Same Old Brewers
Has anyone else noticed that this year’s new, supposedly improved version of the Milwaukee Brewers bears a strong resemblance to the old, frustrating Brewers’ team that we’ve seen for most of the last 5 years? Hmm, maybe former managers Ned Yost and Ken Macha weren’t the problem after all.
Conventional wisdom had it that all the Brewers needed to be a playoff team was to stabilize their pitching rotation. With their allegedly potent offense, they just needed the pitching staff to keep them in games. So, over the offseason, General Manager Doug Melvin gutted his farm system to acquire two established starters in Zach Grienke and Shaun Marcum. And despite some uncharacteristic struggles by Yovani Gallardo along with some notable breakdowns by the bullpen, by and large the team’s pitching has been solid enough for them to win. Yet, just over a month into the season, the Brewers stand tied with Houston at the bottom of the NL Central division; 6 games under .500 and riding a 7 game losing streak.
It would be foolish to draw any final conclusions on this team before Memorial Day, but if I were afraid of looking foolish I’d never publish any thoughts on this site. It’s not like I’m jumping off the Brewers’ bandwagon because I’ve never been completely on it. Before you criticize my lack of faith, understand that I come by my skepticism honestly. I’ve been following this team since Lew Krauss threw its first pitch from the mound at County Stadium. Remember, we’re talking about a franchise who’s high water mark was losing Game 7 of the World Series almost 30 years ago. Who’s first big free agent signing (Larry Hisle) was injured shortly thereafter joining the team and was never again the same player. Who once squandered a 13-0 start to a season by following it with a 12 game losing streak. And who has exactly one postseason victory since that lone World Series appearance and then only because the playoffs were expanded to include Wild Card teams.
New manager Ron Roenicke was supposed to instill a different attitude in this team but, if anything, they’re playing more sloppily than ever. Once again, we’re seeing the same old problems that have plagued the Brewers in the recent past.
Marcum has been as good as advertised but Grienke and rightfielder Corey Hart only recently rejoined the team after both being injured in spring training and are still working themselves back into game shape.
The defense, as usual, is leaving much to be desired. Leftfielder Ryan Braun has yet to demonstrate any instinct for playing the outfield 4 years after making the switch from 3rd base. First baseman Prince Fielder apparently has a mental block about throwing out runners at home. Fielder and Casey McGehee at 3rd base have limited range at best and we won’t even begin to talk about shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
The baserunning (on those rare occasions when someone actually gets on base) has been atrocious, as highlighted by the Keystone Cops routine that nearly resulted in a triple play a couple of weeks ago against the Astros.
Braun, Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks are off to solid seasons at the plate and yet the offense operates in fits and starts, still overly reliant on the home run. The ‘small ball’ approach that Roenicke promised would generate a more consistent offense has largely manifested itself in the team running themselves out of innings on the basepaths.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals lose their best starting pitcher (Adam Wainwright) and have their best hitter (Albert Pujols) get off to a slow start and somehow manage to remain at the top of the division standings.
They say that one definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. With a couple of exceptions, the Brewers are depending on the same corp group of players that has collectively underachieved for the last 5 years. Taken individually there is clearly a lot of talent on this team but, for whatever reason, the finished product has never added up to the sum of its parts. I’m sure there are a lot of fancy numbers to explain why the Brewers are where they are and why there is reason to expect them to get better. In the end, though, the only number that matters is the won-loss record. There is no doubt in my mind that Milwaukee will begin to hit and maybe even contend for a playoff spot. But the problems that exist now will still be there when they do and will ultimately stop them short of their goal. I’m afraid that the 2011 season for the Brewers will be defined less by what they are and more by what they aren’t.