The Kids Are All Right: Finding The Positives In The Brewers’ Lost Season

20130817-193406.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.

On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.

The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:

1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo

The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.

Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?

It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.

By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.

For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.

Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.

Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.

Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.

As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.

Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?

Khris Davis – #18 LF

Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.

Scooter Gennett – #2 2B

Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.

Tyler Thornburg – #63 P

Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.

It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.

So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

The Great Grindy Scooter Experiment: Day 24

By Nathan Petrashek

It has been 24 days since the Great Grindy Scooter Experiment began under the premise that he was somehow a more reliable option than Rickie Weeks.  What have we learned in 24 days?

Scooter is not even who we thought he was.

People who really liked batting average loved Scooter.  “He’s hitting .300 at Nashville! That’s like .150 points better than Rickie!” they said.  And he struck out less than Rickie, so Scooter was anointed the Second Baseman of the Future by these folks.

People who liked power, plate discipline, on-base percentage, and basically everything that keeps a player in the major leagues for ten years (has it been that long? Oh, Rickie, how time flies!) did not love Scooter.

But Scooter arrived anyway, and formed the left-handed component of a loose platoon at second base.  Here’s how Scooter and Rickie have fared in nearly equal playing time since June 3.

Scooter:  44 PA, .220/.256/.366, 3 XBH, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K

Rickie:  43 PA, .447/.512/.947, 8 XBH, 5 HR, 4 BB, 6 K

Scooter isn’t hitting anywhere near .300 in the bigs.  In fact, his batting average is even worse than Weeks’s now is for the season.  Gennett’s nearly 90% contact rate and .242 BABIP suggests that should rise, but the fact is he looks in over his head against major league pitching.  So he’s pretty much been even worse than we thought.

Neither is a good bench bat.

Off the bench, both players have been pretty much useless.  Shockingly, Weeks has only made seven appearances off the bench.  It seems like a lot more, but I could be recalling times I’ve been throwing things and yelling, “Bring in Weeks!”  And then imagining he hit a home run, like he has been for most of June.  But I digress.

Weeks has made only seven appearances off the bench, and he has a hit and a walk.  And he apparently needs to spend a lot of time in the cages to keep focused when he’s not starting.  But hey, might as well burn all those swings on the bench, right?  Fun fact, by the way:  Weeks is seeing 4.09 pitches per plate attempt this year.  Scooter? 3.43.

Actually, Scooter has been useless off the bench, too.  He doesn’t have a hit or a walk in 5 opportunities.

Neither is a good fielder.

Finally, neither player is good on defense.   Like I said, we’ve been watching Rickie for 10 years, so we know he comes with some pretty glaring defensive shortcomings.  A few nice plays aside, Gennett has been every bit the butcher Weeks is at the position.

Conclusion?

A player with all of Weeks’s flaws and none of his strengths has pretty much evenly split playing time with him over the last 24 days.

UPDATE: And after 24 days the Great Grindy Scooter Experiment ends.  Scoots was optioned to Nashville.  The second base gig is Rickie’s full time once again.

Some Good and Bad News

By Nathan Petrashek

ramirezThe Brewers finally ended a three-game skid on Sunday, but not before recording a franchise-worst 32 scoreless innings.  That’s right; before Ryan Braun’s 8th inning dinger, the Brewers hadn’t scored a run since the 2nd inning in Chicago on Tuesday.  The Brewers (specifically, the much-maligned Yuniesky Betancourt) managed to tie the game in the 9th, and might have taken the lead if not for some (attempted) bunting foolishness.  Still, Jonathan Lucroy hit his first home run of the season to put the Brewers ahead for good at the top of the 10th.  The Brewers have their third win, and all is right with the world.

Well, not so much.  For fans who like to see runs scored (basically, if you’re not Old Hoss Radbourn), there was plenty of bad news to accompany the victory.  Aramis Ramirez, who jammed his knee sliding into second base early in the season, isn’t likely to come off the DL when he’s eligible for reinstatement.  I know, it’s a little cringeworthy when Ron Roenicke uses a phrase like “play it safe.” After all, this is the manager who just days ago-down a run in extras, with men on, and no other position players due to Roenicke’s own poor roster construction-declared Ryan Braun unfit to appear as a pinch hitter, and batted Kyle Lohse(!) in his stead; Braun would go 3-for-4 the next day and play nearly the entire game.  But given Ramirez’s age and the lack of any other suitable options defensively at third base, it’s probably a good thing that Ramirez take whatever time he needs to get right.

The good news is that, offensively, the team has been fairly productive, even with Braun, Ramirez, and 1B Corey Hart missing time.  To date, the 2013 Brewers have scored 36 runs.  That’s just 3 shy of the number they scored as of this time last year, when the Brewers showcased the National League’s best offense.  That those runs have come with some of the team’s best hitters (Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez) enduring mini-slumps is a testament to the team’s offensive potential.  With those players returning to form, and Ryan Braun healthy again, it’s not unreasonable to expect this team’s offensive output to increase significantly in the coming days, even with prolonged DL stints for Ramirez and Hart.

I don’t,  of course, mean to suggest that this team couldn’t use Ramirez or Hart in the lineup. Even at 36 runs scored, the Brewers’ offense ranks as one of the worst in the National League, down there with the lowly Pirates and Marlins.  Although I’m certain that having Ramirez and Hart in the lineup would make the Brewers more dangerous, it’s hard to quantify how much.  I love Ramirez’s bat, but (even if not entirely true) the notion that he’s a slow starter persists, and last season provided ample evidence to support that theory.  That same concern doesn’t exist for Hart, but some of his lost production has been offset by Jean Segura’s and Norichika Aoki’s stellar runs, and Hart can be prone to prolonged slumps.

Bottom line: we all know that when this offense is finally healthy, it will be great.  But it is fully capable of treading water for the next month or so until that happens.

Immediate Analysis of the Zack Greinke Trade

By: Ryan Smith

It finally happened.

Farewell, Zack Greinke. We will certainly miss you.

After weeks of speculation, including some pretty crazy rumors over the last few days, the Milwaukee Brewers finally traded Zack Greinke.

After watching his stock take a hit with a rough July start followed by a mysterious “shutdown” by Manager Ron Roenicke, the enigmatic right-hander quieted his critics with a truly dominant performance on Tuesday night.

Yes, in only 87 pitches, Greinke put to rest any concerns about his health and his ability, instead causing opposing scouts and GMs to bull rush Doug Melvin’s office door.

The winning bid came from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team that beat out AL West rival Texas for the services of Mr. Greinke.

With the move Greinke will join an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren, creating a foursome as dangerous as any in Major League Baseball.

In return, the Brewers will receive three of the Angels top ten organizational prospects, including current top-prospect Jean Segura. Along with Segura, Milwaukee will also receive RHP John Hellweg and RHP Ariel Pena.

SS Jean Segura

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article looking at possible trade packages that Melvin would consider in a trade for Greinke. Then, I wrote that a package centered around Segura and Hellweg would have to be considered. Landing another one of Los Angeles’s top prospects apparently put the deal over the top for Melvin, who was using the rivalry between the Angels and the Rangers to up the asking price for the former Cy Young winner.

There were reports that Melvin was looking to land a top shortstop prospect in any deal involving Greinke, and Segura fits that bill. Segura had recently been called up to the big league club for the Angels, but he only appeared in one game at that level. In 94 AA games this season, Segura produced a line of .292/.346/.404 with 7 homeruns and 50 runs scored to go along with 33 stolen bases. While he would be an immediate upgrade over the current shortstop situation in Milwaukee, I would assume the organization would start with at AA Huntsville, at least for a few weeks.

RHP John Hellweg

Hellweg and Pena also spent all of this season thus far in AA. Hellweg started 21 games, compiling a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA, walking 60 while striking out 88. In his first full season as a starter, Hellweg was producing a 6.62 K/9, but he also had a 4.51 BB/9, showing once again that his biggest concern is his command. Standing at 6’9”, Hellweg has some natural downhill plane on his powerful fastball, which typically sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. While he’s still a work in progress – especially with his secondary pitches – Hellweg still represents a welcome addition to the Milwaukee farm system.

RHP Ariel Pena

In 19 starts this season, Pena was 6-6 with a 2.99 ERA, walking 42 while striking out 111. Pena has some more success with the command of his pitches, resulting in a 3.31 BB/9 and an 8.74 K/9. Pena also has a lively fastball, which is reported to sit around 95 MPH with some movement. His slider is also said to be a hard slider that tends to fall off the table, allowing it to miss some bats. His changeup will need some work, as it can tend to be a BP-fastball if he doesn’t control it well. While Pena’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as Hellweg’s, he seems to have a higher floor, especially considering his ability to control his premium pitches at this point in his career.

Overall, I think GM Doug Melvin did what we wanted him to do – he got the best possible return that he could for Greinke. Texas had already stated that top-prospect SS Jurickson Profar was off-limits, and they recently made it clear that 3B Mike Olt would not be available for a two-month rental. Instead of playing a dangerous waiting game with Texas, he used their interest to get the Angels to give up three actual prospects in order to acquire Greinke. As I said before, Segura could step into the everyday lineup for Milwaukee today and be an immediate upgrade, providing Melvin with the shortstop-of-the-future that he was looking for. Hellweg and Pena give the Brewers two very talented arms to work with, and you can never have enough pitching in baseball.

To Zack Greinke, I say this: Good luck. It was a blast having you in Milwaukee.

To Doug Melvin, I say this: Good job. You did what you had to do and brought back a real package that could help this team in the long run.

To the newest Milwaukee Brewers, I say this: Welcome! You’re going to love it here. I hope you like beer.

Who am I kidding – who doesn’t like beer?

History in the Making?

By: Ryan Smith

I remember watching Monday’s game against the Phillies fearing that a win would once again convince GM Doug Melvin that this year’s Milwaukee Brewers could be contenders. It didn’t matter that the Phillies currently reside in the cellar of the National League East; a win against Roy Halladay could have been just the type of win that Melvin and Manager Ron Roenicke would have used to say that the team was still in it, even though the Brewers just got swept in their “do-or-die” series over the weekend.

Then Roenicke went to the bullpen.

Roenicke has had to make too many trips to the mound this year because the relievers have not done their jobs.

You know the rest. One lead blown. Then another. Then another. With the bullpen for this year’s Milwaukee Brewers, no lead is safe.

After Tuesday’s debacle of a bullpen appearance, many Brewers fans started flooding Twitter and Facebook with claims that this had to be the worst bullpen ever.

This got me to thinking: where exactly does this bullpen rank among other historically bad bullpens?

There’s not really one stat that you can look at to figure this out. Some people would argue that Blown Saves would be the place to start, but that isn’t fair to the terrible bullpens on terrible teams. It also doesn’t take a look at the entire picture because the Save didn’t even become an official stat until 1969. You could look at ERA, but that is oftentimes quite dependent on team defense as well as pitcher performance. I’m sure most Brewer fans would make a case for BB/9 because that seems to be the Achilles heel for this year’s squad.

So since there’s no single stat to tell the story, I decided to look at all of them.

Let’s start by looking at Blown Saves. The Major League record for Blown Saves in an entire season is 34 by the 2004 Colorado Rockies, followed by the 2002 Texas Rangers with 33. As of right now, the Brewers have 18 official Blown Saves on the season, three behind this year’s Rockies. The Crew is on pace for 30 Blown Saves over the span of 162 games, which would be tied for seventh all-time. So in the Blown Saves category, the Brewers are up there, but they are not the worst bullpen ever.

Next, I had to take a look at walks and BB/9 because it seems like Milwaukee relievers can’t take the mound without issuing a free pass or three. On the year, Milwaukee relievers have issued 145 walks, which is the third-highest total in baseball. All-time, the most walks ever issued by a bullpen in a season was 347 by the 1996 Detroit Tigers, with the 2000 Pittsburgh Pirates coming in second with 343. in case you were wondering, the 2012 Brewers are on pace for roughly 242 walks, which wouldn’t even be in the top-30 for most walks ever in a season.

If I look at BB/9, I have to adjust what I’m looking at a bit. If you go all the way back to 1871, the 1908 Brooklyn Superbas (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) had a 108.00 BB/9. Of course, if you look closer, you’ll see that the Brooklyn Superbas only had one pitcher make a relief appearance. That pitcher was Pembroke Finlayson, and he walked four batters in one-third of an inning.

Manny Parra is just one of the guys who issues far too many walks.

If you don’t go back any further than 1970, you would find the 1971 Chicago White Sox with a 6.89 BB/9 and the 2000 Pirates with a 5.92 BB/9. Right now, the Brewers have a 4.39 BB/9, which is the second-highest mark in the league behind the Cubs at 5.00 BB/9. So you can see that, while they are one of the worst bullpens this season when it comes to issuing walks, they are nowhere near the worst bullpen ever in this area.

Finally, I had to look at ERA and True Runs Allowed (tERA) to gauge where this Brewers bullpen ranks among the most ineffective units in the history of the game. This year, the Brewers have the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 4.76. Once again, I had to limit my research to no later than 1970 because the highest 100 ERAs of all-time all occurred before 1970. Using a more modern-day comparison, the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a 6.16 bullpen ERA, which easily beat out the ’96 Tigers (5.97). Once again, this year’s Brewers bullpen is bad, but they are not historically bad when it comes to ERA.

The sample-size for tERA is even smaller because this stat wasn’t even calculated until 2002. Even with this smaller window, you can see that Milwaukee’s tERA of 4.79 is only the fourth-worst mark in baseball in 2012. Historically, the ’12 Crew is no match for the Rockies of 2003 (6.37) and ’02 (6.32).

I do want to point out that at no point during this article was I defending the performance of the Brewers bullpen this year. I spent a good chunk of the early months of the season coming to the defense of John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, telling fans to give them time, to have faith.

All too often, Roenicke finds himself without the answers during postgame press conferences.

And now, here I am, feeling like a damn fool.

The harsh truth is that we’re more than likely stuck with these guys for the rest of the season. Whatever trade value Rodriguez had going into this last series was pretty much left for dead in Philadelphia. John Axford has looked better as of late, but I’ll believe he’s figured it out when I see it. Manny Parra can’t find a strike zone big enough to hit consistently. Hell, I’m actually happy when Roenicke calls Livan Hernandez on in relief. Frankly, it’s not pretty out there.

The entire purpose of this article was to point out that, while 2012 has been a frustrating year for the Brewers bullpen, it has not been the worst season ever. Maybe Brewers fans were just spoiled by the 2011 ‘pen that always seemed to come through. LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito, and Rodriguez locked down innings six through eight, and we all know how dominant Axford was last season. This year has just been one of those years where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it seems that much worse after a year of complete domination.

But let’s slow down the talk of the 2012 Milwaukee bullpen being the worst bullpen ever. Those other squads have quite a lead on our guys.

Then again, if there’s one thing these guys can consistently do, it’s make a lead disappear.

It’s a Family Affair: The Lance Roenicke Interview

by Kevin Kimmes

With the second half of the Low A season now in full swing and the 2012 draft a recent memory, it was only a matter of time before the Timber Rattlers saw an infusion of new talent to replace those team members who have found themselves promoted to the next level. This year, one of those call ups came with a very recognizable name: Roenicke.

Lance Roenicke is the son of Brewers’ manager Ron Roenicke. Drafted in the 25th round of the 2012 Amateur Draft by Milwaukee, Roenicke was signed on June 15th and promoted to the Rattlers roster after only playing in 3 games for the Helena Brewers in the Pioneer League where he batted .538 with an on base percentage of .571. So far, in 6 games with the Rattlers he has continued his hot start batting .529 with a .556 OBP.

On Saturday afternoon, I took a few minutes to discuss what it’s like coming from a baseball family, what he attributes his strong start to, and what it means to be on a team who is already playoff bound.

CCC: Lance, you come from a baseball family. Your dad played for 8 years in the majors, coached for 10 plus, and is currently the manager of the Brewers. Your uncle, Gary, played for 10 years, and your cousin Josh is currently with the Colorado Rockies. What advantage do you think you have coming from a baseball family?

LR: It’s an advantage just being around the lifestyle. It’s a different lifestyle and there’s a lot of games so you just have to bare with it, but I’ve been around the game my whole life. I watched my dad manage in the minors in the Dodger’s organization and then being with the big league team, with the Angels, for 11 years, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of great players, worked with a lot of great coaches, so I think just being around the game has tremendously helped me.

CCC: What piece of advice did you take away from all of this in order to propel you to where you are today?

LR: Just that you have to work hard, that is the biggest thing. Every level that you move up, the talent level is going to be that much greater, so you have to continue to get better, and that’s why guys are in the majors, they found ways to get better every year. I was doing well in Helena, so they brought me up here, and while I wasn’t playing right away, you just have to keep working, keep sticking with it, and keep getting better here, move on to the next level, keep getting better there. You just have to find ways to keep improving your game to separate yourself from others.

CCC: Speaking of Helena, you only played 3 games there before being called up to the Timber Rattler roster. So far in 6 games with Wisconsin you are batting .529 with a .556 OBP. What do you attribute this success to?

LR: Just grinding out at bats. I’m trying to have the best quality at bats that I can because the game of baseball is tough and you get hit. You can go 0 for 5 with five line outs or you can go 4 for 4 with 4 broken bat singles, so I just continue to work on putting a good swing on the ball, taking balls, swinging at good pitches and having quality at bats.

CCC: Your promotion was obviously tied to Jason Rogers being promoted to Brevard County. With Rogers being an All-Star, do you feel any additional pressure filling in that spot that Rogers left on the team?

LR: There’s going to be pressure regardless, but I don’t really feel it that much because I focus on each day, working hard, trying to get better each day. So if I’m in the lineup or not, I’m going to work hard and try to contribute the best that I can.

CCC: With the Rattlers already having punched their ticket to the post-season, what is your biggest focus for the second half of the season?

LR: Momentum. You see teams, like last year if you watched the World Series, the Cardinals had a great run at the end there and carried it through the post season. Winning the first half is huge as it gives us a ticket to the playoffs, but we need to have a good second half to push us through the playoffs and to have a good playoff run.

CCC: Finally, coming in mid-season do you find the team to be pretty welcoming and how has the transition been so far?

LR: I’ll tell you what, this team has some energy. This is a great group of guys with great chemistry here. They have been very welcoming of Mitch (Haniger) and I right away, and we feel like we get along with these guys pretty well and it’s fun. There’s a lot of games and you need to find ways to entertain yourselves and these players enjoy coming to the ballpark every day.

You can follow Lance on Twitter: @LTRoenicke.

Axford for MVP

By Nathan Petrashek

I’ll admit it; I thought John Axford should have been the 2011 NL MVP.

Well, not really.  Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp’s qualifications were beyond question, but I think Axford got the short end of the “pitchers-can’t-be-MVP’s” stick in only placing 17th.  Axford posted a 1.95 ERA last year and saved 46 for the Brewers.  He blew a whopping two saves during the regular season, and both of those came early on.  The guy was an absolute rock and, after the team acquired Francisco Rodriguez, the 8th and 9th innings were absolute locks. 

This year, Axford has doubled his blown saves and more than doubled his losses from last year, and it’s only July.

The Brewers currently stand at 33-41, 8.5 games back of the division-leading Reds.  If you assume Axford had converted all of his save opportunities, the Brewers would be an even .500 at 37-37, well within striking distance.  If you take a further leap and assume that the Brewers had found a way to win each of the games for which Axford was charged with a loss – like last night, when Axford entered in a tie game and gave up the go-ahead run – the Crew would be 40-34.

The point of this is not to place all of the blame for the Brewers’ 2012 woes on Axford’s shoulders (the remainder of the bullpen and the offense share plenty of fault).  The point is to illustrate how absolutely incredible Axford’s 2011 season was, and how critical he was to winning the division.

In this sense, Axford is not unlike Peyton Manning, whom many NFL writers jokingly said would get their MVP vote in 2011 despite being injured the entire season.  With Manning in 2010, the Colts were 10-6 and easily won the AFC South.  Without him in 2011, they had the worst record in football.  The only difference is that Axford is still pitching for the team; he’s just not doing a good job.

In a way, Axford probably set the fan base up for disappointment by throwing so well last year.  Axford was never one to toss a clean 1-2-3 inning, but he found his way out of jams the vast majority of the time.  After a season and a half of sustained success, the Brewers no doubt thought they had their closer for the future, going so far as to negotiate an extension that was ultimately never signed.  Casey McGehee, anyone?

If you follow him on Twitter, it’s pretty clear he’s having a tough time mentally overcoming his struggles, first brushing them off with self-deprecating humor, then lashing out at his critics with a #TwitterToughGuy hashtag.  Maybe it’s time for Axford to take a break from closing games.  That certainly seems to be the way the tide is flowing, as Roenicke was set to bring in K-Rod for the save last night if the Brewers managed to scratch across a couple runs in the 9th.  The truth is, when you’re finding every way imaginable to lose games, what’s the harm in switching things up?

Addressing Milwaukee’s “Personal Catcher” Situation

By: Ryan Smith

The Brewers had just experienced a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins.  To make matters worse, the Crew only managed to score 10 runs over the course of those four games.  Some fans – myself included – couldn’t help but start to wonder if it was too early to be genuinely concerned about this season.  At that given moment, the Brewers were pathetic.

Pathetic.

Then last Sunday’s outburst happened.  The Brewer bats woke up to the tune of 16 runs.  Sure, a good portion of those runs came against the very mortal Jason Marquis, whose less-than-stellar performance that day forced him into unemployment.  Still, it was nice to see the team wake up at the plate.

For Brewers fans, Sunday’s game was a damn good time.

Helping to lead the charge on Sunday was The Jonathon Lucroy. (I’ve decided to refer to him as “The Jonathon Lucroy” because of the way he’s dominating at and behind the plate this season.)  Already having a breakout season, The Jonathon Lucroy continued his success at the plate with a monster performance, crushing two home runs and knocking in seven runs along the way.  I couldn’t help but think that Sunday might have been just what the doctor ordered: a game to build some confidence for our struggling lineup.

On Monday, my excitement would be put on hold.

Even animals are frustrated with the idea of a “personal catcher” in Milwaukee.

Randy Wolf was pitching.

Now let me point out that I am a fan of Randy Wolf.  I was never a big fan of Randy Wolf as the second guy in our rotation, but as our fourth?  Sign me up.

My problem with Randy Wolf is George Kottaras.

Let me point something else out: I like George Kottaras.  As a kid, I grew up cheering for Milwaukee and Boston, and I’ve continued to do so for quite some time, so I liked Kottaras well before most Brewers fans started using his name as a verb early this season.

My problem with George Kottaras is Randy Wolf.

I can buy into the idea of a pitcher having a “personal catcher” for a few reasons.  Tim Wakefield always had a specific catcher in Boston, and if you remember Jason Varitek trying to catch the knuckleballer in the ’04 playoffs, you completely understand why he has his own catcher.  I would understand if someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka had a personal catcher because he came to the big leagues with a rumored seven pitches.  I would even understand if someone like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay requested a personal catcher because, well, I’d give those guys whatever the hell they wanted.

But Randy Wolf?  As Tom Haudricourt tweeted during Monday’s game, Randy Wolf has exactly eight 1-2-3 innings this season.  He’s pitched 46.1 innings thus far.  That performance warrants a personal catcher?

Sorry.  I don’t buy it.

I’ve heard other arguments for this whole “personal catcher” situation that Wolf and Kottaras have going.  I get the idea that giving The Jonathon Lucroy an off-day every fifth game will help save his legs and keep him fresh into September.

But does the situation have to be so rigid?  Does it have to be every fifth game?  What about every seventh game?  Wouldn’t that still give him more off days than other top-tier catchers have throughout a given season?

Or if they insisted on giving him that fifth game off, couldn’t they juggle it around from starter to starter, based on the each game’s pitching matchup?

The Jonathon Lucroy has been in perpetual Beast Mode all season, especially against lefties.

Monday’s game against San Francisco was the perfect example of my last point.  The Giants were sending southpaw Madison Bumgarner to the mound.  The Jonathon Lucroy is, quite simply, hitting the crap out of the ball against lefties, sporting a line of .419/.455/.742 in 2012.

The left-handed George Kottaras, in limited at-bats, has a line of .167/.500/.167 against lefties this season.  So basically, he knows how to draw a walk against left-handed pitching but isn’t as gifted when it comes to actually swinging the bat in those same situations.

So I have to ask Ron Roenicke one thing: why?

Why take out a guy who is hitting the ball with reckless abandon regardless of where you put him in the batting order?  Why give him an off-day against a left-handed pitcher when he might be our most dangerous bat against lefties outside of Ryan Braun?  Why not wait and give Kottaras his turn in the lineup against Matt Cain on Tuesday?

Why?

Because it was Randy Wolf’s start.  And George Kottaras is Randy Wolf’s personal catcher.

Before the game, when asked about possibly changing this philosophy, Roenicke said, “I like them both out there. I think there should be some   times when I’d rather put ‘Luc’ in there catching Randy. Tonight would  be one of them. But we need to talk to them more about that if we decide   we’re going to go that way.”

Once again, sorry.  I don’t buy it.

Mr. Roenicke, I’m a fan of yours.  I like the style of game you preach to  the players.  I like your aggressiveness on the bases.  I love seeing a  suicide squeeze once a week.

But I also know that you’re the manager and they are your players.  It is your job to try and put out the lineup that gives us the best chance to win the game on any given night.  “We” don’t need to talk about anything if “we” are going to make a decision.

You need to make that decision.  The next time Randy Wolf is matched up against another lefty, you need to put out the best lineup possible.

You need to make sure you have The Jonathon Lucroy out there.  Because right now, The Jonathon Lucroy trumps any “personal catcher” system that you have in place.

Worried Yet?

By: Ryan Smith

It appears that I haven’t written a post in quite some time.  While I may be lacking in the extra time that it takes to write consistent, quality posts, I certainly have not been lacking ideas for new columns.

After an opening weekend that saw Gallardo look like a batting practice pitcher one day, followed by Greinke absolutely shutting down that same St. Louis team the next day, I decided that I wanted to write an article reminding everyone that I said Greinke would be the team’s “ace” for this season.  Then Greinke had his start in Chicago with a chance for the sweep, and he proceeded to stink up the joint (which is not an easy thing to do considering Wrigley already reeks).  Too late for that column.

Two weeks into the season, I decided that I wanted to write an article about early season overreactions, pointing out some statements and thoughts that had been running through Brewer Nation.  I was going to write about how everyone needs to calm down and not promote George Kottaras ahead of Jonathon Lucroy based on a few long balls.  I was going to write about how we need to wait a bit for Aramis Ramirez to get his feet under him before all of Milwaukee called that signing a mistake.

But then, two weeks into the season became three weeks into the season which then became a month into the season.  Too late for that column.

If the Brewers don’t start improving soon, Bernie might be looking for the bottom of a mug more often in 2012.

After today’s extra-innings loss to the Twins, the Brewers find themselves at 16-24.  A 16-24 record means they’ve now played 40 games, which is roughly a quarter of the way through the season.  As I looked at the standings and pondered what I could write about, I realized something:

Much like my column ideas, it’s starting to appear like it may be too late for this Milwaukee Brewers team.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still 122 games left in the season, so they have plenty of time to turn things around.  But as I watch them play (which has been downright painful this past week), I have growing concerns about certain areas of this team.

And the fact that there are 122 games left doesn’t make me say that we have time to fix those concerns.  In actuality, it makes me fear that those concerns could only grow to more frightening levels as we make our way through summer.

So let’s take a look at some of my concerns at this early but not-so-early juncture of the 2012 season, shall we?

First, allow me to give you a hypothetical situation:

When Roenicke looks to the bullpen, it often appears like there aren’t many options.

You are Ron Roenicke and the Brewers are up 3-2 going into the 8th inning.  The starter has thrown 107 pitches, so he’s done for the night.  For some reason or another, Axford and Loe are not available for this particular game.  You need to select two guys to send to the mound to get the next six outs, and your options are Rodriguez, Veras, Dillard, Parra, and Chulk.  Who do you choose?

If you’re like me, you just got that disgusting vomit taste in your mouth.  With a few exceptions, Axford has been typical Axford, giving the fans close calls but usually coming through in the end.  Loe looks like a different guy than the one who was only appearing in low-leverage situations late last year.  But everyone else?  Let’s just say that if Roenicke goes through the entire season without having a late-inning heart attack, I’ll consider that a victory.

Luckily, bullpen improvements happen every year for contenders, either with organizational call-ups – Tyler Thornburg would fill this role nicely – or through trade deadline moves, like when we acquired K-Rod last season.  The only problem is if we keep losing like we have been, we won’t be contenders when July rolls around.

Like many Milwaukee hitters, Weeks can’t seem to find any answers at the plate.

Another issue I have with this team is at the plate.  More specifically, it pains me that a good portion of our hitters have the plate approach of a Little League team.  Braun has been Braun, leading the team in most statistical categories and providing a consistent, dangerous bat, and he hasn’t been alone.  I mean, who could have seen the type of season Lucroy is producing thus far?  Oh, that’s right – I said he could do this, as did Cream City Cables founder Nate Petrashek.  But beyond Braun and Lucroy and the occasional power surge from Hart, the early portion of this season has not seen a lot of consistency at the plate for this team.  Ramirez has started to look better in recent weeks, though that’s not saying much considering how terrible he was in April.  Perhaps my biggest concern with our hitters is Rickie Weeks.  It’s one thing to start slowly, but he’s not really showing any signs of improvement.  Needless to say, my confidence in Mr. Weeks is being challenged.

Finally, I can’t help but worry about all of the injuries that have hit Milwaukee in the first six weeks of the season.  Last year, the Brewers only had to use six starters throughout the course of the entire season.  Now, we’ve lost Narveson for the season, putting more pressure on the rest of our very talented rotation.  We lost new infield regulars Gamel and Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s defense was as advertised, so that isn’t something the team can just replace overnight.  And Gamel’s injury was heartbreaking.  The guy finally gets his everyday shot and, quite frankly, does well in that spot.  So of course he goes out for the season.  Travis Ishikawa has been a pleasant surprise, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to bring him off the bench on most nights as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.  In 2011, the Brewers had limited injuries that impacted the everyday roster.  This year, it seems like that run of good luck may have come to an end.

As I said earlier, I’m not giving up on this season.  It’s still too early to just start looking to next year (unless you’re a Cubs fan).  But if they don’t start turning things around soon, it might be too late for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers.

Abnormalities and Aberrations: The 2012 Brewers Spring Stats Thus Far

by Kevin Kimmes

The early weeks of spring training are a time of aberration and statistical abnormalities. Think about it, position players are trying to work the winter rust out of their strokes, while pitchers try to stretch out and oil up their arms in hopes that they will be limber enough to not only avoid injury this season, but also to still have something left should they find themselves pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. Combine those two approaches together and you get some statistics that defy explanation.

Today, we’ll look at what the Brewers have been doing from an offensive prospective, and I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the pitching so far. So, without further ado…

Jonathan Lucroy

I want you to take a second and mull over the following sentence: Jonathan Lucroy is the most feared hitter in the Brewers lineup.

Now that you’ve reread it, digested it, and yet still seem to be having trouble making sense of it, let me verify that the above is not a typo. Jonathan Lucroy, so far, possesses the most devastating bat in the entire Brewers camp.

Lucroy, who finished last season with a batting average of .265/.313/.391 has more than doubled his offensive output so far this spring. In 16 at bats in 6 games, Lucroy is currently hitting .563/.563/.938 which sets the bar for all Brewers batters who have more than 1 or 2 at bats. Additionally, it should be noted that 4 of his 9 hits so far have gone for extra bases (3 doubles and a homerun), proving that Lucroy has a little extra pop in his bat to go his keen eye at the plate.

Logan Schafer

Some guys just seem to thrive in the most adverse of situations. For your consideration, Logan Schafer.

Schafer, ranked #7 in the Brewers 2012 Prospects Watch, finds himself in an unenviable position, fighting for a spot at a position that is running over with veteran talent. So far this spring, Schafer is hitting .556/.579/.944 in 18 at bats in 10 games. Meanwhile, projected opening day starter Carlos Gomez is hitting an embarrassing .160/.222/.160 in 25 at bats over 9 games. Despite his untested status, you have to believe that if Schafer is able to maintain even a respectable pace for the rest of the spring, that Roenicke will need to stand up and potentially give Schafer some consideration, at the very least until Corey Hart comes back from injury and Nyjer Morgan slots back into center.

Alex Gonzalez

Prior to the start of spring training, there were many pundits who feared that the veteran Gonzalez would prove to be nothing more than another offensive weak spot at short. Well, apparently Gonzalez heard them loud and clear, and has decided to put on a hitting clinic for his critics.

So far, Gonzalez has put up a stat line of .476/.500/.762 in 21 at bats over 8 games. On an interesting side note, Gonzalez is currently the only Brewer to have collected a single, a double, a triple, a homerun, and a walk this so far this spring.

Rickie Weeks

Looking to capitalize on a 2011 in which he found himself as an All Star for the first time, Weeks has shown a quiet determination at the plate. His 7 walks leads all Brewers batters so far this spring, and his stat line of .385/.619/.769 in 13 at bats over 8 games is all about the extra base hit. Of his 5 hits thus far, all of them have been doubles.

Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa

All of the fear and trepidation coming out of the departure of Prince Fielder would seem to be just a bad case of nerves at this point, as Milwaukee appears to have two competent first basemen in camp this season.

So far, Gamel leads all Brewers in homeruns (3), runs scored (7), and RBIs (7). Additionally, he is tied with Carlos Gomez for the most stolen bases with 3 (also note he has not been caught stealing). His stat line of .318/.423/.773 in 22 at bats in 9 games is impressive for a player who many had doubts on.

Not to be out done, Travis Ishikawa is nipping at Gamels heels with a pretty equivalent stat line of his own. Ishikawa is .316/.409/.684 in 19 at bats in 9 games. His 2 homeruns this spring rank him second only to Gamel in the category.

So, there you have it, the wild, wonderful, and weird stats of spring training thus far. As the next several weeks go by, we should be able to get a better idea of which stats are actually founded in determination and focus, and which ones are simply the types of statistical anomalies that only spring training can provide.