The Brewers opened the second half to the 2017 season looking to prove critics wrong and continue to hold their impressive 5.5 game lead in the NL Central. Unfortunately, inadequate relief pitching and major slumps from several key players have helped the Crew to land in a position that many in the media predicted, out of first place. Milwaukee’s woeful bullpen has reached a crucial point and Stearns decided to attempt to make seem desperate changes in the dying days before the trade deadline. These moves will help the Brewers to lessen their current skid but are only one step in several important moves the Milwaukee must make to contend. While it seems more likely a downward trend will continue, the Brewers have the capability to improve and can absolutely still be contenders.
The Brewers acquired several relievers including Anthony Swarzak (2.32 ERA, 1.033 WHIP) and former teammate, Jeremy Jeffress. David Stearns, Milwaukee’s young and hailed “genius” General Manager was able to give up no major prospects for a relief pitchers who can be the difference in games that continue to be decided in the later innings because of blown opportunities from the bullpen. Both Swarzak and Jeffress are proven pitchers who can be used in a variety of roles including in setup positions in front of closer Corey Knebel. With these additions and the continued growth and ability of Josh Hader in relief, the Crew’s pitching is showing signs of improvement.
Sizing Up Against the Powerhouses
If there is any indication that the Brewers can compete with the best, look no further than the last two series against the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. While Milwaukee ended up losing both series, the performances of the starting pitching was sound throughout, minus a blowout against the Nationals from a relief pitcher in a starting role. The lineup proved it could hit but failed to capitalize with runners in scoring positions. The Brewers had opportunities to win nearly every single game in these two crucial series, but failed to due to relief pitching and lineup problems.
While these may seem like major issues, relief pitching has already been largely addressed, and with continued tweaks by Manager Craig Counsell a better outcome is definitely possible. Calling upon AAA pitchers to be flexible in their roles, as already seen with Brent Suter and Josh Hader, has been effective. From the lineup side, benching starters who are not performing and swapping the batting order should continue to be experimented with. When there are several games in a row where a high-powered offense is not producing, as it should be, something must be done. Sogard could see more time at Second in place of Villar, and Aguilar could potentially share more time with a struggling Thames. Counsell has already dabbled with reshuffling, moving Ryan Braun to batting second in recent games and having Santana bat cleanup, but there can still be better changes that will maximize scoring with RISP.
Immediate Outlook and Down the Road
David Stearns has done his part to put together a team that not only has a bright and controllable future contractually, but also one that can still compete now. While it is not planned for them to be able to win so soon, being a playoff contender is still a significant possibility. The pressure now falls on Craig Counsell to put together a squad offensively and defensively that can reach the Crew’s full potential in a month of doubt. Whatever happens in the next few months, whether the Brewers continue to duel the Cubs for first, or continue to drop out of contention, one must remember the progress that has been made throughout the entire year. No matter what happens, the Brewers have outperformed expectations set by so many and have an extremely bright future. Stearns decided not to throw some of that away at the trade deadline with minor but still significant trades for relievers in exchange for prospects. These moves still suggest though, that the Brewers can compete and definitely have the ability and talent to contend in the NL Central and beyond.