Two weeks ago, we were worried about the starting pitching, and now, I'm worried about this Brewers' offense, too. How do they go from pounding the Pirates to all of a sudden not being able to score against the Cubs and Padres? Do you think this is something to be concerned about?
-- Alex F., Milwaukee
Twenty-five games amount to just 15 percent of the season, so I suppose we have to once again start with a small sample alert. But here are some things that stood out while watching Padres pitchers have their way with the Brewers over the weekend in winning three of four games:
Are the Padres' pitchers this good or the Brewers' hitters this bad right now? Even before they held Milwaukee to two runs in 36 innings over the four-game series, the Padres owned a 3.19 staff ERA. That's pretty good. But even after being shut out three times in San Diego, Milwaukee is tied for eighth out of 30 Major League teams with 128 runs scored, fourth with 393 total bases, a .353 on-base percentage and a .795 OPS. That's pretty good, too.
But Alex mentioned the Pirates, which made me wonder ...
How much of the Brewers' offense was compiled over six games at the expense of a Bucs pitching staff that is allowing almost seven earned runs per game? A lot, it turns out. They're hitting .325 (81-for-249) against Pittsburgh with 10.17 runs per game and a .610 slugging percentage. In its other 19 games, the Crew is hitting .245 (157-for-640) with 3.53 runs per game and a .367 slugging percentage. That .367 slugging percentage would rank 24th in the league.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Anthony Witrado pointed to some more ugly numbers after Sunday's 8-0 loss at PETCO Park. Excluding their 17-run outburst against the Pirates on April 26, the Brewers are scoring 1.56 runs per game in the other nine games since their 20-0 win at PNC Park on April 22. Milwaukee is 1-8 in those nine games.
One more nugget from Witrado really stood out: The Brewers stranded 39 men on base during the four-game Padres series while batting .074 (2-for-27) with runners in scoring position. Neither of those hits produced a run.
Prince Fielder summed it up Sunday when he said the Brewers' offense is "just not working at all."
"Any time you get held to [two] runs in a series, the pitchers had to be doing something well," Fielder said. "I think during the series, we had opportunities that just didn't go our way. It's irritating, but I don't know what the cure is for it."
Here's one suggestion: Get the big man on a hot streak. After a 46-homer, 141-RBI season in 2009, Fielder will enter this week's series at Dodger Stadium batting .234 with two home runs and nine RBIs. He's on pace for 13 homers and 58 RBIs (and 162 strikeouts) this season. Part of the problem is surely that Fielder is seeing a lot of left-handed pitching; he's hitting .179 in 39 at-bats against lefties vs. .273 in 55 at-bats vs. righties. That balance will tip toward more right-handers as the season rolls on. Last year, for example, 30 percent of his at-bats were against left-handed pitchers. So far this year, the figure is 43 percent.
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If Brewers manager Ken Macha is willing to make some changes, David has a suggestion:
How long until we see Alcides Escobar moved up in the order? I see him as a much better fit than Carlos Gomez in the two-hole.
-- David S., Delavan, Wis.
When Escobar was hot at the start of the season, I might have agreed. Now that he's cooled a bit since his on-base percentage peaked at .354 on April 21 (he's 7-for-37 with no walks since then), I think you would have a more difficult time convincing Macha. Escobar has made 18 out of 20 starts in eight-hole, and at the start of the season, he showed he could handle that difficult position.
With Gomez, the jury is still out. He's batting .273 with a .322 on-base percentage and 12 strikeouts in 55 at-bats in the second spot. He is also 4-for-4 in stolen bases from that position. I'm guessing that Macha will leave the batting order as is for a while, though I agree with David that if and when changes do come, there's a good bet that the two-hole will be involved somehow.
I'd be curious to hear from readers how they would shake things up.
Why is it that batting coaches are former players who couldn't hit a lick themselves?
-- Tom K., Racine, Wis.
Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum would take issue with that question, because he was a fine offensive shortstop in a playing career ruined by injury. But I get Tom's point that the batting champion-turned-hitting coach is extremely difficult to find. The Brewers had one a decade ago in Rod Carew, but they had another in Jim Skaalen, who never played in the big leagues.
In my own conversations with players about hitting coaches, the best ones are the guys who know how hard it is to hit, who had to struggle themselves through their careers. The guys who could roll out of bed and bat .300 often have trouble explaining how they did it to the backup infielder batting .200. It's also important to remember that hitting is as much about confidence as swing mechanics, and the best know when is the right time to talk hand position and when to simply help a guy feel good.
Here's a link to a story from Astros beat reporter, Brian McTaggart, about the relationship between a hitting coach and his players.
Is it possible Mat Gamel will be traded? Does the Brew Crew have any possible replacements for Trevor Hoffman if he should retire next year?
-- Joseph B., Prairie du Sac, Wis.
Gamel just needs to get back on the field. He's been sidelined since Spring Training by a slightly torn muscle behind his right shoulder and is still rehabbing. As for a Hoffman replacement, LaTroy Hawkins is under contract for 2011 and could be an option. The stat guys love Carlos Villanueva because of his high strikeout rate, and he's pitching well so far this season. And down in the Minors, there's right-hander John Axford and left-hander Zach Braddock, though I would be very surprised to see the Brewers throw a rookie into that role.
General manager Doug Melvin has been very good at finding closers for short stints, whether a guy off the scrap heap (Dan Kolb, Derrick Turnbow), via trade (Francisco Cordero) or free agency (Hoffman). With Hoffman's April struggles aside, this is not an area that has buried the team in recent years.
With how effective Braddock has been in the Minors and in Spring Training this season, what are the chances of seeing him this year for the Crew? And are the Brewers looking at him as a potential closer for the future or just a setup guy?
-- Alex B., Stevens Point, Wis.
Right now, Braddock's just a relief pitcher. Melvin told me at the end of Spring Training that he wanted the guys at Triple-A Nashville to develop a multiple-inning mentality, not get pigeonholed into one-inning roles. Braddock certainly has the "stuff" to close someday, but right now, it's just about getting innings.
So far, so good. Braddock has not allowed a run in his first seven appearances this season and has 22 strikeouts vs. four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.