The Milwaukee Brewers could roll into September with a series win this weekend against the San Francisco Giants to give them 75 or 76 wins, holding a lead of a couple or more games in the National League Central.
But based on the recent performance of the tired bullpen, the leaky defense, and mental mishaps on the bases, the Brewers could just as easily limp into Labor Day with a 73-63 record. The next three games could determine the season and if the Brew Crew falters now, they might see the Cardinals or the revitalized Pirates pass them by on the way to the N.L. Central title.
The Brewers and the Cardinals have been straggling side-by-side for the last few weeks, but now Pittsburgh–with a more-or-less healthy Andrew McCutchen–has made up some ground and now sits just four games behind with less than thirty games to go in the season. The Bucs have won five of their last seven, including two of three from both teams above them in the Central.
As the rosters expand from 25 players to a maximum of 40 for the last month of the campaign, the Brewers can call up a few key players to help them make it over the hump and hang on to a lead that they have held since April 5th.
The bullpen has grown weary from a heavy workload early in the season and it has shown up in bold print with several disappointing losses as of late, of which Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss to San Diego in ten innings was a prime example.
Lefthander Will Smith has not shown the consistent breaking ball that baffled both righties and lefties in April and May. In his last four outings (four innings), Smith has allowed seven hits and three earned runs.
Southpaw Zach Duke has slipped from his level of effectiveness in the early summer months. In Duke’s last four appearances (2 2/3 innings), he allowed six hits and four earned runs.
And K-Rod? Well, Francisco Rodriguez has pitched very well at times, but as likely as not re-creates his ‘Thirty Minutes of Terror’ moniker from his days as the New York Mets closer. Rodriguez has only blown one save in August, but his propensity to give up a gopher ball recently–three HRs in his last four appearances–makes slim leads a very precarious situation, indeed.
The Brewers threesome are all in the top ten in appearances–Smith leads with 66, while Duke and Rodriguez round out the top ten with 61 games pitched.
To put it bluntly, Milwaukee’s relief group needs, well, relief. There are two pitchers on the 40-man roster that could help.
Ariel Pena has been a starter at AAA Nashsville, but could slip into a long role or even 7th or 8th inning work. He has a WHIP of 1.332 and strikes out nearly ten batters per nine innings.
Alfredo Figaro spent parts of two seasons in Milwaukee and pitched solidly for the most part. At Nashville, he has been less than stellar (1.450 WHIP, 10 hits/9 IP), but can offer experience on a staff that needs veteran help.
Jungmann has nice numbers in a starting role, with a WHIP of 1.293 and a K/BB ratio of 2.3. He could fit in well as a long man. Molleken is 30 years old with good strikeout numbers but is a little wild at times.
I have targeted four players that could get call-ups, but only one of them is on the forty-man roster. Players not on the 40-man can get called up, but that would require other players to get dropped, which is a big decision for such an important position.
Logan Schafer is well-known and should get called back up as a pinch-hitter and defensive outfield replacement.
Halton had 101 ABs as a Brewer last year and offers a solid right-handed bat and can play first base or the corner OF spots.
Orr has played 443 big league games and offers veteran leadership along with a clutch left-handed bat. He is hitting .452 (14-31) in his last ten games for the Sounds. He can play any spot in the infield or outfield.
Pagnozzi has 92 major league at-bats and could give the Brewers a third catcher and give the team a little more versatility.
Figaro and Schafer are no-brainers, with Pena close behind. One or more of the other five could get a shot, as long as Doug Melvin is able to do some roster juggling without upsetting the future apple cart.
But the real bottom line is the play, obviously, of the whole team. If the Brewers of April or June show up in September, crack open the champagne on a Central championship. If the tired July squad shows up, it will be a very frustrating off-season for all of us.