COMMENTARY | At 11-9 and missing two of their most productive hitters, the Milwaukee Brewers have to like where they're at 20 games into the season.
Sure, it took a little time to get settled in -- managing with 13 pitchers, defining roles in the bullpen and dealing with a plethora of injuries -- but the Brewers have managed to scrape by and even win nine of their last 10 games.
Entering the season, pitching was a huge question mark for Milwaukee and even though it's only late April, pitching has been the team's biggest strength thus far. A completely retooled bullpen scuffled early but has pulled it together lately, to say the very least.
The Brewers have received a quality start from their rotation in eight of their past 10 games, a huge reason why they are 9-1 during that stretch. Of course, it's up to the bullpen to hold on to leads, and Milwaukee's relievers have combined for a 1.15 ERA and five saves during that same 10-game stretch.
Jim Henderson has settled in as the closer, and John Axford has pitched six straight scoreless innings to lower his ERA from 24.30 to 9.35 while accepting more of a setup role. The Brewers have a bevy of pitchers they can turn to with confidence in late-game situations, and this rotation helps keep arms fresh.
As great as Milwaukee's hurlers have been as of late, pitching will need to continue to keep Milwaukee in games because the offense is suffering without Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez is due back any day now from a knee injury, but Hart won't come off the 60-day disabled list until the end of May from his own knee issues.
They are still getting great production from Ryan Braun, if nothing else. Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez have also been pleasant surprises, but who knows how long their bats will stay hot. Beyond that, Jonathan Lucroy is still trying to find consistency at the plate, and to say Rickie Weeks and Alex Gonzalez aren't seeing the ball well right now would be an understatement.
Ramirez's return will certainly provide a boost, as Milwaukee has had difficulty replacing him in the cleanup spot behind Braun. But as productive as Ramirez is, flopping Hart for Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt at first base will be an even larger improvement.
This is why the Brewers would love nothing more than for their pitching to continue keeping games close. If the pitching can keep up its recent performance for another month or so, the lineup will be at full strength by then and take over the brunt of the burden.
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_.
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