At the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers have a 4 1/2 game lead on the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division. It's the first time they've had a lead at the break since the 1982 World Series season.
What's in store for the second half? That is anybody's guess.
At the start of the season, I predicted the Brewers to battle for a wildcard, but I felt they were still a year away from a division title because of all of their youth. I remember the critisism I took for my thoughts. I said I didn't like Rickie Weeks in the leadoff spot and took heat for that. I said I was not a fan of Dave Bush and took heat for that.
Well, I could still be wrong, but the Brewers are certainly exhibiting signs of a young team by their inconsistency. The recent road trip leading up to the all-star break is proof of that. Losing 3 of 4 in Pittsburgh and then 2 of 3 in Washington is not what champions are made of.
What the Brewers do have going for them is the fact that the division is not very strong. Certainly the Cubs and Cardinals will play better baseball in the second half than they did the first half, but will it be enough to overtake the Brewers?
I'm still not sold on Bush no matter what you Brewers fans say. But lately, he's been no worse than any other Brewers starter and has had some strong outings sprinkled around some not so good ones. Claudio Vargas is a concern. He starts out strong but falls apart fast. Jeff Suppan has also been a disappointment. And so has Chris Capuano after a fast start.
The only starter that has performed at a reletively high level has been Ben Sheets.
I don't have a problem with the Yovanni Gallardo move to the bullpen, but I hope it's not going to last too long. Gallardo looks like the real deal and I understand protecting him by limiting his innings. But by the time early to mid-August roles around, Gallardo needs to be back in the rotation. He's clearing one of the top five starting pitchers on the staff. I know it's only been three starts, but Gallardo to me, would be slotted in fairly high in the rotation.
I think Ned Yost has to be a little more pro-active when it comes to going to his bullpen. I'm sure he doesn't want to burn it out early, but in the second half, it's all about winning baseball games. You can't leave Vargas, Bush, Capuano and Suppan in for two long with the hopes they can work themselves out of jams. They've had plenty of time to prove that they can't.
At some point, Yost and Doug Melvin will have to address the slumping Rickie Weeks as well. Unlike many Brewers fans, I'm not suggesting they get rid of Weeks. But when you're trying to get to the playoffs for the first time since 1982, you can't afford to continue to experiment.
I remember when the season started, I heard Ned Yost repeatedly tell me how deep his roster was. Depth sometimes is good until you have to depend on it. Having to play backups for a considerable length of time can take what was good depth and turn it into average at depth.
I still think the Brewers are still a year away in terms of how much better the teams young players will get. I think they're really going to be good next season when pitching will be even better. But it's pretty clear right now that they have a chance to win the division this year and why not. But they'll need continued outstanding production from Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun, Johnny Estrada and the list goes on.
And to all the Ned Yost bashers! Save it for the end of the season. I know you can smell playoffs and that's a good thing. Enjoy the ride instead of melting down every time you don't like a managers decision. GM Doug Melvin isn't stupid. If he thinks Ned Yost is as bad a manager as you all do, I'm sure he'll find somebody else to manage his team next year.