The Brewers’ bullpen has had a rough season in the 2012 campaign, to say the least. There haven’t been any reliable options for Ron Roenicke to go to at really any point this season. Right now, the only reliever with an ERA under 4.00 in the ‘pen is Kameron Loe, who has been on a hot streak lately (although it’s worth noting his ERA was sky-high for a few weeks as well).
John Axford hasn’t been spared from this, either. After April of 2011, this guy was one of the premier closers in the game. He broke Francisco Cordero’s previous Brewers save record of 44 by notching 46 saves, which was tied for the National League lead with Craig Kimbrel of the Braves. Axford also boasted a stellar 1.95 ERA in 2011. He even appeared on the Cy Young Award and MVP ballots, placing ninth and 17th, respectively.
But it’s been a completely different season for Axford this year. Every so often, you’ll see a closer with a high ERA, but sometimes it’s deceptive because he has a better ERA in save situations. But that isn’t the case with Axford; his 5.08 ERA tells you every bit how bad he’s been in the closer’s role, as do his league-leading eight blown saves.
From what I’ve seen- and I’m sure other would agree- it’s Axford’s confidence that’s making him falter. In 2011, he looked like he was in complete control on the mound. This year, his body language looks different, and he almost looks scared to throw certain pitches. That certain pitch is probably the curveball, which he seems to have lost all control of this year. In 2011, he’s devastating 12-6 curve, paired with the high-90’s fastball and slider, was what made him such a dominant closer. The curve just hasn’t been there for him this year, and he was probably struggling to adjust.Until recently, that is. Axford converted saves in the last two games of the Cubs series. He looked like he was in 2011-form in the last game, as he struck out the side. The one thing I noticed was he didn’t rely on the curve; he got by using the fastball-slider combination. That tells me he’s finally adjusted to closing without the curveball.And Axford knows that now. Apparently, Axford personally asked Ron Roenicke for the closer’s role back. He said he wanted to restore order in the bullpen, and took blame for the inconsistency of the bullpen the past few months by not being able to lock down the important closer’s role.Axford’s problem all year, starting with that blown save in Kansas City, was confidence. But, it had to have taken confidence to personally ask the manager for the role that he’d been struggling in back, which says his confidence is starting to return. Now Axford needs to continue bringing that confidence back to the mound in the ninth inning, and he could be back into 2011 form before we know it.