COMMENTARY | There may be no better time to determine what kind of team the Milwaukee Brewers are than during their upcoming ten games-in-ten days road trip against the top three teams in their division.
Entering the trip, the Brewers are 15-17 and 5 1/2 games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals. They will go up against those very Cardinals as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. While Milwaukee is 7-8 against the Central this season, four of those wins came against the Chicago Cubs, a team the Brewers don't have the luxury of facing again until late June.
No matter which way you slice it, this is a pivotal stretch of play. Generally, the goal all along has been to hang around .500 until the return of first baseman Corey Hart, especially considering the four weeks Milwaukee went without Aramis Ramirez in the lineup.
But even without Hart, it's not the offense Ron Roenicke needs to worry about these days. It has the top hitter in baseball and four hitters above .300 while ranking in the top five of the NL in OPS and batting average. The production is also there for Milwaukee, thanks in part to a power surge from two unlikely sources -- Yuniesky Betancourt and Jean Segura.
The pitching flat out needs to step up, specifically the starting rotation.
Milwaukee catches two breaks. First off, Yovani Gallardo will miss the Cardinals, which is self-explanatory, and four of the ten games are against the Pirates, a team the Brewers have had plenty of success against in recent years. Should they take three out of four in Pittsburgh, that gets the Crew more than halfway to its realistic goal of a .500 road trip.
Speaking of Gallardo, he is beginning to turn a corner after a rough start to the season. His FIP (3.84) is only second to that of Kyle Lohse, who has five outings in which he's given up three earned runs or less -- with only one win to show for it.
The Brewers need to count on Gallardo and Lohse to pitch like a formidable one-two punch in their next two starts. Lohse is hoping that the third time is the charm, as he will face his old squad once again in search of proper revenge for the Cardinals dismissing his services.
As for the rest of the rotation, Hiram Burgos will jump back in after spending the past week in the bullpen. All the 25-year-old rookie has done is go 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in three starts with Milwaukee this season. Burgos is set to face the Pirates and Cardinals during the trip.
Then there's Wily Peralta, who has accumulated three wins despite a mere 1.43 K/BB ratio, and Marco Estrada, who needs to avoid throwing the batting practice fastballs that have resulted in an alarming 11 home runs allowed this season. Both Estrada and Peralta have ERAs over 5.50 through seven starts.
All of the chatter lately has revolved around Rickie Weeks, who Roenicke recently dropped from fifth to seventh in the order. Whether this was simply a way to try and get Gomez more at-bats or not, there's no question Weeks isn't himself at the plate, as he is only hitting .188 through 32 games.
Weeks is 12th in the MLB in strike outs as well (39), but he is still getting on base at a decent rate (.301), and this matters far more than his average. But it's his slugging percentage (.291) that's truly concerning. Weeks only has 2 HRs and eight extra base hits all year, so there would be no better time than now for him to get on a roll, or else the cries for Scooter Gennett will grow louder.
When it comes to the bullpen, Roenicke just needs to stick with what has been working on the occasion that Milwaukee holds a late lead. Jim Henderson hasn't blown a save, Brandon Kintzler hasn't blown a hold and Tom Gorzelanny has proved to be a nice offseason addition. Burke Badenhop and Michael Gonzalez are also effective when used in the right situations.
In other words, Roenicke just needs to stay away from John Axford, no matter how tempted he may be. Take the Ax Man out of the equation, and Milwaukee's bullpen has a very respectable 2.95 ERA.
So in a nutshell, the Brewers need a more inspired effort from the bottom of the rotation, a resurgence from Rickie Weeks and a disappearing act from John Axford. And if the other pieces fall into place, Milwaukee should be able to breathe a sigh of relief when it returns home on May 20.
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
- Ron Roenicke