The Brewers At The Break
By Jeff Falconio
The All-Star break is here so with no Brewers baseball for three days it's a perfect time to look back on the first half of the season. Like any year, there have been ups and downs but at just 2 1/2 games out of first place, the Brewers have the playoffs in their sights for the second half. Hey, there's three days to think about this stuff, so here's three keys to three categories for the Crew.
Three Players That Must Produce
1. J.J. Hardy, the best way to avoid the let's-trade-Hardy-and-call-up-Escobar talk is to start the second half on fire. Hardy has shown signs of life at the plate and we know when he gets hot he can be one of the best hitters in baseball. Unfortunately, those streaks can be few and far between. The Brewers need more punch than the Braun-Fielder-McGehee trio and Hardy could be the guy to do it.
2. Trevor Hoffman, a lack of consistency from the closer crushed the Brewers chances in 2007 and nearly derailed the 2008 season. Hoffman has been outstanding despite a hiccup in late June. For the Brewers to get back to the postseason Hoffman must continue to be lock down and he'll need plenty of gas in the tank come September when the Cardinals appear on the schedule three times.
3. Manny Parra, no-brainer here. Parra absolutely must get past whatever mental/confidence issues he has and be the number two starter he can be. His last start was a first good step but he'll need to do more than that to help maintain stability in the second half.
Three Things Going For The Brewers
1. An easy schedule, the Brewers faced a brutal stretch from mid-June to Sunday, facing three division leaders as well as the Cubs, Twins, Mets and Giants. After the first weekend back the Brewers will get the Nationals twice, the Pirates twice and the Padres before the schedule ramps up in September.
2. A weak trading market, everybody is asking, can the Brewers get an extra arm before July 31? Well, there just isn't much out there for the Brewers but that also means there's not much out there for anyone else. St. Louis does not appear to be in a position to give up the prospects needed to acquire Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, Chicago is in the middle of a sale and may not be able to maneuver much and Cincinnati and Houston might play their way out of it before the end of July. If the Brewers stay healthy they can contend with the Cards and Cubs.
3. Speaking of health...a trade for a starting pitcher may not be necessary since Parra is back and Dave Bush should rehab his way back in time for the Brewers first homestand of the second half. If both guys play to their level, it will feel like the Brewers picked up an extra arm without making a trade.
Three Issues To Address
1. The leadoff spot, Jason Kendall has occupied the spot as of late but he doesn't quite have the skill set to lead off every day. The larger issue is not only finding a guy who can set the table but also getting everyone to make better contact with the ball, especially with runners on.
2. Long relief, Seth McClung can do the job but with the month-long slump Carlos Villanueva is in, this becomes a cause for concern. It's unknown how many innings Bush and Parra can eat up in July and without Villanueva to fill the gap to the eighth inning, the Brewers can fall into the trap of a tired bullpen very quickly
3. September swoon, last year the intensity was at full blast and the Brewers seemed to press way too much. It was especially evident in a four game sweep in Philadelphia that cost Ned Yost his job. The Brewers got it together in time but with five teams in contention in the Central and five other NL teams looking for a wild card bid, the Brewers cannot afford another September swoon.