COMMENTARY | Josh Prince. Yuniesky Betancourt. Rickie Weeks. Martin Maldonado.
This was the Milwaukee Brewers' infield from left to right across the diamond in the eleventh inning on the afternoon of April 7 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Throw Logan Schafer in left field while you're at it, too.
Surprisingly enough, this assortment of infield personnel is not the reason why the Brewers were unable to avoid their fifth straight defeat, capping off a miserable opening homestand in Milwaukee. The blame can largely be placed on the Brewers' pitching.
OK, so maybe that's not so surprising.
The point is that the Brewers' worst fears - and then some - entering the 2013 season have been realized. Their starting pitching in large part has failed to hold up, the retooled bullpen has blown leads and allowed games to get out of reach, and to cap it all off, injuries have plagued Milwaukee through the first week of the season.
Absent from the lineup on Sunday were Corey Hart (knee), Aramis Ramirez (knee) and Ryan Braun (neck). Those players happen to hold down the 3-4-5 section of the lineup. If you take that away from any team in baseball, it suffers greatly. As if this wasn't enough, hot-hitting shortstop Jean Segura, one of the few bright spots for Milwaukee thus far, was forced to exit Sunday's game with a left quad contusion. Ouch.
Obviously, the offense has suffered as a result, and it's Milwaukee's bats that are supposed to help cover for a shaky pitching staff if it wants to have any shot at the postseason. It's quite possible that pitching staff has performed even worse than advertised. New acquisition Kyle Lohse has by far looked the best on the mound among the starters, and he was on a pitch count.
Yovani Gallardo is supposed to assume the ace role, but he hasn't looked the part. Yo's pitch count has escalated quickly in the early innings, and the home run has also led to trouble for Gallardo and his 5.73 ERA. What's sad is that Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada fared even worse in the first week of the season ERA-wise.
The bullpen has had its bright spots, believe it or not. Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler and Chris Narveson have taken care of business, and Alfredo Figaro, the 25th player to make the roster, has been a pleasant surprise as well. Tom Gorzelanny has only allowed one hit in four appearances and Michael Gonzalez is settling in after a rough opening act.
You may notice one name that hasn't been mentioned yet - Brewers' "closer" John Axford. We place closer in parenthesis, because the Ax Man sports a save percentage of zero as of April 7. After allowing a game-tying homer on opening day, Axford has pitched in two non-save situations, only to give up three more long balls to help bring his ERA to a baffling 20.25 mark.
Axford's velocity is down, he can't locate his breaking ball and at this point, it's time for manager Ron Roenicke to look elsewhere for a closer. The evident choice would appear to be Henderson - at least for the time being - and a stint in Triple-A Nashville may be just what Axford needs to clear his head. Of course, it won't matter who the closer is if the Brewers can't obtain or maintain a lead.
But why is this horrid start a fluke and not the beginning of an ongoing trend? Simply revert back to the opening line of this piece. Slowly but surely, the Brewers will start getting healthier, because they can't possibly receive worse luck on the injury front. Segura and Braun, who the Brewers are rightfully playing it safe with, should return this week unless Braun is destined for the disabled list. Ramirez's 15-day DL stint will end in late April, and shortly thereafter, Hart's.
Gallardo, whose velocity has also been down, will surely perform better moving forward. Narveson can be inserted into the rotation should Mike Fiers or Wily Peralta continue to falter. Lohse looked sharp in his Brewers' debut. Just about anyone not named John Axford closing games is an upgrade. And Milwaukee should soon go to 12 pitchers rather than 13 to give it a much-needed fifth bench player - and avoid another Kyle Lohse 11th inning plate appearance.
Milwaukee already finds itself in a bit of a hole, and as it waits for key players to return, that hole will likely deepen. But by May, a currently undermanned team should revert back to normalcy. The best news for the Brewers? The regular season lasts late into September.
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