Buyers or Sellers? Contenders or Pretenders?
101 games into the season and we still aren't sure what we've got with these 2009 Milwaukee Brewers.
We know they're four and a half games out as July ends, after starting the month two games up atop the NL Central.
We know they're down at least two starting pitchers with Dave Bush still on the mend and Jeff Suppan apparently headed for the DL with an oblique strain suffered not when he watched still another home run clear the fence from his perch on the Miller Park mound the other night but rather when he was batting.
We know they're daylight-challenged, having won only 11 times in 33 tries heading into Thursday's matinee against the Nationals.
What we don't know is what GM Doug Melvin will do in the hours leading up to the Friday trade deadline. I thought they'd be buyers, a team in need of only a piece or a tweak if they swept Washington. Now, in light of Suppan's injury and the fact that they'll be lucky to split with the lowly Nats, I'm thinking they should be sellers who could rid themselves of big contracts and unnecessary parts to prepare for next year.
JJ Hardy could be peddled and a spot opened up for Alcides Escobar. Take whatever you can get for Bill Hall. Corey Hart hasn't been the same since last year's All-Star break and I wouldn't mind seeing him packaged and peddled, either.
The bottom line is that this isn't a team that is just a good pitcher away from being a contender again. It's a team that's been out of sync all season long--good pitching often lacks run support. Big leads are squandered by ineffective starters or a worn-out bullpen. Trevor Hoffman's skills aren't being exploited because the team has a hard time getting to the late inning stage where he shines.
This just isn't a good team right now.
It would be fantastic if Casey McGehee's pinch-hit home run Wednesday night--a blast that put the Brewers ahead to stay against Washington and that came the same night his son with cerebral palsy threw out the first pitch--served as some sort of inspirational turning point the final 59 games of the season. Wouldn't it be cool to say you were there the night the campaign pivoted, with the Brewers using the emotion from that one swing of the bat to fuel a surge to the playoffs?
It would be nice, but it's not something you can realistically bank on.
The Brewers are what they are--home-run reliant and pitching-challenged. St. Louis made moves that assure the Cardinals that they'll have the firepower they need for the stretch run (they already had more than enough pitching). The Cubs are enjoying the bounce that comes from good health. Houston may be coming back to earth and could be within Milwaukee's reach, but do you really thing the Brewers have what it takes to surpass either the Cards or Cubs? How many gallons of blue and gold Kool-Aid does one have to swill to lean that way?
As a fan and season-ticket holder, I'd like to believe. As a realist, I can't go there.
Melvin is a noble steward of the team's fortunes, and I trust virtually his every move. Most worked out--some haven't, but that's baseball. I have faith he'll do what's right as the deadline approaches and preserve the team's future by hanging onto key prospects and peddling only those parts no longer deemed necessary. Long term gain, instead of short-term risk. Roy Halladay taking the CC Sabathia route to Milwaukee. And, even if he did, would he be enough to push this team to the top?
Not unless he can hit and play shortstop, too.