There may be a lot going on these days around sports, like the NBA Finals (go Mavs), NHL Finals (go Canucks), the NFL lockout (yawn), the College World Series (eh) and the baseball season starting to get in full swing, but for us here in Wisconsin, there isn't too much to cover. Basically, it's the Brewers and more Brewers, leaving me with little to choose from when it comes to Wisconsin sports - the focus of this blog. I don't mind. I love the Brewers and baseball has always been my favorite sport, but some of you may be interested in other topics, although I feel as though I've done a good job of mixing up what I talk about when it comes to the Brew Crew. If you would like to hear me babble about something else, feel free to leave a comment after you're done reading this post. I'll also do my best to brainstorm. For now, baseball is what's happening for people around Wisconsin and thankfully the Brewers are winning, making them fun to write about. Tonight, I'd like to go a different route and look at different places the Brewers should begin to look if they want to bolster their squad for the stretch run as players in the farm system begin to make their case for a call-up and as the trade deadline nears.
The Brewers are in a nice place right now at this point of the season. The days of panic are behind us and the Crew is only a half game out of first place coming into play on Sunday. This doesn't mean it's time to relax; it's time for the Brewers to look for the areas that need improvement. With the Brewers doing so well lately, nothing should be extremely tampered with...only slightly. However, now that the baseball season is nearly two and a half months old, it's time to stop waiting on certain players to hit their stride. It might sound harsh, but you can't wait this long for professional baseball players to remember how to hit a ball or find the strike zone. Having said that, it's time to pinpoint the players that can expect to see less playing time and see where the Brewers should look, whether it be in their system or across the league, for help.
*DISCLAMER* I hope that the four players on this unfortunate list all begin to figure it out more than anyone, but for the sake of argument and to be fair to other Brewer fans who have the same concerns as me, here it goes.
REPLACE: Yuniesky Betancourt
Coming into the season, I knew that Betancourt would be a downgrade from Alcides Escobar in the field, but I thought he would at least hold his own at the plate. Yuni B is 0/2...8 errors, just 3 HRs and a .230/.256/.340 just doesn't cut it for me, although Escobar has arguably been worse if you can believe it. He is the origin for my former fantasy baseball team name "I'm Betan Our Defense Sucks," which wasn't holding true for awhile, but thanks in part to Yuni B, the team defense of the Brewers has dropped into 15th in the Majors (9th in the NL).
REPLACE WITH: Josh Wilson & Craig Counsell
There isn't anything in the minor leagues, so the Brewers need to look elsewhere on their roster. In my mind, there shouldn't be any more of a demotion than to a platoon for Betancourt since there really isn't anything better available, and it appears that a platoon is already in the works. Counsell has started the last two games at shortstop and Wilson is hitting over .300 with 2 HRs ALREADY after being claimed off waivers from Arizona in almost strictly a pinch-hitting role. Also, they are much more reliable in the field compared to Yuni. Betancourt is likely a free agent after the season is over (team option for $6 million), so the Brewers shouldn't bother to look around the league during the season.
REPLACE: Casey McGehee
I'm hesitant to say this because of how crucial McGehee has been to the Brewers offense over the past two-plus seasons, but it just hasn't been working for the Brewers' third baseman. McGehee is sporting a sub-.230 average with just 4 HRs and has 11 ERRORS! Youch. Can you imagine what kind of season Prince would be having if he had any kind of protection? Ok. I can maybe understand if Casey remains playing almost everyday at third, but it's a no-brainer to throw Corey Hart in the five hole so that pitchers feel at least a little compelled to throw to Fielder. McGehee certainly doesn't have King's back so far.
REPLACE WITH: Wilson, Counsell, Taylor Green (AAA)
Like I mentioned before, Wilson and Counsell should be no more than platoon guys and can help give McGehee some more time off, but this Green guy is intriguing. A 25th round pick in the 2005 draft, Green has hit .299 with 8 HR and 32 RBI between AA Huntsville and AAA Nashville. He has slowly progressed through the minors, but the guy is only 24 and in my mind the next in line should the Brewers not look out of their system for another third baseman after McGehee's time ends in Milwaukee (McGehee is arbitration eligible after '11). This is especially true with Mat Gamel being groomed as the first baseman in-waiting after Prince leaves town, even though there has been some grumbling from fans about Gamel coming up to play third...I hope not. DO NOT touch Gamel. Please.
REPLACE: Kameron Loe
Now I'm not saying replace Loe completely; just in the setup role. Other guys have proved that they are much more deserving than Loe for the job, most notably LaTroy Hawkins and Marco Estrada. Loe's numbers up to this point are a 5.28 ERA and a 2-5 record in 34 appearances (most on the club...why?). Sound like setup numbers to you? To even further my case, Loe has proven that he is basically just a righty specialist because of his tailing sinker. Lefty hitters have had their way with Loe, so I think it's safe to say that he should be demoted to a specialist role like Stetter with lefties. Oh yeah, and he's a free agent after the year is up. C'mon, it's your contract year!
REPLACE WITH: LaTroy Hawkins
It's hard to argue with this selection. Estrada has been good as well and can pitch to both righties and lefties, but he also has his share of blown leads and poor performances. Braddock, in my mind, deserves to be the seventh inning guy even as he is coming off of injury, but that role has been undefined all season. Hawkins has a minuscule .059 ERA. I can see how Roenicke may be cautious in using Hawkins since he's coming off injury, but he's proven to have his velocity back and be able to get the job done all season, unlike Loe. You can only give guys in the bullpen so many chances to keep their spot. Even Trevor Hoffman got the boot and now look what the Brewers have at closer.
REPLACE: Wil Nieves
This may be minor compared to the first three guys on this list, but Nieves sees the field once every five starting pitchers and that's only because Randy Wolf doesn't like the way Jonathan Lucroy calls a game. Nieves is hitting a dismal .146 in 19 games, but to his defense it's difficult to get in a rhythm when playing so infrequently (just 16 games all year). Still, there has to be a guy put in his place that is used to this situation who can at least hit at a respectable average, especially if Lucroy goes down with an injury.
REPLACE WITH: Mike Rivera
I've always like Rivera and was kind of excited when I saw that he was back with the team a few weeks ago after spending last season in the Yankees' system. Rivera was always a guy that I thought deserved more playing time and he doesn't deserve the fate the Brewers are giving him. He would certainly be my option to back up Lucroy in the big leagues and undoubtedly the guy I'd call up to be the main guy if Lucroy for some reason wasn't the guy at catcher anymore.
AAA - 1B - Mat Gamel*
AAA - OF - Caleb Gindl
AAA - P - Mark Rogers*
AAA - P Amaury Rivas
AAA - 2B - Eric Farris
AA - P - Wily Peralta
AA - P - Cody Scarpetta
A - SS - Scooter Gennett*
A - P - Kyle Heckathorn
A - P - Jimmy Nelson
A - P - Tyler Thornburg*
* = guys I'm legitimately jacked up for
During the course of this entry, the Brewers once again defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by the score of 5-3. Zack Greinke improved to 6-1 and the Ax Factor shut down the birds in the 9th to record his 17th save. Milwaukee is now 37-28, which is good enough for the 4th best record in the big leagues. Amazing to see how quickly this team has turned it around since getting off to such a slow start, but when guys like Prince and Brauny are hitting like they are with solid starting pitching and a shut-down closer, this should be happening. The Brewers are one victory away from claiming first place in the Central Division. Feels good to type that out on the screen...let's just hope it becomes the norm.