Monday, May 28, 2012

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers: .404 (Not Found)

Did it have to happen so soon?

It's only Memorial Day, and already the defending National League Central Division Champion Milwaukee Brewers are being talked about as sellers at the trading deadline.  They've hobbled and wheezed their way to an unimpressive Memorial Day record of 19-28 (.404), nine games below .500 and eight games behind the division-leading [who knows; they're too many games below to see who's above].  Barring a hot streak in the first half of June -- which, frankly, would be amazing with the current roster full of injuries -- it's hard to see how this Crew can climb back into division contention.

Here's the 4-1-1 on the .404:

The Brewers' training room and associated rehab facilities have been jammed full in 2012.  The infield has been decimated; Mat Gamel (1b) and Alex Gonzalez (ss) are out for the season.  Backups-promoted-to-starters Travis Ishikawa (1b) and Cesar Izturis (ss) are on the DL.  Aramis Ramirez (3b) has been held out for a few games after a HBP turned his elbow into a grapefruit.  With Prince Fielder gone to free agency and Rickie Weeks scuffling at the plate, a starting four of Cody Ransom (3b), Edwin Maysonet (ss), Brooks Conrad (2b), and Taylor Green (1b) could be coming soon to a ballpark near you.

Fifth starter Chris Narveson is gone for the year, and effective spot-starter/long-reliever Marco Estrada is on the DL.  The Brewers haven't been using reliever Kameron Loe in recent games due to elbow soreness.

The catching crew, a rare beacon of light in a dismal offense, just took a potential hit as back-up George Kottaras was pulled from yesterday's game after he tweaked a hamstring.  He's only back in today because All-Star candidate Jonathan Lucroy is sitting out today's game with a bruised hand.  The outfield by comparison has escaped relatively unscathed, with Carlos Gomez recently reactivated from the DL despite running at half his usual breakneck speed.  That's not insignificant, as speed is 80% of his game, offensively and defensively.  However, he's back, which is good.

It goes without saying that the Brewers, not to mention metro Milwaukee's 1,751,316 denizens (2010 U.S. Census), held their collective breath when franchise player Ryan Braun suffered achilles tendon pain.  It's not clear that he's back to 100%.

Add to this roll-call of injuries a spate of inconsistent starting pitching, awful situational hitting by all but Braun and Lucroy, and creative blunders on the bases and you have the story of the Brewers' early season.  Corey Hart hasn't yet seen a grounder to shortstop that would keep him from running into an unforced out at third.  Yesterday, batter Nyjer Morgan slowed down to watch the play at the plate en route to being thrown out at first in a 6-2-3 double-play.

What made the 2011 Brew Crew strong from the outset was a staff anchored by three starting aces, a back-to-back Braun-Fielder tandem in the 3-4 slots, solid hitting from Weeks and Hart, an unanticipated, high energy shot in the arm from Morgan and Gomez, and two front line closers in Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford -- plus a clubhouse chemistry that worked.  This year, Fielder's gone, and not just the heart of the order but much of the Brewers' heart with it.

It's come to this: there are, perhaps, two to four weeks to persuade 2013 free agents Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum on the one hand and Brewers' owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin on the other that the 2013 Brewers will be different and are worth a contract commitment.  Dollars will talk, but the prospect of a winning performance has to match the promise.  Otherwise, the Brew Crew will be truly blue, unanticipated sellers at the trading deadline.

In short, if the Brewers cannot improve from .404 to .504 by 7/4, the 4-1-1 in the 414 will become a full-fledged 9-1-1.

* * *

UPDATE: After a narrow win on Memorial Day against the Dodgers, the Brewers broke glass and pulled the alarm, placing Jonathan Lucroy (c) on the 15-day DL.  The story of his injury is too outrageous not to be true: his wife shifted a suitcase on their hotel bed; it fell on his right hand, fracturing it, while he was reaching under the bed for a sock.  (You mean to say that hasn't ever happened to you?)  Nashville Sounds catcher Martin Maldonado, batting .198 for the season in AAA, will join the Brew Crew to serve as understudy to the hobbled George Kottaras.

The good news is that Miller Park has a roof so they always play the game.

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