Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Milwaukee Brewers Lose in 9th to Phillies After K-Rod Implodes; 2012 Season Hopes in Jeopardy

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The Milwaukee Brewers lost a very tough game Monday night to the Philadelphia Phillies; the final score was 7-6.   The Brewers should not have lost this game, not after starting pitcher Randy Wolf pitched six strong innings, leaving the game with a 6-2 lead; that the bullpen (mostly reliever John Axford) was able to do well until the ninth, before closer Francisco Rodriguez came in and stunk up the joint, just makes this loss all the more heartbreaking.

Pity poor Randy Wolf.  Wolf’s season stats look terrible — a 3-6 record, a 5.60 ERA starting Monday’s game — but they are misleading in the extreme.  Wolf’s left eight other games when the Brewers have been ahead aside from his three wins — count ’em, eight.   Yet he’s won only three times. 

Why is this?  Because the Brewers bullpen has been abysmal, blowing saves eight different times in games Wolf’s started and left with a lead.   This is completely unacceptable.

Tonight, unfortunately, was no different, results-wise, than most of the rest of the season.  But perhaps looking at what specifically happened can shed some light on this particularly painful loss.

In the bottom of the seventh, Manny Parra came on in relief of Wolf.  Parra threw 27 pitches, but couldn’t get three outs; he walked three, struck out two, and while he didn’t give up any hits, did surrender one run. 

With the game at 6-3, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke brought on former closer John Axford, who fortunately shut the Phillies right down again.  Axford also pitched a scoreless eighth, recording his first official hold for the season.

Then it’s the bottom of the ninth.  The Brewers were still ahead, 6-3.  They knew that the Philadelphia Phillies, coming into Monday’s game, were a woeful 0-42 when behind after eight innings, so the Brewers had to feel fairly confident. 

Yet the Brewers ended up losing again because Rodriguez (nicknamed K-Rod) didn’t have it.   K-Rod was only able to get one out before getting into major trouble, but Roenicke didn’t have another reliever warming up in the bullpen.  While Rodriguez eventually got the second out by inducing a fly ball, the Phillies ended up scoring the winning run off that fly ball.  (A Pyrrhic victory at best.)  This was Rodriguez’s fifth blown save out of eight chances; his record is 2-5.

The Brewers are now seven games under .500.  They are in fourth place, eleven and a half games behind the front-running Cincinnati Reds, and have shown absolutely no signs of the major run they’d need in order to get to postseason play.  Which makes me think, as a Brewers fan, that any hopes that remain for the 2012 season are just that — hopes.

And what’s sad about this is that there’s some real offensive talent on this team.  Ryan Braun is having a great year, batting .309  at the start of Monday’s game, with 65 RBI and 26 HRs.  Corey Hart, who’s played a good deal of first base this year (a position he’s not played much since the low minors), was hitting .258 at the start of Monday’s game, with 45 RBI and 17 HRs.  Aramis Ramirez, who had a terrible first month and a half, was hitting .277  at the start of Monday’s game, with 55 RBI and 10 HRs.  And normally light-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado, who was hitting under .200 at AAA ball, has been doing so well at the major league level (.280 BA, 18 RBI and 5 HRs, again as of the start of Monday’s game) that he might be considered legitimate “trade-bait.”

As for the pitchers — Yovani Gallardo has been up and down, but has been acceptable, going 8-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 121 innings pitched.  Wolf has had a hard-luck year, no question about it.  (The Brewers defense has been atrocious, but you’d never know it due to the fact that the Brewers have the kindest official scorer in the majors.  But even if our official scorer were kinder to the pitcher by calling more errors on the Brewers defense (as he should), the fact is that the bullpen has not done its job, most particularly in Wolf’s games.)  Zack Greinke, who’s likely to be traded as soon as tomorrow evening, has pitched reasonably well — his record’s 9-3, he has a 3.57 ERA in 116 innings pitched — but I’d be astonished if he were with the team much longer.  Then, of course, the other two starting pitchers at the beginning of the year were Chris Narveson — out for the year — and Shaun Marcum, who’s been on the DL since June 15.

So what’s been the bright spot, if there is one, with regards to the Brewers rotation?  A guy by the name of Michael Fiers.  Fiers wasn’t expected to do anything this year for the big-league club, yet he’s pitched extremely well.  While his record is a deceptive 3-4, his ERA is a terrific 1.96 in 59 2/3 innings pitched.  Fiers is a guy who reminds me of Ben Sheets (currently on the comeback trail with the Atlanta Braves); he’s a tough-minded competitor, and he gives the Brewers an excellent chance to win every time he picks up the ball. 

The main reason the Brewers’ season hasn’t gone well is because of the many injuries they’ve suffered (to Alex Gonzales, Mat Gamel, Narveson, Marcum, Travis Ishikawa, Cesar Izturis, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy).   I accept that, as injuries are a fact of life.

However, the players who are still there must produce.  Some of them aren’t, most particularly Rickie Weeks, who as of the start of Monday’s game was hitting a dreadful .195, with 33 RBI and 9 HRs, and while Nyjer Morgan continues to have value due to his stellar defense and good baserunning skills, he’s not doing that well hitting-wise either, batting only .229 at the start of Monday’s game with 5 RBI and 2 HR in 80 games.

While it’s not General Manager Doug Melvin’s fault that so many players came up injured this season (or just aren’t as good as they should be — witness Weeks), it is his fault for trading away two good, solid shortstops — Alcides Escobar and J.J. Hardy — in previous years.  It is his fault for giving Roenicke an extension, when last year’s National League Championship Series showed how dogmatic Roenicke could be when it came to pulling — or not pulling — pitchers.  (I will never understand why Marcum, who had absolutely nothing left in the tank, got two starts in the NLCS.)  It is Melvin’s fault for not trading for a few more relievers, as most of ours are played out — and it is Melvin’s fault for believing that this team, without Prince Fielder, and with three starting pitchers all having contracts expiring at the same time (Wolf, Greinke, and Marcum), would be a contender this year.

I’m sorry to say it, folks, but unless Melvin can pull a rabbit out of his hat, the Brewers look like they’re right where they should be this year.  In fourth place.  Way out of playoff contention.

And that’s sad.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

July 24, 2012 at 12:14 am

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