MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' early-season pitching problems put them in a deep hole, but general manager Doug Melvin is not ready to give up on trying to climb back out.
At the break
"There are a lot of games left," Melvin said. "The White Sox were 9 1/2 games out, but now they're back in the race. You can put a good streak together."
He added: "Our guys aren't giving up, and I'm not giving up, either. We're playing better baseball, and we have been for a while."
In the second half, the question will be whether the Brewers can keep it up, and the answer will once again be provided by the pitching staff. The question was the same at this stage last season, and the answer proved to be negative. The Brewers couldn't fill holes left by injured starters Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan, and the team sunk in the second half.
This season, the team figures to be tested again. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo, by all measures (8-4 record, 2.58 ERA, staff-best 122 strikeouts) the Brewers' ace, strained a muscle on the left side of his ribcage hours after learning that he had made his first All-Star team. He is listed as day to day, and in Gallardo's absence the club is poised to use four left-handed starters -- Doug Davis, Manny Parra, Chris Narveson and Randy Wolf -- plus the right-hander Bush.
As the Brewers prepared to take the field at the start of their most recent homestand, Melvin came armed with some reasons for optimism. From May 4-July 4, he pointed out, the Brewers had the exact same record as the second-place St. Louis Cardinals.
Brewers Midseason Awards
RF Corey Hart
Hart leads the team in home runs and RBIs and won a spot on the NL All-Star team.
RHP Yovani Gallardo
Gallardo has posted an 8-4 record with a 2.58 ERA and 122 strikeouts through his 18 starts, earning his first All-Star selection.
RHP John Axford
After Trevor Hoffman's early struggles, Axford stepped into the closer's role to save his first nine opportunities while posting a 2.86 ERA.
C Jonathan Lucroy
The 24-year-old Lucroy has played a major role in settling the team's pitching staff, which posted a 3.93 ERA in June.
"It's 27-30. That's not something that's going to win a division," Melvin said. "But we have played the same as the Cardinals since May 4. Most of our season was in April, when we struggled with the bullpen."
He had more: Brewers pitchers posted a 3.93 ERA in June, better than the first-place Reds' 4.19 ERA over the same stretch.
"You can sit there and look at statistics and make them read what you want to feel optimistic about your ballclub," Melvin said. "But we have a good offensive club and our pitching is getting better. Our bullpen has gotten much better. We put ourselves in a hole, but there is still enough baseball left to put a winning streak together."
You can't accuse Melvin & Co. of standing pat. Since the start of the season, he has parted ways with struggling swingman Suppan, absorbing about $10 million that was left on Suppan's contract, and released veteran reliever Claudio Vargas and his $900,000 salary amid a slew of moves to bolster the bullpen. To that end, Macha had to pull all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman from the closer's role after five blown saves, replacing him with mustachioed rookie John Axford, who has been outstanding since taking over.
If the rebuilt pitching holds up, the focus could shift to the middle of the Brewers' batting order, where left fielder Ryan Braun has been stuck in a relative slump and first baseman Prince Fielder has gotten hot while trade rumors begin to swirl. If Melvin decides after the All-Star break that he is a seller, then Fielder would become one of the game's premier trading chips, a run-producer under the team's control through the end of next season.
If Fielder is indeed traded, then Braun's bat would become even more important to the Brewers. He was selected by fans to start his third consecutive All-Star Game, but his power stroke has been missing since he was struck by a Tommy Hanson pitch in early May.
"This has been the most challenging year for me, by far, to this point," Braun said. "It hasn't been easy, it has really been a grind. It is not an easy game. I think that this year more than any other I have dealt with some adversity. I have struggled. But I am proud of being where I am, and there is still a lot of time left for me individually to get where I want to be and for the team to get where we want to be."
His boss had the same sentiment.
"I like our ballclub, still," Melvin said. "I think we rectified some of the problems we had early in the year."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.