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Delving Into the Brewers' Recent Struggles

On June 28th, the Milwaukee Brewers woke up probably feeling pretty good.

There were plenty of reasons for the Crew and their fans to be happy:  They had just completed a sweep of Houston Astros, they had won their 8th game in nine contests, they were 7.5 games up on the second place Cubs, fourteen games over .500 and their playoff odds were quite strong at 83.5%.

It looked like Milwaukee was a virtual lock to make their first postseason appearance since 1982.

Flash forward two months later and the Brewers are fighting for their playoff lives.  As of Thursday, before their game against Chicago, Milwaukee is 66-66 sitting 1.5 games back of those Cubs.  Making things worse is the fact the Cardinals have decided to play good baseball and have jumped into the N.L. Central mix; they trail the Brewers by a single game.

What the heck happened to the Brewers and can they catch the Cubs in the incredibly weak N.L. Central?

Let's take a look:

The Struggles

Here is a look at how Brewers pitchers have fared throughout the season.  The numbers are separated in two rows:  Opening Day stretching to June 28th and June 29th stretching to August 29th.

As we can see, Brewers pitchers have struggled a bit since June 29th.  Brewers' arms yielded a .258/.319/.404 line from Opening Day to June 28th, but have yielded an OPS nearly 80 points higher since the 29th.

What about the hitters?

Milwaukee's offensive splits aren't nearly as extreme as their pitching splits, but the Brewers offense has regressed a bit over the last two months. Every rate statistic has declined, but the team's home run frequency has slightly improved.

To get a better idea as to why the Brewers have struggled, let's take a look at just who has struggled over the past couple of months:

Chris Capuano:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .261/.334/.404 against, 38.9 AB/HR

June 29th to August 29th:  .309/.370/.516 against, 22.4 AB/HR

Perhaps nobody on the team illustrates the Brewers' recent struggles better than Chris Capuano.  Cappy started the season off well pitching 28 innings in April posting a 3.21 ERA, but it's all gone downhill since then.  An injury-plagued June followed by awful months of July and August have sent Capuano to the Brewers bullpen.  In 26.2 August innings, he has an 8.10 ERA.

Claudio Vargas:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .275/.340/.484 against, 20.4 AB/HR

June 29th to August 29th:  .307/.372/.479 against, 24.0 AB/HR

As our own J.M. Barten pointed out this Tuesday, Claudio Vargas has one of the best winning percentages in baseball despite the fact he hasn't pitched very well at all on the year.  Hitters are getting on base at a .372 clip when he's taken the mound over the past two months and he's been rocked this August to the tune of a 9.00 ERA in 22 innings.  When (or if) Vargas returns to the rotation is still a question mark; he was placed on the 15-day DL five days ago with a lower back strain.

Derrick Turnbow:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .183/.275/.260 against, 65.5 AB/HR

June 29th to August 29th:  .171/.344/.276 against, 38.0 AB/HR

Despite a tough May, Turnbow was very difficult to throughout the beginning portion of the season holding hitters to a .183/.275/.260 line.  What's hurt Turnbow over the last two months is poor command; he's walked 18 hitters 21.2 innings over the last two months and posted a 6.10 ERA in July.  Turnbow's still an effective pitcher with an outstanding strikeout rate (11.77 K/9), but sloppy control often keeps Brewers fans on the edge of their seats.

Francisco Cordero:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .175/.250/.208 against, 0.0 AB/HR

June 29th to August 29th:  .274/.333/.370 against, 73.0 AB/HR

Let's face it, we should have expected a little regression from Cordero when July began.  Coco racked up 22 straight saves before blowing his first on June 9th and entered the All-Star break with a 2.86 ERA in 34.2 innings.  He's been effective over the past two months, but he's blown 4 saves since June 29th.  The Brewers have lost each of those games in which he's blown the save.

Matt Wise:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .216/.252/.347 against, 40.3 AB/HR
 

June 29th to August 29th:  .357/.430/.571 against, 35.0 AB/HR

Wise was one of the Brewers better arms out of the bullpen when the year began, but hitters have been posting Pujols-like rate statistics against him over the last couple of months.  Wise has a 6.17 ERA in 11.2 innings since the All-Star break.

Johnny Estrada:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .286/.307/.437, 35.0 AB/HR
 

June 29th to August 29th:  .266/.282/.343, 143.0 AB/HR

Estrada has never been much of on-base threat this season, but his performance over the last two months of the year has been exceptionally awful, particularly in the power department.  He's hitting .243/.267/.287 in 115 post All-Star at-bats.

J.J. Hardy:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .281/.339/.510, 16.2 AB/HR
 

June 29th to August 29th:  .275/.310/.420, 38.6 HR/AB

Hardy looked like a potential MVP candidate after he hit .325/.355/.605 with nine home runs in 114 May at-bats, but he's regressed quite a bit since then.  Over the last two months, his home run frequency has plummeted and he's not showing much patience; he's walked a total of seven times since the All-Star break.

Geoff Jenkins:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .277/.344/.505, 16.8 AB/HR
 

June 29th to August 29th:  .245/.309/.483, 21.0 AB/HR

Remember the Geoff Jenkins of 2005?  The Geoff Jenkins that hit .292/.375/.513 even with struggles against left-handers?  It looked like we were getting that Geoff Jenkins back this year, but he too has struggled mightily getting on-base as of late and he still can't hit left-handed pitching.

Bill Hall:

April 2nd to June 28th:  .271/.339/.455, 29.6 AB/HR
 

June 29th to August 29th:  .225/.268/.380, 43.0 AB/HR

What's worse than an underachieving Bill Hall?  How about a Bill Hall performing worse than an underachieving Bill Hall?  The first few months of Hall's season were quite disappointing given his outstanding 2006 campaign and he hasn't done much to resurrect this year over the past couple of months.  He's hitting for a .644 OPS since the All-Star break.

Now I don't want to sound completely negative here, there are still plenty of players keeping Milwaukee in this race.

Prince Fielder hasn't slowed down a bit hitting for a .945 OPS since the All-Star break, while Ryan Braun has destroyed what once was a black hole at third base for the Brew Crew hitting .332/.376/.641 with 25 long ones in 340 AB's.  He's the hot pick to reel in this season's N.L. Rookie of the Year Award.  Gabe Gross, who's hitting for an OPS near .800, has been solid off the bench and Ben Sheets' victory against the Cubs in his return from the D.L. must have been a breath of fresh air for Brewer fans.

Regardless of the Sheets' and the Fielder's however, there are a number of struggling players within the lineup and in the starting rotation that need to pick up the slack if this team is going to play October baseball.

Final Thoughts

Baseball Prospectus' postseason odds report currently gives Milwaukee a 1 in 4 chance of making the playoffs at 26%; quite a downfall from the 83.5% their odds once were.

Even with such a smaller chance of making the playoffs, you just can't count them out yet.  Sure, the Cubs are a better team.  The Cubs have the better record, better Pythagorean Record and their run differential is 73 runs better than that of Milwaukee.  But you just can't count out the Brewers quite yet.  Not in the N.L. Central.

Something to keep an eye on is Milwaukee's final week of the season when they'll start a seven-game home stand against fellow playoff hopefuls St. Louis and San Diego.  Despite their recent struggles, Milwaukee has the best home record in the N.L. at 40-25.  It's certainly a point in their favor that their final seven games of the season will be played at Miller Park.