Janesville66.8°

Lack of depth slows Brewers’ staff

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Tom Haudricourt
August 11, 2009
— When the Milwaukee Brewers took the field on Thursday afternoon, July 1, to take on the New York Mets at Miller Park, they were seven games over .500 (42-35) and in first place in the NL Central by two games.

All seemed right in Brewers Nation.


The Brewers lost a tough 1-0 game that day with the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey barely out-pitching Yovani Gallardo, but there was no reason to expect a prolonged downward spiral. Right?


Wrong.


The Brewers’ starting rotation already had begun to fray. Right-hander Dave Bush was on the disabled list with an arm injury that wasn’t considered that serious, but he has yet to return to the mound. Lefty Manny Parra had been demoted to Class AAA Nashville to work on his command, taking a 3-8 record and 7.52 ERA with him.


Two other pitchers, Jeff Suppan and Gallardo, who began the season as the Nos. 1 and 2 starters, would lapse into their worst stretches of the season. Suppan would go 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA over his next five outings before landing on the disabled list with a strained oblique.


Gallardo, the de facto ace of the rotation, would alternate between pitching poorly and getting no run support when he did have his “A” game. The result has been a


2-5 record and 4.89 ERA over his last eight starts, including a 2-0 heart-breaker Sunday in Houston.


Right-hander Braden Looper has been the lone successful starter since July 1 while benefiting from generous run support. Looper is 4-1 with a 4.71 ERA in seven outings since that date, though the club is 4-3.


During that span, the lack of depth in starting pitching in the organization was greatly exposed. Three fill-in starters—Seth McClung, Mike Burns and Carlos Villanueva—have combined to go 2-7 with a 7.22 ERA in 11 outings. The team is 4-7 in those 11 games.


So, as the Brewers boarded their charter flight Sunday night to head home from Houston, they found themselves with a 55-56 record and six games behind first-place St. Louis, matching their biggest deficit of the season, going back to April 22.


Beginning with that 1-0 loss to the Mets on July 1, the Brewers have gone 13-21, winning just one of 10 series (1-7-2). In 34 games, they lost eight games in the standings, going from two up to six behind.


Life preserver, anyone?


“It shows you the importance of starting pitching,” said manager Ken Macha. “We knew when the season began we were thin in that area.”


The Brewers certainly have other problems. Though they are fourth in the NL in runs scored (519), the offense has been erratic with enough holes in the lineup to aid enemy pitchers. And an overworked bullpen has forced general manager Doug Melvin to do major retooling over the past 10 days, adding three relievers.


But, above all else, starting pitching has been the anchor dragging down the team and threatening to drop the Brewers from the NL Central race. They rank last in the league with a 5.16 ERA for their starting pitchers, worse than last-place teams Washington (5.02), San Diego (5.02) and Pittsburgh (4.48).


Imagine how bad it would be if not for the improvement shown by Parra since being recalled from Nashville. In six starts, he has gone 4-0 with a 4.10 ERA.


Unwilling to part with top prospects for a two-month patch job, Melvin did not acquire a starting pitcher, forcing the club to wait out the longer-than-expected absence of Bush as well as Suppan.


“It’s not that we’ve been riding it out,” said Macha. “Doug has been looking. People want to hold you up (for a starter).”


The Brewers’ pitching woes have prevented them from taking advantage of their schedule turning softer. Since the all-star break, five of the seven teams the Brewers played had losing records. Yet the Brewers were unable to win any of those five series, going 2-2 against Cincinnati, 1-2 against Pittsburgh, 2-2 against Washington, 1-2 against San Diego and 1-2 against Houston.


Oddly, their lone series win since July 1 came in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, who have the best record in the league.


The Brewers’ schedule stays soft for the remainder of August with all six opponents having losing records. One of them, Washington, is the hottest team in the league, however, with eight consecutive victories.


But first-place St. Louis also is in the easiest portion of its schedule. Beginning with a three-game series over the weekend in Pittsburgh, which the Cardinals swept, they play 19 of 22 games against teams with losing records, including many of the same opponents the Brewers will face.


“The next two weeks will tell the tale,” Macha said Sunday after a frustrating loss in Houston.


If it’s the same story the Brewers have been writing since July 1, you can find it in the “horror” section of your local book store.



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