Did Aramis Ramirez and the Bucs send the Crew into a tailspin?
One can only look and wonder what went wrong.
After a three-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Brewers were four and a half games back of the division leaders, and in striking distance.
Since that sweep, they are 5-15, and have been swept twice. What happened?
The first thing anyone can point to is injuries. Since the start of the season, Jeff D'Amico, Paul Rigdon, Geoff Jenkins, Jeffrey Hammonds, Mark Loretta, Jamey Wright, Tyler Houston, and Valerio de los Santos have spent time on the disabled list or are currently on there. All of these guys were slated for the opening day roster. Mark Leiter, acquired in a trade that sent Juan Acevedo to the Rockies, is also on the list. Plus, Jeromy Burnitz has been having some injury problems of his own.
That in and of itself should not be enough to sink a team. During the Tom Trebelhorn era (1987-1991), the Brewers dealt with injury, too. Yet this team managed to have a record of .500 or better in every year but one (1990), despite losing players like Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Ted Higuera, and Jim Gantner for extended periods of time due to injury.
So injuries are not necessarily the kiss of death, although after this year, I would hope that the training staff is completely overhauled. So while this is a cause, it is a minor one.
The next item people point to has been the fact that the Brewers don't seem to be able to put superb offense and defense together. Well, the case can be made that it is a problem. One day the pitching is in good shape, but the bats don't come alive. The next day, the offense scores some runs, but the starting pitcher is rocked early on, and the better offense doesn't mean much.
First of all, you have to work with what you have. Wishing that Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson was in a Brewers uniform will not make it so. Right now, the Brewers need to figure out how to win with what we have.
What do the Brewers have, you ask? Well, for starters, we have a number of good power hitters. Jenkins, Sexson, Burnitz, and Hernandez all have 15 or more homers. Two other players, Raul Casanova and Tyler Houston, would also be in this range if they had more playing time (I will discuss this in greater detail later).
The other everyday players, Hammonds and Loretta, have done well at the leadoff and number two slots - when they've played. All in all, when healthy, the Brewers have had a good everyday lineup of position players.
The Brewers also have (at present) two starters who are much more likely than not to keep them in the game in Ben Sheets and Jamey Wright. Behind them, the mix has included Jimmy Haynes, Allen Levrault, Kyle Peterson, Mac Suzuki, and Mark Leiter. Some have done better than others. Levrault and Haynes have had roller-coasters, Leiter did okay until he went on the DL, and Peterson and Suzuki have barely gotten by. A healthy Jeff D'Amico and Paul Rigdon would make things much better here.
The Brewers also have one of the best bullpens in the majors. Leskanic, Weathers, Fox, King, DeJean, and Cunnane will not blow many leads. Leskanic is not too far off the mark when he compares this bullpen to the "Nasty Boys" that the Cincinatti Reds fielded in the early 1990s. Keep in mind that this pen is still dealing with Valerio de los Santos and Mark Leiter on the disabled list.
The biggest weakness is the bench. After Devon White and Angel Echevarria, there isn't much. Henry Blanco has a good glove, but can't hit. The same goes for Luis Lopez. James Mouton's a decent contact hitter with some speed. Then, there is Ron Belliard, who is starting as of today (July 17) due to Tyler Houston's injury, having lost the second base job to Loretta.
The thing is, this team's got plenty of good players, especially when everyone is healthy. So the parts are there, but they have not meshed yet.
Some people are blaming certain players in the third theory. Go to MLB.com, and the posters there will give you the folks who are on their bad list. I will admit to being less than enthusiastic about some of the players currently on the roster. I also will say up front that I think criticism of some other players, particularly Burnitz and Hernandez, is unjustified.
I could go on about this matter, but I'll save that for a future article. I will point out that Hammonds was trying to play with a sore shoulder for over a month before going on the DL, and that Burnitz has played through injuries of his own, and still leads the team in walks (with 51), and is second in homers.
Some folks are blaming hitting coach Rod Carew for the offensive inconsistency. Yes, Hernandez and Sexson are both striking out at a prodigious rate, with Burnitz not too far behind. But people who slam Carew's ability as a hitting coach neglect to mention the fact that under his watch, Tyler Houston and Raul Casanova have blossomed offensively as well.
So, Carew's results have been mixed. Sexson and Hernandez strike out a lot, yes. But both have pretty good power numbers, too (slugging percentages of around the .485 mark). The fact is that power hitters will strike out. Reggie Jackson (563 home runs, 6th all-time) is one of the better power hitters to have ever played baseball, and he is the all-time leader in strikeouts. Willie Stargell (475 homers) and Mike Schmidt (548) also were great power hitters. All three are in the Hall of Fame, in fact. And these three rank 1-2-3 on the all-time strikeout list. In other words, Carew should not be blamed for something that comes with the territory of any given power hitter.
Finally, some folks are blaming Davey Lopes for the Brewers' problems. Now, here, I think people may be on to something. Davey's made several choices that have left my head shaking this year. For example, telling Raul Casanova to lay down a sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out, with the pitcher due up behind Casanova. Right now, Casanova's OPS is right up there with the ones posted by Jenkins, Sexson, and Burnitz (all in the .845 range), he's hit over .300 with runners in scoring position, and he's hitting homers at roughly the same pace as our other sluggers (Jenkins, Sexson, Burnitz, and Hernandez). Am I the only one who's a little confused about Davey's thought process on this call? It seems to me, with a hitter like Casanova batting ahead of the pitcher, one ought to have him swing away.
Then, to make a debatable call worse, Davey then publicly slams Casanova for missing the sac bunt. Don't get me wrong, the fundamentals are important. But one must wonder why the call was made in the face of the numbers that Casanova's put up to date.
And those offensive numbers lead to another beef with Davey, Casanova's usually batting in the 8th slot of the lineup. Why not move this good bat with runners in scoring position to the sixth slot or higher? And why is he still splitting time with Henry Blanco, as opposed to playing as often as possible?
Sitting a guy who is hitting around .290 with an OPS close to that of the big name-sluggers on the team and who is hitting over .300 with runners in scoring position is hard for this fan to understand. Yes, Blanco has superb defense, but he cannot seem to get much higher than the Mendoza line, and right now, Casanova'a fielding percentage is about as good as Blanco's. Look at my earlier article (of June 28 of this year) for where Raul compares with some of the better offensive catchers this year. Incidentally, the catchers who I have compared Raul's offensive numbers to (Mike Piazza, Charles Johnson, Jorge Posada, and Ivan Rodriguez) were all in the All-Star Game. Raul's been on pace to be in that select company this year. And this is considering the fact that he hit .143 in April (3-for-21). What does Raul have to do for Davey Lopes to finally make him the starting catcher, and keep Blanco on the bench, except to give Raul a night off? With the problems we have had winning one-run games, keeping an offensive force like Raul Casanova on the bench half the time (or more) is not an option in my book.
Next, we come to what I think really put us on the skids. The second game of the Pittsburgh sweep at PNC Park - right after we took three straight from the Cubs in Wrigley. After back-to-back homers by Tyler Houston and Devon White, Ray King pitches the bottom of the 11th, and gives up a single to Brian Giles. Aramis Ramirez is on deck, and has been red-hot.
Now, the bullpen was depleted, but would it really be too much to bring in someone else to face Ramirez? Granted, Chad Fox was absent, and Will Cunnane is not the type of guy you'd thrust into that sort of situation, but there were some starters who could have faced one batter. But why did he bring Leskanic in to pitch the 9th and 10th innings when it is reasonable to assume that in an extra-inning game, you're likely to have a save situation if you pull ahead?
These are two games that could have been won during this stretch. The one at PNC Park might have averted the slide. The recent game could have helped the Brewers rebound from a rough series against the Minnesota Twins.
Either way, we lost, we're now 5 games below .500 after this 5-15 streak. Prior to that, we were five games above .500. It's not impossible for an injury-ridden team to pull out a decent season. Tom Trebelhorn managed to do just that for four out of his five years as manager of this team, and he arguably had less talent than Davey has now.
If Davey cannot manage to do that, then It's time for him to go.