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What an embarrassing series for the Milwaukee Brewers. They've now lost five games in a row and 12 of their last 16, pushing them four games below .500, seven games behind and into the basement of the NL Central. I'm not one to say seasons are over very often, but man, I'm close. The pitching has been utterly atrocious, and while the bats came alive today, there is still a ton of work to be done. Nothing about this season that can be taken as a positive as of now, with the exception of Ryan Braun's power numbers.
Ryan Braun is just scorching the ball, hitting two homers off of Josh Beckett today and another off of Jonathan Papelbon in yesterday's early game, but it just hasn't been enough. Three home runs and only five RBIs indicate that nobody is getting on for the guy. However, that apparently wasn't the problem in this series. Both Mike Cameron and Rickie Weeks got on base twice every game with the exception of Cameron in game one. But throw in two CS and a big baserunning error by Weeks and bye bye RBI opportunities.
Ortiz was impressive as ever. It may have taken him a while to get back on the horse, but every single ball Ortiz hit was a bullet. Every AB was a nightmare for the Brewers when Papi came to the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia did their jobs and got on base enough to give Ortiz room to work and he capitalized in nearly every situation. Somehow, the Brewers kept Manny Ramirez in check, but Ortiz was enough to push the Sox over the top.
What was the Difference?:
Let's be honest here: Everything. Even when the Brewers pitched well in game one on Saturday, they couldn't hit the ball hard or take advantage of a wild pitcher in Dice-K. In game two, the Red Sox did everything in their power to hand the game over to the Brewers, committing three errors in the game. The Brewers would capitalize on two of those errors in the 7th to take the lead, but would commit two of their own to lead off the bottom half, handing the game right back. Today, the Crew would struggle on the mound, but continued to give the Sox extra outs when Prince Fielder led off the inning with a blown routine catch, his fifth of the year, seventh in my book, in the fourth inning. Carlos Villanueva would give up two hits and two walks after that, and turn the game completely around. So pitching, defense and disappointing hitting resulted in another embarrassing national television loss and eventual sweep.
Causes for Concern:
Obviously, the Brewers need to be worried about their pitching and hitting. By bringing in Jackson and Mark DiFelice this weekend, they're looking at only two stable pitchers in the bullpen with Guillermo Mota and Saloman Torres. On top of that their starting pitching was questionable at best, giving up far too many dingers, Villanueva especially, whose outing looks worse than it actually was. He needs to get that ball down. 88 MPH fastballs belt high on the inside part of the plate are BP fastballs, and you can't get away with that in any league. On the offensive side of things, it's impossible to win baseball games if only your 3-4-5 hitters are doing anything formidable. Bill Hall, Mike Cameron and Rickie Weeks have dragged this team down into a hole and Ned Yost has no tirade in him that can help them out of it. At which point do you hold the coach accountable? It's a tough question to ask when in such a big hole, but a shake up like a coaching change or perhaps a trade of one of the so-called 'untouchables' could light a fire under some of these guys asses. If a coaching change were to occur, I would want Frank Kremblas up there, who has the respect of all of the players and is an enthusiastic guy.
The Red Sox only have a few things to worry about and it's hardly on the offensive side of the ball. Josh Beckett has been tagged his last few starts and doesn't appear to be the ace he was last year. He still has a shot at being an 18-20 game winner simply because of the offensive support he gets, but if the Red Sox want to win another championship this decade, they'll have to do it behind this guy's arm. To make that happen he'll need to control his fastball a lot better. Today he left three 96 MPH fastballs right down the middle of the plate and in the bigs, everyone will eventually catch up to it and knock it out of the park. Especially at Fenway. But besides Beckett, the Sox have a few concerns in the middle relief portion of the bullpen. Mike Timlin, Manny Delcarmen, and Craig Hansen are not guys you should feel comfortable throwing up there on a regular basis. And while the Sox rotation is pretty darn good, they can't get you to the 8th every game. But it shouldn't be too much of a concern. The Red Sox organization has a knack for getting the extra guy when they're down, and I imagine an eventual trade for Brian Fuentes from Colorado will take care of this problem.
Causes for Excitement:
The Brewers have to be excited about Braun's response to his contract. This 7-year extension (not 8, he's still getting paid 455k this year if you don't count his signing bonus) has done nothing to Braun. He's just as hot as he was before the contract was signed and he looks poised to continue to push his power numbers higher and higher. Though i would appreciate a few more walks, Braun's production alone has kept the Brewers in a number of games that they shouldn't even have a chance in. Other than that, the Brewers can be excited about Corey Hart whose homerun yesterday off of Wakefield is potentially a sign of his return to the power regime.
Boston fans have more than enough to be excited about. With the series sweep of the Brewers and the series loss by the Rays, they've catapulted themselves back on top of the NL East, all while getting their swagger back at the plate. Ortiz looks like he's finally over that initial opening month hump and looks ready to revert right back to his high average, high on-base numbers. If his on-base gets back to over .400, look out baseball, it might be time for back-back championships because the two youngsters in front of him are hitting more impressively than they were last year. (Note: Ellsbury getting caught today was the first of his career after going 25 for 25. It was a franchise record. That's not something to be excited about, but the fact that the kid has already set a franchise record is.)
Predictions and Notes:
What can I say? I hit the nail right on the head. The Brewers team is far from good right now, and are so mentally unstable that two home losses have sent them spinning. Their best shot at a victory was actually in game two, but they didn't do anything to make that happen. The Sox defense did it for them, meaning game one was in fact their best opportunity. Unfortunately, the walk isn't sexy enough for this young team. Let me throw something up in the air for a second. The Cubs scored four runs today on four hits. They had a lot of tough line drive outs and a couple of breaks by the other team as far as fielding goes, but in the end it was their seven walks that gave them a tough fought victory. This is how teams win when they're not hitting the crap out of the ball.
Case and point: Ryan Braun. While Braun is hitting the crap out of the ball he has only walked four times this May, while striking out 14 times. His on-base is a pretty healthy .355 this month, but most of that is average, which is .319. Just two more walks and he's looking at a .380 and gives Prince some extra ABs with the pitcher looking over his shoulder in the stretch. The same can be said for this entire squad. But this is just Braun, whose numbers don't make it look so bad. The team as a whole is only hitting .242, which is 27th in the bigs. Their .317 on-base means they average less than a base-runner an inning. It also means that it is very unlikely they'll get two. Basically, everything needs to improve.
Rickie Weeks did not crack the Mendoza line as I suspected, but he did get on twice in every game, which is an improvement. If this continues, he's deserving of his job. Ortiz smoked the Brewers as expected, so I was right on there. Ellsbury didn't do nearly as much as I expected him to. Instead, Lowell and Youkilis combined to destroy the brutal pitching after Ortiz got on base, launching the Sox to another potentially impressive streak of victories, all while sending the Brewers season into another downward spiral.