It’s Finally Opening Day
The weather forecasters have made a bold prediction for opening day on March 30. They promise nicer weather for the pre-game tailgating!
This is a season “on its head” for the Brewers. This year we have our “play-off” games first to start the season, instead of at the end. If the Brewers do not start well, these games may be the only important ones we play all season. Indeed, the first six games may be the most important of the season.
The Brewers open at home against the Atlanta Braves, last season’s National League Eastern Division Champions. The Braves figure to be in the pennant race again, so they are not coming to Milwaukee to lose. They probably hope to fatten up against a team that won only 74 games all last season. Indeed, there can be no feeling: “it’s a long season and we have time to right the ship.” Last season it was all over by the middle of May. Even winning just the opening game may be crucial to get started on the right foot! If Gallardo can pitch well enough to give the offense a chance to score first, it will help a lot because in baseball playing with the lead early is much easier on everyone. Win the first game, and all we have to do is win one of the next two games to take the series two games to one. Lose the first, and the team must win two straight to take the series. This would be no easy task against the powerful Braves. In fact, if the Brewers lose the first game, it is more likely the Braves will take the next two too.
Then the team goes into games 4, 5, and 6 on the road against the defending World Series Champion Red Sox at Fenway Park. Guess what? They could easily get swept there too! If one recalls what happened when we last played a series at Fenway, the Brewers were so bad there was turmoil in the Clubhouse with some players accusing others of not believing they could compete against Boston. Start the season zero wins and six losses, the Brewers fans will turn quickly away from the gate, despite “Hank.” We need to win at least win two games in the first six. That would leave us only two games under .500 and we can recover. Even just two wins may be tough to get? A shaky start like that won’t cure itself either because before the month of April is through we will have played both the National League Pennant winner St. Louis Cardinals six games in home and home series plus the Pittsburgh Pirates for another six games. The Brewers better bring their “A” game home from the Cactus League and start “hot,” otherwise it will look like another season in the tank to the fans, who can only be so patient.
Now the Spring Training decisions have been made. The Brewers are keeping two first baseman and two second baseman. It is a log jam on the right side of the infield. One can hardly pay a player $12 Million, and put him on the bench – so Weeks will play, at least against left handed pitching. It took Weeks until the All-Star break to even get his nose above a .200 batting average last season. Can the team afford to play him if he isn’t hitting? The double whammy there for Gennett is that it is hard to hit well when you get inconsistent at bats. The same holds true for Weeks when Gennett plays. There might be teams willing to trade for Weeks, but they might prefer to get him a little cheaper by letting him play. Relying on Weeks to play to his potential is huge gamble.
Then there is first base. Can we count on Overbay to hit? He hasn’t shown it so far. Someone else in the line-up better be picking up the slack offensively. If Reynolds doesn’t get consistent at-bats, he looks likely to me to be no better than the .230 hitter he was last season. By not moving Braun to 1B and sending Caleb Gindl to the minors because of the above mentioned logjam, we will have two weak spots out of eight in the line-up for sure, or if you add the pitcher, the whole bottom one-third of the order.
The other six better make up the difference offensively. Fortunately, it appears Ramirez is ready to play again at third and bat clean-up to protect Ryan Braun. Figure again that among these six players we have a left fielder who only played one-half a season last year. He shows great promise, but the team cannot wait with its other troubles for Davis to get comfortable and find his stroke. He better have it right away. Then that leaves the strange case of Ryan Braun. How well can he combat the jeers he is likely to receive everywhere he plays on every at-bat? How can he be the team leader like he should have been? The pressure on Braun to produce is horrific. It is a strange situation.
Then there is the most important part of a winning combination of players – the pitching. The team added another #3 starter who has not performed well in spring in Garza. The staff will need great starting pitching from a young Peralta and possibly Estrada, who has done well this spring. If the other starters falter, can the team rely on two second year players in the bullpen to close out potential victories? Henderson has not performed well this spring, and has only been closer for half a season. The same is true of Kintzler. The only one bullpen pitcher I like is new acquisition Will Smith.
Overall, only if the team can jell and get hot right away will it avoid another May mess. I just don’t see us beating the Cardinals or the Pirates in our tough Division even if the Reds may falter. Only if everything works will these moving parts be greater than the sum of the whole. But, it being a sport, it is why we play the games instead of talking about it. Think of the 1914 “Miracle Braves” who on the 4th of July were in last place, yet got hot with the same players to win the pennant going away – and World Series too! Maybe lightning can strike twice?
J. D. Thorne 3-24-2014
By J. D. Thorne
Author & Speaker
The 10 Commandments of Baseball published by Sporting Chance Press, Inc
Available at the Museum Store of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and “The Little Read Book Store” in Wauwatosa, WI or at www.SportingChancePress.com ($20 + $4 shipping)