There’s no other way to describe it: this season has been rough. OK, maybe there are several ways to describe this season:
Regardless of your choice of adjective, the 2012 Brewers campaign has left the Crew with quite a hill to climb in terms of taking back their Central Division title. Since late June, however, they have been quietly working their way back the only way they know how: putting one foot in front of the other.
There’s a chance, Brewers fans, that we have been piling negative energy and column space on top of this year’s team. But if you take a look back at the last few series – including before the All-Star break, you can start to see a shift.
Since June 15th, the Brewers are 16-12. Now, there’s almost nothing exciting about an arbitrary record over an arbitrary period of time like that – except when it turns out they are actually outplaying most of the division. Only Pittsburgh – who is 19-10 over that time – is playing better than Milwaukee over that same period. Add to the fact that during that time, Milwaukee has won six of those nine season series, split one and only lost two.
That’s called progress, folks.
But don’t take it from me, take it from the Brewers themselves. The month of July has shown so far to
be very productive for the Brewers lineup. Aramis Ramirez tops the list for the July split with a .351 average. He has had 15 hits in his last ten games, and five of them were multi-hit games including going 3-3 in the finale against the Cardinals. He only has four RBIs in that time, but he has scored six runs. Of course there’s always Ryan Braun – hitting .286 with a team-leading four homers, ten runs batted in, and three stolen bases. Plus he’s sooo dreamy that you just have to include him in the list.
Then add in Norichika Aoki – who needs to be one of the first names out of your mouth when you discuss Rookie of the Year. Why? Because he’s in the top ten for rookies in the Majors in every statistical category besides Runs Batted In – which makes sense since he’s hitting in the first two spots in the order. (He’s 14th, by the way.) He only leads the NL in OBP, but he’s easily one of the most consistently high performing first-year players. Like the rest of the team, he likes to do things well in a quiet fashion.
It doesn’t stop with the big guns, either: even Rickie and Corey Hart – two Brewers who have been battling down production all year – have managed to put on very successful July campaigns to this point. Rickie is hitting .275 so far in July. Ok so that’s not that impressive, but it’s a far better clip than the .197 average he has had on the season. He also drove in 11 runs on only 14 hits, so there’s a glimmer of hope for Rickie salvaging what has been an otherwise disappointing (infuriating, depressing, frustrating, unbelievable) year. Corey has fared even better on the average side of things, hitting .321 in 14 games – even if all 14 of his hits came in the last ten games. He has also drove in eight runs during that period, and has shown that success hinges on him and Rickie every bit as much as it does Ramy and Braun.
When we turn our attention to the pitching, we actually find some surprising news. I know it’s easy to pile on to the ‘pen and the starting rotation, but the fact of the matter is you don’t play above-.500 ball without the help of the hurlers. Yovani Gallardo has dominated July, going 2-0 with a 0.92 ERA so far in three starts. he has surrendered only two earned runs on 11 hits and struck out 26 over that time. Mike Fiers is everybody’s favorite hard-luck rookie who has posted an 0-1 record in two starts with a 1.26 ERA. He also gave up only two runs on 11 hits, and struck out 13 in 14.1 innings of work.
The big surprise, I think, has been Manny Parra. He’s 1-1 over the course of seven innings, where he’s given up only one run and struck out ten. It might be a small sample size, but it’s encouraging to see someone in that bullpen come out reliably and do his job well.
Even the dynamic 8-9 duo of Frankie and the Ax Man are starting to turn it around. I know, I know, everybody hates them and they are the worst. I get that. But they’re not, really – not at least when the offense can back them up. Axford is 3-5 in save opportunites, with a 2-1 record in July. Frankie is 2-0, and 2-4 in his save chances. Combined they have fanned 21 batters in July. They still have a long way to go, but if the offense can give them bigger leads and better chances to stay in the game, it will go a long way for the pair.
So what does Milwaukee need to work on in order to give the climb some more traction? In a word: everything. At least a little bit.
On offense, Milwaukee is tied for first in the NL in home runs as a club, ninth in hits, fourth in doubles, eight in walks, eight in On-Base Percentage, and third in strikeouts. I only include that because that is a glaring stat – K’s go down, everything else goes up, including the wins.
Milwaukee’s pitching staff, by contrast, strikes out more batters than any other team in the NL. The staff ERA sits at 4.18, good for the 13th spot. They’ve also given up the third most hits and the fourth most home runs. That’s the one that Milwaukee needs to fix, and in truth the only one they might be able to. The Crew’s pitching staff has given up 95 home runs – that’s a minimum of 95 runs (obviously) that’s nearly 23% of all runs scored on Milwaukee this year. If we were to trade the number home runs given up with the Washington Nationals – an NL low of 66 – the Brewers aggregate score drops to 411-386, which is good for a handful of more wins and a few steps closer to the Central Division title or at least a Wild Card. 21 of those dingers dished out by Milwaukee have come in July. Stopping the long ball and lowering the walks (also where Milwaukee is struggling this month) will go a long way to shortening that gap in the Central.
So don’t call it a comeback – the Brew Crew has a steep climb left in the second half of the season – but don’t fret too much. This team is going somewhere, even if it is just baby steps.