In 2010, Brewer fans had the pleasure of seeing Trevor Hoffman record his 600th career save. Since then, we've had the less pleasurable experience of having John Axford show us just how difficult it is to reach that milestone.
Axford took the closer role away from Hoffman in 2010 and in 2011 he may have been the best closer in franchise history, setting a Brewers record with 46 saves and recording 43 in a row at one point. He was closer to mortal in 2012, but still recorded 35 more saves to reach 106 and second place on the Brewers all-time list. Then the calendar turned to 2013 and the wheels came all the way off.
Axford blew a save against the Rockies on Opening Day, then melted down in a non-save situation two days later and picked up an extra inning loss four days after that. He was removed from the closer's role in the season's first week, and carried an ERA over 10 all the way into May.
In mid-May Axford got hot again, though, reminding everyone how great he can be when he's on. Between May 15 and July 2 he pitched 23 consecutive scoreless appearances, tying Doug Jones for the longest streak in franchise history. Even after that streak, though, his ERA was only back down to 3.86. Three consecutive rough outings at the end of July may also have diminished his value right before the trade deadline.
If Axford had finished the season as a Brewer, his tough season and $5 million arbitration salary would've made him a likely candidate to be non-tendered this winter. Instead, his career as a Brewer came to a much more abrupt end when he was traded to the Cardinals in August.
Despite his ups and downs, Axford left Milwaukee as one of the more notable relievers in franchise history. I've already mentioned that his 106 saves are the second-most ever for a Brewer (trailing only Dan Plesac), but his 268 relief appearances are also the sixth most. Among Brewers who made at least 80% of their appearances in relief, only Plesac (448), Eduardo Rodriguez (404) and Carlos Villanueva (381) have recorded more strikeouts than Axford (318).
Axford appeared in 13 games down the stretch for St. Louis, posting a 1.74 ERA over 10.1 innings.
Axford's long hot streak was over when the Brewers faced the Marlins on July 21, but the Brewers had no choice but to put him into a high leverage spot anyway when the game was still scoreless in the 12th inning. Axford retired the side in order in both the 12th and 13th, setting the stage for Caleb Gindl's walkoff home run and a 1-0 victory.
MLB.com doesn't have any highlights from Axford's outing on this day, so here's Gindl's walkoff homer instead:
Axford made $5 million from the Brewers and Cardinals this season, and is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter. The Brewers were likely to non-tender him, though, and there's a very good chance the Cardinals will do the same to avoid having to give him a raise for 2014. If that happens, he'll become a free agent.
Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below:
Lesser Brewers: Burke Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, Jimmy Nelson, Donovan Hand, Sean Halton, Martin Maldonado, Hiram Burgos, Alfredo Figaro, Michael Blazek, Mike Fiers, Juan Francisco, Chris Narveson, Alex Gonzalez
The Last 2013 Brewers: Rickie Weeks