At best, Brewers are maddeningly talented
MILWAUKEE -- OK, the Milwaukee Brewers have been remarkably inconsistent this season. This is not the preferred pathway to the postseason.
On the other hand, at the top of their game, they have not been merely good, they have been extraordinary, exceptional -- at times seemingly unbeatable. The problem is, that level of play has not been maintained. Their obvious talent, then, becomes a source of some frustration.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke opened a door to his continuing concern with the inconsistency in his remarks during the Interleague series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Miller Park.
"Why are we so inconsistent with our play?" Roenicke said. "That concerns me more than anything that we do. I look at a very good pitching staff, and I don't think we should be this inconsistent with what we do. It's a good offense. I realize that, because we hit homers, it's going to be a little inconsistent.
"But still, it's a roller coaster. I don't think it should be a roller-coaster ride. It's hard, because the emotions are so high and then ... as soon as we get hot, we go back down to the bottom. That's hard on a team. That's hard on a manager, too. I know that."
The classic example of what Roenicke was talking about occurred earlier this month. The Brewers swept a three-game series at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. These were the Cardinals with Albert Pujols still in the lineup. The Cards were in first place in the National League Central when the series began. The Brewers outscored the Cardinals, 17-6. The series sweep brought the Brewers to 24-8 in their last 32 games and moved them into first. The corner had been turned. The future was bright with promise.
The Brewers promptly went to Chicago and dropped three of four to the Cubs. They then traveled to Boston, where they lost two of three to the Red Sox. The Red Sox are going to take two out of three at Fenway Park from a lot of people, so there can be disappointment in that result, but no shame. However, losing three of four to the Cubs, who at that moment were even more bedraggled than usual, constituted a genuine embarrassment. Within a few days this club had covered the spectrum of baseball experience. The Brewers were on Mt. Everest at Miller Park, and then in Death Valley at Wrigley Field.
Roenicke does not see the inconsistency as simply a matter of home-versus-road performance, although that analysis seems readily available. No team in the Major Leagues has a greater differential in home and road records than the Brewers. With a 5-1 Interleague victory over Tampa Bay Tuesday night, they have the best home record in either league (26-10). However, they also have the NL's second-worst road record (15-24).
But when asked if the home/road split was a reflection of the Brewers' inconsistency, Roenicke replied:
"I don't really know that. If you look at it, the appearance is it's the road-home, but I don't know if that's necessarily the case. I just think the way we play and the offensive kind of up and downs, I think they're going to be there all the time. So, I think the inconsistency of what we do is going to run around that offense.
"I like our pitching staff, but if we go out and score one run in a week, say we do it two, three times, you know we're not going to look real well whether it's at home or not. I mean, we've been shut down at home, too. It's not like we come home and every single game we're bashing the ball. There's been a lot of games where we haven't scored here, so I don't really know."
Tuesday night, the best of the Brewers was on display, in large part because Zack Greinke provided them with what was statistically and aesthetically his best start of the season -- one earned run on four hits over seven innings, with no walks and 10 strikeouts.
"This, when I picture Zack, is what I picture," Roenicke said of Greinke's performance. The 40,079 citizens in Miller Park were in total agreement, roaring their approval at Greinke's dominance. It was one of those nights when success seemed not only possible for this club, but probable.
Greinke is 7-2 overall this season, but 5-0 at home. He was asked if he was now comfortable pitching at Miller Park. His answer was better than the question.
"I feel good every place," Greinke said, "because this is a good team I'm pitching with. Every time this team should win if you put up a good start."
The Brewers have been good enough to intermittently find first place, as they did once more on Tuesday night. But they have been aided by external factors. Injuries have cost the Cards their best starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the season, and now, the game's best all-around player, Pujols, for six weeks. The Reds, defending division champions, have underachieved to date, but that may be a temporary condition.
Given these circumstances, and given their talent, the Brewers should be in first place now, but with a noticeable lead. Over the course of the year, their current .547 winning percentage probably won't be good enough to qualify for the postseason. They have reached a high level of play at times this season. The better thing is reaching that level and staying there.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.