12 Things The Milwaukee Brewers Must Do To Contend In 2011
Doug Melvin has already traded for Shaun Marcum, a solid pitcher, to bolster the Brewers starting staff. Melvin has said he plans to go get another starter. In that case, one down, one to go.
While drastically improving the starting rotation is a huge step, that isn't the Brewers' only roadblock to competing with the Reds and Cardinals for the NL Central in 2011.
Let's examine 12 things that the Brewers must do in order to get where they need to go.
Establish Trust and Open Lines Of Communication
Communication is the key to any good relationship. You've probably heard that a million times. Well it's true in baseball as well. If there is a disconnect between the players, the manager and the coaches, it will create a negative work environment.
By all accounts Ron Roenicke not only speaks, but listens as well. He wants to have a positive relationship with his players and make sure the team is always the number one focus of his staff and his players.
Roenicke stresses the fundamentals and expects his players and coaches to be aggressive, to take that extra base. That style of play is a stark contrast to the wait and see approach of Ken Macha.
It is a philosophy that the players can completely buy into. In the end, it comes down to the simple mantra of "work hard, play hard."
Be Proactive With The Roster
Don't wait for injuries to happen before you make a roster move. Being reactive can put you completely behind the eight-ball, perpetually scrambling to catch up.
Here's a scenario from last year. Carlos Gomez is either hurt or completely useless. Jim Edmonds' leg or other body part is about to fall off. Jody Gerut is also either injured or just plain stinks. What do you do? Did you have a contingency plan coming into the season? The obvious answer to that is a solid no. Adam Stern was put on a yo-yo consistently going up and down between Milwaukee and Nashville. It really wasn't fair to him and didn't help the team at all.
So how was it explained to us as to why Lorenzo Cain hadn't been called up sooner? The convoluted thought process was that Cain, who was in Double-A at the time, would be better off going to Triple-A first to get some Triple-A at-bats. Seriously? If you need him, bring him up. I'd rather see what someone can do at the major league level than to sit there hitting against dodgy Triple-A pitching.
Plan ahead for every contingency whether it's the best or worst case scenario or somewhere in between. Be a Boy Scout. Be prepared. That's all I ask.
Develop a Stable Starting Rotation
Winning teams don't have a starting rotation like that of the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers. I think Doug Melvin has finally figured that out.
The Brewers clearly have a solid one, two, three punch after the addition of Shaun Marcum. Does anyone realize that if the Brewers can trade for someone like Garza, the rotation for the next three years would be: Garza, Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf and No. 5? That is if they extend Marcum of course which I am confident they will do. No more rotational musical chairs.
That's a damn fine rotation if you ask me. It looks to be the best rotation in the division barring some unforeseen wizardry. Where will the Brewers be in three years with that group of starters? I sure hope I'll be able to answer that question when the time comes.
Stand Up For One Another
I'm not sure if you felt the same way last season, but I got sick of seeing Brewers' hitters getting drilled left and right. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder were No. 1 and No. 2 in the National League in HBP. Weeks was hit 25 times and Prince was plunked 21 as well.
Teams continued to do it because they knew that there would be no consequences.
Never once did I feel that Ken Macha had his players' backs. If I felt that way, just imagine how his players felt. It was obvious at times he just went onto the field to argue as a formality. It almost seemed as if he truly didn't care. He seemed to have no qualms about leaving a player out there on an island.
Ron Roenicke is about relationships, trust and team. He will clearly have the players' backs from day one. He will fight for them, and he will expect them to fight for each other as well. I'm looking forward to seeing a whole new aura surrounding this team come Opening Day 2011.
Recognize When Enough Is Enough
When you suck, you sit.
That is a motto I have always held fast to. Last season, players that fit into that category at various times were Carlos Gomez, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Trevor Hoffman and Alcides Escobar.
While Escobar should have been given the longest leash, Suppan's should have been by far the shortest. He should never have been given two whole months to confirm what we've all known for the past three years. He can't get anyone out. Cut your losses sooner rather than later. The dead weight needs to be jettisoned before it totally kills your team.
Construct a Cohesive Bullpen
Last year the bullpen was a mess from day one. Much of that was due to the fact that the coaching staff was extremely reluctant to put any trust in their young arms even when they were consistently good during spring training.
A big part of the reason Jon Axford, Zach Braddock and Kameron Loe were eventually promoted, was from injuries to Hawkins, Davis and Riske and amazingly pathetic pitching by Claudio Vargas and Trevor Hoffman.
Once those three youngsters found their roles, the bullpen solidified with the exception of Carlos Villanueva.
At the moment, the 2011 bullpen looks like this. Axford, Hawkins, Loe and Braddock are all locks. On the fence are Brandon Kintzler, Jeremy Jeffress, Mark Rogers, Mike McClendon and Manny Parra. I'd like to see another veteran arm in there that won't break the bank.
I hope Melvin learned from his Riske and Hawkins faux pas and will only sign his relievers to one year deals.
Mesh With The Pitching Coach
I don't know Rick Peterson personally, but he seemed to be a bit of an odd duck. His 1980s permed mullet hairstyle disturbed me, but so did his affinity for touching his pitchers on the mound. Nearly every time he went to the mound for a visit, he put his hand on the pitcher's shoulder. I dunno about you, but it was a little too touchy feely for me.
Peterson never really seemed to connect with his pitchers. I think that doomed him more than anything.
Honestly, I hadn't heard of Rick Kranitz before the Brewers hired him. I know he has been the pitching coach for both the Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles, and he strongly believes in developing your own pitching.
Kranitz takes an individualized approach when working with his pitchers. He understands that no two pitchers are alike. He wants to know how each pitcher thinks and what they are comfortable doing in certain situations. That approach lends itself to getting to know one another and building relationships. I think I can get on board with that.
Look to Upgrade
Yes, at the moment Chris Narveson is technically the No. 4 starter. It seems like everyone believes he has a spot in the rotation locked up. Did anyone watch any of his starts last season? If you did, you noticed a trend. Narveson could not get anyone out in the first inning.
If it was my team, I wouldn't be willing to settle for that. No one should ever settle for that even as a 5th starter. Maybe rookies Mark Rogers or Jeremy Jeffress will make a serious run at that No. 5 spot.
Regardless, you should always be looking for something better, to upgrade. It might be as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster, but it doesn't mean you should ever stop looking.
Build A Well-Balanced Bench
In 2010 Doug Melvin did a brilliant job of building a bench of all left-handed hitters. I'm not sure how he rationalized it in his mind, but apparently it made sense to him. Craig Counsell, Jim Edmonds, George Kottaras, Jody Gerut and Joe Inglett comprised the Brewers bench.
For the 2011 season, I'd like to see at least one right-handed bat added as well as a switch-hitter if possible. So far OF Chris Dickerson, OF Brandon Boggs, C George Kottaras and C Wil Nieves will be vying for spots on the bench. The Brewers have offered Counsell a contract, but are still waiting for him to make a decision.
Now look at those names again and tell me what you think. Yeah, I thought the same thing. Let's keep looking.
Pull The Trigger
Don't sit there like a deer in the headlights. Don't be gun shy. Pull the trigger. You've done it before. It works.
You can do it again if you truly want to. Go get an impact player. Taking a wait and see approach does nothing for your team.
Put your best team on the field from day one. It's the only thing that makes sense if you are truly serious about contending and not just merely being competitive.
Let The Players Play
Ken Macha tried to get us to believe that many of the players had a green light to steal on their own. After watching the games on a regular basis, I concluded that it was total garbage. If you even thought about a suicide squeeze in Macha's presence, he would practically go Chuck Norris on you.
He had a distaste for what is essentially fundamental baseball which completely boggles my mind. Macha must have grown up on a different planet.
The Brewers' new skipper, Ron Roenicke, is clearly from a planet of humanoids. He understands that every tiny skill in baseball is important. He seems to be willing to let the players play to their strengths in order to best help the team win. He won't expect them to be something they aren't. Just remember to be smart and be aggressive. Go play baseball. Now I want to play for THAT guy.
Go For It!
The time is now.
Prince Fielder will probably not be dealt. There is an improved starting rotation and a potentially solid bullpen as well. There is more than enough offense to get it done. Just go out and get a difference maker.
The engine should not be idling. It should be in overdrive from the first day of spring training. The entire organization's attitude and mindset should be that of "we can and will win big". Trust each other and unite around a common purpose. Go balls to the wall. Just GO FOR IT!