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What we sometimes call the "offense"

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It's a dumb joke, yes, but the Brewers offense has been downright offensive since teeing off on the Pirates in the first two games of the season.  Until today (which didn't work out so well <cough--Tommy Phelps--cough>), the last four games netted a total of 8 Milwaukee runs.  Pretty shoddy--and it's a testament to the pitching staff that we even kept it close in any of those four games.

Tim Gutowski chimes in with an intelligent view of the subject at OnMilwaukee.com:

What else? How about on-base percentage, never a strength for the free-swinging Brewers. Last year the Brewers finished with a .321 OBP; this year they're at .315, which ranks 20th amid the 30 MLB teams. A .232 team batting average doesn't help this number, but only Lyle Overbay is consistently drawing walks (11). As a result, his OBP is .440 and he's also hitting the balls he puts into play hard -- he has three doubles and two homers among his 10 hits. Brady Clark (.462) and Damian Miller (.459) also have exemplary OBPs, but that's about it.

How about strikeouts? We know the Brewers tend to fan quite a bit. So far, they've whiffed 79 times as a team, or about 7.2 times/game. Last year they whiffed 8.1 times/game, so there's slight improvement here. Trading contact-hitting Clark for Podsednik (105 Ks last year) atop the order and losing Craig Counsell (88) for J.J. Hardy (no Ks thus far) at short have both helped. But guys like Junior Spivey (17, which tops MLB), Jenkins (10) and Russell Branyan (10 in 29 ABs) are still serial whiffers. Unlike RISP numbers, strikeouts cannot be rationalized away -- there's no bad luck involved, just bad hitting.

Part of the offensive problem is depth--when Jenkins goes down, we have no right to expect much from a 4th OF like Chris Magruder.  Chad Moeller, every fifth day, hasn't shown himself to be any stronger than a pitcher at the plate.  If one of the big guys is slumping or out of the lineup for some reason, there's nobody to pick up the slack, hard as Damian Miller may try.  And whatever you think about Russell Branyan, I would hope you'd recognize that it's better to have at least a threat of serious power than whatever you call what Cirillo or Helms contributes.

At BrewerFan.net, some are calling for Butch Wynegar's head in all of this.  Maybe a new face and voice would work wonders, but ultimately you get what you pay for.  Overbay's a league average offensive first baseman.  Neither Spivey nor Miller are any better than average.  Lee and Jenkins can be excellent players, but neither will contend for an MVP award--they would bat 5th and 6th on a team like the Cardinals or maybe even the Cubs.  Every team is allowed a couple of weak spots--see David Eckstein in the Cardinals lineup, or Tony Womack starting for the Yankees--but there's got to be something to counteract that.

It might be reasonable to expect a pitching coach to work wonders with a few middle relievers, but no hitting coach that I'm aware of can turn a bunch of mediocre players into world-beaters.  Doesn't happen, and we have no right to expect it of Wynegar.

Those first few games against Pittsburgh suggest that this lineup is capable of some pop, especially when Lee is hitting and Branyan is in the lineup.  But as a low-budget team, realize that any pop we get has its price.  For years now, critics of the team have blasted the Brewers for the high strikeout totals and abysmal batting averages with runners in scoring position.  

There will be plenty of strikeouts--they'll hurt, and they'll prevent the Brewers from contending this year and probably next.  Branyan isn't the only offender, though of course he's the most visible (and most K-tastic).  There will be depressing games now and then when somebody like Jeff Suppan shuts us down, but we can hope it won't happen too often.  With an offense structured like this, we can't eliminate the possibility.

On the same token, there will be days when the Brewers leave umpty-billion runners on base--but you know what, that's a dumb stat.  The Red Sox leave as many runners on as anybody.  Why?  Because they put more runners on!  Frankly, I'm more encouraged when the Crew loads the bases with one out and leaves them stranded than when somebody hits a solo shot and the next three guys strike out.  Sure--I'd rather have the solo shot on the board, but in the first scenario, the team bunched their hits, got on base--and with a little bit more push, have a huge rally.  When a team starts improving its OBP (as this one might, especially with 650 PAs for Brady), the bases will be clogged a bit more often, and more guys will be stranded.  But if we move in that direction in 2005, then Prince Fielder comes up and hits 35 home runs to compliment Jenkins and Lee next year, a good portion of those guys who were stranded this year have somebody coming along to drive them in.

I realize I don't have a terribly simple point I'm trying to make here.  I guess what I'm getting at is that we shouldn't be surprised when the offense goes through a slump.  The team just isn't good enough to avoid it.  And frankly, no team with a payroll less than $75 or $80M could manage such a thing.  We shouldn't expect too much.  And we shouldn't go apoplectic when our unrealistic hopes don't bear fruit.  

Me?  I'm rooting for the pitchers.