MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers are a team searching for answers, unsure if they are going to find them in time.
The overall sloppiness of Wednesday's loss that dropped the Brewers to 4-16 in May has frustration setting in. Though there's plenty of baseball left to be played, Milwaukee is going to need to find a groove in order to prevent finding itself out of contention by the All-Star break.
"We haven't played good baseball," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "It's been pretty terrible, you know? Miserable. It's not fun (when) we're playing like this. We're not doing very many things well. We're barely even competitive, so it's not fun."
Things just haven't clicked for an extended period of time. The calculated risk the organization took on an inexperienced starting rotation hasn't worked as the Brewers' rotation currently sports a National League-worst 5.28 ERA.
When the starters have given the team a chance to win, the offense goes silent. But the main culprit has been the rotation, as Milwaukee's starting staff just isn't performing or going deep into games. Only Kyle Lohse - who is missing his next start with elbow irritation - has averaged six or more innings per start, putting the bullpen in a tough spot.
"It's definitely a concern," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's always a concern. Starting pitching, if you look at most teams, that's how you win. I don't want to say the reason where we are is just the starting pitching because it's not. Offensively we've had some dry spells. When we pitched well with the starters, we haven't hit the ball. It's not just that. But you win with starting pitching.
"Obviously I don't think we can get by with five innings from our starters, doing it this way the whole season."
The Brewers have found themselves in a big hole early all too often this season. While professionals are expected to maintain a certain level of play no matter what the scoreboard reads, it's natural and just human nature to get discouraged when a team is continuously down big in the early innings.
"It's tough," Braun said. "It's really tough, especially when it's happening quite often. I think just mentally and emotionally it's challenging as a team, especially when you're facing quality major league pitchers. It's really difficult to ever come back from a six-run or seven-run deficit, especially when it happens that early in a game. It's not easy, it's not fun. You continue to compete and play hard but the reality is that you rarely have an opportunity to come back from a deficit like that."
But where do the Brewers turn to fix the pitching issue? The answer truly lacks an answer. Milwaukee needs Gallardo to turn it around, needs Lohse to be healthy and needs Marco Estrada to pitch like he did the past two seasons.
The Brewers knew Wily Peralta and Hiram Burgos were going to go through growing pains, but Gallardo, Lohse and Estrada were supposed to pitch well to carry the slack.
"I counted on 'Yo' having a good year," Roenicke said. "I counted on Estrada having a good year, adding Lohse to that mix. Those three guys, if they are pitching like we know they can, those should be three solid pitchers. Now you have young guys to fill in two slots. I think we would have been fine. Yo hasn't pitched like he normally does. Estrada hasn't pitched like he normally does. Now it looks different than what we pictured coming into the season."
Mike Fiers will get another crack in a spot start for Lohse on Saturday. He may stay in the rotation for Burgos or Peralta if all goes well. Other than that, Roenicke's options are few and far between. Mark Rogers can't fight his way back from another injury, while Chris Narveson has pitched in two games this season due to a finger sprain. He's not far from returning, but the Brewers have been hesitant to use him as a starter.
The options in Triple-A aren't performing, either. Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg were thought to be ready to make the jump up to fill in if needed but both have had their struggles. Hellweg has the lowest ERA of the Sounds' starters at 4.33. His pure stuff is explosive, but the young right-hander has walked 33 and struck out 33 in 43 23 innings.
Thornburg is 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA in nine starts and Roenicke is puzzled as to why.
"They've struggled a bit," Roenicke said. "Hellweg is pitching OK but his walks are really high. His hits to innings are really good. You just get to the walks and strikeouts and they just don't look right.
"I don't know (about Thornburg). The numbers aren't very good."
Believe it or not, the Brewers entered Wednesday's game with the same record through 44 games that they had at the same point last season. A big part of the problem last season was the bullpen failing to sustain leads, meaning the Brewers had leads late in games but couldn't hold them.
This year, Milwaukee is falling behind early and staying in less games.
"This is different," Braun said. "We're playing terrible. We're just barely competitive. Last year, at least, there was hope I think. Right now there's not a lot of good things going on, so we really need to turn it around."
How can the Brewers turn it around? Currently 11 games out of first place as Memorial Day approaches, last-place Milwaukee is running out of time to make a run to get back within striking distance of the three playoff contenders ahead of it in the division.
"We need to do a lot of things better," Braun said. "We're not doing very many things well and when that happens and you're playing against a decent baseball team, you're going to lose all the time, and that's what's been happening.
"(Wednesday) would've been a nice day to get a win. I know their record is not great but that's a good team. They run three really good starters out there so it would've been a good start. Hopefully next series we play a little better, find a way to win some games, and start feeling better about ourselves."
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