Crew out of division race, but future promising
Club has strong young arms, can showcase them in remainder of season
CINCINNATI -- What had been inevitable for months became official on Sunday, when a 6-3 loss to the Reds snapped the Brewers' six-game winning streak and formally eliminated Milwaukee from the National League Central division race.
The Brewers fell 27 games behind the Cardinals with 26 games to play. But nobody in Brewers blue has been scoreboard watching during a season that began with a 10-0 loss to the Rockies on Opening Day and has seen a managerial transition, the beginning of a general manager transition and five trades that combined to send six Major League players elsewhere for prospects and/or cash, beginning a Brewers rebuild.
"Maybe people are going to take this the wrong way, but we were eliminated in the first month of the season when we didn't play well," said closer Francisco Rodriguez, one of the team's rare bright spots. "Our chances were lost back then, and now that it's official, it stinks.
"It's tough to swallow when you think about it. We put ourselves in this position."
But Rodriguez looked around a quiet clubhouse at Great American Ball Park and saw reasons to label the remaining four weeks of the regular season important. With Matt Garza out of the rotation, every Brewers pitcher but Rodriguez and Kyle Lohse is earning a salary at or just north of the league minimum and will be under club control for 2016.
The group includes four starting pitchers -- Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann and Zach Davies -- of which only Peralta is arbitration-eligible after this season. In the bullpen, left-hander Cesar Jimenez will be arbitration-eligible for the second time and Will Smith for the first, but other potentially key pieces like Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Michael Blazek and Tyler Thornburg will still be minimum-salary players.
Knebel and Thornburg each pitched in a more prominent role in recent days as manager Craig Counsell continues to balance trying to win games with eyeing the franchise's future.
As Rodriguez put it, "We're going to figure out who is good enough. It's a showcase."
Counsell has been pleased with his team's play of late, including during a winning streak that came to a close Sunday after Nelson, armed with only one reliable pitch, his sinker, surrendered a pair of two-run home runs.
Nelson will be followed Monday by Davies, the 22-year-old right-hander acquired from the Orioles on July 31. Davies is pitching for a spot in the team's 2016 starting rotation.
"I think it will be good as long as we can all stay healthy," Nelson said. "We'll see how Zach settles in for the rest of the month. I thought he was good his first time. Really aggressive. It's exciting to see everybody make their adjustments. I think we all have little different things to work on. That's what makes the game interesting, and [pitching coach Rick Kranitz's] job hard, I guess."
How does Counsell assess the Brewers' stable of young arms?
"That's a tough question. Things change so quickly with pitching, I feel like," he said. "I feel like our young pitchers have performed very well. Taylor and Jimmy have been very good. Really good. Wily's season has been, with the injury, disjointed. I think you look at those guys and guys you hope have the possibility to be around for a while, that's a good situation.
"But pitching, I think, it changes. We have obviously some anchors in the bullpen. So there's a foundation there, I guess is the best way to put it. That's the best thing with pitching, having numbers. And then people surprise you."