Current Record- 80-76, Third Place- NL Central
Single- The Brewers began the week facing two very critical road series against divisional opponents. Series victories against the Cardinals and the Pirates would have kept the Brewers in the playoff hunt going into the final week of the season. Unfortunately, after winning just one of three in each series, the Brewers will begin this week 4.5 games behind Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot with just six games remaining to play, all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. It has been a collapse of epic proportions that truly leaves me at a loss for words. The past 30 games have featured 21 losses that have tested even the most loyal fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, myself included. The poor play on the field has been supplemented with unlucky breaks, mind-numbing mental mistakes (discussed below), and an overall lack of anything resembling toughness from a team that was in first place for almost 84% of the season. Over the next two weeks, and in my season recap series, I will make an attempt to pick up the pieces and identify the key factors that allowed this team of pretenders to play contender for so long. Rest assured, it will be a long time before the word “playoffs” comes out of my mouth before the month of September.
Double- I will not pin this team’s collapse on any one single play made by a single player, but Thursday night’s mental lapse by Mark Reynolds provides me with a nice platform to discuss a much larger mistake made by Doug Melvin last winter. With one out in a pivotal rubber game against the Cardinals, the Brewers were clinging to a 2-0 lead with a Cardinals runner on first base. The baseball Gods delivered a double play ball served up to Mark Reynolds on a silver platter, but Reynolds lost track of how many outs there were, stepping on first base for what he believed to be the final out of the inning. It wasn’t- and the Cardinals proceeded to plate two runs with their extra out, tying the game they would eventually win in extra innings. To pick on Reynold’s defense this season would be unfair, as he and Overbay were a heavy improvement on last year’s disaster of a tandem in Juan Francisco and Yuniesky Betancourt. In my opinion, the bigger issue is that the Brewers were so comfortable with folding at first base from an offensive standpoint before the season ever began. Reynolds was a 30-year old utility man who had not batted above .240 since 2009. Lyle Overbay was 37-years old and was fresh off two disappointing campaigns in New York and Atlanta. Rarely if ever do players surprise and have breakout seasons over the age of 30. The Brewers settled, accepting that they would once again struggle to get offensive production from their first basemen, and the resulting lack of hitting from Reynolds and Overbay created a gaping hole in the bottom of the lineup that ended up costing the Brewers all season long. Many, myself included, would have loved to see Ryan Braun make the move to first base, allowing the Brewers to hold on to Nori Aoki, whose OBP of .349 sits 62 points above Reynold’s .287. The 1B position will almost certainly be the issue that the Brewers front office will get the most heat for this offseason, and I expect they will be under immense pressure to resolve it before next April.
Triple- The four Brewers losses this week can be pinned entirely on the lack of production from the Brewers bats, who averaged just 1.33 runs per game. No single player can be blamed, as nearly every player in the lineup had an opportunity with runners in scoring position as the Brewers stranded 52 base runners across six games. When the Brewers needed them the most, their veteran players were unable to convert. One of the toughest things to watch this week was the erratic performance of Carlos Gomez, whose 3-21 appearences at the plate were highlighted by his worst at bat of the year with the bases loaded Thursday evening, at bat during which Gomez didn’t even resemble a major league baseball player. Gomez topped off his horrible week by committing an indefensible baserunning error this afternoon in the ninth inning with the Brewers down 1-0. Ron Roenicke was quoted earlier in the year stating “we have to let Go-Go be Go-Go”, referring to his high energy/ high risk style of play. I have to disagree. Gomez can be as free swinging as he wants to be when he’s leading off in the first inning, but when the game is on the line, Gomez has to be in control of his emotions, and that starts with his manager. Let’s not forget, it was Gomez who was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple during the first Brewers at bat of the year on Opening Day. I love Go-Go’s energy, and I am thrilled that he will remain a Brewer for the next couple of years, but I adamently believe he must focus this offseason on becoming a veteran leader and minimizing his mental mistakes; a task that will certainly be given to his manager, which leads me to my final point….
Home Run- I have always been a big Ron Roenicke fan, but at this point I would be surprised if he was the Brewers manager on Opening Day next year. This is not to say that I pin the Brewers collapse on the manager alone- because I don’t. Some of the game changing mental mistakes that the Crew has made over the past month can not possibly be pinned on the manager. Ron Roenicke will never be a coach who throws Gatorade jugs and screams at his team in the dugout to try to ignite a spark; his patience and composure are what define his managerial style. Fans will be quick to blame the downfall of this team on the lack of a fearless leader, but those same fans are the one’s who refuse to comment on the managerial brilliance displayed during this week’s Cardinal series in which Roenicke was able to navigate his bullpen inning after inning to give his team extra chances to win the game at the plate. When you have 162 games to play, the manager is going to make decisions that flat out don’t work, and that’s when the boo birds come out to chirp and call for Roenicke’s head. Make no mistake, though: the Brewers blew this season because their baseball players, not their coaches. If anything, i believe Roenicke kept this team relevant longer than they deserved to be. At this end of the day, however, the Brewers will be called upon by the fans to make sure such an epic collapse never happens again, and the manager is always the scapegoat. As a Ron Roenicke fan, I would be sad to see such a capable skipper let go; as a Brewers fan, however, I believe that this team has some serious soul searching to do after the most disappointing finish to a season in franchise history, and a managerial shakeup could be the culture change this team needs to turn it around next year.