I believe I've wasted several hours of my blogging career complaining about how pathetic the Brewers' play was on the road. It was hard to ignore. My hope was that the All-Star break would be a time for players and coaches to not only get some rest and forget about their road woes, but to also look forward and figure out what exactly they needed to do to improve away from Miller Park. They didn't have a choice. If the Brewers wanted to reach the post-season, they would have to start winning on the road - it's what good teams do. Oh, and it just so happened that the Crew had to play 11 games on the road to start off the second half of the season. It was make or break time, no question, and after Milwaukee was able to get by with a 5-6 record against the top three teams in the West Division, they were still right near the top of the standings and began a stretch loaded with beatable teams. Let's just say the Beermakers took that opportunity and flew to the moon with it...the Brewers are now 76-52, nine games ahead of the second place Cardinals and 13-7 on the road post-All-Star break. Huzzah.
Believe it or not, that nine game lead is the largest division lead in baseball and the largest division lead in franchise history. I knew that this team was something special and continued to reiterate during the Brewers' early struggles, but their performance recently is absolutely ridiculous...there's no other way to describe it. I believe it is now 22 of the last 25 games Milwaukee has pulled off, and it's due in part to an entire team effort. King Fielder and The Hebrew Hammer continue to battle amongst each other for MVP honors (Braun for a batting title, Prince for a HR & RBI title...combined Triple Crown, anyone?), the starting pitching has been superb and the bullpen keeps on keeping on, with Marco Estrada filling in nicely in a couple spot starts and the Ax Factor refusing to let one get away. In Saturday's afternoon melee against the New York Mets, it felt like the Brewers of old had returned...I was upset with how hard our pitchers were getting hit, but I was also disappointed in Ron Roenicke's decision to leave Jerry Hairston in center field late in a close ball game with Tony Plush readily available. It cost the Brewers and spoiled K-Rod's return to Citi Field and completed the Brewers blowing a six-run lead...and then some. It was 9-7 Mets heading into the top of the ninth; that's when the Brewers of new returned and did what it took to win the game. Those who have come up clutch all season long...Nyjer Morgan, Mark Kotsay, Prince Fielder and even Casey McGehee...put up incredible at-bats and then it was just up to Axford to close it down. The comeback victory seemed like gravy at this point. The Crew could probably afford a loss like this thanks to the division lead they've stretched out, but their resiliency wouldn't allow it, and that as a fan is incredibly comforting.
I try not to do this too often, but I want to look ahead into my Milwaukee Brewers' crystal ball and figure out what the Crew will do once they are faced with a few difficult decisions. One of them was just made today as Felipe Lopez was designated for assignment (a.k.a. released) to make room for Chris Narveson, who will start the front end of the doubleheader today against the...yes...Pittsburgh Pirates. Rosters expanding once September rolls around will make bringing Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez back a lot easier since the Brewers won't have to send anyone down. I'm still pretty excited to see who Milwaukee decides to bring up in September and who will begin to see their playing time diminish. But back to the real issue here...who would we see not make the 25-man playoff roster should, hypothetically speaking, of course, the Milwaukee Brewers make the post-season? We just saw a position player (Lopez) take the hit when Narveson was added back to the active roster. I suspect that bullpen member Frankie De La Cruz would not make the cut when Weeks gets back, who I think will return before Gomez. When Go-Go is ready to come back, this is where things get a little more difficult. The Brewers will have 12 pitchers and 13 position players on the team and I doubt Roenicke will want to drop down to 11 arms for the playoffs. So which position player walks? Hmmm...I can't even figure that one out. I know everyone is screaming "Craig Counsell" right now, but I just don't see that happening. Perhaps Josh Wilson falls out of favor by then. Perhaps Gomez doesn't become healthy enough to make the playoff roster. Or maybe Counsell really does get left off. Kotsay isn't an option because of his ability to play the outfield, and the Brewers only have four true outfielders on the current roster. I guess we'll see what happens...remember, this whole playoff thing is only hypothetical.
Way back on Friday night, the Green Bay Packers played their second pre-season game and their first game at Lambeau Field since I was in attendance to watch the Pack down the Bears to make the playoffs. Again, this is the pre-season, so I don't really feel like getting all hyped up about things or go into great detail. The one guy who really stood out was practice squad member Chastin West, who caught five passes for 134 yards, including a 97-yard connection between West and Matt Flynn. Flynn looked quite solid as well, which makes me believe the Packers will eventually part with him to not only give Flynn a chance to start in this league, but to also get a valuable commodity in return. Third stringer Graham Harrell isn't to shabby himself and could probably be a viable backup to Rodgers as well, but for now let's enjoy the incredible depth the Packers sport at quarterback. Speaking of incredible depth, the Green and Gold has a few players at wide receiver that might contribute this season. And even though Jermichael Finley isn't a wide-out, he might as well be. It was good to see Sir Michael back in action for the first time this season and it doesn't look like Finley missed a beat, catching four passes for 33 yards. Rodgers and Greg Jennings hooked up for a touchdown for the second straight game...the league might want to look out for that tandem. We also saw rookie Alex Green for the first time in a Packer uniform and he managed to run for a score and have a significant reception. Otherwise, the first team defense looked stellar, but it was all downhill from there. Last season, I wasn't really happy with the defense in general when the Packers were in their early stages last season, so I'll consider this an improvement.
Today, look to see how the Narve-Dog does in his return, if the offense can continue to stay hot and if Greinke can continue his dominant second half performance.