The Milwaukee Brewers have played well as of late, but that hot play has just started to dig them out the hole they put themselves in throughout the first four-and-a-half months of the season.
Entering play on Wednesday with a 66-69 record and 7.5 games back in the Wild Card race, the odds of an epic rally to make the playoffs are pretty small.
But that still doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting going on with the Brewers right now.
1) Which youngsters step up in the rotation?
Mark Rogers has been shutdown for the season and Mike Fiers may not be too far away. Fiers has been one of Milwaukee’s best pitchers since being recalled from AAA in late May (8-7 record, 3.11 earned run average, 9.14 K/per 9 innings). He’s shown the ability to throw strikes and records solid strikeout numbers despite not having overpowering stuff. He’s worked his way into a 2013 spot in the Brewers rotation.
Rogers also pitched well in seven starts with Milwaukee (3-1, 3.92 earned run average) and also figures to have his name in for what may be a wide open competition for the 2013 rotation.
But the Brewers don’t want to overuse their young pitchers, especially Rogers who has had injury problems.
Wily Peralta steps in to Rogers’ spot in the rotation after an up-and-down AAA season. The 23-year old Peralta brings good stuff to the mound, but struggled with his command at AAA this year (he walked 4.79 batters per nine innings). He could get up to six starts at the major league level and could give the Brewers a good idea if he’d be ready for a jump to the majors in 2013.
Tyler Thornburg also is back with the big league club after spending time at AAA. Thornburg made a pair of starts and pitched 14.2 innings for Milwaukee and struggled (5.79 earned run average). He has put up good numbers in the minors and is 23 years old, so like Peralta, there is no rush to bring him up. But a good showing in September could go a long way to cementing his case for 2013.
2) What can Jean Segura do?
The cornerstone in the Zack Greinke deal, Segura was recalled in early August and has gotten relatively consistent playing time ever since. In 21 games with the Brewers, Segura has a .216/.253/.243 slashline with seven runs batted in.
Recently Jeff Bianchi has showed some power (three home runs in 17 games) to warrant getting more playing time, but there is no doubt that Segura is the future.
If Segura shows he can handle big league pitching and finish strong, he probably will be penciled into the starting lineup for 2013 and beyond. If he struggles, he could start 2013 at AAA and the Brewers could be in the market for a one-year stopgap.
3) How big of numbers can Ryan Braun put up?
If all the offseason “stuff” surrounding Braun has bothered him this year, he sure hasn’t shown it. Braun has put up another MVP-caliber season at the plate with a .312/.389/.605 slashline while tying his career high with 37 home runs and 98 runs batted with 22 steals.
He probably won’t get much MVP consideration for a few reasons (What happened this past offseason, the Brewers being all-but-out of the playoff race, etc.) but his numbers are as good as ever and he still has about a month to go. A 40-home run, 30-steal season is within reach.
4) Who in the bullpen wants a job in 2013?
The Brewers bullpen has been the main point of pain for the team this year. But they have pitched better lately and you would think right now everyone in the bullpen is pitching for a job next year in some way.
John Axford is pitching to retain hold on his closers role. Francisco Rodriguez is pitching to drum up some interest in him for next year, be it in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Jim Henderson is simply pitching to stay in the majors after this season.
Kameron Loe, Jose Veras, Manny Parra and co. have also had their ups and downs and taken their lumps.
The bullpen could be overhauled in the offseason, so a strong finish for some of these players could force the Brewers to include them in their offseason plans.
5) Can the Brewers break .500?
A miracle playoff run would be a warm and fuzzy finish for the Brewers, but the odds say that is most likely not going to happen.
But a .500 finish is well within sight, with the Brewers entering play today three games under the mark.
The Brewers offense has been as good lately as they’ve been all season (they average more runs per game this year than they did last year and lead the NL in home runs and are near the top in stolen bases).
Aramis Ramirez has been as good as advertised in protecting Ryan Braun (and has been good at third base as well). Rickie Weeks has picked up his play, Corey Hart seems settled in at first base and Carlos Gomez has a shot at a 20-20 season.
A .500 or winning record heading into the offseason is possible. It might not be what many were expecting at the start of the season, but it sure as heck would give fans much more to look forward to than they had a month or two ago.