Bullpen woes cost Brewers a return to postseason

The Milwaukee Brewers entered the season wondering whether they

could replace the firepower provided by Prince Fielder, who left

via free agency to sign with the Detroit Tigers.

The 2012 Brewers scored 55 more runs than the 2011 team that

reached the NL Championship Series, but a meltdown by the bullpen

during the summer prevented the team from reaching the postseason

for a second consecutive year.

”A lot of ups and downs,” closer John Axford said.

The year started with a cloud over Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP

whose 50-game suspension was overturned during spring training.

Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone levels but

arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in favor of the Brewers slugger due to

chain of custody issues involving the sample.

Braun endured taunts all season long in visiting parks amid

questions whether his performance would suffer. Instead, he had an

NL-leading 41 home runs and 107 runs scored while batting .319 with

112 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.

”The goal is consistency and longevity,” Braun said. ”Those

are the two biggest challenges in this game that we face. So the

goal is to be good and productive year in and year out. The more

successful I am the more I’m able to contribute to the team’s

success and the more fun I have.”

General manager Doug Melvin added several players to alleviate

the loss of Fielder. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, signed as a free

agent from the Chicago Cubs, started slowly but finished with an

NL-leading 50 doubles while batting .300 with 105 RBIs.

However, the Brewers couldn’t overcome the implosion of their

bullpen.

In 2011, the Brewers bullpen blew only 19 saves and one lead

when the team was leading after eight innings. That number jumped

to 29 blown saves and 11 leads lost this season, with Axford and

setup man Francisco Rodriguez struggling in the middle of the

year.

The low point may have been a 10-game stretch in July where the

Brewers won only a single game. General manager Doug Melvin started

shopping ace right-hander Zack Greinke and bullpen coach Stan Kyles

was fired.

Greinke was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on July 27 for

young shortstop Jean Segura and two pitching prospects, and the

Brewers started giving more playing time to inexperienced but

talented pitchers to determine whether they could contribute in

future years.

By the middle of August, the new-look Brewers became one of the

hottest teams in the majors.

Michael Fiers used pinpoint control to pitch effectively for two

months before tiring in September. Mark Rogers, the team’s No. 1

draft choice in 2004, joined the rotation and pitched well before

being shut down with two weeks left in the year.

Top prospect Wily Peralta was recalled in early September and

had strong starts in four of his five outings.

In addition, Axford and Rodriguez rebounded and the Brewers went

on a 24-6 streak that vaulted them into position to compete for a

wild card spot. Milwaukee pulled within 1 1/2 games of the St.

Louis Cardinals on Sept. 21 before fading.

”We all are disappointed we didn’t get to the playoffs,”

manager Ron Roenicke said. ”But where we were a couple months ago,

to get back in it was really important. And to see the young guys

was important.

”Can this team compete and win next year?” Roenicke asked.

”Everybody knows we can now.”

The young pitchers have left the veterans optimistic about the

future.

”I hate to try and figure out what they are going to do next

year,” said Corey Hart, who hit 30 homers while moving to first

base at midseason. ”We have so many good arms.”

With a few large contracts expiring at the end of the year, the

Brewers will have some money to spend, possibly on a veteran

starter.

”The biggest key is starting pitching,” Braun said. ”We have

young quality starting pitching through a bunch of guys who won’t

be making any money. So, it puts the team in a good position, a

really good position.”

In 2011, Braun said a contract extension through 2020. He said

he is happy to be a long-term member of the Brewers.

”This is my sixth year in the major leagues and four of those

six years we’ve been in the pennant race with a week to go,” he

said. ”I’ve been fortunate enough to go to the postseason twice

already. I certainly believe in the direction of the

organization.”