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Pitching woes hamper Brewers in '09

Pitching woes hamper Brewers in '09

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MILWAUKEE -- No CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets? No return trip to the postseason for the pitching-poor Brewers.

Injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan created holes in the starting rotation that the Brewers couldn't fill, and Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun & Co. couldn't hit the team out of trouble.

In the end, the Brewers followed up their best season in a generation with a losing one. Not exactly the way new manager Ken Macha drew it up, but the skipper was searching for positives.

"It's well documented that we've had problems with our pitching," Macha said. "That will be attended to. As far as the effort from the players, I haven't had anything but positives to say about them. The hustle and intensity has been there all year, so I credit those guys. Even though we've had some games where we've been blown out early, the effort level has been there.

"I like to focus on the positive stuff," Macha added. "We've had some guys have an extraordinary year, and you have to look at that. [Fielder] set the RBI record. Our left fielder [Braun] hit .300. Casey McGehee comes out of nowhere to hit 15 homers and hit around .300. [Craig] Counsell has had a great year. ... You take a look at what [Trevor] Hoffman has done and Todd Coffey. There are a lot of good stories here with this club."

Record: 80-82, third place in National League Central.

Defining moment: It was the afternoon of July 5 and the Brewers had just slipped out of first place for good, when Braun stood at the base of the stairs leading to the cramped visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field and spoke his mind. The Brewers' pitching wasn't good enough, he said, and the staff needed another midseason injection of talent to compete. It was a moment of candor that drew a swift and hard response from general manager Doug Melvin and changed Braun's formerly open relationship with the media. In the end, it's very difficult to argue that Braun wasn't dead-on in his assessment.

What went right: Braun and Fielder proved that they are one of baseball's best middle-of-the-order combos. Fielder set franchise records for RBIs and walks, Braun belted 30 homers for the third straight season and together they drove in more runs than any teammates in the Majors. Macha did a good job of pointing out the other bright spots, including Counsell, who played much more than expected and remade his swing, and McGehee, who had to scrap to make the team in Spring Training and then made a run for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Hoffman was just as advertised, and his signature "Hells Bells" rocked Miller Park.

What went wrong: Losing second baseman Rickie Weeks to a season-ending wrist injury cost the Brewers their offensive catalyst, but the real reason for their fade was the starting pitching. It simply wasn't good enough. Manny Parra was demoted to the Minors in June after a string of poor starts. Bush was already struggling when he was struck on the back of the right arm by a Hanley Ramirez line drive in Florida, causing microtearing of the triceps that would cost him two months. Suppan would go down in late July, when he strained a rib-cage muscle swinging the bat. He would miss a month and went on to post his highest ERA since 2002. Braden Looper made all of his starts and led the team in wins, but he allowed more home runs than any pitcher in baseball. The Brewers' pitching woes meant opportunities for others, but as Melvin put it, "nobody stepped up." Melvin tried to make a midseason move to bolster the pitching but came up empty.

Biggest surprise: We'll go with McGehee, who entered Spring Training with options remaining and seemed destined for Triple-A Nashville. His chances improved dramatically when the Brewers released veteran third baseman Mike Lamb near the end of Spring Training, and his playing time increased after the Brewers lost Weeks to injury. McGehee made the most of his opportunity.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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