Brewer Closer John Axford (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Kyle Lobner, from SB Nation's great Brewer blog Brew Crew Ball, and I exchanged questions about our upcoming series late last night. Now I had had a couple (or 4) drinks last night, being our last night in Toronto (wanted to look and feel my best getting on to the plane this morning), so I'm not sure that my questions or answers made much sense, but Kyle did a great job on his end.
How have Brewer fans taken to the switch to the NL? It has been a few years now, but do they like the NL game better? I know when we play with NL rules, many Jay fans hate the no DH games?
I don't know a single Brewer fan that wants to go back to the American League, and I don't remember many fans in the 90's feeling that way either. Milwaukee hosted NL baseball for a while in the '50's and '60's when the Braves were here, and going back to the NL just seemed like a good fit. Losing the DH can lead to some lineup challenges, but all told I think the National League game is more strategic because of the managing of the pitcher's spot instead of a position player batting ninth.
I'm sure giving up the DH for interleague road games creates issues for teams that don't typically have to worry about it, but I think NL games would lose one of their defining features if the league was forced to adopt the DH.
How is Ryan Braun doing after his, how to say it, exciting off season? Have Brewer fans taken his side or do they have doubts about his innocence?
For all the questions about how Braun would respond to getting booed on the road, losing Prince Fielder behind him, the pressure of defending a vaguely-controversial NL MVP and whatever else, he's actually having a better season right now in 2012 than he had in 2011. Braun was a .332/.397/.597 hitter in his MVP campaign, and is hitting .322/.399/.635 in 2012. He enters play today riding an eleven game hitting streak and appears likely to be one of the NL's starting outfielders in the All Star Game.
The biggest issue facing Braun right now is health. He's had a variety of nagging injuries this season that have limited him at times and, while he's trying to play through them, it's pretty plain to see that he's frequently not 100% out there. The Brewers simply cannot afford to lose him from their lineup at this point, so all they can do is trust his judgment on when he can or cannot play.
After a difficult and controversial offseason, most Brewer fans have doubled down with Braun and support him now more than ever. Because of the way his offseason situation was handled we'll never know exactly which (if any) of the accusations against him are true and what's not. Because he wasn't suspended, however, Brewer fans have reason to believe he's not guilty of anything. Because it took so long for him to be exonerated, fans looking for a reason to condemn him will also have no problem finding one. As I mentioned above, though, Braun's performance has not been affected.
How is our old friend Shaun Marcum doing?
Marcum is, quietly, probably the Brewers' most consistent pitcher this season, just like he was for most of 2011. He's lowered his ERA a bit and is striking out over eight batters per nine for the first time this year, but he's also consistently pitching deeper into games in 2012. He's already pitched seven or more innings in six outings in 2012, and his pitch count barrier (which used to sit around 105) appears to have been lifted.
It's weird to think about, but if the Brewers hadn't made the playoffs last season Marcum might be getting treated entirely differently at this point. He faded badly in September and October last year and had some dreadful postseason appearances, but if the Brewers had fallen short of the playoffs those last few awful outings never would have happened and his value wouldn't have taken a subsequent drop.
The Brewers have a tough decision to make with Marcum. It'd be nice to keep him around for a couple more years, but I think it's also fair to wonder how he'll age. He's a 30-year-old righty who doesn't throw hard at all, and last September/October showed us that when he loses a MPH or two off his fastball it's very difficult for him to be effective. There's a strong chance he'll lose some of his already-limited power as he ages and quickly become a non-viable major league starter. Brewer fans are quite familiar with what happens to pitchers in that situation: They got stuck with four years of Jeff Suppan under similar circumstances.
Canadian John Axford hasn't been as good this season. What's he doing differently? Does how much longer will he have the closer job? Who might take his place?
John Axford is the Brewers' closer for the indefinite future, partly because he was exceptionally good in 2012 and partly because, even if he fully melted down, there's no one else on the current Brewer staff who appears capable of being dominant in the role.
Axford went over a year between blown saves between April 24 of 2011 and May 4 of 2012, and his 49 consecutive saves recorded over that stretch represent the fourth longest such streak in major league history. He's still very good at getting swings and misses and strikeouts (almost 13 per nine in 2012). Unfortunately, some old issues with walks have come back this season and he's giving out free passes at an alarming rate. Axford blew saves on back-to-back days last week in Kansas City, but bounced back to record a 1-2-3 save Friday night and seems likely to be all right.
Even if Axford wasn't effective at this point, however, it'd be tough to make a case for any current Brewer to replace him. Francisco Rodriguez is on the roster, but has been even less consistent than Axford this season in a setup role. Jose Veras and Kameron Loe are both very good at times but either have control issues (Veras) or struggle against lefties (Loe).
The Brewers are a few games back, are Brewer fans thinking they can fight their way back into the race or are you going to be sellers at the deadline?
The Brewers are in a somewhat frustrating holding pattern right now because, day-to-day, it's nearly impossible to tell what to expect from this team. A few weeks ago they looked like near-certain sellers but then they went out to LA and swept the Dodgers in a four game series to open a 9-4 stretch. They looked dead in the water after getting swept by the Royals in Kansas City last week, but then went to Minnesota and came a hit or two away from sweeping the Twins.
This team would need to get hot to contend, as they're still well under .500 and behind three teams in the Central. It's possible they could, but I'm still inclined to believe they'll end up selling.
Who is your favorite Brewer to watch?
I'll take the east answer and say Ryan Braun. He's a clear elite talent with a knack for performing in big situations, and Brewer fans haven't had a lot of opportunities to watch a talent of his caliber since the Molitor/Yount years.