A Tale of Two Defenses

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The 2011 Brewers are a tale of two defenses.  In one inning, this defense will thrill with speedy, acrobatic catches, and in the next inning badly flub the most routine plays.  For this team, there is no middle ground; it is good defensively, but its frequent miscues means it will never be great.  The early returns have shown that the defense will be feast-or-famine, and that Jekyll and Hyde nature was on full display Monday night in Philadelphia. 

It started in the first inning with a bungled double play ball by Rickie Weeks.  That error resulted in an unearned run, as did a Casey McGehee error in the seventh that allowed Wilson Valdez to reach.  Valdez wound up at third on a Ross Gload single, and scored when Prince Fielder badly missed on a throw to home plate after snagging Shane Victornio’s chopper.  The misplay tied the game at two.  In the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Braun allowed the potential winning run to advance to second on an errant throw to home that had absolutely no chance of getting the lead runner at the plate.  Thankfully, John Axford was able to work his way out of that inning without any further damage.

There were those highlight-reel plays, too.  Yuniesky Betancourt made a spectacular diving catch on a ball that ricocheted off pitcher Sergio Mitre to start a double play and end the seventh inning.  Carlos Gomez turned on the burners to chase down a Ben Francisco line drive and secure the second out in the eighth. 

In the offseason, one writer noted that the Brewers’ defensive deficiencies could “torpedo a potential run at a championship.”  Despite the widely-circulated statement that the Brewers are at the top defensive team in the National League (based on what, I’m not certain), it certainly looks like shoddy defense could be the Brewers’ Achilles heel.

In the season opener in Cincinnati, Casey McGehee took a gamble trying to tag out Brandon Phillips on his way to third base, but missed and his throw to first base was late.  The failure to record an out on that play would directly contribute to John Axford’s first blown save of the year.  On April 8, the Cubs scored five runs after Weeks committed a brutal error on an Aramis Ramirez popup in the fourth, one of Weeks’ two errors in the game.  And just last Friday, the Brewers lost in extra innings when Betancourt threw wide of first base and, instead of recording an easy out, allowed Jason Werth to advance to second.  Werth “stole” third (an easy feat, as Zach Braddock largely ignored him) and would eventually score the winning run as, much like tonight, Prince missed badly on a throw home.

There have certainly been some spectacular defensive plays, including Braun’s dazzling outfield assist to gun down Michael Morse at second base yesterday, but the miscues loom much larger and have directly contributed to at least three losses.  The Brewers were able to overcome more lapses tonight, but this can not go on for the rest of the season if the Brewers expect to find themselves deep in the postseason.