MILWAUKEE — Prior to their game with the Mariners in Seattle on June 2, the Milwaukee Brewers were scuffling in fifth place with a 23-24 record, seven games back in the AL East. That was the day that Buck Rodgers was fired and Harvey Kuenn took over on an “interim” basis.
Today, the Brewers wrapped up the first half of the season with a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, a team that was in first place in the AL West before the series began. In 36 games after Kuenn took over, the Brewers go into the All-Star break as the AL East leaders, up by percentage points over the Boston Red Sox after they fell to the Twins today.
How did the Brewers do it? Much in the way they won today’s game: The long ball. Today, “Harvey’s Wallbangers” launched four more home runs, one each by Paul Molitor (10), Charlie Moore (4), Ted Simmons (14) and Gorman Thomas (22). Molitor has already eclipsed his career high of nine, done twice before.
Before Rodgers was let go, the Brewers had hit 58 home runs in 47 games for 1.2 per game. Since Kuenn took the helm, they’e hit 67 in 36 games, or 1.9 per game. That’s downright silly. The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, on pace to hit 244 home runs, are now being mentioned in the same breath as the 1961 New York Yankees, who set the team record with 241.
It hasn’t just been the home runs, though they’ve helped. The Brewers have also gotten much more consistent pitching, both from the bullpen and the starting rotation. The team that was a game under .500 36 games ago has been 25-11 ever since.
Is it all the manager? Maybe not. But the roster has remained the same. Kuenn’s approach has a relaxing influence on the team. They play looser and have more fun. Do they have more fun because they’re winning or the other way around? Who knows. But it’s working.
Game Notes: Rod Carew announced he would miss the All-Star Game due to tendinitis in his right hand. Cecil Cooper is a back-up, but Carew’s starting replacement has not been named. … The Brewers had 10 hits, the 13th time in the past 16 games that they’ve reached double digits.