Independence Day marked the halfway point of the season for the Brew Crew.
So, what have we learned about a team tied for the NL Central lead?
It has become painfully obvious in recent weeks that the Brewers need help in the starting rotation. But C.C. Sabathia isn't walking through the clubhouse doors this year and there doesn't appear to be an equivalent on the market, thanks to Jake Peavy's injury. The bullpen has been solid, with Trevor Hoffman providing stability at the back end. And, of course, the offense has been pretty good, even showing newfound patience this year.
Without further adieu, a midseason review:
Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are on the brink of becoming the most dangerous duo in baseball. Fielder has crushed 21 homers and driven in 75, but he has finally shown better patience at the plate (59 walks), which has resulted in a .310 batting average. Braun has added 16 homers and 58 RBIs while hitting .327.
After that, the bright spots have come from two guys who were not expected to be in the everyday lineup. Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell have helped fill the void of Rickie Weeks' season-ending injury.
Mike Cameron has flexed his muscle, but still doesn't hit for average. J.J. Hardy has hit the ball hard all year, but has been inconsistent. Corey Hart still hasn't put his late-2008 swoon behind him and Jason Kendall is only in the lineup for his skills behind the plate.
Cameron's play in center continues to be the consistent highlight, while Hardy adds in his spectacular plays while making the routine plays at short. Fielder continues to improve his glovework at first. Braun is improving in left, but continues to show that he is learning on the job after being an infielder in college and his early pro years. Counsell makes the average play, but has limited range. McGehee has played well, especially considering he is new to second base.
Yovani Gallardo is a definite ace, even though he has only filled the role for half a season. Jeff Suppan has pitched well overall, but he shouldn't be a team's No. 2 starter. Braden Looper has a chance to win 15 games after beginning the year as the No. 5 starter. Dave Bush continues to be befuddling, flirting with a no-hitter into the eighth inning of one outing, then giving up five runs in five innings in the next. Manny Parra? Just Manny being Manny. He was sent to Triple-A to get his head straight. With Bush hurt and Parra in the minors, that leaves a huge hole in the rotation. Seth McClung isn't the answer.
The addition of Hoffman, baseball's all-time saves leader, has provided needed structure to the relief corps. Left-hander Mitch Stetter and right-hander Mark DiFilice have flourished in their first full seasons in the majors. Todd Coffey was an early revelation and is still solid. Carlos Villanueva has had too many blips to lock down the eighth-inning role. McClung's versatility is needed in the pen, where he can go three innings one day, then pitch the eighth his next time out. Jorge Julio was sent packing. Chris Smith could pitch his way into a role.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Biggest surprise: Casey McGehee. Cubs castoff made team with a big spring, waited patiently for playing time and is now hitting fifth behind Braun and Fielder.
Biggest disappointment: Bill Hall. Has a flair for the dramatic with walk-off hits, but his stroke has disappeared. So has his playing time.
Biggest injury: Rickie Weeks. Sustaining a season-ending wrist injury while enjoying the start of what should have been a breakout season has been devastating. He still hasn't been replaced at the top of the order.
Best pitcher: Yovani Gallardo. Has eight wins, ranks sixth in ERA (2.75) and third in strikeouts (114) in National League. Any questions?
Worst pitcher: Manny Parra. Has the talent to be a dominant No. 2 starter behind Gallardo, but a June swoon, eight losses and a 7.52 ERA got him a ticket to Nashville.
Best hitter: Prince Fielder. His ability to draw walks has allowed him to be more selective at the plate and make pitchers pay for their mistakes.
Worst hitter: Bill Hall. Counted on to play full-time at third base coming out of spring training, Hall played his way into a platoon situation and then a seat on the bench.
Best win: Brewers 14, Indians 12 (June 15). On national television, the Crew showed their bounceback ability, erasing an 8-3 deficit and vaulting ahead on a Prince Fieder grand slam in the eighth inning.
Worst loss: Cubs 2, Brewers 1, 10 innings (July 3). Too many wasted opportunities early, including three popups with the bases loaded in one inning and only scoring once. Manager Ken Macha's questionable decision to intentionally walk Milton Bradley was exasorbated by Mark DiFilice's bases-loaded walk on a question ball call on a 3-2 pitch.
Ken Macha: Has adjusted well to the NL style and has juggled bullpen efficiently. Not afraid to make the bold move with his lineup.
Prince Fielder: Enjoy him now. He may not be around after 2010.
Ryan Braun: Remember, this is just his second full year in the majors. Is set to be an All-Star for the second time.
Casey McGehee: Emerging as front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year.
Mike Cameron: More plate discipline would make this a more potent lineup.
Craig Counsell: Overachiever has adjusted well to new hitting stance.
J.J. Hardy: Can hit them as far as Braun and Fielder, but once he starts pounding the gaps, he will realize his full potential.
Corey Hart: Was his first half last year his plateau?
Jason Kendall: Getting the ball to the outfield seems to be a challenge.
Bill Hall: Maybe Lasik surgery wasn't the answer.
Mat Gamel: A trip back to Nashville is in his future without consistent playing time.
Frank Catalanotto: Best theat off the bench, which isn't saying much.
Jody Gerut: Has struggled without regular at-bats.
Mike Rivera: Playing more, but his bat not as good as it was last year.
Yovani Gallardo: Must maintain his first-half production is the Crew is to remain a contender.
Jeff Suppan: If he can come close to repeating his recent start vs. the Cubs, he could save rotation.
Braden Looper: Picked up just before spring training, he has been a valuable addition.
Dave Bush: Needs to put arm injury behind him and have his talent match his production.
Manny Parra: If he can put erratic ways behind him and return after the All-Star break, he has chance to redeem himself.
Mike Burns: Not enough time to make legit evaluation.
Seth McClung: Despite his wishes, better served in the bullpen.
Trevor Hoffman: Listening to “Hells Bells” may be the new Milwaukee tradition.
Carlos Villanueva: Thought of as a potential Hoffman heir, Villanueva hasn't been consistent.
Todd Coffey: Fan favorite can fill a variety of roles.
Mitch Stetter: Submarining left-hander has been nothing short of scintillating.
Mark DiFilice: Journeyman has been a rock in bullpen.
Chris Smith: Diminuative right-hander has adjusted well from his closing role in Triple-A.
Chris Narveson: Seems overmatched.
About the Author
Written by Steve Drumwright