.
I was convinced it would be enough in a division in which teams, instead of focusing on winning, are trying not to lose too many games.
Well, I am not so convinced anymore.
The Brewers are faltering on too many levels for anyone to believe that the mere addition of another good arm in the starting rotation will take the team to the Promised Land.
Add to that the rumors about Matt Holliday joining the Cardinals and the most the Brewers would be able to hope for is the Wild Card spot, which is firmly held by the San Francisco Giants, whose pitching is far superior to that of any other NL roster.
So where is the major void in the game the Brewers play? Allow me to start with the very face of the franchise.
Ryan Braun has not been himself since the beginning of July, even though he hit a couple of home runs in recent games. He is too aggressive with the first pitch during every at-bat he takes, prompting opposing pitchers to reduce the amount of fastballs they throw early in the count.
Once he falls behind, he presses too hard and often gets tied up on a curveball or a slider inside or often chases high fastballs, sending them high in the air and allowing fielders enough time to settle under them comfortably for the easy out.
The performance of the bullpen is also a large question mark with the faltering of Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva opening a major gap in games when the starter does not go past the fifth inning.
Add to that the offense, which has been so inconsistent that no one is in a position to guarantee that the team will be able to deliver should Melvin decide to give up more young prospects for an established pitcher, and things start looking dull.
Sure, making the postseason may not be out of reach, especially if no additional trades take place in the NL Central, but is it really worth trading more players away just to play one postseason series again?
Look at the situation this way. If the Brewers get someone like Roy Halladay, they would likely be favored to make the playoffs, pending any major moves from the competition. But the team would still be a few steps behind the juggernauts in baseball this year.
Then is it worth giving up some of the top minor league prospects just to see the team make it to the post-season again? Based on the fact that the Brewers will be able to rely on a much greater financial flexibility in the next couple of years after some bad contracts come off the books, I believe the answer here is no.
Doug Melvin needs to rethink the season and build a solid foundation for future success. If he and the Brewers business organization can convince fans that the team will stay competitive in the near future and that big spending did not conclude with bringing CC Sabathia to Milwaukee last summer, the team will be in great shape, both from a talent and a financial perspective.
This is the time for the Brewers to create even firmer ties with fans by offering bargain season ticket packages for next season. I have said it before and I will say it again.
If fans are convinced that the team is ready to be more than merely a one-season wonder, the seats at Miller Park and the shopping bags at the team store will stay full and the Brewers will have the flexibility required for a small-market team to be competitive for years.
People will likely get excited and buy a few extra tickets later in the season even if only to see a player like Alcides Escobar take a few reps in the middle of the infield.
And on top of everything else, if the rest of the teams in the NL Central do not make any major moves that would separate them from the Brewers, Milwaukee can still live with the hope of making the post-season if the team is able to keep the race close until September.
The number of games scheduled among Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago and Houston in the last couple of weeks in the season guarantee that any team still in the pennant race in September will be able to emerge as a post-season participant if it does well against division rivals.
And the Brewers have fared relatively well from a divisional record standpoint, even without having another established arm to rely on.
The best option for the Brewers at the moment appears to be to stay put, and judging from Melvin's recent days reaction in front of the media, I think the team understands that.
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