Sole possession of last place on the line for Brewers, Cubs
The early juncture of the season aside, that status would not be shocking for the Cubs, who are in an admitted rebuilding mode with new leadership atop their baseball operation, including former Brewers coach Dale Sveum as manager.
For the Brewers, however, that development would be an unexpected turn of events. They entered the season with an eye toward repeating as division champion, and though the season has yet to hit the quarter mark, no team with contending aspirations wants to dig a hole too deep.
"You can only say it's early for so long," said Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun. "We don't feel like it's early anymore. We just haven't played consistently yet. But it's there, it's all there. We'll be all right."
The "it" to which Braun referred is talent. Yes, the Brewers already have lost three regulars to season-ending injuries—left-hander Chris Narveson (rotator cuff surgery), first baseman Mat Gamel (torn right ACL) and shortstop Alex Gonzalez (torn right ACL).
But Braun's point is that there's still talent remaining on this club that hasn't produced to expectations at this juncture. Second baseman Rickie Weeks, who made the NL all-star team in 2011, is batting a league-low .164. Centerfielder Nyjer Morgan, a spark plug last year with a .304 batting average, is hitting .192.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has swung the bat much better lately and is now driving in runs, but an awful start leaves him at .219 with a .266 on-base percentage. Rightfielder Corey Hart, one of the top sluggers in the NL over the first three weeks, went ice cold and is down to .231 without an RBI in his last 12 games.
Many pitchers have struggled to find a groove as well. Yovani Gallardo, who was 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA last season, is 2-3 with a 5.35 ERA. Randy Wolf, 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 2011, is 2-3 with a 6.68 ERA. Late-inning relievers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford have 5.65 and 5.59 ERAs, respectively.
, though Axford has blown no save chances.
Thanks to their 36 home runs, second best in the NL, the Brewers are eighth in the NL with 123 runs scored. But they are 13th with a .230 batting average and 15th with a .298 on-base percentage. The Brewers are 12th in drawing walks (84) yet third in striking out (251). Their starting rotation ranks 15th with a 4.75 ERA and the bullpen also is 15th at 4.77.
So, on many fronts, there is room for considerable improvement.
"We haven't put it together yet," said right-hander Zack Greinke, one of the few players on the team meeting expectations (3-1, 3.35). "We had a long (hot) stretch last year and two not-so-good stretches. This (poor) one has been longer than we'd like but I'm sure we've got some hot streaks coming up.
"The team is still good. We had some depth coming in. This is probably more injuries than we'd like, but we had some depth when the season started. That's tough for every team but every team has to deal with something.
"The pitching needs to be better. We struggled the whole first month. That makes it harder on our offense."
Likewise, the offense has made it tough on the pitching. Before breaking loose in an 8-3 victory Tuesday over Cincinnati, the Brewers scored 27 runs over a 10-game stretch. On Wednesday, they were held to a ninth-inning homer by Braun in a 2-1 loss to the Reds, dooming them to their fourth consecutive series loss.
With so many hitters and pitchers underperforming, winning streaks have been as rare as games with the roof open at Miller Park. Since winning the first three games of a four-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field from April 9-11, the Brewers have won as many as two in a row just three times.
Among the oddities involving the team, the Brewers are 3-12 in day games and 1-9 in the final games of series.
"It's frustrating," said Braun, who has been productive (.313, 10 HRs, 21 RBI) despite an ailing Achilles tendon but has batted far too often with the bases empty.
"The fact that we haven't played well so far is not for a lack of effort. It's not for a lack of preparation, just a lack of execution. We'll continue to battle, continue to fight. If we continue to do that, we'll eventually start winning more games.
"You just continue to compete every day. You never know when you're going to have success, either individually or as a team. You never get worried. I think we'll be all right."