The Most Disappointing Season For … The Milwaukee Brewers

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 83-79 (3rd NL Central, 7th out of 15 in the nL)
Pythagorean Record: 85-77
Runs Scored: 776 (1st in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 733 (13th in the NL)
Prior Season Record: 96-66
Manager: Ron Roenicke

Hype: The defending NL Central champs lost Prince Fielder, but most everyone is back – including Zack Greinke, and they significantly upgraded two positions to boot.

The Gory Details: Losing a home-grown All-Star to free agency after a monster year is traumatic, sure, but good and deep organizations can easily overcome those losses. The Brewers lost Prince Fielder, but significantly upgraded the left side of their infield going into 2012.

They also still had a lot of firepower in their offense with Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, and a solid rotation with an excellent 1-2 bullpen duo of John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez backing them up. They were ready.

Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez were the big upgrades on offense. Ramirez was a solid, dependable third baseman and power hitter, while Gonzalez was a vet that had his best season the year before in Atlanta.

Replacing Fielder was Mat Gamel, a former prospect who had injury issues but had a big year in AAA in 2011. Also adding into the mix were Japanese import Nori Aoki and young speedster Carlos Gomez, who had not yet harnessed his visible talent.

On paper, this was a stronger team than they put out there in 2011. Paper doesn’t win ball games, though. Paper certainly doesn’t get injured.

The big started early. Chris Narveson, the fifth starter, was lost for the season to injury after two starts. That didn’t seem to be a big deal – last year Marco Estrada started seven games and he was ready again to take Narveson’s spot in the rotation.

An even bigger deal than Narveson was evident, the slow start from veteran pitcher Randy Wolf, who was a steadying influence in 2011. He finished April with a 6.84 ERA.

As April turned to May, another injury struck. Gamel was chasing a foul ball when he stepped awkwardly and tore up his knee. He was done for the year. Gamel was off to a slow-ish start, but with him around Ron Roenicke could spot Gomez, Aoki and Nyjer “Tony Plush” Morgan into situations where they’d be most effective.

Now they’d have to alter their plans. Basically, Hart came in to play first backed by Travis Ishiikawa, and Aoki became the everyday right fielder.

Just four days after losing Gamel, the Brewers suffered a huge blow. Gonzalez was off to a good start offensively, slugging four home runs and adding some patience at the plate.

Against the Giants, in the second inning, he singled, stole second, and didn’t get up. He wrecked his knee, and he was done for the year as well. (In fact, that injury basically ended his career for all intents and purposes.)

Losing a first baseman is one thing, but losing a shortstop is another deal entirely. At the time, the Brewers saw their options and looked to Cesar Izturis and Edwin Maysonet. Later in May, they got Cody Ransom off of waivers.

Gonzalez may not have been the best defensive shortstop, but the other were average defenders at best, and below replacement-level at the plate. It was a huge loss.

The bullpen – so solid in 2011 – was also struggling. John Axford had a high ERA but hadn’t blown any saves, yet. But “K-Rod” Rodriguez was struggling as was Kameon Loe and Manny Parra. Games were getting out of hand and they couldn’t be trusted with leads.

What was worse for Milwaukee? The struggles of Morgan put a big hole in the offensive plan – much more than losing Gamel. “Tony Plush” was a big deal in 2011, but at the end of May in 2012 his OBP and SLG were under .300. Basically, he was an out waiting to happen.

Wolf was almost a lost cause. But Estrada went on the DL for a spell so when the Brewers called up Mike Fiers, Wolf still had to go out there every five days. As a result of his problem and the injuries, the Brewers were 23-28 at the end of May.

June didn’t have the injury bugs, but it was during this month that Axford became shaky. One thing that Milwaukee didn’t need was for their closer to develop a habit of giving up runs and leads. The offense was doing OK – Morgan was still in struggle mode and the shortstop position was a giant sinkhole, but they still were scoring runs despite them.

They were just giving them up as well. The bullpen problems got so deep that they resorted to signing 198 year old (or so) Livan Hernandez to help out.

The Brewers limped into the All-Star break in fourth place, under .500 and eight games out from the division lead and six games out of the Wild Card. They were still ‘close’ but they’d have to have a lot of luck to reach the post-season.

The decision had to be made – trade in your biggest chips to rebuild for next season – or try to get an impact player yourself.

It didn’t help that Iztursis and Ransom were boondoggles in the lineup – no matter who played. (Maysonet had already been jettisoned). It also didn’t help that there were enough nagging owies in the staff that Wolf couldn’t be sent to the bullpen. Estrada came back but Shawn Marcum went on the shelf. What to do? What to do?

That was answered on July 27th. The only trading chit the Brewers held that they wanted to part with was Greinke, who would be a free agent in the off-season. They had just lost seven in a row and were now 14 games out of place. So a deal was in place to trade Greinke to the Angels for three prospects, two young pitchers and shortstop Jean Segura.

Soon enough, in early August, Izturis was waived, and Segura called up to play short. Soon after that, Ransom was let go as well. Even later in August, Wolf was 86’d as no one really wanted to give anything up for him. The Brewers were playing out the string and playing for next year.

Seemingly.

They finally had a winning month in August. They were still double digits out of the lead – still in fourth place – still under .500 – but a winning month was good. There was a lot of talent here, if they could get the pitching to go with the offense.

Milwaukee had a 10-3 stretch in early September to get over .500. Then they won six in a row. Suddenly they were 78-72 and suddenly they were just 1 ½ games behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card. What happened?

The hitting went from good to tremendous, as Segura wasn’t an automatic out at short and Morgan was basically benched so Gomez and Aoki could play every day. Without Wolf, the rotation wasn’t putting a sieve out there every five days. The bullpen had calmed down a bit. It still wasn’t the best but the offense was making it more of a non-factor.

That day was the high water mark, though. They lost two of three to the Nationals, and two of three to the Reds – two of the best teams in the NL. That’s bad schedule luck.
They closed the season with a six game homestand against the Astros and Padres, and needed a miracle since they were now four games behind St. Louis with six to go.

However, Houston had already lost 105 games – keep winning and you put pressure on the Redbirds. Welp. The Brewers pitchers gave up 19 runs in three games, lost two of three, and that was that.

Had the Brewers played as inspired as they did in the last two months, there was no reason they couldn’t have repeated their crown. Yet injuries, and ineffectiveness, did them in – and the finishing kick wasn’t strong enough. They held on too long in hoping a couple of players would turn around instead of making a change quickly. That cost them.

Chicken Wolf All-Stars: Ryan Braun (7.0 WAR) and Aramis Ramirez (5.5 WAR) fit the bill. They weren’t the problem, and neither was losing Fielder.

Honorable Mention Team: The 1982 Brewers were Harvey’s Wallbangers – winning 95 games and making the World Series. The 1983 Brewers won 87 games, but finished fifth in the AL East. That stings.

Bad Blast from the Past: The original American League that was considered a Major League in 1901 had a franchise in Milwaukee. They finished dead last and then moved to St. Louis to become the Browns. In 1902, that team finished second, but in 1903 they sunk to sixth place and thus started the Browns long history of disappointment.

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