A bad start to the season is not necessarily a death sentence. The 2011 Brewers were also 15-20 after 35 games and the rest of their season turned out pretty well. Granted, that team had also had Prince Fielder, Zach Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and an effective John Axford, but my point remains. The Brewers have enough good players to play competitive baseball for the rest of the season. But as their May record dipped to 1-9 following a sweep at the hands of the Reds, the preferred reality of watching entertaining baseball seems unlikely. This series showcased a few reasons for this:
1) The starting pitching on this team is not good
The only starter with an ERA+ better than 90 is Kyle Lohse. After this weekend it might be a while before another starter joins the 90 ERA+ club. The most concerning starter at the moment is Yovani Gallardo.
Gallardo labored through four innings on Friday, allowing three runs, five walks, and five hits while throwing 100 pitches. His command is off and his strikeout rates are way down. He's always required a lot of pitches to get the job done, and one must wonder if this is taking a toll on his arm. I keep waiting for him to become himself again, but with each rough start I wonder more and more if this is just an off year.
The start Hiram Burgos suffered through on Sunday was an 'Oh, the humanity!' outing. I do not blame Roenicke for leaving him in there as the Brewers really needed him to eat some innings. A cruel reality of pitching in the majors that at some point you're going to be a sacrificial lamb. His next start will be one to watch closely as you hope his confidence was not crushed, covered in gas, and set on fire.
A tip of the cap goes to Wily Peralta for eating some innings today and being reasonably effective in the process.
The silver lining with the starting pitchers is that Burgos and Peralta are young. My hope is they'll get better over the season, but I'll still be holding my breath every time they start.
2) Searching for the elusive big hit
What's especially frustrating about this stretch of futility is the opportunities for scoring are there. It's not as if winning games in inconceivable. Still, the loss on Friday is a good case study as to why I don't keep bricks in my living room to throw at the television.
The Brewers tied the game in the 4th inning thanks to back-to-back dingers by Segura and Braun. The next two batters reached, but the rally was just about killed when Gomez hit into a double play. Despite this, Lucroy was stranded on second base as Weeks and Betancourt failed to drive him in. Later on, with the Brewers trailing 3-2 in the top of the 7th, Ryan Braun grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second (Brandon Phillips made a very nice play to get the DP).
In the first opportunity you had the top hitter in the NL at the plate and in the second opportunity you had one of the best hitters in the game at the plate. In neither case did a run score, and really I'm not sure what you can really say about it. They had a chances to score and the right people at the plate, but they did not come through. It's just a matter of things not going their way.
3) Bad team syndrome
On several occasions I've heard Bill Schroeder mention 'Bad Team Syndrome.' This is a the nasty condition where you lose games because a rotating facet of the game is failing. If the hitting is good, the starting pitching is worse. If the hitting and starting pitching are good, the bullpen is bad. As mentioned above, the Brewers are 1-9 in the month of May and for a variety of reasons. The offense has not been particularly explosive, but when it's been good they still lose. For instance, the seven runs they scored on Saturday would have been enough to win six of the games they've played in May.
This is looking more and more like a mediocre team. I think their best chance for success if for the offense to return to 2012 form and put up lots and lots of runs.
Next up is a four game series in Pittsburgh, PA. Normally a date with the Pirates is just what the doctor ordered, but I'm not feeling quite as confident about that right now. That the first game is Marco Estrada vs. AJ Burnett is, well, oof. Help me Kyle Lohse, you're my only hope.