It's A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Win the NL Central
By Jeff Falconio
Tonight is the 100th game of the 2009 season for the Brewers, though it seems like they've played 100 games in July alone. It's been almost a month since the Brewers won consecutive games. To make matters worse, the Brewers are following up on last night's debacle by starting Carlos Villanueva for the first time tonight. It looks like the last 63 games are a lost cause.
But despite the recent malaise the Brewers are incredibly only four games out of first place. Yes, the Cubs are surging, but it took Chicago so long to play to their level that despite this slump the Brewers have not dug themselves too deep like the Mets and Giants have.
There are two major problems right now. The second half schedule was supposed to be soft enough for the Brewers to win games without playing their best. It may not take your best to beat the Pirates or the Nationals but you certainly won't beat them when you're playing your worst. The Brewers have yet to take advantage of the supposedly soft schedule and that's the first major problem. Good teams don't struggle against Washington and Pittsburgh in the same week. But there are 63 games to go with 25 of them coming against the top three teams in the NL Central. The best way to make a move is to beat the teams ahead of you. So there is room to move up and there's still a few weaklings to pummel on the schedule.
But none of that matters if the Brewers don't correct the second problem: an overall lack of good starting pitching. There's 72 hours left before the trading deadline but even if the Brewers can pull off a miracle and land someone like Cliff Lee (forget Roy Halladay, the asking price is way too high) there's still a big hole in the rotation. The starters are not eating enough innings and now the bullpen is on the verge of collapsing. An extra arm would help, as it always does this time of year, but it doesn't solve the issue. The Brewers need to get more quality starts out of what they have now. We said back in February that the season would be determined by the starting rotation. There were big question marks about the staff coming into the year and those questions haven't been answered.
Four games is not insurmountable. On September 10, 2008 the Phillies were 3 1/2 games out of first and had just given up 23 runs over three games against Florida. That was the day before the infamous four game sweep in Philly. Now I'm not suggesting the Brewers have what it takes to win the World Series like the Phils did last year but it's game 100, there's two months left and a four game deficit can be erased. But it can only happen if the Brewers play above the weak competition and get their rotation in order.