I'm starting at Brewers Bar during a time that's both convenient (it's the All-Star Break, a nice built-in start date) and frustrating (the team's been maddeningly inconsistent for a solid month and a half). You'll eventually come to realize that I tend to be more optimistic than most, but even I can see that some pretty big question marks are looming for the Brewers as they get ready to start the second half in Cincinnati.
For one, the starting pitching is (still) a mess.
Things may be looking up, though, with Manny Parra's impressive return from the minors and Dave Bush eyeing a July 20 return. One can only hope that Ken Macha noticed how relaxed Parra looked with Mike Rivera catching him, and keeps using Rivera as Parra's personal catcher. Bush was probably more lucky than good when he was mowing down opposing batters earlier this year, but even if he ends up pitching at his career norms, he'll be the second or third best starter on the Brewers' staff. He may not be anything special, but he'll be a clear upgrade over Mike Burns once he returns. That's not to say that Mr. Burns wasn't unexpectedly solid in his spot starts, but if I'm forced to choose between soft-tossing righties, I'll take Bush every day of the week.
Offensively, Ken Macha really needs to stop hitting Jason Kendall leadoff. I may not be the biggest fan of Ned Yost, but at least when he tried hitting Kendall 9th in the order last year he had a good reason and some stats to back it up. Ken Macha seems to be hitting Kendall leadoff for no other reason than "he sees a lot of pitches." I don't know about anyone else, but I like my leadoff hitters to have OBP's higher than .322 and generally hitting better than Yovani Gallardo. But maybe that's just me. The inconsistent playing time of Mat Gamel has also been frustrating to see -- whenever he's been in the lineup lately, he's done nothing but have solid nights at the plate, only to be back on the bench the next night. I can understand wanting Casey McGehee in the lineup while he's still swinging a fairly hot bat. It shouldn't be at Gamel's expense, though -- it should be at Craig Counsell's.
The bullpen has been surprisingly and refreshingly good to this point in the season, especially after seeing the likes of Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, and Derrick Turnbow causing heart problems for many a Brewers fan over the past few years. This year, there have been very few, if any, arms in the bullpen that has been the cause of dread. For once, not only do the Brewers have an All-Star closer, but a shut-down high leverage reliever in Todd Coffey, a lights-out LOOGY in Mitch Stetter, and even a right-handed specialist with a seemingly unhittable pitch in Mark DiFelice. So why bring them up? The Brewers could run into a similar problem that the Dodgers have started to run into -- with so many starters being unable to go 7 innings on a consistent basis, the bullpen has shown signs of cracking under fatigue. Obviously the All-Star break will go a long way in resting up some tired arms, but if the bullpen is going to continue being this good into September, the Brewers are going to need to cut down on the 5-inning starts.
Feel free to add a few comments with your own concerns about the team in the second half. I have to admit I'd be disappointed if the words "Bill Hall" didn't pop up eventually.