A Tale Of Two Brewers

John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates with Martin Maldonado after the 6-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

John Axford has reclaimed his job as the Brewers' closer, while Randy Wolf got released on his birthday. Are they really so different, though?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... *

* especially for Randy Wolf, who got released Wednesday, which happened to be his 36th birthday

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ...*

* foolishness, if anyone really believes that Randy Wolf has become a fundamentally different pitcher

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity ...*

* uh, we still believe in Randy Wolf, yet some remain incredulous?

it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope ... *

* well, now this whole gimmick is starting to break down, because it's not the spring at all

it was the winter of despair ...*

* ah, now we're getting back on track!

No, it's not technically the winter, either. But for the Milwaukee Brewers, it might as well be. Just one season removed from a division title and an impressive postseason run, the Brewers fell from contention shortly into this season. Last season the Brewers lost 66 games; this season they've already lost 66 games, without playing a single game in September yet.

This season's defeat has many lieutenants, of course. Before we leap to the (terribly obvious) conclusion that the Brewers simply miss Prince Fielder ... Well, yes. Undoubtedly. But for nearly every win lost with the departure of Prince Fielder, the Brewers have gained a win with the arrival of Aramis Ramirez: a canny signing, indeed. Ryan Braun's been great again this season, too.

No, one must look elsewhere for the source of the Brewers' losing record. And one's gaze might linger in three areas:

the middle infielders
the relief pitchers
the randy wolf

Milwaukee's shortstops have scored only 39 runs all season. Milwaukee's second baseman, Rickie Weeks, hasn't been terrible except by his own lofty standards.

Milwaukee's relief pitchers this season sport a 4.77 ERA, 29th "best" in the majors. Which is a shame, considering their starting pitchers, despite a few injuries and one notable trade, have been pretty good this season. With one big exception: the Randy Wolf.

Last season, the second of a three-season contract worth roughly $30 million, Wolf went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA. This season, with some nifty (if unfortunate) bits of symmetry, Wolf was 3-10 with a 5.69 ERA. Of course, even if Wolf were pitching exactly as well this year as last year, the Brewers wouldn't be within hailing distance of first place. But the campaign wouldn't be quite as disappointing, that's for sure.

Wednesday, then, the Brewers released the Randy Wolf. Even though he had around $2 million left on his contract, which the Brewers will now eat.*

* pausing for a moment, while you scour "A Tale of Two Cities" for a good food reference ...

Oh, and Wednesday just happened to be the Randy Wolf's 36th birthday.

Your initial reaction might have been, upon hearing the news, "Wow, that was awfully cruel of the Brewers. They couldn't have waited until the day after Wolf's birthday? Or done it the day before?"

Well, it wasn't cruel at all. From MLB.com:

This week, the Brewers decided it was time for a break. Shaun Marcum is returning from the disabled list, and the team intends to use September as a training ground for some younger starting pitchers. Wolf, whose contract included a $10 million club option for 2013, was not part of the plan.

So general manager Doug Melvin, unable to find a trade partner for Wolf, approached the pitcher and agent Arn Tellem on Tuesday with some options. The sides agreed that a clean break was the best of them.

If you're a professional, your birthday is a mere trifle. This is just the way it worked out. And you might argue that releasing Randy Wolf was the best birthday present the Brewers could have given him. The sooner they released him, the sooner his agent could start talking to contending teams looking for a starting pitcher. And here's the thing ... Randy Wolf can still pitch. His strikeouts and his walks are roughly the same as last year, and he's given up just a touch more home runs per nine innings.

In his long career, Randy Wolf has given up a .293 batting average on balls in play. Last year it was .292. This year it's .346. Is that bad pitching, or bad luck? A smidge of the former, perhaps. But mostly the latter. I think the Brewers are smart enough to know this; they're just ready to move on. I'll bet some other teams know it, too. Don't be terribly surprised if you see Randy Wolf pitching for a good team in October, just like last year when he beat the Cardinals with seven strong innings in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

He's still the same guy, probably.

So Wednesday might not have been the worst of times for Randy Wolf. It was better for John Axford, though. Not so long ago, Axford came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the game's premier firemen. And then, just as quickly, Axford collapsed. Or his ERA did, anyway. Just like Randy Wolf's.

The Brewers didn't release Axford, though. They might have figured that he, too, was probably still the same guy. Axford did lose his job as closer for a spell. For more than a month, actually. Last weekend, though, Axford got a haircut and asked manager Ron Roenicke for his old job back. Tuesday, Roenicke gave it to him, summoning Axford from the bullpen to record just one (game-ending) out. Wednesday, Axford pitched a whole inning, striking out three Cubs to earn his 20th save.

Sometimes bad things happen to good pitchers. Sometimes earned-run averages deceive us.

You may remain incredulous if you like. I choose to believe.

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