I may have shown my homer colors when I picked the Milwaukee Brewers second in the NL Central this year, but my expectations were totally realistic heading into the season.
I thought Milwaukee would struggle with their pitching, and the bats would have to carry them. True to form, the Brewers' best streaks of good play this season have been buoyed by a balanced, dangerous offense.
Unfortunately, those flashes of good play haven't been enough to balance out some totally bad baseball in June and the first half of July (15-23 record).
Heading into the unofficial start of the second half Thursday night at Cincinnati, I have some serious concerns about this club that stand in the way of a second straight playoff spot.
Starting pitching depth
It's okay if a team suffers some injuries and is short in the rotation as a result. That's going to happen.
It's not okay if a team is already short in the rotation, and then suffers injuries to steady pitchers. That's what happened to the Brewers, who had to deal without Dave Bush -- a real surprise this season -- because of a bad arm. Braden Looper was signed to be a bottom-of-the-rotation inning-eater, and he has not exceeded expectations. Jeff Suppan is generally terrible, but his bursts of good pitching are better than anyone else on staff.
Mike Burns tried hard, but he's not even a replacement-level starting pitcher. Getting Bush back is key, and while the bullpen is a concern, there are enough workable parts there to get you through a season. The rotation is a complete mess right now, and it's barely adequate if all the pieces are healthy.
The Brewers' smartest fans knew this was a possibility going into the season. They knew a healthy rotation was a must, and Suppan and Looper had to carry more than their weight. You can argue that Suppan and Looper have been as good as you can realistically expect, but the health concerns have helped drive the rotation down a bit.
Let's face it. The Brewers aren't going to get better until guys like Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, and Bill Hall can hit more consistently.
In Hall's case, they just need him to hit. The hell with consistency.
Hart and Hardy have been major disappointments. Hart continues to wave at the in-the-dirt slider, while Hardy has been a victim of some awful, awful luck so far. J.J. will come around in the second half. In fact, I'd be shocked if he didn't hit at least .300 from now to October. He's been whacking the ball pretty hard, but it always seems to find a fielder.
Hart and Hall can't even get to the "hit the ball hard" stage, as they're stuck on "Just make contact, please".
Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell have held their own, and then some. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder have been magnificent. Mike Cameron has even had his moments, and continues to be wonderful defensively.
The glass ceiling effect
With the struggles Milwaukee is having generating consistent offense, it might be time to think outside the box. The club doesn't want to shift Hardy to a different infield position, but Alcides Escobar is probably ready for a shot at the big club. They can't hold him back forever, especially with Hardy not hitting.
Even though he's been up-and-down, I hope Mat Gamel gets more playing time in the second half. I like his bat, and he's not nearly the butcher at third base that I was expecting.
All in all, I'm not surprised by anything I've seen from the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, it's time for Ken Macha to prove me right about him, and lead this team to some improvement over the summer months.