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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Season Yet to Come

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May is way too early for the Milwaukee Brewers’ season to be over. So it’s okay to ignore the chorus of yahoos who say otherwise.

Apparently, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio is ready to do the same by keeping his head when all around him are losing theirs and blaming it on Ken Macha.

Firing the manager is the simple-minded solution of choice for sports talk radio and a lot of the bugs in the stands any time a baseball team runs into trouble.

It’s even more tempting with a manager such as Macha, who rarely provides sportswriters and commentators with the fiery quotes and colorful tantrums that make their jobs interesting.

Of course, managers bad mouthing their own players or tossing them on the scrap heap before they can work their way out of slumps doesn’t do a whole lot to build a successful team, either.

But a manager with a short fuse is so much more fun to cover than an unflappable one.

Macha’s biggest mistake so far was giving his future Hall of Fame closing pitcher Trevor Hoffman every opportunity and then some to prove he could still save ballgames, something Hoffman has done better than any other pitcher in history.

We’re not talking ancient history, either. Hoffman was terrific for the Brewers last season. There was no reason to assume in the opening weeks of this one he was washed up.

Another major problem for the Brewers were performances from their starting pitchers, ranging from inconsistent to dismal.

That has led to even dumber bloviation in the media and the stands to fire General Manager Doug Melvin, the man responsible for assembling the team’s players.

It’s true Melvin wasn’t as successful as he wanted to be in strengthening the pitching staff after poor pitching doomed the Brewers a year ago.

Of two new starters, Randy Wolf may yet prove to be solid, but, even before he was injured, Doug Davis, the human rain delay, was excruciating to watch as he imitated one of those street performers who paint themselves silver and move so slowly they cannot be detected by the human eye.

Melvin also has been regularly pilloried the last couple of years for the four-year, $42 million deal to pitcher Jeff Suppan. In the last year of that contract, Suppan no longer can be relied upon to start or to pitch in games where the Brewers have any chance.

But it was owner Attanasio himself who personally wooed Suppan with that contract after Suppan was voted the most valuable player in the National League Championship Series for the 2006 World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals.

The “Fire Melvin” half-a-rump group seems totally oblivious to the general manager’s extraordinary success in assembling such a talented team in Milwaukee that everybody is disappointed the Brewers are not competing for the division lead in the first six weeks of the season.

Just the latest example of Melvin striking gold overlooked by other teams has been the development of third baseman Casey McGehee into one of the top run producers in baseball.

McGehee is on track to join teammates Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun at the All-Star Game this year. Any other team would kill to have those three in the middle of its line-up.

Winning Is Contagious, Too

So if the Brewers are so great, why are they so bad?

That’s the tricky part. The pitching has been horribly inconsistent. Then, sometimes, when the pitching comes through, the offense, which has shown it can score 17 or 20 runs a game, has difficulty scratching out 1 or 2.

The simplest explanation for the Brewers’ season-worst 9-game losing streak is that in baseball losing is contagious. When nothing is going right, everybody presses harder and even more goes wrong.

Fortunately, in baseball winning is contagious, too. When a team expects to win, it is more likely to.

And with the Brewers in need of pitching, suddenly young pitching prospects are multiplying like tribbles. The Brewers already have added three impressive, young stars from their Triple-A club—Marco Estrada, John Axford and Zach Braddock.

There’s the possibility of another great pitching story still to come from Nashville. Chris Capuano, the 2006 Brewers All-Star coming back from his second Tommy John arm reconstruction, has been putting up great numbers.

Earlier this season, Melvin was being criticized for assembling great offensive players throughout the system, but failing to produce many pitching prospects. Wrong again.

Despite what you’ve been hearing, the Brewers still have three-quarters of the season yet to play. And neither the St. Louis Cardinals nor the Cincinnati Reds are exactly running away with the central division.

If the Brewers’ rich talent can start producing consistently, Macha and Melvin can stop looking over their shoulders. Then the other teams in the division can start looking over theirs.

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