The non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, and the Milwaukee Brewers got the left-handed bat they needed.
Their need for a right-handed late-inning reliever? That’ll have to wait.
For now, fans of the Crew will have to be satisfied with the acquisition of outfielder Gerardo Parra. In addition to adding another left-handed bat to the mix, Parra brings Gold Glove-caliber defense along with him to Milwaukee.
In fact, the Brewers now have two of the three National League outfielders to win Gold Gloves last season. Pairing Parra with center fielder Carlos Gomez — especially in the late innings of close games — should provide a significant boost to the defense.
Sure, the move isn’t on the level of the Oakland A’s acquiring Jon Lester or the Detroit Tigers bringing in David Price. But the Brewers never had the pieces to put together a realistic offer for such a valuable ace.
Besides, as great as Lester or Price would have been for the Brewers, starting pitching is not a pressing need. It’s the bullpen and offense that have been holding them back of late.
They addressed one with Parra — they hope — and will likely continue to look for solutions to the other.
In the end, the Cardinals made the biggest splash in the National League, trading for starters John Lackey and Justin Masterson, while the Pirates and Reds stood pat. At the very least, the Brewers did more to improve than their Pittsburgh and Cincinnati rivals.
But don’t expect Parra to be the last addition to the Brewers’ roster.
After converting his first 15 save opportunities without allowing a run, closer Francisco Rodriguez has given up 17 runs on 30 hits over his last 31 2/3 innings, while blowing four saves and surrendering nine home runs.
If K-Rod doesn’t improve, his spot in the closer’s role should by no means be guaranteed.
Likewise, lefty Will Smith posted a 7.43 ERA in June and July, giving up 19 runs on 28 hits over 23 innings. Over the season’s first two months, Smith earned the eighth-inning role by allowing just one earned run in 25 1/3 innings, good for a 0.36 ERA.
Smith seems worn down, having pitched in a major league-leading 55 games — already exceeding the 47 games in which he pitched last year for the Royals between Triple-A and the majors. At the very least, Milwaukee needs the ability to give Smith some additional rest.
Jim Henderson’s impending return should help, and there’s still a chance Tyler Thornburg could return by season’s end.
But it would be a surprise to see general manager Doug Melvin pass up the opportunity to add another power relief arm if given the chance over the next month.
All but written off 12 days ago by some, the Milwaukee Brewers made a statement this week:
The National League Central is their division, and they don’t plan on letting anyone take it from them.
That their three-game sweep knocked the Cincinnati Reds into fourth place and 4.5 games back only proved the Brewers’ point further.
St. Louis had a chance — leading by half a game after the Brewers’ loss Sunday — but has since lost three in row. Holding tight to first place, the Brewers have won three straight and boosted their lead back up to 2.5 games.
With winnable series against the Mets and Rays ahead, the Brewers’ midseason woes could be all but forgotten by August.
WHAT’S BREWING: Battle ahead for Brewers in second half
And as terrible as things looked during a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games, they have looked equally promising this week as Milwaukee now has won fives times in its last seven games.
After battling through a slump for much of June, right fielder Ryan Braun has been swinging a hot bat of late, hitting .385/.467/.692 over the last seven games with a pair of home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs. Braun’s success in the middle of the lineup is hugely important to the Brewers’ ability to sustain late-season and postseason success.
Each of the last two days, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and slugger Mark Reynolds showed signs of breaking out of slumps of their own.
Following a 3-for-30 stretch, Lucroy has gone 4-for-8 with two home runs Tuesday night, including the walk-off blast. Reynolds snapped his 3-for-38 funk with three hits, including a pair of homers in Wednesday’s game.
WHAT’S BREWING: Is it time for Brewers to make trade?
Topping it all off is the return of former top pick Jeremy Jeffress.
The right-hander joined the Brewers bullpen this week after lighting up Triple-A, and promptly did the same to the radar gun at Miller Park in a dominant ninth inning. Jeffress — once suspended 100 games for substance abuse and cut earlier this season by the Blue Jays — topped 97-mph with ease and hit triple digits to close out the game.
Jeffress looks like exactly the right-handed power arm the Milwaukee bullpen needs, without the high cost of a trade-deadline deal. If Jeffress can keep his strikeout numbers up and walks down, the Brewers will have gotten themselves a steal.
With the offense rolling again and pitching staff limiting the Reds to just six runs in the series, the Brewers once again resemble a team poised to make a deep postseason run.
As we pass the midway point of July, the Brewers have just two wins this month.
The good news? Sunday’s win ended a seven-game losing streak and kept Milwaukee atop the National League Central standings.
The bad news? Things are only going to get more difficult in the second half.
For much of this season, it’s been the Brewers and everybody else in the NL Central. They’ve been in first place since April 5 and held sole possession of that spot for more than 90 days, from April 9 through July 11.
Now, it’s the Brewers and the Cardinals and the Reds and the Pirates. It’s a four-team race, with Pittsburgh just 3.5 games back in fourth place.
Looking ahead, there’s good and bad news for the Crew.
Let’s start with the bad this time.
In going 53-43 over their first 96 games, the Brewers beat up on somewhat weaker competition. The combined winning percentage of their 16 first-half opponents was .486, or 41 games under .500 over the course of 1517 games.
For the next 66 games, Milwaukee faces 12 opponents with a combined .501 mark in the first half, having won two more than they lost in 1142 games.
That includes coming out of the break in Washington against the first-place Nationals. The Brewers also have six games each against the NL West-leading Dodgers and Giants, 10 with the Cardinals, nine more with the Reds and six against the Pirates.
That adds up to 40 games — 61 percent of their remaining schedule — against six of the eight teams in the NL playoff race.
If they’re going to win the division, the Brewers are going to have to earn it.
So what’s the good news?
Over the last six seasons dating back to their Wild Card berth in 2008, the Brewers have a .550 second-half winning percentage. They’ve won 43 more than they’ve lost. Milwaukee lost 15 more than it won over the same six first halves, for a .486 mark.
Even with this season included, the Brewers are just 317-322 in the first half over the last seven years. Just once — in ’09 — have they been worse in the second half.
And only twice — in ’08 and ’14 — have they scored more runs than their opponents before the All-Star break. But just as the winning percentages have risen, so too have their second-half run differentials.
The Brewers have outscored opponents by 174 runs in the second half, while giving up 121 more runs than they’ve plated in the first.
Between their tougher schedule and the Brewers being a second-half team in recent years, something’s got to give.
Either way, it should make for a thrilling playoff race down the stretch.
Six years ago this week, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians in one of the greatest deadline deals in history.
With his team owning the National League’s best record, could general manager Doug Melvin make another big splash this month?
Past moves show it can’t be ruled out. But, it seems unlikely.
Still, the Brewers certainly could use some help.
At 52-40 entering Thursday’s game, Milwaukee has been the best team in the NL through 92 games. But that mark only puts them one game ahead of the 2008 Brewers and three ahead of the 2011 club.
So, what should Melvin do?
Trading for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price would be the closest thing to replicating the ’08 Sabathia deal. Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner, could dominate the NL for half a season much the way Sabathia did.
But even if the Rays are willing to deal Price, the Brewers’ farm system likely doesn’t have the prospects to compete for the top prize of this year’s trade deadline.
With right-handers Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Brandon McCarthy all off the market as well, few available starters remain to bolster the rotation.
Bullpen help, therefore, is the most likely trade focus for the Brewers.
San Diego right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Huston Street are among the best available, along with Texas Rangers closer Joakim Soria. All three make sense and none would be pure rentals: Benoit is signed through 2015, while Street and Soria have club options for next season.
Any of the three could fill the void left by injured relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson. And each could combine to form a lights-out late-inning combination with lefties Will Smith and Zach Duke and All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Melvin has expressed interest in adding a right-handed reliever, and Benoit, Street and Soria should be near the top of the list. Beyond the bullpen, middle-infield or first-base help could be likely trade targets.
Whatever the Brewers do, what they can’t do — as evidenced by losing eight of their last nine — is sit back and wait to improve.
Now is the time to go out and make a move.