The enigma that is the Milwaukee Brewers continued this week at Miller Park. Coming home from a west coast trip in which they showed some signs of life, the Brewers, celebrating their 40th anniversay in Milwaukee this season, used this weekend’s series against Philadelphia to commemorate the teams of the ’70s. Unfortunately, they may be taking the tribute too far as lately they are playing as if Dave Bristol was managing things from the home dugout.

Yesterday’s loss to the Phillies was the 7th consecutive one in Milwaukee and the most recent addition to the Brewers’ pathetic 4-13 home record. Considering that the team has a respectable 11-8 slate outside of Beertown, even a modest .471 winning percentage at home would put them two games over .500 and in the middle of the NL Central race. Due largely to the quality of the other teams in the division, even now they stand only 5.5 games out of first; hardly an insurmountable deficit with over 4 months left in the season.

No one inside or outside of the organization seems to be able to put their finger on the reason for the disparity between the home and road records. One clue, though, might lie with the opposition. Ironically, the cumulative record of the Brewers’ road opponents is actually better than the teams they’ve played at home. But a closer inspection reveals a difference in the effectiveness of the starting pitchers they’ve faced away from Miller Park. The collective record of the opposing starters at home is 44-38 with a 4.07 ERA while the pitchers on the road have sported a record of 39-46 with a 4.73 ERA. That 3/4 of a run may not seem like much but as an average over 30+ games it might be enough to make the difference between winning and losing. It might also help to explain the splits on the Brewers’ hitters, notably Ryan Braun. Throw in the fact that two of the road series were played in Los Angeles and San Diego; parks that might also be more forgiving to the Brewers own struggling pitchers.

After Friday night’s loss, first baseman Prince Fielder expressed some frustration with the pitching staff, suggesting that too much blame was placed on the offense. But the Brewers record is much better in games in which they score first. In every game on this current home stand, the opposition has scored first putting more pressure on the team. Now that the pattern has been established, it may be that the home woes are getting into the Brewers’ heads a little bit.

Either way, in the end baseball always comes down to pitching. With all the changes on and off the mound, the Brewers still issue too many walks leading to high pitch counts which in turn lead to more short outings by the starters that further burn out an already questionable relief corps. I often hear baseball people refer to hurlers who ‘pitch to contact’. With the possible exception of reliever Carlos Villanueva, the Brewers don’t appear to have anyone like that. Brewers pitchers tend to leave their mistakes over the plate and they generally get hit hard. That might be a contributing factor when playing in a ‘hitter’s stadium’ like Miller Park. I do think it’s funny that people are worried about closer Trevor Hoffman. In the last 3 weeks Milwaukee has presented Hoffman with exactly two save opportunities, both of which he converted. With the nature of most of the games the Brewers have played, the effectiveness of their closer is almost irrelevant.

I can’t say that I’m among those gripping about the Brewers plight. In looking at the roster before the season, this team had the look of a .500 team, give or take a game or two. Despite the volatility of the season so far, I see no reason to change that assessment. I had hoped that Milwaukee could emerge as a wild-card contender in a largely mediocre National League but even that would have required career years from most, if not all, of their players. Clearly, that doesn’t appear to be happening to this point.

Manager Ken Macha did touch on one underlying aspect of the Brewers’ “homesickness”. If the current trend continues indefinitely, it will start to have an adverse effect on attendance at Miller Park. Since the Brewers rely more than most teams on gate receipts, those are resources they can ill afford to lose. Owner Mark Attanasio and the front office staff have worked hard to increase attendance in Milwaukee with promotions and investments in the stadium and the payroll. I’m guessing he won’t be overly patient if he begins to see a substantial decrease in revenue.

On a side note, the Brewers may have found a potential replacement at first base once the team is forced to deal Fielder. Reportedly, Green Bay Packers first round draft choice Bryan Bulaga put on quite a show in batting practice before the game. Bulaga apparently played first base in high school. Maybe he could moonlight for Milwaukee in the offseason.
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The aftermath of the Atlanta Hawks sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic led to the dismissal of coach Mike Woodson. It also may have taken a little luster off the Milwaukee Bucks playoff performance against the Hawks. In my mind, it kind of amplifies the opportunity the Bucks wasted when lost Game 6 at the Bradley Center.

With all the speculation about LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers once again falling short of expectations, it seems that very few people are willing to give the Boston Celtics any credit for ending their season. I find that odd as the Celts are only one year removed from their last NBA title and still have a roster with 3 (albeit aging) superstars in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen and one dynamic point guard in Rajon Rondo. Look for Boston to once again face the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Championship and don’t be surprised if they add another banner to the rafters.
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The next time any members of the media get on their soapbox about the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports, they should be pushed off. The football writers who vote on awards for the Associated Press had a unique opportunity to send a message about such use and the result was what the kids these days refer to as an ‘epic fail’. In an unprecedented re-vote for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year prompted by winner Brian Cushing’s four game suspension for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the writers once again voted Cushing as the winner. As Dan Patrick suggested on his radio show this past week, when cheaters are exposed in baseball the media howls that they should be banned for life. In football, they give them an award. Unbelievable!

Now, I’m off to the golf course. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

 

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  • http://www.retaggr.com/page/crichar3 Chris

    Word is that Buluga hit 14 jacks in BP before the Brewers game. If he washes out at LT for the Packers, the Crew is going to need him after Prince departs.

    Another issue with the high pitch counts is that the MKE pitchers tend to strike out a lot of batters. Rather than get a lot of early-in-the-count outs via grounders or fly balls, the Crew’s pitchers tend to work deep in the count, either striking out or walking opposing hitters, two categories in which they are among the NL leaders.