I will admit I said I'd be happy if the Brewers were only a game or two out of first place once they got done with the West Coast circus known as their 11-game road trip. Today, I have different feelings. Sure, the Brewers were somehow still tied for first place once they returned to Milwaukee (they are now 1/2 game behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis after play on Monday), but then something hit me...this team is better than 54-49. At least five or six games better than 54-49. And while Ron Roenicke bringing an aggressive-minded style to Milwaukee has been exciting at times, it's been just as frustrating if not more. Oh yeah. Don't forget about the defense, either.
Let's get one thing straight: this isn't the brightest Major League Baseball team to ever assemble. I won't name names, but over the course of this post you'll probably be able to pick up on a few of the guys that have been responsible for the Brewers underachieving thus far in 2011. The game on Sunday against the San Fran Giants is a prime example of how to throw away a ballgame, and it's definitely not the only game the Brewers have let slip down the drain this season. Sunday's game started off on a good note, just as many games have this season. This time, it was Ryan Braun continuing his home run tear by bopping one out in the top of the 1st off of starter Madison Bumgarner (no, I didn't make that name up). And just like so many times this season, the Crew seemed content with the offensive output they contributed early in the game. It seems as though pitchers make adjustments against our hitters as the game goes along when it's supposed to be the other way around. Hitting coach Dale Sveum preps his hitters well for what they'll see from an opposing pitcher, but then seemingly doesn't give tips on how to approach the same pitcher or other pitchers later on. Perhaps it's just a recent trend, but I've seen it multiple times this year...the Brewers jump out early, maybe even score five or six, and then get a little too comfortable. That happened on Sunday. Braun went deep...and that was that.
The sad thing is that might have been enough for a victory had the Crew not resorted to bonehead baseball. In the top of the second, Milwaukee got their lead-off man on in Yuni B and then up stepped Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy flew out to center...and Betancourt got doubled off. Huh? In the bottom of the third, the Giants tied it up thanks to a double by the pitcher...it happens, I guess. Here's the thing, though...Gallardo also doubled in the third, got to third base with one out after a sacrifice...and was stranded. And then there was the bottom of the fourth, where third baseman Josh Wilson decided that it wasn't necessary to wear sunglasses on a bright afternoon day in California and watched a pop-up land two feet to his left to lead off the half inning. Thankfully, this mistake didn't end up costing the Brewers or end up resulting in the go ahead and game winning run and...wait...it did? Shucks.
On Satuday, the Brewers also made two crucial errors on the basepaths, including an awful call on Rickie Weeks at home plate that cost Milwaukee a run and an extension to their lead. Still, mistakes are being made on the bases in addition to the field. Today, I heard an alarming and yet unsurprising stat - the Brewers lead all of baseball in outs on the bases with 54. Here's the kicker...that doesn't even include caught stealing. Ouch. Normally, the players who are getting thrown out are the ones with the most speed, like Nyjer Morgan and Rickie Weeks, but rarely do we see people like the recently injured Carlos Gomez or stolen base leader Ryan Braun make an out on the bases. It partly comes back to Roenicke's insistence on being aggressive. I apologize if I've said this before to you in person or on the blog, but there is a distinct difference between aggressive baserunning and stupid baserunning, and there has been a lot of the latter going on this season. Do you realize how many games stupid baserunning has cost this team? At least a couple. AT LEAST. Tack on the joke of a defense the Brewers run out behind their starting pitchers each and every game and we're talking about another couple games. I hope you're starting to realize the sneaky value that Go-Go had on Milwaukee. Even in the games where Gomez entered in the eighth inning or later, he had an affect with his glove and his feet. Even with his limited playing time as the season wore on, Gomez is second on the team in SBs.
Now let's be real...we knew coming into this season that the Brewers were willing to take some hits on defense in order to improve their pitching and keep their dangerous offense intact - when Alcides Escobar was essentially swapped for Yuni B is the most telling evidence - but the idiotic baserunning blunders are something that can be avoided...especially when people like Braun, King and Weeks are at the plate or due up. There are ways to avoid these mistakes and it's knowing when to take calculated risks. By now, players should be smart enough to know when it's time to take off or hold and hopefully RR has realized by now that being "aggressive" on the bases can easily be and has been taken out of context this season. We've seen Roenicke go through his fair share of growing pains as a first year manager, but we've also been treated to more exciting baseball and RR has also bounced back from his mistakes to pull a rabbit out of his hat every once in awhile. I've been fine with Roenicke this season for the most part and think that it's unfortunate that he couldn't have had more time to work with these players seeing as how this is a do-or-die season for the Brewers.
In the end, it comes down to this: the two biggest problems this season for the Milwaukee Brewers have been defense and baserunning, with a sprinkle of un-clutch hitting and poor middle relief. One of the major issues can be fixed internally. One cannot (the funny thing is, the Brewers are actually the second best fielding team in the division despite being 23rd in the league in regards to errors. The only team above Milwaukee? Cincy...in 6th. That's why they aren't going away easily). If the Brewers want to make a move to shore up their bench, replace the struggling Casey McGehee, get better defensively or all of the above, that would be fan-flipping-tastic. But I think defense should be the number one priority as Milwaukee nears the July 31 trade deadline (then McGehee...then bench). They've already dealt for a solid arm in the pen and now it's time to trade once again. If they don't, a few things could happen. This team could get by with what they have now and sneak into the playoffs, not get by with what they have and flounder down the stretch, pick up a player off waivers once the trade deadline passes or search from within their farm system for what they need. It was nice to see the Brewers play better than usual on the road (5-6 on the recent road trip) despite some tough losses, and if they can continue to sure up their play away from home while maintaining their dominance at Miller Park, a move isn't necessarily necessary.
But it would be nice.