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Three Big Reasons the Brewers Lineup Needs a Major Change

by Tim Muma                                                     8/31/2014

The Milwaukee Brewers' offense has found itself in another funk, having scored four runs or fewer in seven of the last eight games. In six of those contests they've scored three times or less, including the last four times out.

Tom Lynn - Associated Press
A change back to a previous batting order could be the elixir this team needs to jump start an often-frustrating offense and get hot in the season's final month.

While many scoff at the idea that a batting order does much to change the offense, I still argue it matters more than one thinks due to the mindset of the hitters, as well as the importance of optimizing their unique skills.

There are three big reasons manager Ron Roenicke needs to adjust the top of his lineup and ensure every game features the 2-3-4 hitters of Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez - in that order.

Milwaukee's decline in offensive output has been gradual, but consistent over the previous 45 games. One factor in their drop was moving Gomez into the leadoff spot again and putting Braun back to third. Let's examine the various numbers involved with the top of the lineup and the impact on runs scored.

1) The 2-3-4 of Braun, Lucroy and Gomez Creates More Runs

For 33 games from May 25th to July 8th, the Brewers had Braun, Lucroy and Gomez hitting in the two through four spots in the lineup, finding consistent success during that time. Despite the leadoff hitters and number five guys changing, this core trio did the heavy lifting.

With the three holding those spots, the offense averaged 5.1 runs per game. Since July 9th, when Roenicke rearranged the lineup, Milwaukee has tallied just 3.9 runs a contest.

This season when the Brewers score five or six runs in a game, they're 27-12. When scoring three or four runs, they're 20-16.

Finally, during that 33-game stretch of quality lineup construction, the players enjoyed their roles as evidenced by their slash lines (Average/OBP/Slugging/OPS):

Lucroy - .329/.396/.564/.960
Gomez - .309/.360/.457/.817
Braun - .294/.355/.503/.858

2) Gomez "Sexy" as Cleanup Hitter - Not a Fan of Leadoff

On May 23rd, Roenicke moved Gomez down in the lineup, batting him cleanup with Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun out due to injury. He responded with a 4-for-5 day with three doubles, two runs and two RBI. From that date until July 8th - the last time he hit fourth - Gomez had a .309 average, .360 OBP, .457 slugging and an .817 OPS.

Since that time, when Roenicke placed him back into the leadoff spot, Gomez has a slash line of .240/.309/.423/.732 in 44 games. Clearly something has changed for him. Aside from the fact his approach is far from ideal as a leadoff man, there could be another mental component: He doesn't want to hit leadoff.

Following the first time he hit cleanup, Gomez said, "When you go to the plate (batting fourth), it's a sexy feeling. I've been doing the leadoff job, but for the future I don't want to be's my goal to hit third or fourth."

3) Scooter Gennett Thriving in the Leadoff Role

Whereas as Gomez isn't a fan of the top spot, Gennett seems to enjoy it thoroughly. Granted it's a small sample size, but Gennett owns some terrific numbers in his 21 career contests hitting leadoff. He owns a .363 average, .389 OBP, .538 slugging and a .928 OPS.

Though he doesn't take a bunch of walks or work the count too much, Gennett's goal is to find a way on base. He often goes the other way, shortens his swing with a pair of strikes, and focuses on putting the ball in play. Gennett's strikeout rate is about 10% lower than Gomez's, something I'd prefer from my first hitter.

Ross D. Franklin - Associated Press
These three reasons above are more than enough for me to demand a change. Even if you don't believe in the order of hitters making a big difference, what does it hurt?

Roenicke basically put Braun and Ramirez back in the three and four holes because that's where they "should" hit. Sound logic.

Nice to know he ignored the offense's actual output and opted for a "gut" type choice.

He also likes Gomez leading off a game because it's a threat to the pitcher. Well, it really hasn't been. When Gomez leads off the game this season, he's batting .217 with a .299 OBP. Those numbers aren't worth the five leadoff home runs he has.

A regular one through five of Gennett, Braun, Lucroy, Gomez and Ramirez may not solve all the club's struggles or inconsistencies, but there's a solid amount of evidence it could be the best option for the Brewers to succeed.

For Better or Worse, the Brewers Are Married to K-Rod as Their Closer

by Tim Muma                                                    8/29/2014                                                                                                          2:30pm

He wasn't handed the moniker of "30 pitches of Hell" without good reason, so no one should be surprised how often Francisco Rodriguez skates on the sharpest of edges, and falls more than the fans will ever accept.

At this same, K-Rod's 9th-inning dancing normally results in a personal save and a team victory - and he's the best option available right now - so hang on tight for the final month. The Milwaukee Brewers and MLB's 11th-most prolific saves artist are married this season, till death or eternal bliss tears them apart.

We could take time to discuss the arbitrary nature of the save the rules governing this stat, or the idea that playing matchups would be better, but that is for a different time.

AP Photo/Associated Press
Manager Ron Roenicke adheres to the modern idea of the closer, trusts K-Rod as a veteran who has been down this road, and recognizes he has no other options he trusts.

Will Smith has had plenty of struggles and it getting destroyed by righties. Jeremy Jeffress has the look and velocity of a true closer, but with only 67 innings of Major League experience, it's unlikely he's thrown into the fire in a division title hunt.

So again, like it or not, it's Frankie's world and we can all hope he's more the April version (0.00 ERA, 0.688 WHIP) than the July one (6.48 ERA, 1.320 WHIP).

Unfortunately, Wednesday's game was snatched from the satisfying jaws of victory after K-Rod coughed up a lead-off home run in the 9th to tie it up at two. San Diego would tally another run one frame later, giving Milwaukee one of their toughest - and ugliest - defeats of the season.

Not coincidentally, that's been Rodriguez's Achilles' heel after his tremendous April; he can't stop giving up the gopher ball. With 29 games to play, Rodriguez has tied his career high for home runs in a season with 12. The only other time he allowed more than nine in one year was back in 2003, his first full season in the big leagues at age 21.

The good news is, his 2.1 walks per nine innings is well below his career average (3.7) while he's giving up the same amount of hits he has throughout his career in racking up 343 saves.

In fairness, K-Rod's 39 saves is tied for the league lead (as of Friday morning), he owns an ERA of exactly 3.00, and he's striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings, which would be good for 5th in MLB if he qualified with enough innings pitched.

He opened the year with 19 consecutive scoreless frames and held opponents to a .127 average in racking up 15 saves in as many chances. The day after his 15th save, K-Rod blew his first lead on a 2-out, full count home run to Mark Teixeira.
Christian Petersen/Getty
Though the Brewers would win the game in the bottom half, that outing was a harbinger of Rodriguez's future. From May 11th to August 24th, K-Rod's ERA sat at 4.28 as batters posted a .747 OPS.

The key is command, both with his fastball and the changeup, as he can no longer get away with missing spots - especially with less velocity on his heater than in his prime. Falling behind hitters like he did in San Diego (yes, I'm aware the strike zone was awful) is a recipe for disaster.

With every game having such heightened importance, Rodriguez will be under a great amount of scrutiny - as every closer is, because they're the only player on the field expected to be perfect. 

However, as long as he continues to put up the same punch out figures while holding his walks down, he will remain at a respectable save percentage around 90%. You just need to hope the one out of 10 he blows, the Brewers have the chance to reclaim the lead or it's in a meaningless game at the end of September.

My suggestion, root for him with unabashed passion because he will be the one with the game on the line. Feel free to grab a few adult beverages heading into the 9th to help quell some of the nerves and hang onto someone you love.

For better or worse, K-Rod is the groom, the Brewers are the bride, and we're all on a plane with the hopes of landing in paradise instead of Idaho.

*Author's note: No offense to anyone who actually lives in Idaho. It's simply not a place people would ever go to for their honeymoon.

Brewers Fans: Put Aside the Angst and Commit 100% to the Playoff Run

by Tim Muma                                                              8/26/14
It’s both amusing and sad that fans of the Milwaukee Brewers have so much trouble enjoying the success of their own ball club.

The psychology of sports fandom is fascinating, and the incredible complexity to the excitement and/or stress brought on by one’s favorite team has never been more evident than with the 2014 Brew Crew.

Milwaukee has been atop the National League Central for 153 consecutive days, surviving a 3-13 spell in the middle of the season that included getting swept in a four-game series at home against the woeful Philadelphia Phillies.

The closest the Brewers came to actually giving up the perch in the division also came during that ugly stretch, as the St. Louis Cardinals, the annoying bully that won’t go away, took the first two games of a three-game set at Miller Park in July.
That Sunday, the pre-All-Star break finale, saw the clubs tied for the division lead, but the Brewers delivered a desperate counter punch to stave off a potentially damning blow, closing out an otherwise-successful first half.

AP Photo - Jim Mone, Associated Press
Milwaukee shot down the Cards 11-2 that afternoon, snatching back a one-game edge ahead of their much-needed, well-deserved rest.
Four times since then, the Brewers could have given up the top spot to St. Louis by day’s end, but they’ve yet to relinquish the coveted location, still looking down on the rest of the Central.

Despite the club’s perseverance, well-rounded talent, top-tier offensive output, and a deep rotation designed for a 162-game journey, many (most?) Brewers’ backers find themselves more angry, irritated and sick to their stomachs than happy to see everyone chasing “us.”

How quickly people forget the true sorrow of the 2013 campaign, or even worse, the ugliest season in franchise history: 56-106 in 2002.

Why is it that people who so badly want their team to succeed, instead succumb to the pangs of impending doom, depression and, ultimately, resentment of the players they follow on a daily basis from February to October?

Well, that brings us back to the psychological scars of a fan base.

The Brewers haven’t seen either end of the fail/succeed spectrum enough to have a true identity.

Chicago Cubs fans can rally around the “Lovable Losers” mantra, having not won a title in the last 106 years and often finding fantastic ways (in my mind) to come up short.

Plus, they’re a large market team that always has the potential to spend big and make a real push (which may be here soon, by the way).

St. Louis fans have been there, done that so many times, they don’t worry about much. Historical success, recent titles and yearly pushes into the postseason give the Cardinals’ faithful the experience and fortitude to handle anything from a year they don’t play in October to one where they enjoy a year-long view above the league.

Milwaukee, however, has no clue what to think or how to feel. The Brewers have never won a World Series, losing (naturally) in seven games the only time they even made it that far.

The franchise, in its 45th year in Milwaukee, only has four playoff appearances while also enduring a 14-season stretch without posting a winning record.

However, they haven’t been so bad to the point where fans can revel in any level of achievement in a given year. It's as though the Brewers are perpetually teasing their loyalists.

AP Photo - Morry Gash, The Associated Press
From 1978 through 1983, the Brewers owned a 518-400 record (.564), winning two division titles and recording more than 92 victories three times.

The club then enjoyed moderate success, going 508-464 (.523) between 1987 and 1992, but those years yielded just one second-place finish and no postseason play.

Then for the “modern” Brewers fans,  another decent run with a Wild Card-winning 90 games in 2008, and the franchise’s second, full-season division championship in 2011.

That club put up a Brewers’ record 96 victories, one win better than the most celebrated group in team history.
But all of this “middling” success has left many people paranoid about faltering, skeptical about the talent, resigned to the fate of a second-tier franchise, and unsure how to celebrate accomplishments or objectively evaluate the team’s chances.

Just think about the paradox Brewers’ fans find themselves in.

Back when just two teams from each league made the playoffs, their 90-plus wins weren’t enough. They’ve had seasons with great starts, only to give games back or falter in the end. The 2007 season often comes to mind.

So does Team Streak of 1987, when a perfect 13-0 record to open the year fell victim to a 12-game skid a few weeks later, making their 20-9 September run a mere footnote.

Of course, we love that American League Championship team – and there’s nothing wrong with that. They were extremely talented – especially offensively – and featured a number of Hall of Famers, homegrown legends in Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, and crazy characters who personified the city in many ways.

At the same time, they didn’t win the World Series. They left County Stadium with a 3-2 series lead and came home to a parade after two tough defeats in Missouri. What if Rollie Fingers, their shutdown closer, had been healthy?
AP Photo - The Associated Press
And it just had to be the Cardinals who won it all. Don’t think the Red Birds’ existence doesn’t play a role in this identity crisis.

Welcome to 2011 and a team that set a franchise record with 96 wins, beating out the Cardinals – finally. Soon after, fans watched in horror as the hated rival took down the Crew in the NLCS when Shaun Marcum couldn’t record outs and David Freese couldn’t make an out.

Watching St. Louis celebrate a trip to another Fall Classic, on the Miller Park infield no less, was beyond brutal.

That brings us to the current situation, as the Brewers have continued to prove they aren’t going anywhere, though they haven’t been able to pull away either.

I think fans want to believe, but they just don’t know how.

Fans want to have fun, be loud, act confident…but they’re like a scorned lover, afraid to invest with the prospect of losing out – again – to the Cardinals.

On the one hand, I completely understand; on the other hand, there have been far too few seasons like this, and it’s only right to dive head first at the risk of emotional paralysis in the end.

Would be gut-wrenching to see them surpassed by St. Louis in the last week of the season? Absolutely.

Would it be one of worst feelings in the world if they lost in the one-game, Wild Card showdown? No doubt.

But it would be far worse to fret and stress about possibly losing the lead, and never absorb the unadulterated joy that is found in the beauty of a division race. What a waste it would be to ignore the daily ups and downs of scoreboard watching, West Coast trips, and thrilling Sunday afternoons.
AP Photo - Mark J. Terrill, The Associated Press

Cherish a season like this and get ready for one heck of a ride.

Think of how long the offseason is without baseball – without your team. Remember the 1990s and early part of this century where you dreamed of being heartbroken on the final day, as opposed to logically giving up at the All-Star break.

I’m still going to live and die by each pitch, criticize the manager, curse the Cardinals and act like a kid when MY team pulls it off.

No matter what, I’m going to treat the rest of this season like it’s the last one I may see, treasuring each heated battle till 162 and (hopefully) a bunch more.

We can all still look at the team, the players, and the decisions objectively…but it would be absolutely stupid not to inhale the intoxicating aroma of tense, late-season baseball – every day – until we’re left once again with our heads in our hands, hurt and confused…

…or maybe, this really is the year in Milwaukee.


Brewers' Trading Chips

by Tim Muma                                                                   7/29/2013

Melvin has never shied away from a trade, he
simply wants other teams to make the 1st offer
With the trade deadline quickly approaching, all things appear very quiet in Brewers' camp.

As per usual, general manager Doug Melvin said he's listening on guys, but not necessarily shopping anyone - except lefty reliever Michael Gonzalez.

In the past, Melvin looks like he's going to hold tight, then something quickly comes together and a deal is made.

In 2013, however, there are a number of reasons Doug Melvin isn't selling off pieces in a flurry...

1) A majority of the players that teams would value are under team control for one or two more seasons. While that could make them more intriguing to potential trade partners,  it also means there's no urgency for Milwaukee to deal them away.
  • Under control through 2015
    • Kyle Lohse - Under contract
    • John Axford - Arbitration eligible
    • Jim Henderson - Arbitration eligible
    • Yovani Gallardo - Club option
  • Under control through 2014
    • Norichika Aoki - Club option ($1.5 million)
    • Tom Gorzelanny - Under contract ($2.8 million)

2) The hope to be competitive next season continues to be alluring for Mark Attanasio as he's seen strong production from Lohse, Wily Peralta, Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Injuries (and a high-profile suspension) have also given the club the idea that the biggest reason for their struggles come from the lack of big guns on the field.
  • Corey Hart - Missing entire season
  • Aramis Ramirez - Will have missed at least 2 months
  • Ryan Braun - Missed 4 weeks due to injury; will miss final 65 games due to, you know

Despite the thinking of a fielding a competitive squad next year, there are still potential trades that could go down. Realistically, the Brewers will probably keep most of their guys.

Rickie Weeks:  Perhaps this is more hope than substance, but a handful of teams could convince themselves that he would be a valuable power bat at second base. Baltimore has had little production out of their second-sackers this season. Kansas City has said they are still interested in adding talent if they'd control the player in 2014 - Weeks fits that bill.

Weeks always has the potential to bust out and
carry a team - will anyone take that chance?
Los Angeles and Detroit are two intriguing possibilities in my book. Money is no object in LA and 36-year-old Mark Ellis is nothing special. He's already missed time with an injury this year and Weeks has more upside offensively.

The Tigers' 2nd baseman, Omar Infante, has been out a while with a leg injury and recently had a setback. Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter are both banged up a bit, each having missed some games.

Weeks would serve the Tigers in multiple ways. With Weeks starting at 2nd, Infante (when he returns) would go to a utility role, filling in for Cabrera at 3B and in the outfield to give Hunter a rest and help with their production in LF.

Maybe as a bonus, since Prince Fielder and Weeks are best friends, Prince could help push a deal into place. The Tigers are in "all in" mode, and while the Brewers may have to pay some of the contract to get back a worthwhile piece, Detroit has always been willing to make a deal they felt it helped them win a title right now.

Kyle Lohse:  Lohse has been great in his last 10 starts, going 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 5.25 K/BB rate - outstanding numbers that are consistent with his past two seasons.

Pitching like an ace in recent weeks, Lohse is
proving 2011-12 weren't flukes
Still, I continue to hear that while teams are inquiring about the right-hander's availability, the interested parties aren't willing to offer much in the way of top prospects in a swap, in part because of the third year on Lohse's contract with the Brewers,

Boston may kick the tires on Lohse as Clay Buchholz may miss another month with an injury and Jon Lester is sitting with a 4.50 ERA. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay slid past them into first in the AL East. Boston has some big talent in their farm system, particularly on the pitching side

The Braves could show some interest as well, having lost Tim Hudson for the season, but apparently they aren't keen on offering much of a package. Baltimore is keeping tabs on Jake Peavy, so they could also check in on Lohse.

Michael Gonzalez: The veteran left-handed reliever is a free agent at season's end. The Red Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Tigers all would have interest in a cheap rental with solid stuff. The Brewers are probably best served holding off until the final day of July, hoping the clubs bid against each other to get a solid return - which is what happened with Francisco Rodriguez.

Yovani Gallardo:  His value has plummeted in the eyes of most other teams, with some scouts saying he's nothing more than a 4 or 5 pitcher at this point. Again, considering Melvin wants top value for Gallardo, there is very little chance the Brewers would get enough back to elicit a trade.

I don't see any teams desperate enough to give up a top prospect for a 4.88 ERA pitcher with declining numbers in a majority of categories.

Jim Henderson and John Axford:  The Tigers and Red Sox should definitely be interested in these arms. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are also seeking legitimate relief help. As the two AL and two NL clubs may be competing down the stretch or in the postseason, the ante might be raised a bit.

Each guy is under team control for multiple years which should automatically up the price, but chances are it will still be too rich for any team's blood. Melvin will hold out for a top deal - and if he doesn't get it - they remain a part of the Brewers' future plans.

Aoki would be a solid, reliable piece for a team
contending for a playoff spot - Texas seems ideal
Norichika Aoki:  The original belief was that Aoki was under team control for another 3 years, but it was recently announced he can become a free agent after the 2014 season, meaning the Brewers could be more willing to move the right fielder.

His value rests in his ability to get on base, put together good at-bats and play all three outfield positions well. Both Detroit and Texas are seeking outfield help, though there are other players they've shown interest in.

Aramis Ramirez:  Unfortunately for the Brewers, Ramirez hasn't been able to get back in the lineup to drum up interest and prove his knee is healthy(ish). The Yankees would certainly have been calling with the Alex Rodriguez suspension looming and Boston could have been a player as well. The Dodgers apparently had interest at one point, but without the DH spot available, he'd be a bigger gamble there than in New York.

Perhaps Ramirez clears waivers and could be dealt after July 31 after he gets some playing time, but chances are he will remain with the club and the Brewers will hope he's healthy in 2014 when he's making $16 million.

As mentioned above, the most likely scenario is that all the players (except Gonzalez) will be with the Brewers past the trade deadline. The Brewers front office still thinks they can compete for a playoff spot next year and won't deal without getting a top tier return.

It's possible a couple of players could be packaged together to get back the talent Melvin and Co. are seeking - such as Aoki and Weeks to Detroit or Lohse and Gonzalez to Boston - but I'm not holding my breath on that.

We should know more about the club's plans for 2014 when August rolls around - and then it's time to figure out what they can do to avoid another season like this one.

Brewers Mix blog featured writers Tim Muma, John Linn
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