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Brewers look to turn season around in second half

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' 2012 began just like 2011. They were 14-20 on May 8 of last season, coming off a miserable road trip, stuck in fifth place and six games under .500.

Brewers fans know the rest of that story. The team got hot after that tough trip and wound up winning 96 regular-season games, a franchise record, and winning the National League Central, too, for its first division crown since '82.

So when this year's crop got off to a similarly slow start -- the Brewers were 15-19 this time after 34 games -- more than one player expressed the sentiment that, "It's OK. We've been here before, and we can get it going again."

Only the Brewers never got it going, and now find themselves facing a daunting second-half challenge. Win games in bunches, or spend October on the golf course instead of the baseball diamond.

"We still have time," said right-hander Zack Greinke, whose time in a Brewers uniform could be drawing short if the team can't cobble together some winning streaks. "And hopefully that will take care of it and we'll continue to play like we can play. I feel like we've been doing good a little over a month and just haven't been putting wins together."

The story of the Brewers' first half is a mixture of inconsistency and injuries, the latter undoubtedly influencing the former.

First-half awards
MVP: Ryan Braun Tumultuous winter, Prince Fielder's departure have not fazed him.
Cy Young: Zack Greinke Will he finish the season in a Brewers uniform?
Rookie: Norichika Aoki Has emerged as everyday right fielder, freeing Corey Hart for first.
Top reliever: Francisco Rodriguez Tough choice; relief corps has struggled mightily.
The bad luck started when left-hander Chris Narveson sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in April, and continued to season-ending knee injuries for first baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez in early May. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy's bid for a spot in the All-Star Game was dashed when he fractured his hand later that month.

"We don't have the luxury of being disappointed," left fielder Ryan Braun said, pointing to injuries overcome the year before by the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

"Sometimes you have to overcome things like this," right fielder Corey Hart said. "We were very fortunate last year to have our team for the majority of the year. That's how you're able to get to the playoffs and have that kind of season, when you have your team intact all year.

"It's a challenge. Some of the guys have to step up. Guys might play out of position. It's another obstacle."

One of the out-of-position players became Hart himself -- he has essentially become the everyday first baseman, a position he had not manned regularly since 2002, with Norichika Aoki playing right field. Hart's strong play at first and Aoki's quick adaptation to the Major Leagues qualify as two Brewers bright spots.

But Hart was right about the Brewers avoiding injury issues in 2011. They used only six starting pitchers all season; in 2012, they employed No. 7 (Mike Fiers) on May 29.

Fiers also has been a positive, going 3-3 with a 2.31 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. So has Braun, who emerged from a winter of uncertainty to be the same steady player who won the 2011 NL Most Valuable Player Award.

Players to watch in second half
Jonathan Lucroy Catcher was having an All-Star season before hand injury sent him to DL.
Zack Greinke A free agent to be, he has a lot at stake even if Brewers don't make playoffs.
Tyler Thornburg After a one-start MLB debut in June, will he return to the Majors before season's end?
Braun entered the break batting .306 with an NL-leading 24 home runs and 60 RBIs. He made the All-Star team for the fifth straight season, though he wasn't voted to the starting lineup this time.

"I said from the beginning of the year, the most important thing for me to do to move beyond everything was to have success on the field," Braun said. "That was the single most important thing I could do.

"But the goal is not have success for the first half, or the first few months, the goal is to be successful all year and for the next 10-12 years. I've started off headed in the right direction, and the goal is to continue to do those things."

The goal for the team is to get hot.

The last five NL Central champions have won at least 91 games. The Brewers entered the break at 40-45, and would need to go 51-26 to reach 91 wins.

Manager Ron Roenicke insists that there remains reason for optimism.

"The optimism would be that we still haven't played real good baseball," Roenicke said. "We've had short little stints -- a great series against the Dodgers out at their place; we've had a couple of real good series here [at Miller Park]. We haven't had that consistent week, two weeks, where we're really good in all aspects of the game. Sometimes we're pitching great, but not hitting at all. Sometimes we're swinging the bat, [and] all of a sudden we don't get good pitching. It's always something.

"Knowing that this team still has a chance to put things together is what [front-office officials] are thinking about, what I'm thinking about. I know we're getting deeper into the season and we need to have it happen. But I still think it's there, that it can happen."

Milwaukee Brewers, Norichika Aoki, Ryan Braun, Mike Fiers, Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez