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Thoughts on the Brewers halfway through the season

Over the next week, some of the BCB contributors will be providing their thoughts on the team halfway through the season.

Doug Pensinger

With the Brewers' season now halfway over, some of the contributors here at BCB have decided to give our thoughts on the team at this point in time. We'll have one a day this week, with each of us answering the same questions. I'm up first.

At the halfway point, what do you see as the biggest strength of the team?

Strangely enough, I don't think the Brewers have one big strength. Rather, I think the best aspect of the team is that they are solid throughout. The offense is tied for the second-best wOBA in the National League at .324, but I don't know if I would say they are a great offense. They can be, if Ryan Braun turns back into Ryan Braun and Jean Segura picks it up, and if both second basemen continue to hit, and Aramis Ramirez stays healthy.

Likewise, their starting pitching has been solid and is in the upper-half of the NL in ERA. If you took out Marco Estrada's contributions (more on that later), they would rank even higher and would also have a much better FIP than their current 4.07. The bullpen has had it's issues on the back end, but is strong up top.

So I guess what I think is their biggest strength is the fact that on any given day the pitching can make up for the offense and the offense can make up for the pitching. There is a nice harmony there. The team isn't the 2009 Brewers, where it was all offense all the time. This year's edition features a strong offense that doesn't need to be the focal point all the time. That's different, and nice.

At the halfway point, what is the biggest weakness for the team?

The same thing it has been all year: The bench. Lyle Overbay is no good and can only play first. Neither Rickie Weeks nor Scooter Gennett can play anywhere other than second. This creates little flexibility and opens up more and more playing time to players who aren't very good like Elian Herrera and Jeff Bianchi.

The Brewers can ill afford an injury. Any team would suffer if a key player were knocked out for a long period of time, but the Brewers' bench is so bad and so limited that it would be crippling. Logan Schafer was bad enough at the plate that he's back in the minors. Management apparently doesn't trust Caleb Gindl defensively in the outfield and with his inability to play center field they would still need Herrera or Schafer up.

Even if the team were to drop Overbay or trade Weeks to create a sense of flexibility, I'm not sure how much it would help considering the talent of the players that would then be called up. Simply put, there isn't anyone in Triple-A who looks like they could be a useful bench piece right now. That means the team would have to look elsewhere to improve this facet of the roster. There always seem to be solid bench guys available at the deadline, here's hoping the Brewers can take advantage.

How are you feeling about the Brewers' chances to make the playoffs?

Good! How can I not? They have been in first place nearly all year long, and there is reason to believe that the team could be even better! I mean, they've done this with relatively minimal contributions from Ryan Braun and Jean Segura, both of whom were expected to be major contributors this year. Nobody else on the team is really hitting much better than was expected, excepting maybe Jonathan Lucroy. There's no reason to expect that to fade.

The Brewers also still have the largest divisional lead in the majors at 6.5 games. The Cardinals are starting to actually look vulnerable (knock on wood [knock on more wood {go around the forest furiously punching every tree}}) and the Reds offense not enough to get them to the top.

Meanwhile the Brewers can go .500 the rest of the way and notch 90 wins, which should be enough to make the playoffs. Barring a complete collapse or absolutely incredible runs by other teams (multiple, seeing as there will still be two wild card spots available if Milwaukee is knocked out of first in the central) the NL Central is firmly in the Brewers' gasp. (Goes to another forest)

Do you believe the Brewers should buy, sell or stand pat at the trade deadline?

Buy, but on the cheap. There shouldn't be any big deals for the Ben Zobrists and David Prices. There's no need to give up what it would take to acquire those guys. The Brewers are finally starting to build up their farm system again, tearing it back down for one of these players is unnecessary unless, in the case of Price mostly, they were to then flip him in the post-season similar to what was done with Zack Greinke.

But honestly, unless Doug Melvin can find an absolute steal of a deal, I'm happy with this team's starting lineup and 4/5 of the starting rotation. Where they should be looking to buy is at the utility player level and/or the back of the bullpen, and they shouldn't give up any major prospects to fix either spot.

If you could make one roster move on the Brewers, what would it be?

Outside of doing everything in my power to find some sort of useful utility depth at a cheap price, it's probably time to ditch Marco Estrada. Well, not ditch him. Move him to the bullpen. Then call up Jimmy Nelson to start and send down Rob Wooten or do something with Brandon Kintzler. This doesn't take much explaining: Estrada has been dreadful this season, mostly due to his tendency to give up a boatload of home runs.

By putting Estrada in the bullpen, you can hope to minimize the number of home runs he allows. If that doesn't work, then you figure out whether it's worth keeping him on the team at that point. That hurts to say, because I've been one of Marco's biggest supporters and really thought he would be the team's surprise ace in 2014. The Brewers can't risk keeping him in the rotation, though. The team collapsed in the second half of 2007 after a great first half. They have to keep making improvements where they can. Fifth starter is one of those spots.

As for Nelson over, say, Mike Fiers? Because Nelson is better. And, at this point, he deserves a fair shot at an extended stint in the team's rotation. He's 25 years old already. Let him have his chance.


Best starting pitcher going forward?

Wily Peralta has the talent and poise and should be fantastic the rest of the way

Best hitter going forward?

I think that Ryan Braun will miss the All Star game and come back rejuvenated after a several-day break for the second half. He's come through big in the second-half before, and I think he'll do it again.

Ryan Braun's batting line in the second half?

I'll say .295/.380/.485

Do the Brewers make a high profile trade?

No. I don't think they have the pieces to get a David Price, nor do I think the need is large enough to convince management to mortgage the future.

How many wins do the Brewers get in their final 81 games?

I think they'll be a bit better than .500 the rest of the way. 44 wins for a 44-37 record. That puts them at 93-69 on the season, if I'm doing the math right.

Do the Brewers win the division?

Yes, but I think the Cardinals make a late push to put a scare into us. The month of September will be fraught with divisional danger.

Doug Melvin grade through 1st half?

The Matt Garza deal still looks good, even if Garza isn't a top-line pitcher. Mark Reynolds has been better than anyone expected. The decision to believe in Khris Davis is paying dividends. Francisco Rodriguez has been great. The only negative has been the bench, something that should have been addressed in the offseason, particularly with Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez being injury-prone at times. A solid B+.

Ron Roenicke Grade through 1st half?

I love the batting order he has been using of late and the players seem to like him. His managerial decisions in-game have been iffy at times, and the over-bunting is frustrating. B-, but almost a B.