Saving the best for last, we will now conclude our six part look into the NL Central by taking a look at the Milwaukee Brewers and where they stand going into the second half of 2009. Pardon me if this one is longer than the rest.
Milwaukee Brewers: The only roster moves the Crew have made so far have been the signing of Frank Catalanotto trading Tony Gwynn Jr. for Jody Gerut. Milwaukee sits at second place in the division and is above .500 with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. Entering the season the biggest concerns were starting pitching depth, middle relief and third base. After the first half the only one of those trouble spot has been somewhat resolved. So let's take a look, position by position, player by player, at the first half of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Catcher: Jason Kendall has done exactly what you could have expected of him. After a slow start he has been hitting better, but his .234 average is still a sore spot. As long he keeps calling a good game and playing good defense, the Crew can live with the low batting average. Mike Rivera is a serviceable backup, but I don't really want to see more of him than we do.
First Base: Prince Fielder has had one of the best first half in recent Brewer history. If he can maintain something of he his first half pace we might finally see someone break the franchise record for RBI's (Cecil Cooper had 126 in 1983). The best numbers for Prince are the .312 batting average and .433 OBP.
Second Base: Ugh, what a mess. Rickie Weeks' injury has been very costly. Yes, Craig Counsell has been an excellent fill-in and Casey McGehee actually looks like a better defender at second than at third but you really can't say that the Brewers are a better team without Weeks and the strides he made this season.
Third Base: Also a problem spot. Entering the season with Bill Hall as the starter, he is now completely out of the picture as a starting Major Leaguer. Mat Gamel looks like the future at third, yet he doesn't receive consistent playing time. McGehee has been plugged in fairly consistently and performed but nothing drives fans crazy like a platoon.
Shortstop: Don't get me wrong, I like J.J. Hardy, but he's taken being a streaky hitter to another level. When he is on, he is dynamite, but when he is off, he is flat out terrible. Hardy is hitting .223 halfway through the season, that is unacceptable. If you want a bright side, he's a career .286 hitter after the break.
Left Field: The only complaint about the Left Fielder is that he doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Other than that, Deputy Braun has had a fantastic first half. He's hitting .321 and is on pace to set career highs in runs, RBI's and walks. They may not keep pitching to Prince Fielder but Braun will still get pitches to hit, you can't walk them both.
Center Field: Yea, Mike Cameron is only hitting .252, but that's ok. Cam is only a career .250 hitter, and at this stage of his career you can't expect him to be astronomically better. His defense has been outstanding on he's walking more than he has in a long time. If you want more from Cameron, it would be to see him hitting better with runners in scoring postion, he's only hitting .164. He needs to better than that if he's batting sixth in the order.
Right Field: The only player more frustrating than Hardy would have to be right fielder Corey Hart. Coming up you always heard about how Hart may not hit for big power but he should always be keeping his average near .300. Well, this season he's doing neither. The worst part is that his history does not set him up well for the second half. After the All-Star break Hart is a .261 hitter, which would actually be an improvement this season.
Bench: We've already talk about what Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell have done. Also Mat Gamel has been a big piece off the bench, even though he should be a starter. Frank Catalanotto has been solid, giving good at-bats from the left side of the plate so no complaints there. The other two guys on the bench have been flat out terrible though. You can't find a worse aquisition than Jody Gerut, since joining the Brew Crew Gerut has gone 4 for 37. That's beyond bad, he's basically been a wasted roster space and you have to wonder how long Doug Melvin & Company are going to live with that. As for Bill Hall? Do I even need to go into detail about his phenomnal suckiness?
Starting Pitcher: Well, we know Yovani Gallardo has been good. He has definitely established himself as the ace of the pitching staff. Jeff Suppan has been himself, some good, some bad and we can't really expect any more than he's done. Braden Looper has had some blow up starts but overall there isn't much to complain about. Manny Parra's awful first was interrupted by a demotion to Triple-A. In his start on Thursday against the Cardinals he pitched asa well as we've seen him pitch in his career, if that's a sign of things to come than we could see big things out of Parra. As for Dave Bush? He had a poor first half. Once he comes off the DL he'll need to pitch much better than he has if he's going to help the team.
Relief Pitcher: Mitch Stetter, Todd Coffey and Trevor Hoffman have all done their jobs extraordinarily well. If they can keep doing what their doing, than the bullpen will be in good shape for the remainer of 2009. Mark DiFelice has been very good as well, but you have to dread seeing him face a left-handed hitter. Lefties are hitting .286 against him with a 1.44 WHIP. Also, what the hell is wrong with Carlos Villanueva? His command is off, and he has been completely ineffective as a setup man. It'll be important for him to not only find the strike zone, but to pitch like we know he can.
Outlook: The fact is, things aren't as bad as some people seem to think. But they aren't as good as some seem to think either. The Deputy and Fielder have been fantastic, but the other hitters just haven't been there. Hart and Hardy's first halves have been awful and completley unacceptable. If the Brewers want to contend, one of those two is going to have to step up their play, if they want to do more than make the post-season both players will have to produce.
Starting pitching is a problem, if Manny Parra steps into the role that Brewers people think he could they'll be in a much better place. Otherwise you're left with three pitchers who can't pick up the slack. Looper and Bush can be much better than they've shown, and they'll have to better for the Crew to either catch the Cardinals or win the Wild Card.
July has to be a good month, the Brewers have series againt Cincy, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Washington. All very beatable teams. August is also a friendly month, after a west coast swing the Crew will play the Pirates twice, the Astros twice and the Padres and the Nationals. If there is going to be any serious discussion of the postseason they will have be in first place or holding the Wild Card by Labor Day, because September will be tough.