This Year’s Home Brew Is Leaving a Bad Taste
That left the Brewers in
fifth place and with a 4-14 record at Miller Park.
The Observers, like everyone else, are baffled.
Artie: I'm not panicking yet, but I sure am trying to figure out
what's going on. Are these guys really better than they showed against the
Braves and Phillies?
Frank: Sunday night was the closest of the six games and filled
with "woulda, coulda, shoulda" moments. Corey Hart woulda hit a grand
slam in the first inning if his drive had gone anywhere except dead center
Artie: But it did go there. When Hart did homer in the sixth,
nobody was on base—the way it seems to be when any Brewer homers, at
least at Miller Park, ain’a?
Frank: It was obvious the starting rotation had to be better than
in ’09, but we bravely said it didn't have to be hugely better because
of the offense. So far the starters are better statistically, but the hitting
is too spotty.
Artie: Just how much better is the rotation really?
Frank: Through 37 games, the starters' ERA was 4.81—half a run
better than last year's 5.37. And not counting Jeff Suppan's 8.64 in his two
starts and Doug Davis' 7.56 in seven, the other starters—Yovani Gallardo, Randy
Wolf, Dave Bush and Chris Narveson—had a combined 4.08.
Artie: But that 4.08 usually applies to only the first six
innings. During the homestand, most of the games were close through five or six
and then the bullpen lit the dynamite. Gallardo pitched OK against Atlanta but only lasted
six because he threw 108 pitches. It seemed like every batter went to 2-2 or
Frank: Ah, one of my favorite themes. Big-league umpires call a
strike zone that's too small. If they'd call something, anything, above
the belt buckle, there'd be more swings, more balls in play, fewer deep counts
and longer outings for starters.
Artie: Narveson threw 130 pitches Saturday and still couldn't go
six. Are the Crew's starters all "nibblers," which makes them throw
more pitches and tire out, or are they just not very good and easy to figure
out by the third time through the order?
Frank: Gallardo is their only real strikeout guy. But even he
nibbles too much—again, because the umps make ’em all do it.
Artie: And if the starters can't get past the sixth, the relievers
get overworked. It happened last year.
Frank: I think the "tired bullpen" mantra is overworked
itself, at least this early in the season. Besides, a six-inning start is what
most managers plan for. They tend to overuse their bullpens under any
Artie: It's what the stat known as "quality start" is
based on—six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer.
Frank: Ken Macha is no exception. Sure, he'd love for his starter
to go seven or eight, but if he goes six with the lead, the "program"
can go forward. The skipper uses his seventh-inning guy, his eighth-inning
guy—and often his "situational" left-hander—and then his closer. If
one of them flops he says, "Well, we had our bullpen all set up."
Artie: In other words, "Don't blame me."
Frank: But if you routinely use four pitchers to get the last
nine outs, or three to get the last five outs, doesn't that help fry the
Artie: I keep asking what else is different with the pitching
besides the additions of Wolf and Davis. And it's the new coach, Rick Peterson,
the guru whose approach is bio-scientific or whatever. I wonder if he's got
these guys' heads somewhere they shouldn't be.
Frank: It's not a coach's fault if a pitcher can't make a throw
to first or pick up a bunt, as Manny Parra couldn't Friday night. But going
into this week the Brewers' overall ERA was 5.20, ranking 14th out of 16
National League teams.
Artie: Some of that is Hoffman's amazing 11.08 through his first
13 games and LaTroy Hawkins' 9.26 as the setup man before his shoulder went
bad. And of course Davis'
7-plus in the rotation.
just went on the disabled list with a virus in the lining of his heart. We're
glad it's easily treatable and not related to his thyroid cancer in ’08, but
having him out for a while is good for the team.
Artie: By the time he returns a familiar face might be in his
starting spot. Chris Capuano, coming off his second "Tommy John"
elbow surgery, had an ERA of 0.79 in his first four minor-league starts.
Suppan's butt is parked in the bullpen, and I say, "Hey, Soup, save a seat
Frank: On offense, the Brewers went into this week second in the
N.L. in batting (.271), runs (199) and homers (46). But a lot of the runs came
in a few blowouts against the Pirates and D-Backs.
Artie: Prince Fielder seems to be coming out of his usual slow
start, with homers Friday and Saturday. But gosh darn, they were solo shots. He
seems to love to hit ’em when he has a clear path around the bases.
Frank: Rickie Weeks isn't burning things up the way he did last
year before he hurt his wrist. And Alcides Escobar has been in a slump.
Artie: I was glad they moved Escobar from the No. 8 slot to No. 2
on Sunday night. Hitting ahead of the pitcher he wasn't seeing anything good to
hit. But hitting ahead of Ryan Braun he sure will.
Frank: Hart continues to be inconsistent. But at the No. 5 spot
behind Fielder, Casey McGehee is doing fine.
Artie: The best thing is that we only reach the one-quarter mark
of the season this week, so there's still plenty of time. But things have to
Frank: If the swoon lasts through this week's road trip, Macha
might well be gone. They have two coaches ready to take over, Dale Sveum and
Artie: The knock on Macha is that he's too passive, too quiet. But
that describes Sveum and Randolph, too.
Frank: If they wanted a kick-butt, Lou Piniella type, they'd have
to look outside. But as a tension reliever, someone the players might relate to
better, either Sveum or Randolph would fit.
Artie: Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin aren't afraid to make a
move. They dumped Ned Yost for Sveum with 12 games left in ’08 and squeaked
into the playoffs. And look at Colorado
last year; Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle in late May and the team took off,
all the way to the postseason.
Frank: And Tracy
is no high-energy guy.
Artie: They have a day off Monday. If they're still struggling
then, a Macha firing wouldn't surprise me.
Another Turn at Bat
Frank: Hey, Yost is back in the game as the manager in Kansas City.
Artie: Why would he want to get involved in that hapless
Frank: It could hardly be worse than what he found here in ’03,
right after a 106-loss season. And it's a fact that he helped build a
Artie: I know one thing—from now on the K.C. pitchers will have fabulous "stuff," even when they get blasted. That's Ned's credo: "I thought he pitched really well except for those three balls that sailed over the fence." Hey, I wonder if Ned has the K.C. general manager talking to Melvin about getting Suppan over there.