In the week since the trade of four-time All-Star Closer Josh Hader, virtually nothing has gone right for the Milwaukee Brewers.
They had a three-game lead in the NL Central when they sent Hader to the San Diego Padres, but have since gone 1-5 and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by two games.
“It’s easy to go out and make excuses,” Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes said Sunday after a 4-2 10-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds. “That’s the easiest way is to make excuses for the way we played last weekend and blame someone else. But we have to point fingers here.
If the season ended on Monday, the Brewers would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2017 – 1/12 games behind the Padres in the race for the final wildcard spot.
The Brewers have struggled against two of the weakest teams in the NL, losing three straight at Pittsburgh despite multiple runs in the sixth inning or later in each game, then losing two of three at home to the Reds.
“We haven’t had a great week, but we have to look ahead because we have a lot of baseball left,” manager Craig Counsell said. “The season is going to throw things at you that you don’t like.”
NL Central rival St. Louis, meanwhile, has won seven straight, including a sweep of the AL East-leading New York Yankees.
Milwaukee’s schedule is about to get tougher: a 15-game streak that includes a three-game series at St. Louis and seven meetings with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who own baseball’s best record.
Coincidentally or not, the Brewers’ problems began immediately after they traded Hader for pitchers Taylor Rogers and Dinelson Lamet, prospect Esteury Ruiz and prospect Robert Gasser. (Lamet was designated for assignment and claimed by the Colorado Rockies.)
The Brewers then acquired relievers Matt Bush and Trevor Rosenthal in separate deals. Rosenthal hasn’t started since 2020 due to injury but could return by the end of the month.
Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and president of baseball operations David Stearns said the Hader trade was not a cost-cutting measure, but rather that they believe they can get a better return now than during the offseason. Hader is making $11 million this season, eligible for arbitration in the offseason, and could become a free agent after 2023.
“We try to avoid the ‘boom or bust’ cycle,” Stearns said. “We want this organization this year, next year, in three years, in five years, in seven years, that when fans come to watch a Brewers game, they are watching a meaningful game. They’re looking at a game and a team that can and does make the playoffs, and a team that has a legitimate chance of winning a World Series.
But without Hader, the bullpen hasn’t worked well and a playoff offer isn’t certain.
All-Star reliever Devin Williams’ 30-game scoreless streak ended when he allowed a home run to Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds two days after Hader left. Bush allowed four runs – three earned – in 2 1/3 innings since joining the Brewers and threw a wild pitch to end another 10-run one-run loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday. Rogers gave the go-ahead for Round 8 on Sunday.
The Brewers also faced some bad luck. After naming reserve receiver Pedro Severino for assignment on Wednesday, starting receiver Omar Narváez strained his left quadriceps and landed on the disabled list.
Outfielder Hunter Renfroe believes in the bullpen, saying he doesn’t believe there’s a hangover effect from trade deadline moves.
“I think Hader was obviously a vital part of the team,” Renfroe said. “He did a great job for us for a long time. It’s one of those things where, you lose a loved one like that, it’s gonna be tough for you for a little while, but I think Devin has what it takes to get him to come out and step forward and do what he should do. “
If the Brewers stay afloat over the next month, their schedule offers the opportunity for a late push – they play 20 of their last 26 games at home. And they’ve weathered some tough times before, losing eight straight games from June 3-11 but regaining the division lead later that month.
“We know what we can do there,” Burnes said. “So it’s just about getting things back on track.”
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