MILWAUKEE — Despite dropping five of their last six games heading into the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers will be in relatively good shape when the second half of the season gets underway Friday night against the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park.
Milwaukee will start the second half a mere three games above .500 (47-44) but just a half-game back of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, who are 47-43 after dropping five of seven going into the break.
“There have been stretches when everybody has been happy with the way we are playing and really excited with how we were playing and there have been stretches when we’ve really scuffled and had inconsistency,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said during the team’s last homestand. “We’re in a fine place in the standings. We’ve set up a second half that’s going to be very consequential for us and at a base level, that’s what you’re looking for when you start a season.
“We also know there are areas in which we need to improve and I’m looking forward to us doing that.”
With just over two weeks left before baseball’s trade deadline — the only one this season thanks to the elimination of the August waiver-trade period — Stearns and his staff are doing their due diligence on any potential deal.
Although rumors at this time of the year are often sketchy at best, the Brewers have been reportedly in touch with the Mets, who could be inclined to deal starters Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler. And expect Stearns to be paying close attention Saturday when the Giants send Madison Bumgarner to the mound.
Despite a 5-7 record and 4.03 ERA this season, Bumgarner’s postseason experience and the Giants’ need to rebuild could make the veteran left-hander an attractive trade target for a contender looking to get over the top.
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Still, just because the Brewers are in the hunt doesn’t make a deal guaranteed. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (tired arm) started a minor league rehab assignment during the break and could rejoin the team later this month. It also is hoped Jimmy Nelson bounces back from his latest setback (right elbow effusion) and that Adrian Houser starts to show the form as a starter that he did out of the bullpen this season.
“I think the majority of our answers have to come internally,” Stearns said.
That’s especially true on the offensive side of things where the Brewers have been plagued by inconsistency for long stretches this season. Milwaukee went into the break with a league-leading 155 home runs and fifth with a .770 OPS but 10th in batting average (.245), second with 864 strikeouts and 13th with a .763 OPS with runners in scoring position.
Much of that can be attribute to the season-long struggles of first baseman Jesus Aguilar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and third baseman Travis Shaw. Aguilar eventually lost his starting job to Eric Thames while Shaw was optioned down to Class AAA to sort out his issues. Cain received a cryotherapy injection to deal with a nagging issue in his right thumb just before the break.
“Look, we need to get contributions all across the roster. That’s the bottom line,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think we’ve had some great performances in the first half, as indicated by (sending five players to) the All-Star Game, but we have to get contributions deeper into the roster. Big contributions. That’s the second half for me.”
The long break should also benefit Brewers players who had successful first halves, including reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich, who dealt with back spasms heading into the break that kept him out of the Home Run Derby. Yelich did appear in the All-Star Game, going 0-for-2 from the leadoff spot, and expects to be back to full strength when the second half starts.
“I was hoping I was going to able to play, and fortunately, everything worked out,” Yelich told MLB.com. “I feel healthy. We’re good to go.”