It's pretty clear to everyone that the 2012 Brewers are not going anywhere. Milwaukee sits at 42-47, seven games back in the NL Wild Card race (and behind seven clubs). Barring some sort of miracle, Bernie Brewer will be crying in his suds all winter.
With all that in mind, should the Brewers make a change with their struggling closer? What's the best objective for this organization: going all-out to win today, or trying to get set up for the future?
Brewers closer John Axford was a treat in 2010 and 2011 (70 saves in 75 chances, tidy ratios), but he's fallen on hard times this year. The Axman handed away his sixth game of the year on Monday night, pushing his ERA up to 5.35 and his WHIP to 1.57. Good lord, those are Derrick Turnbow numbers.
A couple of the St. Louis hits were of the cheap variety, but Axford also got away with two deep fly outs — and he made his own problems by walking two batters. Walking the leadoff man with a two-run lead is inexcusable. Walking Skip Schumaker at any time is inexcusable, too.
The tease of Axford is the zesty strikeout rate: he's piled up 51 punchouts in 37 innings. When he gets ahead in the count, he's still capable of getting batters to chase breaking stuff out of the zone. But a combination of too many walks (5.1/9) and a very hittable fastball (26 percent line drives, six homers allowed) have led to a bunch of messy appearances.
Time for some intel from beat reporter Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel:
After past failures by Axford, manager Ron Roenicke said he planned to stick with his embattled closer. There was no vote of faith after this one, however.
Asked if it was time to consider other options — former closer Francisco Rodriguez has been the setup man — Roenicke said, "We talk about it all the time. We talked about it just now and we will again [Tuesday]."
"I couldn't find anything — fastball, breaking ball," Axford explained. "When I finally threw a breaking ball for strikes, it was too late. When I threw one for a strike, I shouldn't have. It ended up being a base hit. I couldn't find the fastball in or out, up or down. I've been feeling good lately but today I just felt awful."
Axford was asked if he thought he'd keep the closer's job. "I'm not the manager; that's up to the manager," he said. "Am I confident that I'll be able to go out there and get the job done? Yes. Hopefully, I will get that opportunity again."
You get the feeling at this point that he won't.
To be clear, Francisco Rodriguez hasn't been lights out this year, either. He's carrying a 3.67 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, and he's allowed five homers. In a sense he's a similar pitcher to Axford; a good (not elite in this case) strikeout rate, a few too many walks, and too many balls over the fence. If you're in a saves-for-blood league, K-Rod should be owned on speculation alone — but I don't see him being good enough to magically fix this losing ballclub. (Rodriguez has also been mentioned in some trade rumors; the Brewers would love to dump his salary, and maybe some contending club would be silly enough to take on the financial burden. Looking at you, New York Mets.)
There's not much else in the bullpen. Rollie Fingers isn't walking through that door, Dan Plesac isn't walking through that door, and Mike Fetters isn't walking through that door. Kameron Lowe (4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) has a middling strikeout rate and shares the team's gopher-ball problem. Manny Parra (4.20, 1.43) always seems to have a pretty K/BB rate but we live in a world where runs allowed matter. If you want to talk yourself into Jose Veras (4.50, 1.74), be my guest.
There's a chance Axford is down to his last strike, and there's a chance Roenicke has already decided to make a change. Again, it's a little like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This team has to take a long-term view to the second half. My gut feel is that Axford will still get the most saves in Milwaukee in the second half, even if it's just a fact-finding mission from the Brew Crew. But I don't blame fantasy owners if they're sick of this mess and want to go in a different direction.
• One of the rallying cries of Closing Time is that we're "not an injury blog," but sometimes it's impossible to avoid the sign of the red cross. Monday, alas, was one of those days.
Joey Votto was the biggest casualty. He has a torn meniscus in his left knee and needs arthroscopic surgery. He'll be down for 3-4 weeks. Votto initially tried to play through the discomfort but it was too great; now the idea is that he'll get fixed now, and be ready to rock for the final two months of the year. Todd Frazier will likely assume the first-base chores in the meantime, which also (unfortunately) forces Scott Rolen into the lineup.
The Blue Jays lost their signature bat as well, with Jose Bautista suffering a wrist injury while hitting a foul ball. Bautista doesn't have a fracture in the wrist but he was immediately put on the disabled list. It will be interesting to hear what the MRI reveals.
Highly-regarded speed merchant Anthony Gose takes Bautista's spot on the roster; Baseball America rated him the No. 39 prospect in baseball before the season. The 21-year-old outfielder posted a .292/.375/.432 line in 92 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, with 18 doubles, 10 triples and five homers. He's 29-for-39 on steals this tear, and he swiped 70 bags at Double-A New Hampshire last season (must be those Johnnycakes). You have to assume the Blue Jays wouldn't have recalled the kid unless they intend to play him, so take note if you're in the need for speed. Gose should also get a boost from the surrounding parts of the Toronto lineup; even without Bautista, this is a dangerous, prolific group.
When discussing Carlos Quentin, injury news comes with the territory. He's dealing with a sore knee and didn't play Monday. And I don't suppose Brett Gardner's setback comes as any great surprise. It's possible he might not play again in 2012. Be careful with what you assume with your injured players, amigos.
Cleaning up the big names and walking wounded, we should also mention that David Ortiz is day-to-day with an Achilles injury (MRI results are on the way), and Zack Greinke (fatigue) will skip his Wednesday turn.
• All Salvador Perez has done in his brief major-league career is hit. Through 56 games, the backstop has a superb .343/.369/.533 slash line, with eight homers. He's already whacked five round-trippers in just 62 at-bats this year. The Royals knew what they were doing when they extended the emerging star back in February, locking him into a five-year contract.
Alas, Royals manager Ned Yost is the last man to read the memo. He's batted Perez in the bottom third of the order since the catcher returned to action this summer, and Perez actually batted ninth in Monday's loss to Seattle. Does Yost know something about Jeff Francoeur and Yuniesky Betancourt that no one else does? Perez did his part in Monday's ballgame, homering and walking over four at-bats.
While there's been a sneaky depth at the catcher position this year, Perez still looks like a Top 10 backstop for the rest of the year. Sooner or later Yost has to wake up and smell the cat food. And as we discussed a week ago (here and on Twitter), I'd absolutely drop a Carlos Santana type for Perez in a non-keeper league, no questions asked. The names really don't matter. It's all about the numbers. Perez is still surprisingly available in 65 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Clayton Richard stands at the top of the Wednesday streamer list, working at home against the suddenly-punchless Astros. The former Michigan Wolverines clipboard holder is just 24 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues. Other names to consider for a one-day rental: Francisco Liriano (whee whee whee, 47 percent) at home against Baltimore; and Justin Masterson (still just 58 percent) under the catwalk. And if you're willing to forgive Derek Holland (55 percent) for past transgressions, he goes to work at Oakland.
I'm not touching Felix Doubront (38 percent) at Fenway against the White Sox, or Jeff Samardzija (36 percent) against Miami. Doug Fister and Ricky Romero? Nowhere near the Circle of Trust.
If you're looking ahead to Thursday, perhaps you can get something out of surging Mike Leake, at home against Arizona. He's given us five excellent turns in a row, allowing two runs or less in all of them. I'll also give my support to Mark Buehrle (at Wrigley Field) and Edinson Volquez (the Petco thing against the Astros). Fenway pushes me away from Jose Quintana and Franklin Morales.
Speed Round: I've never been a big Stephen Drew fan and Ryan Roberts is just a versatile journeyman, but if the Tigers can land one of them (or both) to patch up their middle-infield mess, I'm on board. The Tigers and Diamondbacks are discussing those players, according to Jon Morosi. … A handful of clubs are kicking the tires on San Diego cornerman Chase Headley. I'd love to see what Headley could do if Petco Park were taken away from him; he's rocking a .279/.378/.497 slash on the road this year, with eight homers in 45 games. And heck, he's still just 28. … The Miami closing wheel is alive in well, with Michael Dunn converting Monday. Steve Cishek picked up the weekend handshake. Anything that keeps Heath Bell off the radar is fine with me. … It was a night of returns and reunions at Fenway Park, as Carl Crawford scored two runs (single, walk) and Kevin Youkilis collected three hits. Youkilis received a thunderous standing ovation from the Fenway crowd prior to his first at-bat, and it was an extended love-in over the balance of the night. Crawford was greeted with a polite but modest set of cheers; the crowd is clearly in prove-it-to-me mode with him. I'd be stunned if Crawford performed anywhere near a star level for the balance of 2012, considering how long his rehab took and what he's said recently about his health. If he has a strong series against the White Sox, consider a sell-high play. … The Cubs are aggressively trying to move Ryan Dempster now, with something possible by the end of the week. Dempster hasn't allowed a run over his last five turns, shaping up this way: 33 IP, 20 H, 6 BB, 21 K. For roto purposes, it would be nice to see him stick in the NL.