It's time to really ask that question. Since getting swept in insulting fashion in Boston, the Brewers are 22-10, turning Ned Yost's red hot manager's seat into a comfortable recliner. But have the Brewers been playing different baseball since leaving the not-so friendly confines of Fenway Park? I'm not sure, but it does feel like it, especially after the last eight games or so.
Before Fenway and the debauchery that followed them the rest of the homestand, the Brewers were a 20-24 team on the border of destruction. Just two weeks before they were riding the reigns of ace Ben Sheets and future ace Yovani Gallardo into the mix of all things playoff talk, when Gallardo was taken out by Prince Fielder in a freak play that ended Yo's season. Brewers' fans called for the season, myself included, and for good reason. Up to that point, the Brewers were batting a measely .242/.317/.396. They couldn't hit a homerun for the life of them and couldn't take a walk even if it was handed to them. The pitching, which struggled before YoGo arrived was tossing a 4.70 ERA up on the board, walking betters regularly and giving up lots of homeruns. It looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
But then something happened. Ryan Braun signed a seven year deal, Ned Yost stopped caring about feelings and Ryan Braun called his teammates out.
All of it was pretty unexpected.
It all started on the 14th of May. Brewers' fans who are constantly checking boards and the news heard the deal was coming and that a press conference was to be held the following morning to announce a record contract. And a record contract it was. Ryan Braun signed a 7 year deal worth $45 million, locking him up until 2015. It was a sign. A sign that the Brewers 1. were finally willing to open their pockets, 2. were dedicated to their young players and 3. were dedicated to winning. But it didn't translate right away. Following the signing the Brewers went lost four straight games, three of which were a sweep in Boston.
Ryan Braun took the money to heart and called out his teammates. Braun said, "I don't think we ever expected to win. It was kind of like we were just content to be there and compete, but I don't think we ever necessarily expected to win. Obviously, [the Red Sox] are a great team. It's a good gauge of where we're at when we can go out and compete with those guys, but for us as a team, our goal can't be to compete, our goal has to win. To come in here and win the series would have been extremely difficult, but it's real disappointing to come in here and get swept." Some fans couldn't believe it. How could this guy, who has less than a full season under his belt, have the audacity to call his teammates out on a public forum?
A week later, it didn't matter. Braun and his teammates responded to the sweep and perhaps the comment by winning the series in Pittsburgh and splitting a four game series against the Nationals. While they should have expected more, it was a start. There was still plenty to shake up.
When Yost and Melvin agreed to call up some muscle in Russell Branyan on May 25th, they forced Bill Hall from the hot corner when righties toed the mound. After a miserable sub-.170 BA against them, I was pleased with Billy leaving, but not thrilled with the arrival of Branyan. Not many people remember Russell was a Brewer from 2004-2005. While here, he struck out a ton, hit long bombs and hit for low average and OBP. Could he really have changed that much? Apparently so. Since arriving, Branyan is hitting .300/.390/.800 with 10 bombs and 17 RBIs, not to mention, 11 walks and 25 Ks. The eruption of power was contagious. Since the Boston series the Brewers are hitting .270/.337/.485 with 54 HRs in 32 games and over 1200 PAs.
But the changes didn't stop there. With both Carlos Villanueva and Dave Bush struggling in the rotation, something had to be done to stabilize the back end of the rotation and on May 24th, Seth McClung was allowed to start his first big league game in two years. The results have been positive to say the very least. Seth is sporting a 3.79 ERA and has won four of the six games he has started, and probably could have taken another if he didn't face a spot on Roy Oswalt. Just like hitting, pitching can be contagious and since Seth's arrival, just a series after Boston, the Brewers staff has tossed 287.1 innings and is sporting a 3.32 ERA and have avoided the long ball, while allowing teams to hit only .238/.301/.384. That's a huge improvement from the first 394 innings, when teams were hitting .273/.352/.440.
Can the Brewers keep it up? I'm not so sure about the pitching, but the bats have the potential to have continued success. In their last 8 games the Brewers have walked 35 times and are hitting .272/.351/.526. If they continue to walk and hit for average, this offense is more than capable of making up for a few falters through the rotation. NL foes beware. This team is poised to make a move and are already in the midst of it.