The Milwaukee Brewers are nearing the 70-game mark of the season, most of which has been spent scrambling to not only win games, but find a consistent lineup.
Despite having All-Star caliber seasons turned in by reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and starter Zack Greinke, the lasting images to this point are Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez writhing in pain from season-ending knee injuries, Marco Estrada, Cesar Izturis and Carlos Gomez limping off the field after pulled muscles, and Chris Narveson in a sling with a torn rotator cuff.
That's not even including the elbow soreness of reliever Kameron Loe, muscle soreness of catcher George Kottaras, third baseman Aramis Ramirez's variety of nicks and scrapes and Lucroy's broken hand.
"It's a unique situation," said infielder Cody Ransom, who has played parts of 10 seasons with six teams. "There are probably more injuries at one time than I've ever seen. You probably see this many injuries and this many transactions over a whole season but it just so happens they all came at the same time."
At the end of the Brewers last homestand, the clubhouse looked like it was late September after the rosters expand, packed to near capacity with players. Only this time the healthy players had to be on the lookout for those on crutches and heavy wrapping.
The result has been the call-up of a variety of players from the Brewers minor-league system to help stem the tide and keep the team competitive. Position players who have been called up (or signed) to help out include infielders Edwin Maysonet, Cody Ransom, Taylor Green, Brooks Conrad and catcher Martin Maldonado.
Manager Ron Roenicke has tried not to put too much pressure on these players, but as the injuries have piled up there has been little choice but to rely on many of them to produce nearly every day in some capacity, whether it's as a starter, late inning defensive replacement or pinch hitter.
Despite the fact that none of them are regular starters and could be optioned back down to the minors at any point, they realize how important their role is.
"That's where teams stay strong and end up being postseason contenders," Conrad said. "I think we've done a pretty good job of that so far, but we've got to continue to do that, continue to play well off the bench."
It's not easy on them however, since none of them knows when – or if – they'll play at all.
"Welcome to the life of a bench player," Conrad said. "That's been my role, and a lot of these guy's roles. That's basically what you have to be ready for. You have to be ready every time you're called up to do a job. Pinch-hitting is usually your main type role and obviously I need to start doing a better job on that, but filling in starts, you've got to be ready.
"Injuries happen. Throughout the course of a season, it's those times when injuries occur and the guys come off the bench and get the job done to keep winning some games and keep the team going. It's basically the life of the beast and that's the way the game goes."
Roenicke conceded that at this point, several of these players are – Ransom is 36, Conrad is 32 and Maysonet is 30. But, as a collective, he sees some positives out of a group put in a tough situation.
Before leaving for the last road trip, Roenicke broke down his bench:
Ransom: "Definitely, I have never really seen this guy for more than a couple games and defensively I think he's really done a good job for us as third base and at shortstop. I didn't know he was that good defensively. I knew in the past he was pretty good there, and he's gotten some big hits for us."
Green: "Hasn't gotten really enough games to where we really see exactly what we have with him, but his last two pinch hits were pretty impressive. So he's got power and he can drive the ball into gaps and he's versatile. I think that's important for us."
Maysonet: "Has caught everything hit at him. He's done a great job defensively. Gotten a couple of big hits also."
Maldonado: "Great defensively. We knew that coming in, but he's also got a couple big hits."
"The total group – Conrad finally got a couple hits that were big – has done a nice job for us," Roenicke added. "We don't expect them to come in and be as good as the guys that got hurt and are either done for the year or on the DL. But I think they've filled in and done a nice job."
All of these players know they can be sent back to the minors, or designated for assignment, as soon as a regular comes off the disabled list or Roenicke and the front office determines a better option has become available on the market. But for them, it's all about the here and now, and doing what they can to win games.
"When you come up and you get those opportunities, you have to make the most of them," Conrad said. "That's what bench players are all about. You get those opportunities here and there and you get the job done, that's what championship teams are made of."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.