09/15/11 1:25 AM ET
Stay calm: No need for alarms in Milwaukee
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
But this is no time to panic regarding the Milwaukee Brewers. Why not? This club has the pitching to reach the postseason. For the first time in, oh, maybe franchise history, the Milwaukee Brewers could be called a pitching-first operation.
It has been a strange recent stretch in Milwaukee. The city was filled with smoke and the smell of smoke on Tuesday. Citizens were calling local authorities demanding to know what was on fire. It turned out that the smoke originated from wildfires raging in the Boundary Waters region of northern Minnesota. That is nearly 400 miles from here as the crow flies. But even the crow would take a detour in this kind of smoke.
Then the temperature dropped precipitously. Summer was over, autumn had begun, which, in this climate, meant that it was almost time to take the snowblower in for its annual tuneup.
In circumstances such as these, the fact that the local professional baseball team had stopped scoring runs seemed not particularly out of line. The Brewers have not scored more than three runs in a game since Sept. 5. Those were the good old days when they had that 10 1/2-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wednesday night's game didn't do anything to calm the local nerves, the Brewers losing to the Colorado Rockies, 6-2. Still, the Brewers are, recent events aside, within shouting distance of winning their first division title in 29 years.
This was an atypically bad outing for Milwaukee starter Shaun Marcum. This can happen when Carlos Gonzalez, one of the best in the game, has a productive night, which Cargo did, with a two-run homer and three RBIs.
But the off-night from Marcum served to remind you of how consistently good the Brewers' pitching has been this year. The rest of the game reminded you that the Brewers have scored 16 runs in the last eight games. But the reason that this team can prevail, that it can hang on and win a division title with just adequate offense, is the considerable strength of its pitching.
The Brewers going into play Wednesday night were fifth in the National League in team earned run average at 3.63. They were seventh in the league in runs scored.
The pitching numbers represent progress, by leaps and bounds. The 2010 Brewers were 14th in the league with a 4.58 ERA. The pitching, from last year to this, has been more transformed than improved, keeping in mind that Miller Park plays as at least a moderately hitter-friendly facility.
This is not the history of this franchise. The very nicknames that characterized the best teams in franchise history were hitter-based. There were "Bambi's Bombers," managed by George Bamberger. Even more prominently, there were the 1982 American League champions, "Harvey's Wallbangers," piloted by Harvey Kuenn.
The current squad lacks the requisite punchy nickname, and the raw power of those squads. But it has the pitching that should carry it to the postseason.
That is why there should be no panic, even when the smoke gathers at Miller Park and there are attempts to fan flames that haven't actually been seen. In the last two days, for instance, there was a story quoting Prince Fielder that this would probably be his last season in Milwaukee. This is not new news. "That's what you guys said last year," Fielder reminded a group of reporters regarding his probable departure.
And there was a story that reliever Francisco Rodriguez, a closer for six-plus seasons, but an eighth-inning setup man for Milwaukee for the last two months, was not happy about not getting any save opportunities. Rodriguez holds the single-season record for saves (62) and he has a 2.31 ERA in 25 appearances for the Brewers. In this instance, he is guilty primarily of being an honest man.
At least one national publication suggested that these stories meant that the Brewers were falling apart. That, of course, is not the deal. The Brewers are in an offensive slump. But this season, unlike many seasons in the recent history of the franchise, there is enough pitching here to compensate, to make this a postseason team.
The hitters wouldn't be human if they weren't pressing. "I know I'm pressing," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "But I think we're going to be fine. I'm not that worried about it. Everybody's still loose and having fun."
"It is definitely no time to panic," the irrepressible Nyjer Morgan said. This was fairly standard clubhouse fare, but Morgan moved into unique territory when he suggested that to beat the current hitting blues the Brewers would "just battle the little hitting demons."
For the manager, this is simply a matter of the club's demonstrated ability taking command.
"We didn't play well the last couple of nights and we were fortunate to win a game [Tuesday night]," Ron Roenicke said. "But we'll get out of it and start playing good ball again. We need to play the way we've played most of the year. We need to just play our type of game. We need to get that back again.
"I don't think we've played our type of game the last couple of days. Some of that is when you don't get baserunners it looks like there's just nothing happening with your team. When you get behind in games I can't do much. You know, I can't run, I can't hit-and-run. We're not used to being behind by this many runs."
And that is because, for the vast majority of games this season, the pitching has, at worst, kept the Brewers in games. That is why there is less reason to panic about the Brewers than there was about the smoke that was coming from northern Minnesota.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.