The Milwaukee Brewers were two wins away from reaching the World Series in 2011 and possibly winning it all against the Texas Rangers, as their NL Central counterpart St. Louis Cardinals eventually went on to do.
Last year was labeled as a “go for it” year by many for the Brewers who knew they were more than likely going to lose Prince Fielder to free agency in the offseason. But this team that won 96 games last season remains relatively intact from the year before.
Reigning MVP Ryan Braun is still in the middle of the lineup causing havoc for opposing hitters, and Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks remain from last year’s NLCS lineup. They signed Aramis Ramirez to make up for some of the production lost, but he has had another brutal start to a season. Braun is not protected like he was with Fielder behind him, and pitchers are more frequently passing on the opportunity to pitch to him.
Weeks seems to have lost it completely having the worst season of his career. He’s batting .156 through 167 at bats this year. His lack of production alone can mostly be to blame for an offense that was considered one of the best in the National League in 2011.
Hart has been much better average-wise, hitting 100 points better than Weeks, but he has also tallied 10 home runs and 23 RBIs. They’ve also gotten a boost from catcher Jonathan Lucroy who leads the team with a .345 average and is only behind Braun on the team for RBIs with 30, although an encounter with a suitcase over the weekend may have him on the shelf for a while.
Despite being 14th in the league in runs scored, the Brewers rank 26th in average. Most of that is due to the fact they’re a home run team, currently 10th in the league with 53 and third in the NL.
But if Weeks is to blame for the offense’s problems, Yovani Gallardo is just as much to blame for the pitching problems. Deemed a potential Cy Young candidate in what was supposed to be a breakout year for the 26-year-old, he currently has an ERA over four and hasn’t lasted more than seven and one-third innings in any start this year. He’s walked 28 batters and only struck out 53. A good sign for the Brewers is his ERA in May is 2.59, but he’s still walking far too many hitters.
Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke have been solid at the top of the rotation, but they definitely aren’t putting up ace-type numbers. Their starting pitching staff ranks 13th in the NL in ERA at 4.42 after finishing with a 3.78 ERA last season. They’ve struggled to find any kind of consistency from the four and five spots in the rotation as Randy Wolf has posted a 5.73 ERA in 10 starts and Marco Estrada hasn’t been much better.
The bullpen has been even worse so far this year, ranking 28th with a 4.49 ERA after being such a strong force last season. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have a combined ERA of 4.25 over 38 and one-third innings.
With all their struggles from established players, the Brewers find themselves eight games under .500 at 20-28 and only the Chicago Cubs are keeping them from falling into the basement of the NL Central. They’re seven games behind the Reds for the division lead.
If you’re a Brewers fan, you have to believe your top players can’t continue to perform this badly the entire season. This division is winnable, as is the case with every NL division. But nobody is running away with it, and the Reds and Cardinals seem to be inconsistent.
In order to compete, the Brewers need Gallardo to build off his recent success and go deeper into games. Weeks and Ramirez both need to get going and increase their power numbers. Even if their averages remain low, they can help this team win with the long ball. And something may need to be done to sure up the bullpen, whether a trade or change in roles at the end of games.
While I never thought this team had what it takes to win it all this year, there is more than enough talent there to compete for the division and play winning baseball. Not sure why it’s not happening in Milwaukee right now, but it’s getting close to June, and the time for waiting for players to figure it out is ending.