Currently sitting at 14-16 and a lowly fourth in the National League Central Division, the euphoria of the Brewers' recent nine-game winning streak feels about as far off as Timbuktu.
After losing the third game of the series yesterday by one run, Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke said, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "They’re outplaying us, there’s no doubt. Every personnel on their team, when they put them in there, they do a good job."
One need not look any further than a 10-1 defeat to the Cardinals the very next day to know that Roenicke's assessment nearly hit the nail right on the head.
Surely, the two losses that bookended the series appeared to be largely due to starting pitching deficiencies in Milwaukee. Big innings for the Cardinals offense early in both of those games put the Brewers in a difficult position.
However, given the middle two games of the four-game series were both lost by only a single run, one has to wonder if the Brewers weren't only outplayed in the recent four-game sweep by the Cardinals, but also outmanaged.
In the last game the Brewers played before the Cardinals came to town, they experienced a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that could be easily placed at the doorstep of the team’s manager.
It was a game in which the team owned a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. At that point, it was Roenicke himself who called for Axford to step onto the pitcher's mound and help hold the lead.
Seemingly going against the grain, Roenicke decided to use Axford in a tight situation, something the former closer had struggled with throughout the year.
Sure enough, Axford coughed up four runs (three of which were earned) and the game was lost. What should have been a series sweep was instantly transformed into momentum-killing disappointment.
There’s little doubt that second-year manager Mike Matheny probably has more talent to work with on his Cardinals club than Roenicke does on the Brewers, especially as it relates to starting pitching.
However, there also seems to be a strict system of accountability in place in St. Louis that is lacking in Milwaukee.
If you need evidence of that, look no further than the fact that two relief pitchers from the Cardinals' 2011 championship season, Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski, have already been sent down to the minors this year for performance deficiencies.
Whereas the Cardinals manager appears to be evaluating players on their current body of work, Roenicke seems a lot happier to base his decisions on past success. As in years ago.
After Axford blew the game against the Pirates, Roenicke reportedly said about Axford, according to Haudricourt, "This guy has been pitching well for us. You look at what he’s done the last three years and compare him to other people in the league, he’s pretty good."
The reality is that Axford hasn't been pretty good for the last three years. He was great in 2011 (1.95 ERA), below average in 2012 (4.67 ERA), and well below average thus far in 2013 (9.95 ERA).
And while the Cardinals heroes from past years are given pink slips when their output decreases, struggling Brewers often maintain featured roles...like Axford against the Pirates.
Parallels of the Axford situation are seen in Roenicke's continued inflexibility regarding Rickie Weeks. It's almost impossible to imagine Matheny batting someone with an average of .189 in the fifth spot of the Cardinals order.
Especially if there was a player leading the National League in batting average slotted below him in the lineup, as is the case with Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez.
It would be one thing if this was the first extended slump for Weeks. But 2013 is starting off for the second basemen in almost the exact same fashion as 2012, when Weeks hit under .200 all the way through the All-Star break.
As with Axford, it seems Roenicke is evaluating Weeks on what he did several years ago or his future potential, as opposed to the offensive futility the rest of us are witnessing every day.
The Brewers were clearly outplayed and outmanaged in the last four games against the Cardinals and the result was that the Cardinals took home their first-ever sweep of a four-game set against the Crew.
There's a system of accountability that thrives in St. Louis and helps make the Redbirds a perennial contender. In order to consistently compete against them for the division, Milwaukee must instill a similar environment.
Accountability starts with the manager rewarding those that are playing well with featured responsibilities. It also consists of benching players or sending them to the minors when they are hurting the team.
One could argue that internal politics have hamstrung Roenicke such that he has been saddled with declining players flush with outsized contracts. If that is the case, then the entire Brewers organization may have to take a long look in the mirror.
If the team wants to play politics instead of competitive baseball, then maybe they should throw Miller Park in the ring as a potential site for the next Presidential debate.
If they actually want to compete for the World Series, then they should try to minimize the impact of struggling players while riding the momentum of those with the hot hand.
Stars fall and rise everyday in Major League Baseball. There's no need to exacerbate this painful reality by extending the process. Simply adjust and move on.
Unfortunately, the team that just swept the Brewers is pretty good at making the hard decisions and fielding a team composed of its best parts. If the Brewers want to try to catch them, they might consider giving that a try, too.
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