Unlucky Number 4

by Kevin Kimmes

The number 4 seems to carry with it, a very vexing connotation in Wisconsin sports lore, and as of yesterday, the number has reared it’s ugly head again. With no disrespect to Paul Molitor, who’s number 4 was retired by the Brewers in 1999, the number is best known to carry hurt feelings over a former NFL quarterback named Burt something-or-another. However, as of last night, it has become the “Magic Number” for the St Louis Cardinals.

With Milwaukee’s’ loss to the Cincinnati Reds and St Louis’ win over the hapless Houston Astros,  it appears that the clock may be quickly approaching midnight on the Cinderella story that was the Brewers’ post season push. Now, is this to say that all hope is lost for the Crew? Absolutely not. Hell, it’s baseball, and if I’ve learned anything from watching the game over the years it is that just when things seem to be at their bleakest, the baseball gods have a funny way of throwing a 12-6 curveball that reshuffles the status quo.

If the Cardinals win today, again, DO NOT PANIC! They will pick up a win, maybe 2, over a lesser club like Houston. It’s just the way it is. The positive is that while Milwaukee may struggle with the Reds, they finish at home with 3 games each against the Astros and Padres, while St Louis will be at home taking on 2 teams that are contenders, the Nationals and Reds.

The Brewers can pull this out. It may however come down to sweeping these final 8 games to do it. Fans I ask one favor of you, don’t stop Brewlieving!

Kotsay comes through

The Brewers’ bench once looked like a place where veterans and youngsters alike go to end their careers.  Rotating through such light hitters as Juan Nieves (.140), Carlos Gomez (.224), Brandon Boggs (.158), Craig Counsell (.172), and Josh Wilson (.241), perhaps the biggest bench disappointment was 35-year-old OF Mark Kotsay.

Through June, Kotsay looked like he would never live up to even his modest $800k salary. April and May brought difficulties as Kotsay adjusted to a limited bench role, but his worst month would come in June when he hit just .194 with a .226 slugging percentage.  As injured bullpen arm Takashi Saito reached the terminal stages of his DL stint, Kotsay, set to earn a $100k incentive bonus, must have been considered internally as a prime candidate for release.

Kotsay must have received the message.  This month, he’s gone 10-25 with 2 HR and 6 RBI.  His biggest contribution:  a walk-off 2 RBI single to take the Brewers past the Reds tonight, 8-7.  Kotsay also chipped in with a solo home run in the sixth, which temporarily gave Milwaukee the lead.  Kotsay’s prowess at the plate could not come at a better time, either, as Ryan Braun has sat out the past six games with a calf strain.

Ron Roenicke claims he saw the turnaround coming.  “Early in the season, I know his batting average wasn’t real good, but he was really hitting the ball hard.  We went into Chicago, and he got a little out of (sorts) there and stayed that way for a couple of weeks.  He bounced out of it. He put together some unbelievable at-bats today. To hit that last one, a fastball in, that was impressive.”

It sure impressed Reds starter Mike Leake, who called the loss “by far the toughest one of the year.”

The bench continues to present problems for the Brewers.  Counsell has value because of his versatility in the field, but his .172 average coming off his unproductive pinch-hit at bat tonight would be the worst mark of his career. Carlos Gomez, who has settled into a full platoon with Nyjer Morgan in center, has still failed to use all of his talent at the dish.  George Kottaras and Josh Wilson have been somewhat productive, but the Brewers still lack a clutch player to bring in at critical junctures.  Hopefully, everyone else on the pine was taking notes from Kotsay today.

Weight off the shoulders

So we can finally let out a sigh of relief; the Brewers have their first road win against the Reds, and – big surprise – it came on the back of Zack Greinke.

Greinke didn’t have his best stuff tonight, not by a long shot.  His three walks equaled the number of walks he’d given up collectively in his prior five starts, and he scattered six hits over six innings to boot.

Greinke hit it on the head in the postgame presser when he noted that his slider was the only thing really working, as demonstrated on Brooks Baseball’s strikezone plot (most of the swinging strikes are sliders):

But you can see Greinke also did a good job keeping the ball down, and managed a lot of called strikes/fouls with his fastballs, even if they were not very well located (not much around the corners, is there?).  And then there’s always the bottom line; although Greinke loaded the bases in the fourth, he allowed only two runs.  In other words, he battled and managed to give the Brewers just enough to pull through.

Tomorrow Shaun Marcum looks to build on his exceptional season (6-2, 2.80 ERA, 3.94 K/BB).  It’s a big game, if only because it gives the Crew a series win on the road and some momentum heading into a four-game series against the red-hot Marlins (30-22).

One last thing:  If you missed WTMJ’s interview with outfielder Nyjer Morgan, it was one for the ages.  Not only did he repeatedly refer to the top of the lineup as “tallywhackers,” but he reminded the audience that the “boys on the bottom can but a little tail too.”  He also claimed a voodoo doll was responsible for his repeated DL stints; sounds like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.  He’s been super productive in limited time (.341/.372/.512), so hopefully he manages to avoid any bad karma.

Road Woes

I’m not ready to say that the 2011 Brewers will be defined by their horrid road record (8-18, one of the worst in baseball), though they’ll certainly need to turn that around at some point.  But with the way the Brewers have been playing at home (at 21-7, they’re the first MLB team to 20 home wins), they don’t exactly have to play winning ball while away.  A .500 road record will probably get them in the dance.

But a step backward yesterday; a 3-7 loss to the Reds at Great American isn’t going to help.  Still, it isn’t quite the disaster some in the media make it out to be.  Yes, we dropped another game on the road.  Yes, it was to the division rival Reds.  And yes, the Brewers again had trouble putting runs across the plate.

Still, it’s not quite fair to put this Brewers team in the same box as the team that went 0-3 against the Reds to start the year.  We have Zack Greinke, apparent ace, back in the rotation, and he’s going to start tonight.  Shaun Marcum, who will go in game 3, is a totally different pitcher than he was during his disastrous first outing against the Reds.  We’ve got some new bats in Nyjer Morgan (who as a new Brewer went 1-2 in the first road series in 2 PA), Corey Hart (who was on the DL), and Josh Wilson (who was incognito as a Diamondback).

Add to that the fact that it was our number five, Chris Narveson, starting yesterday.  He’s been serviceable so far (1.2 WAR), but he’s still a number five, and that means you’re going to ask, like Ron Roenicke did, what he was thinking on an occasional pitch:

No, you can’t do that to [Jay Bruce]. And then he turned around and did it again on a 1-2 to Gomes. They had a lot of two strike hits today, and all of them bad pitches.

Narveson is going to get tossed around once in a while.  It was just bad luck that it happened yesterday, on the road, against the Reds.

So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t do much good to measure the Brewers effectiveness at Great American based on the results of the games so far.  I think the real test is going to come tonight and tomorrow, when they throw their best (Greinke and Marcum) up on the mound and see what happens.  If the Brewers drop the next two, then yeah, we can worry; the Brewers are sitting at 1-6 against the Reds so far this year, and I don’t see any way the Brewers win the central if they can’t figure Dusty Baker’s team out.