What If They Aren't That Good?
Validation is a wonderful thing, but it sucks when it costs you a blog.
The Journal/Sentinel's Michael Hunt beat me to the punch Sunday with his column on the Milwaukee Brewers. To sum it up, Hunt says that maybe, just maybe, this current edition of our favorite local MLB ballclub just plain isn't that good.
I thought the same thing as the season began and hopes ran high that this would be a team that could give the favored Cardinals a run for it in the National League Central. I just wish I would've written it down or said it out loud. Journal/Sentinel beat writer Tom Haudricourt pointed it out as the team came north from Arizona, noting that the team wasn't playing very well the final couple of weeks of Cactus League action, when the veterans take over from the kids and the starting lineup gets buffed into regular season shape.
GM Doug Melvin brought in two new starting pitchers, Doug Davis and Randy Wolf plus reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Davis and Hawkins haven't done the job and Wolf has been, well, okay. A club that sorely needed guys to eat up innings and preserve the bullpen has yet to find anyone who can go long enough to get the 19th out of a game, and relievers often take the longest, most painful route in recording the final eight. The pen is in danger of being out of gas by Memorial Day, and we all remember how that worked out for Milwaukee last season.
Melvin can't be blamed for the yips closer Trevor Hoffman had to start the season, but the question has to be raised about how he got himself ready for the season. Hoffman works hard, but how much actual in-game experience did he get in Maryvale? Sure, he's a grizzled vet who has seen it all, but did his paucity of appearances in spring training contribute to unsettling spate of blown saves?
A look around the diamond would've shown the objective Brewers fan a few causes for concern: what would they get from Corey Hart in right? So far, not much. Carlos Gomez gets an "incomplete" in center. Ryan Braun is, well, Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee is solid at third. Alcides Escobar is long on promise but short on numbers at short, and it's nice to see that Rickey Weeks can swing a bat without popping his wrist tendons. Prince Fielder is off to a slow start, and Greg Zaun is starting to warm up after a dreadful April. The bench is okay, but you've got to wonder if Jim Edmonds can stay healthy. Paging Jermaine Dye?
There are plenty of otherwise friendly fans who wouldn't offer Ken Macha a beer at their pre-game tailgate party, the thinking being that the club needs a someone with a lot more 'tude and a far shorter fuse. They want someone that'll get into the ump's grill, toss over the post-game spread, yell and scream when someone misses a sign or screws up on the bases. We had that in the past, but all the anger in the world gets a skipper nowhere if he doesn't have the horses. FoxSports analyst Drew Olsen put it best the other day: when you have a quiet manager, the fans want a screamer and when you have a firebrand, the fans will say it's time for someone with a more mellow approach. Macha crunches numbers before making out his lineup card, always seeking the statistical advantage. He seldom if ever pushes the wrong strategic button. How is any of this mess his fault?
Pitching coach Rick Petersen has yet to prove he's worth the hype, and you want to give him enough time to see if the faltering staff is buying into what he's selling. You would like to think that Yovani Gallardo would be a prize student, one who has the tools but who still needs way too many pitches to get out of innings. It's a disturbing trend that shows no sign of getting better. Petersen is the club's third try at replacing Mike Maddox who's doing good things in Texas, where pitching usually went to die. Somewhere, Bill Castro is laughing: he was given an embarrassingly short leash as pitching coach after decades with the Brewers organization. A coach can only do so much with the bodies he has available and the circumstances they're forced into.
Owner Mark Attanasio proved in the past that he's not afraid to make a hard-rudder change, timing and baseball tradition be damned. Just ask Ned Yost. Does he make a bold move now to shake things up? Is it Macha who goes, or does he blow up Melvin? And, what difference does it make if the team just plain isn't that good after all?
The team laid another Miller Park egg on national TV Saturday afternoon, and has a shot at redemption Sunday night on ESPN. With another loss, though, they'll be 4-14 at Miller Park when the homestand ends. Millions of tickets are already sold, and big expectations are starting to turn into acidic cynicism. The only thing between the Brewers and irrelevance so far this season has been a respectable showing on the road. If that doesn't continue this week, me thinks you'll see some new faces in familiar places by the time the team returns to Milwaukee May 25th.
Would it help? What if it's true that this team just isn't as good as we wanted to think it was when it broke camp?