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Friday, July 22, 2011

Everything you wanted to know about the Brewers but were afraid to ask

It will be a decidedly different Brewers team that the Giants play host to beginning Friday than the one that beat them in two of three in Milwaukee in late May.

For one, the Brewers play a much worse a brand of baseball on the road. They are 20-33 away from home this year, compared to a 33-14 home record. Only three teams have a worse road mark, and they're all in last place. The Brewers are in a virtual tie for first place in the central division with the Pirates (one percentage point behind).

Nearly one third (10) of their road losses have been shutouts, including their 4-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks Thursday.

That is a shocking tally. Especially when measured against the number of shutouts at home. Zero. They are truly the 2011 version of the Colorado Rockies.

This has been a particularly grueling trip for the Brewers. It's the last leg of an 11-game trip, and they've been shut out three times already, though they've split the first eight.


Aside from their home-road schism, the Brewers may not have the wheels to run roughshod over the Giants as they did in the last series. Remember the ease with which Ryan Braun took off on the Giants' pitching staff, stealing one base in each game? He won't likely be exploiting the Giants' inability to hold runners this time around: he's recovering from a hamstring/calf issue, and hasn't stolen a base since June 29.

It doesn't appear to have affected his swing, however. Braun hit home runs in two straight games against Arizona earlier this week.

Remember the fleet Carlos Gomez racing around the bases on what was charitably ruled an inside-the-park home run? (I revisited Cody Ross' reaction to the official scoring on that play: "I went down to get it and I whiffed and it got by me. Error.")

Gomez won't be around to torment the Giants on the basepaths: he broke his collarbone on a dazzling game-saving catch two days ago in Arizona.

Gomez' injury is a bigger loss than it may appear. He's the backup center fielder hitting only .220, but he hits lefties ok (.266) and has been a real threat on the basepaths: 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts. And he's been a star on defense.

"Carlos has got the defense and the base stealing," Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Sentinel. "He saves us a lot of games on defense. It's a big loss."

He'll be replaced by Brett Carroll, a 28-year old journeyman outfielder with a .205 lifetime batting average and five home runs in 172 at bats. But he's shown pop in AAA with 15 HR, though he's hit only .222 in July. He'll start Sunday against Madison Bumgarner.


The Brewers have reshuffled their lineup since last we saw them: They swapped Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, Weeks going to the fifth spot to provide protection to Prince Fielder, Hart to the leadoff spot. Hart made a startling confession to Roenicke about his troubles hitting fifth: "I told him it gets in my head and I have a hard time with it," he told the Sentinel.

Apparently, it's gotten into his head as a leadoff hitter, too. He's gone 4-for-24 (.167) since assuming that role, though he's hit two HR, walked four times and scored five runs in five games.

Weeks has adjusted OK in his role as Fielder's protection: he's gone 7-for-25 with two HRs.

It's been Fielder who's been most messed up since the lineup shuffle. He's gone 2-for-22, both singles, with no RBI, dropping from .302 to .288. Maybe Hart, who was hitting .266 in the No. 5 spot, was more of a security blanket than he knew.


The Brewers, concerned about an infield that stopped hitting, had inquired about Jeff Keppinger before the Astros shipped him to the Giants. Instead they'll have to hope that Casey McGehee comes out of a season-long funk (.228, 5 HR, 38 RBI in 341 ABs), made all the more miserable by his shaky (13 errors) defense at third base.

McGehee may be coming out of it: he's gone 7-for-22 in his last five games, and hit a pinch-hit game-winning three-run home run on July 6.


The Giants will miss the former Cy Young winner Zack Grienke again, which on the surface is unfortunate. He's had his worst season since 2005, when he went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA.

His record is nice: 7-4, and most of his numbers don't appear to far out of line from what he's done in the past: his 1.24 WHIP (walks and hits per inning) is on par with his lifetime 1.26 WHIP. In 84.1 IP, Grienke has 111 strikeouts and only 18 walks. But apparently, he gives up the big hit because he has a 4.84 ERA. He gives up almost two home runs for every nine innings (14 HRs total).

Still, he seems to have started to put things together in his three starts, including his outing Thursday night: He's given up only four ER in 19 IP (1.89 ERA) to drop his overall ERA from 5.66 to 4.84.

Instead, they'll face the same trio they saw in Milwaukee: Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Yovani Gallardo.

Marcum actually pitches better on the road (2.38 ERA vs. 4.35). But he's gotten progressively worse. Just look at his ERA in April (2.21), May (3.44), June (4.03) and July (4.76).

Boss Bochy undoubtedly knows that Marcum is vulnerable to left handed hitters (.285) while dominant against righties (.161). So, the quandary is what he does at second base? Keppinger has just arrived to provide a needed bat, but might should sit this one out and let the left-hander Mike Fontenot go at it.

Bochy doesn't have any history to go on: Neither Keppinger nor Fontenot have faced Marcum, who just moved over to the National League this year. So, though Keppinger is itching to get his first start with his new team, it might be best to go with the book on this one.

Wolf has had a solid season (6-7, 3.58 ERA in 125 IP), and thwarted the Giants in his only start against them this year, allowing only three hits and one earned run in 7.1 IP. He got a no-decision in the game that ended on Jonathan Lucroy's pinch hit squeeze bunt.

Wolf will face Ryan Vogelsong in Game 2 Saturday.

Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers' winningest pitcher (11-6, 3.93 ERA) is up against Bumgarner on Sunday. Gallardo, always tough on the Giants, shut them out over eight four-hit innings in a 6-0 win in May.

Since then, he's had more good starts (six) than bad (three), splitting eight decisions. His numbers are consistent with his team's: he has a 3.23 ERA at home, 4.69 away.

In the last three years, Gallardo is 3-1 vs. the Giants (27 IP, 2.30 ERA, allowed only a .210 batting average against). But, his history is also that he tires toward the dog days of the season: his lifetime mark in July is 3-5, 4.07, and in August, 4-5, 6.49.


One thing to look out for: Lucroy, the Brewers' catcher, apparently has a hitch in his throw on dropped strikeouts. And it cost him earlier in the week against the Colorado Rockies.

He waited too long to throw to first as Dexter Fowler ran to first on a dropped strikeout, then threw it into the path of Fowler. First baseman Fielder could not catch the throw, and a run scored from third.

"He's cutting it a little close," Roenicke told the Sentinal. "I talked to him about it yesterday and I have before. He doesn't feel comfortable just getting the ball like an infielder and just throwing it. He feels comfortable getting distance to get the angle, get his footbwork right and then throw it.

"The problem is that balls are getting there at the same time as the runners and it's not giving Prince much of a window to see it and catch it. It makes me a little nervous as long as he waits."

Roenicke, who sounds like a nice, intelligent guy, once roamed the Candlestick Park outfield on one of the worst teams in Giants history, the 1985 team that lost 100 games.

If you don't remember him as a Giant, you're forgiven. He hit .256 in 65 games (133 ABs) with three HR and 13 RBI. Amazingly, he had more walks (35) than hits (34), for a .408 on base percentage, clearly an under-appreciated stat at the time.

He was a teammate with the Giants' current TV booth mates, Duane Kuiper, who arrived toward the end of the season in time to get three hits in five at bats, and Mike Krukow. He rode pine with the likes of Joel Youngblood, Rob Deer and Dan Driessen, and saw the dawning of the Roger Craig era, Mr. Humm Baby replacing poor old Jim Davenport over the final 18 games.

Roenicke, part of the flotsam that was jettisoned to make way for the Humm Baby era, went on to finish up an eight-year career in 1988, finishing as a lifetime .238 hitter.

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