Brewers in survival mode
That’s what the Milwaukee Brewers have on their minds during this final week before the all-star break.
With division leader St. Louis and Los Angeles, easily the best team in the National League, coming to Miller Park for a six-game home-stand, the Brewers will be tested thoroughly each day. That challenge becomes more daunting because of their depleted starting rotation.
“It’s crucial,” said left fielder Ryan Braun. “We don’t want to dig ourselves too much of a hole. It’s always important to have some momentum going into the second half.
“We want to be headed in the right direction, not the wrong direction.”
Actually, the Brewers have been headed in both directions over the past month, depending on which series you watched them play. They went 5-10 in interleague play, the only highlight a three-game sweep in Cleveland against the woeful Indians.
The Brewers caught red-hot Colorado at the wrong time and were swept at home. They finished a nine-game homestand by taking two of three from much-improved San Francisco as well as the injury-depleted New York Mets.
The Brewers then paid their first visit of the season to Wrigley Field and lost three of four to the Cubs, prompting Braun to declare they “clearly outplayed us” while noting his team’s starting rotation was no match for Chicago’s.
What Braun said without actually saying it was that the Brewers were no match for the Cubs’ rotation in the spots currently occupied by fill-ins Seth McClung and Mike Burns. Chicago thumped both pitchers and won those games by scores of 9-5 and 8-2.
Which is why manager Ken Macha and general manager Doug Melvin have been discussing what to do with the rotation during this important home stand against the Cardinals and Dodgers. Macha knows that his best pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, will start the first game against St. Louis and the last game against Los Angeles.
Macha also knows that veterans Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper will pitch two of the four games in between. But who will pitch the other two games? Will Macha give the ball again to McClung and/or Burns?
“We’ll sit down on Tuesday and figure out exactly who’s going to pitch when,” said Macha. “Doug is looking at all of the possibilities we have.”
Unless Melvin is able to swing a trade in the next couple of days for a starting pitcher, such as Arizona’s Doug Davis, there is a strong likelihood that left-hander Manny Parra will be recalled from Class AAA Nashville for one of those two starts. Sent there to work on his command, Parra threw the ball very well in his last outing with seven shutout innings.
Not that the Brewers’ lone concern is starting pitching. Beyond the 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup of all-stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and the emergence of Casey McGehee, the offense has been erratic.
Over the last eight games, the Brewers have been shut out twice, scored one run in 10 innings and two runs another time. Not coincidentally, they lost all four games.
The Brewers scored just two runs Sunday against the Cubs despite collecting 11 hits, once again having difficulty coming through in the clutch. Fielder gave credit to Chicago’s strong starting rotation. And, while noting the challenge of the upcoming home stand, he said there is no reason to panic at this stage.
“It’s important, but it’s still a long season,” said Fielder. “Hopefully, we can come out all right. But if not, that’s just the way it is. I don’t want to put too much pressure on the situation.
“We’ve still got a long way to go. But every game counts and hopefully we’ll come out with at least a winning record this last week.”
The good news is that despite playing cha-cha-cha baseball (taking steps forward, back, left and right), the Brewers have managed to stay at or near first place in the up-for-grabs NL Central. Entering play Monday, a day off for the Brewers, only two games separated the top five teams in the division in the loss column.
So, rather than bemoan what might have been had the Brewers played better, Macha preferred to look forward.
“Everybody is pretty much in one big pile,” said Macha. “Flip the page and play a good series against St. Louis, try to finish up strong before the break and see where we are.
“We’ve been playing nothing but contenders for the last two weeks. Judging by not having two of the guys we had in our rotation at the beginning of the year, we’re doing OK.
“Let’s hope we get through this thing with our heads above water, play well the last six games and be in the position we want to be in.”