Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

What is Wrong with the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers?

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So far in 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers are a riddle wrapped in an enigma, then enclosed by a tesseract.  (Yes, they are just that frustrating.)

Before you ask me how a riddle can be wrapped in an enigma, much less be enclosed by a tesseract, think about Jean Segura.  Think about how this young man has been among the National League’s top hitters thus far, and currently leads the league with a .355 average.  Then think about his main claim to fame — running the bases in reverse.

Then think about Carlos Gomez, a guy who’s never met a low, outside fastball he didn’t like to wave at.  He, too, is among the NL’s league letters in hitting, something that is astonishing enough to perplex.  This is a guy with a career .253 average, folks . . . yet he’s currently hitting .329.  (Go figure.)

Then consider that not one, not two, but five Brewers in the starting lineup — Segura, Gomez, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez (in a limited sample) and Norichika Aoki — are currently hitting over .300 — which is astonishing.  (Also, reserve infielder Jeff Bianchi, who just came off the DL, is hitting .357 thus far.)

But the rest of the team doesn’t have even a .250 hitter among them, as Yuniesky Betancourt continues to slump from his extremely fast start, Rickie Weeks’ woes continue, and Jonathan Lucroy’s bat has gone ominously silent.

Still, despite all that, the biggest problems with the current Brewers squad lies more with the starting pitching than it does their inconsistent hitting.  The starting rotation consists of Kyle Lohse (1-5, 3.76 ERA), who’s pitched decently to better but has had little run support, Yovani Gallardo (3-4, 4.50), who’s had some good outings and some bad ones, Marco Estrada (3-2, 5.44), who’s had the run support Lohse has lacked with a mostly subpar effort, and two rookies — Hiram Burgos (1-2, 6.58) and Wily Peralta (3-4, 5.94) — who’ve mostly proven that they deserve to be sent back to AAA forthwith.

Look.  The 2013 Brewers have a decent bullpen, even though John Axford hasn’t truly been up to snuff.  (Looking better lately, though, and he pitched a fine inning in Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.)  Guys like Burke Badenhop, Tom Gorzelanny (currently on the DL), Mike Gonzalez, and even the recently brought up Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) have done well, while closer Jim Henderson has saved eight games in eight chances, which is quite good.

But the 2013 Brewers only have two legitimate starters in Lohse and Gallardo.  Estrada would be better off as the Brewers long man and spot starter, but as he’s the third-best healthy starter the Brewers currently have, he’s in the rotation to stay.  And really, while Burgos and Peralta have both shown flashes of competence, they’ve mostly shown that neither one is ready to be a big league pitcher, day in and day out.

Complicating matters is the lack of healthy players Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has to call upon.  Roenicke still awaits first baseman and power hitter Corey Hart, who is now slated to return sometime in June according to Adam McCalvy.  Roenicke also awaits the return of pitcher Chris Narveson, who’s certainly a much better option even coming off major shoulder  surgery than either Peralta or Burgos.  (Perhaps better than both put together.)

And both Braun and Lucroy are playing despite persistent neck stiffness because there really isn’t anyone else to put in their slots.  Mind you, it’s very difficult to replace someone who’s won the Most Valuable Player Award like Braun.  But when no one can out-hit the currently light-hitting Lucroy, you have major problems.

Basically, I see the Brewers’ problems as threefold.

  1. They need two more good starters before they’re going to be able to be consistently competitive.
  2. They need the return of both Hart and Narveson, even if the Brewers “brain trust” of General Manager Doug Melvin and Assistant GM Gord Ash decides to keep Narveson in the bullpen.
  3. They need far better situational hitting than they’ve shown thus far, as it’s inexcusable to have someone hit a triple (like Lucroy did the other day) to lead off an inning but have him still standing on third base at the end of the inning because no one can figure out how to hit a long fly ball to get him home.

If the Brewers can fix all of these things within the next three weeks, they may manage to salvage their season . . . and, not so incidentally, their manager’s job.

But if they can’t fix it, someone’s head is going to roll.  And that person is most likely to be Ron Roenicke, even though he’s obviously not to blame for the Brewers total inability to bunt, hit sacrifice flies, or do whatever it takes to score runs, nor is he to blame for Peralta and Burgos not being quite ready for prime time just yet.

For the latter, I blame Doug Melvin and Gord Ash.  They had to know that it’s risky to start out a season with not one, but two rookie pitchers, no matter how well Peralta pitched at the end of last season and no matter how good Burgos looked in the World Baseball Classic, yet they were actually prepared to go with three rookies if they couldn’t come to a deal with Lohse or another veteran starter.

Anyway, my hope is that the Brewers will start to remember their situational hitting skills and use them more frequently.  (They did a good job scratching and clawing for a run tonight, but then again, the guy hitting the RBI groundout was Nori Aoki, who happens to be the best situational hitter on the club.)  That, along with some more run support for Lohse and two additional quality starters if the Brewers can somehow acquire them, can turn around the 2013 season and save Roenicke’s job.

But that’s a tall order, as every team in the league knows that the Brewers need pitching — and will make them pay high to get it.


Note: Stats had not yet been updated as that sometimes takes a few hours after a loss when I’d originally composed this blog.  The records, averages, etc., have been fixed, as has the information about Corey Hart’s proposed return.  (That Hart’s rehab goes slowly isn’t entirely a surprise, but as many fans have hoped Hart would return sooner rather than later — and as I’m assuredly among that particular group of fans — I’d said that I believed Hart would return on the first available date as I hadn’t yet checked out McCalvy’s blog post.)


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