1. After pushing the Cubs all the way last year and with a series of great propects breaking through the future appeared bright for the Brew Crew. However, at the moment you are well off the pace. Can the Brewers challenge for the division this year?
Jeff Sackmann (fellow contributer at THT) and I exchanged questions on the Braves/ Brewers series the last couple of days. Here is what I asked Jeff:
Absolutely. The Brewers have faced a really tough schedule so far, while the Cubs and Cards haven't. That doesn't explain the entire difference, of course, but it does account for some of it. Add in some back-rotation messiness, and you have the formula for a bad start. The front office seems to be very pro-active this year when it comes to plugging holes (witness the Julian Tavarez signing and the Russell Branyan callup this week alone), so it wouldn't surprise me to see Doug Melvin go get a #2 or #3 starter as soon as the trade market opens for business. Tack that on to an offense that won't stay dormant the entire season, and you still have the makings of an 85-88 win team, which may well be enough to get into the postseason, if not necessarily win the division.
2. Prince Fielder only has 6 HR to his name and we're almost in June. What is going on with the big man -- and is this anything to do with his fabled meat-free diet? Was last year lucky or is he just is a slump?
I doubt his diet is to blame, but I do wonder what he's thinking about at the plate. He's still drawing tons of walks, and his approach looks solid, but the talk for months has been about him becoming a better hitter...and you know what that means: taking the ball the
opposite way, making contact...all the things hitters should focus on if they're *not* good. I wouldn't be surprised if some misguided coaching is keeping his power numbers down, but at the same time, I would be shocked if Prince comes in below 30-35 dingers this year (or
any year before 2015 in which he's healthy).
3. Ryan Braun was much criticized for his glove work last year. Now that he's marooned in left field has be become less of a liability in the field?
Absolutely. He still doesn't look comfortable in left field--his first step looks especially unpracticed next to Mike Cameron's--but you can tell his athleticism is enough. He's made some great catches, and no one ever doubted his arm strength. The question now is whether Bill Hall can field the position; he isn't as bad as Braun was last year, but he's raising the question. Certainly Russell Branyan isn't going to improve the situation on that side of the bat!
4. Ned Yost was also widely derided last year for ineffective use of the bullpen. Studies say that managers don't really cost teams that many games a season but Brewers fans were discussing whether he should go. Has that view changed since last year?
There's been an anti-Yost contingent for years. Oddly enough, Yost seems to have developed quite a bit as a manager, or at least as a strategist. He batted the pitcher 8th until recently, and has been slower to play the hot hand this year than last. At the same time, his reputation as a player's manager is taking a hit. That was unquestioned until a couple of years ago, and now that's right up there with bullpen management as a reason to put him out of work.
As for bullpen management, I don't know if he's gotten better, but the relief corps was Melvin's offseason project. Yost uses Brian Shouse (a situational lefty) far too much, but aside from that, there are only so many mistakes he can make. We've got a bunch of middle relievers, and I don't know that one way of mixing and matching them is better than any other. One encouraging note was that, before David Riske got hurt, Yost seemed to be using him as a first man out of the pen, often deploying him in high-leverage situations as early as the 5th or 6th inning. That's not a common practice with a guy whose contract suggests he's the official setup guy.
5. Eric Gange -- discuss?
Your guess is as good as mine. He has had a few moments where he looks unhittable, and plenty more where he looks all but done. I can only hope that his stint on the DL is for an injury that is both real and correctable--the team was already talking about him making adjustments, and that might be because he was overcompensating for an injury. I don't think most Brewers fans expected him to show up and pitch like it was 2001, but my best case scenario is that he's going to be a Joe Borowski type--pitch just well enough to free up the other good relievers (like Riske) to pitch in high-leverage situations. Whether that will happen is far from clear.
To see my answers to Jeff's questions click here