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Crew looks to reverse first-half inconsistency

Crew looks to reverse first-half inconsistency

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Crew looks to reverse first-half inconsistency
MILWAUKEE -- Two things give All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun hope for the Brewers' second half.

1. For the first time since winning the 2008 National League Wild Card, they have the pitching to win, and,

2. The best part is, they have already been through the worst.

"We can look back and say, 'Look, we've proven we can win without our starting catcher, our starting right fielder, our new stud pitcher,'" Braun said, referring to Jonathan Lucroy, Corey Hart and Zack Greinke, all of whom began the season on the disabled list. "That gives us that [much] more confidence than everybody else."

AT THE BREAK
First-half awards
  1. MVP: Prince Fielder Having an MVP-caliber season in a contract year.
  2. Cy Young: Shaun Marcum Tough call with Yovani Gallardo, but Marcum wins on ERA and WHIP.
  3. Rookie: N/A -- Fun fact: None of Brewers regular contributors are rookies.
  4. Top reliever: John Axford -- Went 17 straight games without an earned run before a July 4 loss.
Players to watch in the second half
  1. Casey McGehee: How long a leash does one extend the team's 2010 RBI leader?
  2. Mat Gamel: If McGehee sputters, will the Brewers move him permanently back to third base?
  3. Ryan Braun: Played two months of the first half with a sore left shoulder, and could have a huge second half if healthy.
Confidence will help if the Brewers are to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008, but pitching will probably make the difference. The Brewers will get more help in that department when they open the second half on Thursday in Colorado, where four-time All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez will join the team after being traded from the Mets.

General manager Doug Melvin on Tuesday sent two players to be named later to New York for K-Rod and cash. The surprise deal conjured Prince Fielder's memory of July '08, when the Brewers acquired starter CC Sabathia from the Indians for a run to the National League Wild Card.

"We appreciate it because we know if we've got a shot, we know [Melvin] is going to do something to help us get that little extra push," Fielder said. "In '08 with CC, that was a big deal. We know that he's wanting to win too."

The Brewers appear poised to win thanks in no small part to Braun and Fielder, combining for more RBIs than any other duo in the Majors. Considering Fielder is a free agent at season's end, there exists a level of urgency this year that might not have reached the same level during the Brewers' disappointing 2009 and '10 campaigns.

That's part of the reason Melvin was willing to spend so many prospects to bolster the starting rotation with offseason acquisitions Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Both have had their bad moments, for sure, but both have helped Milwaukee climb into the top half of the NL in starting pitchers' ERA for most of this season before sliding to the middle in late June.

"The key to our success this year has been starting pitching, no doubt," Braun said. "Our starters have given us an opportunity to win a lot of games. They've been extremely consistent and extremely durable -- you have guys going deep in games. That helps the bullpen out.

"I think they've all kind of fed off each other. One through five, they're all competitive."

Greinke is famously competitive, perhaps best illustrated by an off-hand comment to reporters during his first sit-down with them in Spring Training. Someone asked whether Greinke, by all accounts a fantastic golfer, had hit the links with any of his teammates.

Club breakdowns
Video recaps

The answer was no. Greinke was resigned to the fact he is a baseball pitcher and not a professional golfer, and to him, there was no point.

He has plenty to worry about on the diamond at the moment. Greinke has shown flashes of being an ace pitcher, but he has yet to turn those flashes into a sustained period of success. He opened up about his struggles after a 6-1 lead got away from Greinke and the Brewers on July 3.

"It's upsetting," he said. "I've tried everything. I tried not worrying about it, I tried making better pitches, tried attacking, tried picking. I've tried just about everything, and it hasn't worked for a while."

Until mid-June, Marcum was actually the Brewers' most consistent starter, but he has been bothered since then by an injured left hip, followed by trouble with his usually pinpoint command.

The Brewers' third top-of-the rotation starter, Yovani Gallardo, has also been through his ups and downs. If those three pitchers can find a rhythm at the same time, like CC Sabathia, Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan did during the Brewers' sensational August 2008, Milwaukee can be a division force.

If they continue to sputter, then so will the team.

"I'm happy where we're at. Do I think this team could be playing better? Absolutely," manager Ron Roenicke said in assessing his club's first half. "I don't know why we're so inconsistent. That's the biggest obstacle that I see. We have to definitely get better at that.

"I've mentioned before, with our pitching staff, I don't think we should be this inconsistent in what we do."

The inconsistencies have been tied to venue, Roenicke noted. Entering the final homestand before the All-Star break, the Brewers had more wins at home than any club in the Majors other than pitching-rich Philadelphia. But they had more losses on the road than any NL club besides the Cubs and last-place Houston.

"I don't know if it's just the road, I don't know if it's just an inconsistent offense," Roenicke said. "I know earlier in the season when we had seven losses in a row, probably four of those games we were facing a guy who pitched as well as you can pitch. Some of it had to do with that, but there's something going on [that explains] why we're not more consistent, why we're not playing better on the road."

Roenicke will continue trying to figure it out, but so far he's short of answers.

Braun is among the players who insist that the home-road divide will narrow.

"You get sick of talking about it," Braun said. "There's no reason to continue to focus on something that's negative like that. The bottom line is, we have a good team. We're going to win on the road. We're going to have success. There's no reason to continue to talk about it or look for answers because it does us no good."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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