The "second half" of the Major League Baseball season begins tonight for the Milwaukee Brewers, who come off the All-Star break at 38-56 and 19.5 games behind first place St. Louis. The Brewers only have 68 games left and all hope for the playoffs – and likely, a .500 record – is gone.
About four weeks ago, I gave you five reasons to watch this team. Now, here are five questions that will be answered.
1. Will owner Mark Attanasio give general manager Doug Melvin the green light to rebuild?
The non-waiver trade deadline is at 3 p.m. on July 31. The waiver trade deadline isn’t until Aug. 31 – so there is a good six weeks of baseball left where guys could get moved.
While Melvin doesn’t traditionally make many in-season deadline moves, the Brewers have several pieces that contending teams may want – especially in the bullpen. But, by selling off some of those players and replacing them with minor league call ups, the Brewers could conceivably flirt with 100 losses and play to an empty ballpark once the Green Bay Packers open their season. Will Melvin be allowed to move two veteran starting pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo? Will he eat some salary to move Aramis Ramirez? In order to truly break it down and get true high-end prospects, the latter must happen than just moving bullpen arms.
2. Can Carlos Gomez turn in a better year than Miguel Cabrera?
Sure, Miggy is coming off a Triple Crown and is in serious contention for doing it again. Sure, the Tigers may make the playoffs. But there is Gomez, leading all of baseball – including pitchers – in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 5.7. Cabrera? He’s sitting right behind the Brewers All-Star centerfielder at 5.6. This may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but should Gomez finish out the final 68 games ahead of Cabrera in this category, there will be some who feel he turned in a better season (See, 2012 American League Most Valuable Player race).
3. Can Jean Segura win a batting title?
The 23-year-old All-Star shortstop is coming out of the break leading the National League in hits with 121 hits and is currently fourth in batting average among eligible players. Segura is hitting a tidy .325, but he will be trying to chase down St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who is hitting robust .341. Segura was hitting .365 on May 28 and .340 on June 11, so while it seemed like pitchers began to catch up with him, Segura has adjusted and his raking again – he’s hitting .366 over his last 11 games.
4. Will John Axford earn the closer’s job back?
The erstwhile closer hasn’t been at the back end of the bullpen since the very beginning of the season, but he’s been spectacular ever since. First, Jim Henderson was given the job. Now, it’s in the hands of free agent-to-be Francisco Rodriguez. Logic says K-Rod will be gone by the end of the trade deadline on July 31 – so does Axford, he who once converted 49 straight saves– get the job back? Ron Roenicke may want to determine of the Ax Man will be his guy going into 2014 – provided Axford isn’t one of the bullpen arms moved before the deadline.
5. Will Wily Peralta keep rolling?
The 24-year-old right-hander has been very good in July (2-0, 0.42 ERA), and four of his last five starts have been excellent – and in that bad start against the Chicago Cubs on June 27 four of the seven runs allowed were unearned, so his stat line since June 21 is pretty good (3-1, 1.08 ERA in 33.1 innings). Has the youngster figured it out after his first 15 starts yielded a 4-8 record with a 6.08 ERA and nine home runs allowed?
The Brewers haven’t had a homegrown starting pitcher truly develop since Gallardo came to Milwaukee six years ago, and how Peralta pitches the next two weeks before the deadline and finishes season may dictate what the Brewers do with the starting rotation heading into the offseason.
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.