Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Disappointing Present With a Promising Future

I recently wrote an article for the new metro-milwaukee/uwm University Standard. Check out their website if you have time. Here's my article on the Milwaukee Brewers...

A Disappointing Present With a Promising Future

Think back to September 30, 2005. The Milwaukee Brewers came into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 80 wins and three games to go in the season. The game that night started poorly for the Brewers. They were down 5-0 after five innings and it seemed the quest for a .500 record would have to wait another day. During the next two innings, the Brewers scored six runs capped off by Wisconsin native Damian Miller’s two-run homer which gave the Brew Crew a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the ninth before a PNC Park crowd of 20,922, closer Derrick Turnbow struck out two of the three men he faced to record his 39th save of the year. Win 81 was in the books. For the first time since 1992, the Milwaukee Brewers would not lose more games then they won. Right fielder and Brewer elder Geoff Jenkins said that night, “It's an awesome, awesome feeling. It's not the playoffs or anything like that, but for us this is kind of our playoffs. It's a great feeling and something to build on for next year."

Fast forward to September 19, 2006. The Brewers lost their 83rd game of the season. Damian Miller, who has battled nagging injuries all year, did not play. Derrick Turnbow pitched one-third of an inning and gave up 1 hit, 3 walks and 5 runs (2 earned). After being down only one run at 3-2 through five innings, the Brewers did not score another run and gave up nine more for a final score of 12-2. Not exactly what Geoff Jenkins or anyone else in Milwaukee were hoping to build to in 2006.What are the reasons for this unexpected turn for the worse in the 2006 season after the promising building block that was the 2005 season?

3. Geoff Jenkins: Jenkins had a solid 2005 season, but it did not translate to a good 2006 season. His batting average in 2006 is .268 – down from 2005’s average of .292. His slugging percentage is .426 – down from .513. His on base percentage is .347 – down from .375. His homeruns and RBI totals currently stand at 15 and 67. In 2005, he finished the year with 25 homeruns and 86 RBIs. Geoff’s statistical drop off hurt the Brewers’ offensive production significantly and rumors circle around Miller Park that this will be Jenks’ last year in Milwaukee. 2006 may be an unfortunate end to his career as a Brewer.

2. Derrick Turnbow: 2006 has become complete and total meltdown for Derrick. The season started well for the Brewers’ ex-closer, but just before the all-star break in July it all unraveled. The statistical free fall for Turnbow has been well documented, but the key has been his lack of control. He still has the hard fastball, but his sometimes inconsistent control has morphed into just downright dreadful control. Over 67 and 1/3 innings last year, Turnbow gave up 24 walks. In 2006, he has given up 36 walks in 53 and 1/3 innings. Somewhere along the way Derrick lost something whether it be mental, mechanical or both. Hopefully, in 2007 he will regain that 2005 magic.

1. Injuries: The biggest reason for the Milwaukee Brewers not building on last year’s success is the injury bug. JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Corey Koskie, Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka were all being counted on as key contributors coming into this year and they all have missed two months or more in 2006. Few major league baseball clubs can sustain long term injuries to their starting shortstop, second baseman, third baseman and two starting pitching and still have a winning season.

As the 2006 regular season comes to a close, Milwaukee baseball fans are turning their attention toward next year. Yes, this year was a big disappointment, but reasons for optimism still exist.

3. The Young Guns: Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Billy Hall, and Tony Gywnn Jr. are 26 years old or younger. These are players on the upside of their careers rather than aging veterans (i.e. Geoff Jenkins) who are more likely to see a slide than an increase in their production. They all gained valuable experience this year (some more than others) and Fielder and Hall have already proven that they are legitimate middle of the order run producers.

2. Sheets and Capuano: Ben Sheets seems to be completely recovered from his recent back muscle injury troubles. A full year of both Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano would give the Brewers a legitimate one-two punch in their starting rotation.

1. Doug Melvin: Do not be fooled by 2006’s results. Doug Melvin is one of baseball’s better general managers. Unlike the losing teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the 2006 sub-par performance was due more to bad luck and unexpected production drop off from certain players instead of management putting together a bad team. Rest assured, Doug Melvin will turn the Brewers back in the right direction sooner rather than later. The 2006 season is not an indication of the overall direction of the Milwaukee Brewers. They possess the talent and the management to play competitive and entertaining baseball in 2007.

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