The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers were never supposed to be a lock for a playoff spot, not in a post-Prince Fielder world. But this was supposed to be a contending team, built with a solid lineup, good starting pitching headlined by a true ace in Zack Greinke, and a back end of the bullpen ready to hold down any late-game lead.
But this year’s team has been under .500 since the second week of the season. Barring a last-ditch 10-game winning streak — like the Scott Podsednik-fueled madness of 2003 — the club will be under .500 by a good margin the rest of the way. Despite their poor record, the team many believed would contend has been there for much of the season has shown up at times — specifically, the first six innings.
In innings one through six, the Brewers have scored 317 runs and allowed 287 — a 30-run positive differential, good for a .550 Pythagorean record. In innings seven and beyond, the Brewers have been outscored 183 to 135 — a 48-run negative differential, resulting in a .352 winning percentage. Basically, the Brewers have played like a borderline playoff team while their starting pitchers are in and turned into a replacement level team afterwards.
The point of presenting this statistic isn’t to tell you the Brewers’ bullpen has been awful — everybody knows that, most of all the recently-fired Stan Kyles. The point is the rest of this team has been as advertised.
Even with the struggles of Rickie Weeks and Nyjer Morgan as well as the injuries to Jon Lucroy, Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez, the Brewers are scoring 4.48 runs per game, over 0.2 runs above the NL average. Even with the injuries to Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson, the Brewers are 14th in SP ERA (4.03) and 7th in SP FIP (3.89). This is, more or a less, a playoff team with a Triple-A bullpen.
Zack Greinke is gone, and so the landscape for 2013 looks a good bit different than it did for 2012. But the Brewers will have almost every other major player back for next season, and so the question becomes simple: Can you build a bullpen in one year? Arizona, last season’s NLDS opponent, proved it is possible, going from a bullpen even worse than this year’s Brewers squad (5.74 ERA, -8.37 WPA, 5.09 FIP).
So there are two ways to view this season. It was a major opportunity lost, first and foremost, but the solid play of the team around the bullpen should give room for optimism heading into the 2013 season. If Doug Melvin can rebuild the bullpen, don’t be surprise if the Brewers rise from the depths in 2013.