Brewers' Lineup Needs More Consistency

M. S.Correspondent IJune 3, 2009

MILWAUKEE - MAY 14: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers runs after hitting the ball against the Florida Marlins on May 14, 2009 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers defeated the Marlins 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Rickie Weeks suffered a torn tendon in his wrist, the Milwaukee Brewers knew that their offense would suffer. But not this much.

Since Weeks went down on May 17th against the Cardinals, the Brewers have batted .240 as a team and their offense has looked completely out of sync.

Craig Counsell, slated as a back-up spot starter at the beginning of the year, has played 11 of the last 12 games and has seen his batting average drop 26 points to .312.

No one expects him to keep up that pace and more are concerned about how long his knees will hold up being an everyday starter.  He has played picture perfect defense on the other side of the ball and is the closest thing the Brewers have to a lead off man on offense, but with 110 games left in the season, only time will tell if he can keep this up.

J.J. Hardy rebounded from an awful April with a .313 batting average in May and already has two hits in June.  He has walked 19 times on the year and has a .398 on-base percentage since May 1st.

Hardy’s best bet to get on base this year has been in the two hole, making sense considering sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder await after him. There is no reason Hardy would be taken out of the lineup but moving him in the lineup might make sense.

Ken Macha recently said that he saw some mechanical tweaks in Corey Hart’s swing that leads him to believe he is ready to break out.  Since Macha’s prediction, the right fielder is 6-14 (.428) with just one strikeout in 15 plate appearances.

J.J. Hardy would succeed in the leadoff spot.

J.J. Hardy would succeed in the lead off spot.

Hart raised his batting average 14 points in that span and has looked a lot better at the plate.  Hart has some experience batting in the lead off spot, stemming from last year, but has seen no success (5-22, 5 K) this year.

What happens at third base is anybody’s guess but my gut feeling says the fact that Mat Gamel is still with the team in between interleague series means that he will still be there after.  He has not had that many plays at third base but still has just one error in 36 innings.

In comparison, Bill Hall had three errors in 115 innings, good for an error every 38.1 innings.  Hall batted .136 in May and had an on-base percentage of just .197.  While Gamel struggled at times last month, he came up with a couple very clutch hits and had an on-base percentage of .333.

For whatever it’s worth, Gamel’s best stats have come batting in the seven spot which is where I would project him to play on an every-day basis.

Two wildcard bench players that could also affect decisions are Casey McGehee and Jody Gerut.  I am not a huge fan of giving McGehee any time at third base and it looks like that experiment is over, but I do think he is capable of playing more good innings at second then he has been given.

As for Gerut, he has come in as a decent pinch hitter and defensive replacement, but if Hart were to be traded, I really do not think he is good enough to platoon with Frank Catalanotto.

As for Catalanotto, he has really proved to be a decent option that can give good innings and spot starts in right field.  His average stands at just .231 but is two for six when he starts a game.  At 35 years old, playing every day is probably out of the question but he will continue to be a solid bench player.

So what to do?  The Brewers have had five different lineups the last five days  and, to put it nicely, it has been ugly to watch. The batting order has not been smooth and it seems that instead of putting runs together in an inning, it’s home run or bust.

Starting top to bottom, Hardy should be inserted into the lead off spot.  Take a second and breathe before you jump to the comments section and tell me why I’m wrong.  Hardy has showed very good patience and is hitting for better average than any other Brewer is right now.

Yes, he strikes out more than Counsell but also draws more walks than he does.  Weeks struck out 39 times in 37 games before his injury but was a power threat and drew walks because of it.

In the two spot, Counsell would fit perfectly.  He is batting .395 batting in the second spot this year and is getting on base almost half the time there (.478).  Counsell gives the Brewers options to bunt, hit the ball to the right side, or hit and run with Hardy on base.  He has struck out just 15 times this year and likes to pull the ball on the ground, perfect for a two hitter.

Braun, Fielder, and Cameron have been the constants in the Brewers lineup and will continue in those spots.

In the six spot, Corey Hart makes the most sense considering who is left in the lineup.  For as much heat as he has taken this year, his .258 batting average is not terrible and hopefully he is turning the corner.  Unless Jake Peavy is in the deal, dealing Hart would be a mistake for the Brewers.

After Hart, (hopefully) Mat Gamel gets enough at-bats that we can call him the starting third baseman for the Brewers.  This has nothing to do with wanting the future now or any vendetta I have against Hall.

Mat Gamel would see his production at the plate increase....if he got more opportunities.

Mat Gamel would see his production at the plate increase....if he got more opportunities.

Gamel has fared quite well on the defensive side of things and it’s not like Hall was Mike Schmidt at the hot corner.  Giving Gamel consistent at bats is going to improve his rhythm at the plate and his production should directly see improvement with it.

The ageless wonder Jason Kendall will stay in the eight spot, floating above the Mendoza Line while still being outstanding calling games defensively.

On off days for Counsell, McGehee can either be inserted into the two spot or moved to the seven spot while Hart moves to second and Gamel moves to sixth.  Catalanotto, Gerut, and Hall are all interchangable batting sixth or seventh, and I would even trust Catalanotto to bat second on a given day.

Maybe I just hate change, but I think finding a consistent lineup goes a long way to keeping player production steady.  The Brewers are hardly fading as they were not going to reel off 22-5 spurts the rest of the year.

However, there is room for concern if they continue to regress on offense.  Their pitching has struggled and, as good as the bullpen has been this year, it means nothing if they are losing late in the ballgame.

A shakeup in Milwaukee’s lineup was inevitable when Weeks went down, but it can not happen every day.  Macha is going to need to find something that works soon if the Brewers do not want to fade from contention in the NL Central.

Hardy is not the conventional lead off man, but neither was Weeks.  Everyone knows the Brewers are not going to run much so having Hardy there is not a huge drop off.  It might seem rash, but something’s gotta give.

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