The 3-6 Brewers have a day off today, and depending on how you look at it that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. They’re in the midst of a five game losing streak, and everything possible is going wrong. Starting pitching is struggling. Relief pitching, including Rollie Fingers, has been awful. The offense, until the final game of the Rangers’ series, has done nothing of late.
On the other, it just gives you another day to think about how badly things are going. Many players will tell you that when in the middle of a losing streak, they want to get back out there as soon as they can to end it. Too much down time can just make it worse.
It also gives us writers time to over analyze things. The first nine games have been a disappointment. In an effort to avoid overreacting, I’ll refrain from saying “massive” disappointment. But it’s been awfully bad.
Bob McClure has been the only dependable starter in the rotation, yet he’s been used mainly as a reliever thus far. Considering he and (when he’s needed) Randy Lerch have the least expected of them, that’s a problem (oh, and Lerch has a 9.00 ERA). Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, the top two arms in the rotation, set the tone with wildness and an inability to get outs. Moose Haas, if it’s possible, has been even worse.
But is this really a surprise? Starting pitching wasn’t a strength last season, either. Very few changes were made over the winter. Why was the rotation not addressed?
Possibly the biggest concern is the bullpen. You can’t really say there’s a bright spot of the bunch. Sure, Jamie Easterly has a 2.45 ERA, but he’s been used sparingly (three appearances). Jerry Augustine was fantastic in 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief of an April 15 loss to the Indians, but that was his only appearance. Rookie Doug Jones has a 10.13 ERA. Dwight Bernard’s at 6.14.
The biggest concern has to be Rollie Fingers. In three appearances, he’s lost two games and blown a save (though that ended up being a win). His ERA is 5.14 and he’s nowhere near the dominant pitcher who took home all of the hardware last season. At 35-years-old, is the end near? Does he have anything left?
If he doesn’t, this team is in deep trouble. Again, the Brewers did little to address what was a weakness (the bullpen) over the winter.
There are some factors in the Brewers’ favor. Injuries have slowed the team down, and when healthy they’ll be better. Whether coincidental or not, the team has been horrible with Robin Yount out of the lineup and terrific when he’s in it. He should return shortly.
Ted Simmons missed the first handful of games with a calf injury and has taken a while to get going since his return. You could possibly chalk up his slow start to that injury, but he wasn’t a productive hitter last season either.
Charlie Moore, who replaced Simmons to start the season and performed so well that he won the right field job when Simmons returned, recently injured his groin. Jim Slaton, probably the most valuable player not named Rollie Fingers in the bullpen, hopes to come off of the DL in a week or so. This team should get better.
But while we’re not in panic mode yet, and while the team is surprisingly only a game and a half out of first, something needs to change soon. While we can’t necessarily count on the back of the rotation, Vuckovich and Caldwell must find their games. Rollie Fingers needs to turn things around. The offense should rebound, but if they don’t…?
We came into this season with great expectations. The Brewers, though they didn’t make it past the Yankees last season in a screwy playoff format, actually had the best record of all American League East teams. Many experts were picking the Brewers to win the division and even the World Series this season.
When expectations are missed, someone needs to take the fall. And as much as I like manager Buck Rodgers, we’ll be talking more and more about his job if things don’t turn around soon. This team is talented and not playing to its collective potential. It’s the manager’s job to make sure that happens.