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Critical stretch to determine Brewers' moves

MILWAUKEE -- The next week and a half is make-or-break for the 2012 Brewers.

They will play their biggest nine games of the season coming out of the All-Star break, a stretch that could determine whether general manager Doug Melvin is a buyer, a seller or somewhere in-between before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The Brewers begin with home series against the Pirates and Cardinals, then travel to Cincinnati to play the Reds. Those happen to be the three teams in front of the Brewers' in the National League Central standings.

So, buy?

Or let the bidding for free-agent-to-be Zack Greinke begin?

"As players, ultimately, we dictate our own fate as a team," left fielder Ryan Braun said. "If we go out there and have success and do well, every team can become buyers. And if you don't play well, there are going to be results, there are going to be consequences.

"For the most part, we don't focus on those things because we don't make any of those decisions, but at the same time, every team controls its own fate. For us, the first nine games out of the break we play the three teams ahead of us in the standings, and those nine games ultimately could dictate our fate as a team."

Braun, of course, expressed hope of a hot second-half start.

"We still believe in ourselves," Braun said. "We still truly believe that we have a chance to get back to the postseason. We continue to be optimistic, continue to stay positive for as long as we can. We've shown glimpses of playing really good baseball, we just haven't done it consistently."

Now they must do so immediately. The Brewers were 40-45 before the All-Star break and trail the Pirates by eight games.

If the next nine games go poorly, then Greinke will find himself in the spotlight. He is nearing free agency after direct talks with the Brewers during Spring Training came to an end at the same time the Giants signed right-hander Matt Cain to a contract that exceeded $120 million and Greinke hired agent Casey Close.

He is atop the list of Milwaukee's pending free agents and by far the most attractive trade chip. Fellow starter Shaun Marcum has missed a month with a stiff right elbow that he initially thought would only cost him a start. Left-hander Randy Wolf, who would become a free agent if the Brewers decline his $10 million option for 2013, has a 5.80 ERA. Reliever Francisco Rodriguez has a 1.474 WHIP -- the highest of his career -- and is enduring what he called the most frustrating season of his career.

Greinke, though, has been Greinke. He is 9-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 19 starts. The Rangers, Braves and Orioles are among the teams already reportedly showing interest.

The Brewers would be free to trade Greinke to any team. He had partial no-trade protection in the earlier seasons of his current contract -- the Brewers got him after he vetoed a deal to Washington -- but that protection expired last year.

"We are hopeful that we will bring him back," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said just before the break, "whether it's right now, whether it's after the season. There's a lot of possibilities with him coming back.

"He likes it here, he does. Now, there's going to be a lot of interest in him, obviously. He's a good pitcher. And I think he would like to know, kind of, what's out there for him. You can't blame a guy for that. The nice thing for us is we know that he does like it here."

The trade rumors, Greinke said, are "just business. The Brewers need to do what's best for the Brewers, and that's just how things go. Hopefully nothing happens and we start playing better. That would be the best-case scenario for everyone."

The next nine games may set the scenario in motion.

"Somewhere in that time period, we need to do something," Roenicke said.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Rodriguez, Randy Wolf