I will not admit that this Brewers season is over because we're probably going to see a NL Wild Card that wins 85 games and that number does not seem impossible and I will not give up on the Brewers season because, seriously, what else am I going to do for the next three months? With that being said I will say that this season has still been incredibly disappointing, no fun and not at all what we thought it would be. But what did we really think it would be?
Vegas set the Brewers pre-season over/under win total at 84.5. They weren't ever going to be a team that ran away with the division. Did last season's 96-66 record distort our expectations? Probably, but we should always remember that team had +6 wins over it's Pythagorean record (or expected record) and was a league best 30-18 in one run games. Those are two things that are really hard to repeat. For the Brewers to make a return trip to the playoffs this year they once again need a lot of things to go right and thus far this season almost nothing has. This isn't a lack of "drive" or a team that doesn't "mentally have it", this is baseball. You play more games than any other sport and less teams make the playoffs than any other sport. A lot has to go right for any team to succeed.
Thus far they haven't succeeded and a lot of reasons have been thrown around as to why. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Rickie Weeks.
- Injuries, man. Injuries.
- Not clutch.
- Offense is worse than last season.
- Randy Wolf.
- The bullpen.
And while there have been a myriad of problems with this season there really is only one thing that has kept the Brewers from being "in it" and that thing is the bullpen. No, seriously, it's not Rickie Weeks. It's the bullpen. It's not injuries. It's the bullpen. That's it. Seriously.
The Brewers bullpen is 15th in the NL allowing a .765 OPS (compared to .651 in 2011.) They are 9-18 with a 4.56 ERA (compared to 3.32 last season.) If the bullpen is league average (10-10) they are a winning team. They have blown 11 saves thus far after only blowing a league average 19 saves all of last season. If they blow 5 less saves, they are a winning team. The bullpen is the problem.
Leading the charge in blown saves are John Axford with 4, Kameron Loe with 3 and K-Rod with 2. I guess we shouldn't really be surprised about Kameron Loe because, well, he's Kameron Loe and K-Rod has blown at least four saves every year of his career so his performance shouldn't be completely unexpected. But John Axford, man... I don't even know.
In 2011 John Axford was the best closer in the league. When he came into games, you knew the Brewers were going to win. Thus far in 2012 you don't really know what you are going to get. I don't think this is a Gagne/Hoffman/Turnbow-esque decline in talent. I think John Axford just went through a really rough stretch (that might not be over yet) and he is still a really good pitcher. As Ryan Topp recently pointed out a starter can have a bad five innings and all is forgiven the next week, but when a closer does the same it is the end of the world. Nobody can post a 0.00 ERA forever. Stop treating everyone like it is possible. John Axford is a great pitcher and we're lucky to have him. He just really needs to stop blowing saves.
The 2012 Brewers margin for error was slim to begin with. They were probably an 85 win team that needed to get a little luck to grab a division title. They haven't had any luck and the bullpen has failed them, but who's to say they can't turn it around? Loe, Axford and Parra all have large disparities between their FIP and their ERA. K-Rod is looking better everyday. Maybe Livan Hernandez is a secretly awesome reliever who's never gotten the chance. (lol.) John Axford has proven before he can have long dominant stretches. I mean, who knows?
Turning this season around and stealing a Wild Card spot is not impossible, it's just kind of improbable. For me that's enough. You can feel free to disagree, but I'd rather be positive and wrong than negative and right. It's a lot more fun this way.