Milwaukee Brewers: 5 Reasons to Believe in the Brew Crew Despite Sluggish Start
Rickie Weeks homered in the first Brewers' at-bat of the season and Yovanni Gallardo pitched six solid innings as the Brewers looked great in jumping out to a 6-2 lead against the defending NL Central-champ Cincinnati Reds. Of course, memories of the 2010 season weren't far away as closer John Axford gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth and the Reds won in walk-off fashion.
The Brewers ended up getting swept in Cincy, ultimately beginning the season 0-4. Just as fans began to worry about what they had hoped would be a memorable season, the Brewers won seven of eight games and looked as dominant as any team in baseball. Then, as if Brewers' fans emotions weren't already sparked, they go into Washington and lose three straight against the Nationals.
This has been the story for the Brewers to open their 2011 campaign. It has been a roller-coaster filled with ups and downs. After Axford blew yet another save last night against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Brewers managed to score three runs in the 12th inning to pull out a victory and get back to 8-8 on the season.
There were many questions entering the season, and believe it or not, the answers we've received thus far show that the Brew Crew are still well on their way to what might be a memorable season.
Here are 5 reasons Brew Town should still be believing.
5. The Brewers Bullpen Can Only Get Better
What looked to be a strength heading into the season, the Brewers bullpen has been their biggest liability through the first 16 games.
Closer John Axford has blown two saves in five opportunities and his ERA sits at 8.53 while opponents are hitting .320 against him. After stepping in for a struggling Trevor Hoffman last season, Axford was one of the lone bright spots in a disappointing 2010 season.
Manager Ron Roenicke will not give pitchers the length of leash Ken Macha did the past two seasons, especially with a team built to win now. Expect a change to be made if Axford doesn't find control of his pitches soon.
The bullpen's 3.66 ERA ranks ninth in the NL and they have given up a league-leading five unearned runs in just over 46 innings pitched. That equals almost one unearned run per nine innings, a total that in all likelihood will see a drastic drop.
4. Prince Fielder's Hot Start to the Season
As sure as spring will become summer, one given over the last five years has been that Prince Fielder will be slow out of the gate. Not in 2011.
For the months of March and April, his career .479 slugging percentage and .856 OPS are a far cry from his overall career numbers, where he currently sits at a solid .535 slugging percentage and .920 OPS.
Generally, we have come to expect a slow start from Prince knowing that come May 1st, the sleeping giant will awaken.
Through the first half of April, Prince is slugging .557 with an OPS of .949, and he is tied for the MLB lead with 16 RBIs through 16 games. Maybe it's because he is auditioning for his $100-plus million contract, but even so, one thing is clear—Prince is giving Milwaukee an exciting encore on his way out the door.
3. Zack Greinke, Corey Hart and Bullpen Help Will Be Back Soon
I can't wait for the day Zack Greinke debuts for the Brewers, and that day shouldn't be too far away. The former AL Cy Young award winner will anchor what appears to be a solid rotation, giving them the true ace the Brewers haven't had since the day C.C. Sabathia put on pinstripes.
That's not all.
All-Star right-fielder Corey Hart should be back from an oblique injury soon, adding even more power to an already potent Brewers lineup. I'm sure Ryan Braun will welcome Hart back to the two-hole with open arms. That's not to take away from what we've seen out of Nyjer Morgan thus far, as he has been a pleasant surprise over the first two weeks. Mark Kotsay, on the other hand, hasn't done much to get fans behind him.
Then there is the bullpen, which may be getting worn out after a long double-header in Washington on Sunday, followed by a 12-inning affair on Monday night. Well, it's nothing that the likes of Manny Parra, Latroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito can't fix.
The Brewers have five major pieces missing, and barring any more injuries, should be at 100 percent in the near future. The Reds day of reckoning will come soon.
2. Starting Pitchers Lead League with 3.18 ERA
The Milwaukee Brewers revamped their starting rotation in the offseason and so far it seems to have paid off. Shaun Marcum has been outstanding in four starts with the Brewers, pitching to a 1.90 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 20 strikeouts in just over 23 innings pitched.
Chris Narveson didn't even have an ERA until his third start of the season, which now stands at a remarkable 1.45. Surprisingly, Yovani Gallardo has the highest ERA of all Brewers' starters at 4.62 after getting roughed up in his last two starts. Yo-Yo has also started slow out the gate the last couple of years, but he should regain form soon.
The most impressive piece to this puzzle may be the two spot-starts made by Marco Estrada, who has given the Brewers 13 innings of 3.46 ERA baseball. Not bad.
The Brewers pitching staff appears to be headed in an upward direction. The return of Zack Greinke will only help escalate the climb.
1. Despite These Things, the Brewers Are .500 & Only 1 Game Back in NL Central
By no means is a .500 record something I'd normally be excited about, but with all the things seemingly going against the Brewers in the early part of the season, I will gladly take an 8-8 record at this point.
The Brewers have arguably the toughest schedule in baseball over the first month, and getting through it at .500 while missing some of their top players would be a great success in my book.
The starting rotation should continue to be solid with the addition of Greinke. The bullpen can only improve after a so-so start with the returns of Saito, Hawkins and Parra. My only concern would be the 11 total unearned runs that Brewers pitchers have given up through 16 games, but that number shouldn't climb so fast once we get into the thick of the season.
Remember, Roenicke is still learning his players as the team continues to build chemistry. Don't stop believing in Brew Town, because once the pieces are back together, this will be a team built to make a deep run into October.