Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Milwaukee Brewers 2013: A Dreadful First Week

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The Milwaukee Brewers 2013 season is well underway, and there’s only one thing any observant writer can say: The Brewers look dreadful in just about every respect.

While there are some good things happening — Norichika Aoki’s four hits today (during his promotional bobblehead day), a clutch Sunday double by rookie OF-3B Josh Prince, the strong six innings pitched by Kyle Lohse on Friday, and the two good relief appearances by Jim Henderson among them — there are many more extremely frustrating things going on, which befits a team with a woeful 1-5 record.

First, and worst: The Brewers have faced many injuries already this season.  Consider that half the Brewers starting infield is currently on the disabled list (DL) — first baseman Corey Hart, of course, had knee surgery back in February, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez tweaked his knee while sliding into second base on Friday evening.  In addition, both prospective utility infielders, Taylor Green and Jeff Bianchi, are on the DL along with backup first baseman-outfielder Mat Gamel (out for the year), while Brewers rookie starting shortstop Jean Segura sustained a bruised left thigh on Sunday and is now considered “day-to-day.”

But the most frustrating injury is to Brewers’ MVP Ryan Braun, who is out with neck spasms.  While not on the DL, he’s unable to play — the closest he’s come to actually getting in a game since Friday was standing in the on-deck circle earlier today — and that means that the Brewers three best hitters are currently unavailable.

That doesn’t mean the Brewers aren’t trying in the hitting department.  They certainly are.  Players like Aoki, Prince, the recently signed Yuniesky Betancourt, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are all doing their best to score runs.

Second, many players are playing out of position due to injury.  Betancourt and Gonzalez between them, shortstops by trade, have played every position except second base, while Prince, an outfielder, played third base for the first time since AA ball on Sunday due to a lack of bench players.

Third, while the Brewers are carrying eight relief pitchers, half of them aren’t doing well.  The worst of the lot has been closer John Axford, who has an ERA of 20.25 and a record of 0-1 (being the pitcher of record this afternoon in an eleven-inning loss) with one blown save, four home runs, and six earned runs given up in 2 and 2/3 innings pitched.

Now, it is still early, so Axford’s extremely depressing ERA is misleading.  But giving up six earned runs — with four of ’em being HRs — in less than three innings worth of work is extremely concerning.  Worse yet, Axford has not looked sharp; his “three up, three down” tenth inning today is also, and quite unfortunately, misleading in that Axford gave up two fly ball outs that went to the wall (one in the deepest part of left center, the other to left) before striking out the third batter only after throwing a pitch wildly over the umpire’s head on a 1-2 count.

So, Axford has not looked good.  Mike Gonzalez (13.50 ERA), who came in today in relief of Axford, has had a good appearance and at least two bad ones.  And aside from Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Alfredo Figaro and Chris Narveson, every other reliever has had at least one bad outing amidst a good outing or two.

Fourth, the starters, as a group, have also looked awful.  A bad relief pitching corps could be circumvented if the starters were up to snuff.  Unfortunately, the only starter who’s actually looked good to date is Lohse (with a sparkling 1.50 ERA).  Gallardo (5.73 ERA) has looked, at best, serviceable.  Estrada (7.20 ERA) looked awful against Arizona.  Mike Fiers (10.80 ERA) had a forgettable start.  Peralta (6.70 ERA) has looked overmatched since spring training.

As to who is available among starting pitchers?  Well, former Brewers lefty Chris Capuano (12-12, 3.72 ERA in 2012) is a forgotten man in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, and is a better pitcher than Estrada, Fiers or Peralta.  Narveson, who is in the bullpen probably because the Brewers are afraid of re-injuring his surgically repaired left shoulder, is also a better pitcher than Estrada, Fiers or Peralta.   Those two pitchers would give the Brewers two lefties on the starting staff, and would at least make it harder for opposing teams to tee off on Brewers pitchers.

Also, Aaron Harang (10-10, 3.61 ERA) has already been designated for assignment by his new team, the Colorado Rockies.  Harang, too, is a much better pitcher than Fiers or Peralta, and is probably better than Estrada.  So if I were the Brewers, I’d certainly be willing to give Harang a look-see.

There are also two quality relievers currently without teams.  One, Francisco Rodriguez, is well-known to the Brewers and is unlikely to be signed due to his 2012 struggles with the team.  But the other, Brian Wilson, would be an intriguing choice — while Wilson would undoubtedly need time in Arizona in extended spring training before getting some rehab appearances in the minors, at least the Brewers would know that help would eventually be on the way.

My advice is as follows:

  • Send Axford to a sports psychiatrist (if Axford isn’t already seeing one), as that may help.
  • Sign Wilson, which would give Axford some competition, as Axford seems to do better when someone is seriously competing with him for the job.
  • Trade for Capuano (and maybe even Harang).
  • Send Peralta down, as it appears he needs more time in AAA ball, and think seriously about sending Fiers back down as well.
  • And, last but not least, put Segura on the DL and call up Blake Lalli.  The Brewers need a third catcher badly, and Lalli worked with the Brewers staff extensively in spring training due to both Lucroy and Martin Maldonado playing for Teams USA and Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.  Lalli also hit well in the spring, and certainly cannot hurt the Brewers any at this point.

The last move is necessary because the Brewers are unwilling to put Braun on the DL and obviously cannot handle having only three healthy bench players.  In Sunday’s eleven-inning game, the Brewers actually had to use Lohse, the best hitter of the available starting pitchers, as a pinch hitter because that was the only move left for manager Ron Roenicke.  But Lohse struck out to end the game (of course).

As it stands, though, I feel sorry for Axford.  I’m sure he’s trying his best, as is everyone else on the team — you don’t get into professional sports if you aren’t interested in doing well for yourself and your team, after all.  But it’s obvious that something is still not right with Axford, and my guess is that whatever is it has more to do with his head than his mechanics or his will.

I just hope he can sort it out, and get back to pitching the way Brewers fans know he can.  Or it’s likely to be another long, frustrating season for the Brewers in 2013.

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