A Clutch Hit, Anyone?

on 07/18/2001

Is Geoff Jenkins's injury still nagging him?

Im really starting to feel sorry for the pitching staff of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The group that has an ERA easily in the top five in the NL and statistically one of the best bullpens in the majors continues to have their work wasted by an inept offense that seems to think the goal of baseball is to strike out as much as possible.

If there is one thing that this Brewers offense has yet to grasp, it is this: clutch hits late in ball games produce wins.

Through Tuesday, the Brewers are now an embarrasing 3-16 in one run games. And while different things have factored into that horrendous mark, there is one constant in virtually every one of the Brewers one-run defeats: the team blew more than one golden opportunity to score, and most often that opportunity came after the seventh inning.

Lets look at what is supposed to be our best player and hitter, Jeromy Burnitz. Our $10 million man is hitting a blazing .188 (9 for 48) in close and late situations. On top of that, after the 7th inning, Burnitz appears to forget that there are two more innings to be played, as emphasized by his .170 mark (17-100) in at-bats after the 7th. In those 100 ABs, Burnitz has whiffed 32 times. But he is certainly not alone.

Yes, injuries have plagued Geoff Jenkins this season. But Jenkins insists he can play through the pain. If that is the case, Jenkins is hurt a lot worse than we all think. The man who hits in the most important spot in the lineup, the third spot, is a dismal .154 (6 of 39) in close and late situations. Just like the guy hitting two spots under him, Jenkins sports a less than appealing .231 mark (18 of 78) after the seventh inning.

In fact, other than Richie Sexson, who despite his record-setting strikeout pace is still producing some sort of runs for the team, you can go right down the lineup that was vaunted as dangerous in April, only to be the laughing stock of the league in July. In close and late situations, Mark Loretta is a paltry 5 for 28 (.179). Devon White is 8 for 40 (.200) with 14 strikeouts.

And for those who think Raul Casanovas offensive production is really that superior to Henry Blanco, read this: Blanco has a higher batting average than Casanova in close and late situations (.182 for Blanco to .138 for Casanova) AND in batting with runners in scoring position and two outs (.174 for Blanco to .095 for Casanova). In fact, Casanova has just TWO hits in 21 at-bats in that category. Raul may have better overall numbers than Henry, but like most of his teammates, he doesnt get it done when it counts. Among the other gaudy numbers being put up in the scoring postion with two outs category include Jenkins (.217), Loretta (.219), Belliard (.211) and Jose Hernandez (.200).

To make matters worse, the 3-4-5 lineup combination of Jenkins, Burnitz and Sexson are in the bottom 1/4 of the league in terms of batting average and overall offensive production compared with other 3-4-5 hitters. If these guys cant provide offense and drive in runs, how can you expect anyone else to do so?

Until the Brewers realize the importance of getting quality at-bats and a few base hits late in games, this team will never come close to contending. The Brewers pitchers have no chance of succeeding if they go out to the mound with the mindset of having to throw a near-perfect game just to keep the team in the game. Trying to be too perfect or too cute on the mound results in a lot of runs and hits for the other team.

Some have blamed Davey Lopes for the recent slide by the Brewers. Others have blamed Rod Carew. But I dont think the likes of Casey Stengel or Tug McGraw could have possibly won many more games than Lopes has with an offense as dreadful as this one. A managers job is to put the team in the best possible situation to win. For the most part this year, Lopes has done that. But the players have yet to hold up their end of the bargain.