They Couldn't Get The Red Out
I wanted to believe.
I thought the changes Brewers GM Doug Melvin made in the off-season would help make Milwaukee a force again in the National League Central.
Doug Davis seems like an innings-eater, as did Randy Wolf. The addition of two veteran starters would bolster the rotation, with LaTroy Hawkins adding another arm to the bullpen. Then there was Carlos Gomez in center--speedy, albeit with a questionable bat. Jim Edmonds was a solid veteran pick-up and a great clubhouse presence who had a been-there attitude when it came to playing in games that count. Grey-beard catcher Gregg Zaun would be an adequate replacement for the departed Jason Kendal. If studs like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun lived up to expectations, and if the team could get anything close to a repeat from Casey McGehee, life would be good. No need to worry about guys like Trevor Hoffman. He's automatic in the ninth and a lock to ring up his 600th career save.
As July becomes August, I see the error of my ways.
Davis is on the DL again, this time with elbow issues and was a colossal disappointment even when he COULD throw. Wolf hasn't been the same pitcher that he was last year in L-A. Not at all. Hawkins is about to come off the disabled list, and we can only hope he's better than he was when he came up gimpy. Edmonds plays like a 20 year old but his 40 year old body keeps letting him down--he's battled a variety of hurts all season long including a lingering Achilles problem that's keeping him on the shelf. Zaun blew out and his Milwaukee career ended before it ever had a chance to sprout legs. Gomez' bat remains a question mark, as does his head: in Wednesday's loss, he got tossed out trying to stretch a late-inning double into a triple with nobody out, which is a violation of Baseball 101. Fielder is coming around after a typically slow start, one that lasted most of the first half of the season. Braun's in a funk, and Hoffman is no longer a closer, having flamed out early in the campaign. The Miller Park banner keeping track of career saves hasn't changed since Memorial Day or thereabouts.
Despite all of the inconsistency, the Brewers stoked hope by winning four straight and 10 of 14 heading into this week's series with the Cincinnati Reds. There was talk of a sweep after Monday night's win, and hope that Milwaukee could take two of three after the Crew dropped Tuesday's rematch.
Wednesday's finale may have been the nail in the proverbial coffin.
Cincinnati pounded the Brewers 12-2, turning a close game into a rout in the late going. Chris Narveson lost it in the sixth (if we could only skip that inning and go right on to the seventh, I swear Milwaukee would be printing playoff tickets), the bullpen added gas to the fire and, well, another game wound up swirling around the bowl.
The Brewers aren't a bad team--they can be downright inspiring when hitting on all cylinders. The trouble is, those moments have been far and few between. Even if Milwaukee can play it's way back to .500 again, is there anything that makes you think this club (as currently configured) can then keep playing at the pace needed to put the heat on the Reds and Cardinals?
I'm not going to try to tell GM Doug Melvin what to do as the trading deadline approaches. Only he knows what other clubs are offering for the likes of Fielder, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and other Brewers said to be on the radars of contenders. Only Doug can decide if he's getting value for value. He may be happy just to stand pat and ride the season out with the current crop of talent.
Even winning clubs have stretches where things fall apart. Contenders, though, keep those to a minimum. The Brewers, on the other hand, have made inconsistency a way of life. If the starting pitching is good, the bullpen falters and vice versa. Or, the hitting goes south. Then there's the fielding. Too many big innings got their spark when an opponent's batted ball rolled through a Milwaukee glove or between a pair of Brewer legs.
If it's not one thing, it's something else.
I wanted to believe, even as the Brewers had a less-than-spectacular finish to their Cactus League slate. They went 2-4-1 in their final week in Arizona before taking two preseason clashes from the Tigers at Miller Park. Then the season started, and reality set in: this isn't that good of a team.
There are some bright spots: Hart's rebirth at the plate, Weeks' establishing himself as both a lead-off stud and power threat, Vovani Gallardo pitching himself into the All-Star game. Alcides Escobar is starting to rake and can make the occasional jaw-dropping play in the field. But for all the positives, there seem to be more negatives, enough to keep Milwaukee consistently under break even and out of contention.
It would've been nice if all of Melvin's acquisitions worked out, and it's uncanny that most have under-delivered. Who could've predicted Hoffman's flame-out? Prince's early-season power outage? Braun's occasional yips at the dish?
Sweeping the Reds, or at least winning the series, would've given the Brewers added swagger and spawned hopes in the hearts of fans who would've had good reason to think Milwaukee was playing itself back into the chase. Losing two of three to Cincinnati sucked the wind out of the sails, and reinforced the belief that this is a flawed configuration with nothing in the way of fresh talent on the way to help the team out of it's funk.
Two months remain on the slate. Have you seen anything in the five that preceded it that gives you reason to believe change is on the horizon?
Me neither, although I wanted to believe...