COMMENTARY | Oh, how quickly things can change in baseball.
All of a sudden, the Milwaukee Brewers found the switch and have now reeled off seven consecutive victories after an improbable come-from-behind victory against the St. Louis Cardinals, followed by sweeps of the defending champion San Francisco Giants and rival Chicago Cubs. Just eight days ago, the Brewers were searching for answers, sitting at a dismal 2-8 record.
Ryan Braun started the rally in St. Louis on April 14 with a two-run homer, and his three-run jack on April 21 gave Milwaukee a lead it would never relinquish. But he's not the only reason the Brewers have turned around their season and find themselves back above .500.
1. John Axford's (and the bullpen's) turnaround
Milwaukee ranked dead-last in bullpen ERA last season, but through three weeks, the Brewers' 'pen has a 3.93 earned-run average, putting them in the top-half of the league. In the first couple weeks of the season, Milwaukee's starters struggled to throw deep into games, forcing the bullpen into action early and often and wearing it out.
But roles are beginning to be defined, and John Axford has strung together five consecutive scoreless outings, lowering his ERA from 24.30 to 10.57. Brandon Kintzler and Tom Gorzelanny have also been superb in retaining leads while taking over late-inning roles.
2. Stellar starting pitching
The Brewers' bullpen has actually performed better than their starting rotation, but during the streak, only Wily Peralta has allowed more than three runs in a start, and it came in a game where Milwaukee put up an eight-spot in one inning.
Kyle Lohse continues to be steady, Yovani Gallardo responded nicely following his off-the-field incident, Marco Estrada notched his third quality start of the season and Peralta also bounced back nicely on Sunday against the Cubs. The most pleasant surprise, however, was Hiram Burgos getting called up and winning his first career start on Saturday. All you can ask of your starting pitching is for it to keep you in games, and that's exactly what Milwaukee's rotation is doing.
3. Timely hitting
We noted Braun's two clutch home runs, but it's been a true team effort in the timely hitting department. At-bats are few and far between for Blake Lalli, but his ninth inning RBI single gave the Brewers win No. 3 of the streak against the Giants. In win No. 5, Carlos Gomez's insurance home run wound up being the difference, and if it wasn't for Yuniesky Betancourt's grand slam in win No. 2, the Giants wind up victorious and the streak is over before it ever begins.
Considering the offense has managed to do enough to win seven straight without the likes of Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart -- and only one player hitting above .300 -- is pretty remarkable. It makes coming through in the clutch all the more important, and that's exactly what Milwaukee has done over the past week.
4. Jim Henderson shutting the door
It didn't take long for Axford to get pulled from the closer's role, and even though he seems to have turned a corner as of late, Jim Henderson's presence at the end of games has been critical. He is a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities during the streak, only allowing one run and striking out 12 hitters every nine innings on the season. Henderson even has two victories to add to his resume.
The Brewers may have recently signed Francisco Rodriguez as a fallback option at closer, but if Henderson continues to shut the door on opposing hitters, he's not going anywhere.
5. A little bit of luck
Sometimes, a good break here or there is all it takes to get over the hump. The Brewers weren't getting those breaks during the first ten games of the season, but during their seven-game winning streak, things have fallen their way -- especially against the Cubs.
Courtesy of six Chicago errors in their most recent series, the Brewers plated eight unearned runs. Had it not been for the Cubs' putrid defense, Milwaukee likely doesn't pull off the sweep of its I-94 rivals, but it will gladly take it as the Brewers streak their way to the west coast.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
- Sports & Recreation
- Milwaukee Brewers
- John Axford
- San Francisco Giants
- Chicago Cubs