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.

 

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  • BrewTownBoozer

    I can appreciate the frustration. Please allow me to tell you why this Brewers team is not the same old Brewers. Yes the offense and bullpen suck, but…

    1) No Brewer team in recent memory has ever had a starting pitching staff like this. The offense will turn it around. This team is going to win 10 in a row too, mark my words.

    2) Last year Low and Axford weren’t even on the team at this time. Bullpen help is coming too. They will turn it around and have a decent rotation out there before it is finished.

    The same old Brewers trotted out garbage starter after garbage starter in hopes of changing things. This team is scuffling, but it will get better and it will win the division.

    Have a great weekend BSM.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    I applaud your optimism; I wish I could share it.

    I understand your point about the pitching; that’s what I thought coming into the season. Unfortunately the Brewers, being the Brewers, can still find a way to screw it up.

    That being said, I sincerely hope you’re right. Wife actually asked me last night why I continue to watch this team. I guess if I haven’t learned by now, I never will. ;)

  • Chad Giesen

    Mike,

    Wow, don’t fall off the wagon yet my friend. I agree with the Boozer. Being a lifetime Cardinal fan, but living in WI I obviously have watched more Brewer games than Cardinal games, and these are not the same old Brewers.

    Their pitching is much better and you can tell their offense is just a little off right now. Hart will hit, and I think Morgan will come back and the Crew will battle for the central. They do need to trade or do something to upgrade their shortstop position. Betenacourt is not only a mental midget, but also not a very good hitter as well.

    Just wait until Greinke starts going through the central and Marcum as well. The Crew will not go the entire summer scoring less than 3 runs a game. They will be fine.

    They do need Yovanni though to start pitching like himself. I watched his last start and he was fine, until he started to catch too much of the plate. I am fully expecting him to pitch better today against the Cardinals. He has always pitched pretty good against the Redbirds.

    Mike take this advice today: crack open a nice beer, and a bag of chips and sit back and watch the game and just think it can’t get any worse than has been the last week.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    What I’m really hoping is that by writing them off already, they’ll turn things around immediately just to prove me wrong.

    ….but beer and chips sound pretty good to me.

  • Chris

    I want to be the first to thank BigSnakeMan for providing the impetus to get the Crew out of their skid. It was an heroic, selfless act…

    Kidding aside, everything Mike said was right: to my eyes, this year’s team has heretofore looked very much like what we’ve seen the past two years. To me, that proves its not the manager, it’s the players and the limitation they bring to the game.

    Of course, this group also made the post-season in 2008, so it’s not like they can’t win or won’t win. But I think it is a mistake to equate Greinke with Sabathia, or Marcum with Sheets. That club was must stronger at the top of the rotation (particularly as YoGa had been contributing like he did in ’08…when he missed most of the season with a knee injury).

    I will take issue with one thing BSM said: He is on the bandwagon–I know, because I go to games with him and read his blog posts and tweets. He’s followed this team for too long and through too much to be considered a bandwagon fan. But he’s the best kind of bandwagon fan, one with a permanent seat who has the blessing of perspective that allows him the ability to be critical when the circumstances merit it.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    Thanks, Chris. As usual, I need you to clarify the perspective I was trying to provide.

    As a Brewers’ fan, obviously I want them to do well. I’ve just seen too much over the years to blindly assume that to be inevitable. Hopefully, today’s win will be a springboard to more success. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.