Sunday, April 21, 2013

Improbable Surge to .500

After winning the first game of the season in walk-off fashion, the Milwaukee Brewers lost five games in a row.  They then lost three of the next four to fall to 2-8.  They played 60% of those games at the friendly confines of Miller Park.

Even for me, ever the eternal optimist, this looked pretty grim.  

By this point, the Brewers had been decimated by injuries—key injuries.  So many that they extended Corey Hart’s ride on the pine to the dreaded 60-day DL to make room for Blake Lalli, a player few of us had ever heard of (he hit a walk-off sac fly in his first home plate appearance).  

This move pushed Hart’s return back until May 30th at the earliest, about a month later than expected—wishful thinking, perhaps—when the injury occurred.

In addition to former all-star Hart, the erstwhile potent Brewers lineup that led the league in homers in 2012 also found itself without all-star caliber cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez, who is not expected back even when eligible to come off the 15-day DL.

The slew of injuries forced the Brewers to reunite with a much maligned player who some claim is the worst player in major league baseball, a guy who was waived in 2012 by the KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Yunieski Betancourt.  At one point, rumor had it Betancourt was to replace Aramis Ramirez in the cleanup spot.  

Hell, folks, had just frozen over.  

(Not that he could have done any worse than Rickie Weeks, who has turned the four spot into a black hole, going 5-46 with 22 strikeouts; worse, prior to moving to the cleanup spot, Weeks had been one of the Brewers’ hottest hitters, batting .467 in the club’s first four games.)

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Braun had missed three games of his own during the 2-8 start and showed clear signs of a nagging neck injury, slumping in very un-Braun like fashion going 1-12 with 6 Ks in a series against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.  One can almost hear the chants: urine sample!

But, heading into the 8th inning of the series finale against those Cardinals, down 0-4, the Brewers amidst a franchise record in futility with 32 straight scoreless innings, Ryan Braun blasted an opposite field home run.  One hit wiped out the scoreless streak and began a stirring extra innings comeback that halted a five game losing streak and, importantly, avoided a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.

As far as early season games go, it was a huge win.  But it was just one game, and the Brewers were sort of lucky not to be 1-10.  And was Braun really back?  (The next game, Braun went 0-5 with 4 strikeouts.)  Could a lineup missing two of its top three power hitters from 2012 prop up a middling starting rotation led by Yovanni Gallardo who at that point sported a not so sterling 6.61 ERA?

The off day following this victory slash glimmer of hope, Yovanni Gallardo was arrested around 2am for a DUI.  This was rock bottom.  It had to be.  For both Gallardo and the Brew Crew.

That remains to be seen.  But so far so good.

Since starting 2-8 the Brewers have won six straight games becoming the first team to win six games in a row after a 2-8 start since the 1977 world champion Yankees.  In Gallardo’s first start after the DUI arrest, he threw 6 dominant innings, earned his first victory, and crushed a two-run homer off San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain.  Braun isn’t quite the Braun we know and love, but he has drawn five walks in his last four games.  Jean Segura is second in the National League with his .386 batting average.

Corey Hart is still out another 5 weeks.  Aramis Ramirez is shelved for another couple weeks.  But with a stunning winning streak that includes a sweep of last year’s World Series champs, the Brewers have discovered what to do when you find yourself with a shovel in a deep hole.

Just dig up, stupid.

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