Eighteen games under .500 and 19½ games out of first place in the National League Central, the Milwaukee Brewers have a daunting task ahead in what is quickly becoming one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory.
That task begins Friday night when Milwaukee opens the second half of the season with the first of a three-game set against the Miami Marlins at Miller Park.
"(The record) doesn't concern me as much as how bad we've been playing," manager Ron Roenicke said Thursday during a voluntary workout. "I honestly don't look at the standings. When we're playing this poorly, I don't want to look at them. When we start playing better, and I think we will, maybe I'll start glancing one in a while. It's hard to look at things like that when you're playing so bad."
Roenicke is hoping the four-day All-Star break provided enough respite for his squad, which has been decimated by injuries to several key players. Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez have missed a combined 51 games due to injury in the first half.
Braun returned from a monthlong stint on the disabled list just before the break, on the same day Ramirez went on the DL for the second time this season with a right knee problem. Braun has made just one start before leaving the team again to tend to a family situation back in California, but is expected to be back and available Friday, though Roenicke still isn't sure how often Braun will need to rest his ailing right hand.
"I don't know how much I can play him right away," Roenicke said. "We still have to be careful, but it's definitely better. We're going to have some days when maybe it won't be so good. I just hope it doesn't get to the point it was where he was having to change his swing or when he throws a baseball, it hurts him."
Ramirez is eligible to return Monday, but likely won't be able to go every day right away. Roenicke plans to ease Ramirez back in to prevent further issues with the knee.
"I'm hoping the days off and the days before, that at least he's close to feeling like he can go out there and do everything," Roenicke said. "Right away, I'll probably give him a day just because we're off so long. Anytime somebody's on the DL, I don't want to just put them out there for nine innings every day."
Even if the offense regains some of the missing punch, Roenicke needs his starting rotation to step up. Milwaukee starters finished the first half last among NL staffs with a 4.86 ERA, .278 opponents' batting average and just 517 innings of work. Their 366 strikeouts and 279 earned runs are second worst in the league.
Roenicke will send Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta to the mound against the Marlins and lefty Tom Gorzelanny has earned another start after two solid spot starts over the past few weeks.
"We have to pitch better in our starting staff," Roenicke said. "Anytime you do that, you end up like we were two years ago. Last year when we got on a roll, it was because of our starting pitching. You just can't survive without good starting pitching."
Injured pitchers Marco Estrada, Alfredo Figaro and Hiram Burgos continue to rehab from injury and are expected to rejoin the rotation sometime in the next few weeks.