After struggling through a weekend of missed opportunities with the AL Central last-place Minnesota Twins, the attention of the recently floundering Cincinnati Reds turns quickly to a key NL Central opponent: the Milwaukee Brewers. In preparation for better knowing the opponent, I exchanged questions with Colin Bennett, Editor of “Reviewing the Brew“, a brother site on the FanSided Network.
1. The Brewers stand a surprising 32-37, five games under .500 and 6.5 games back in the NL Central. Most believe(d) this is (was) a three-team race in the division (with the Reds and Cardinals); is this a slow start or more to it than that?
You’ve touched a nerve early for Milwaukee fans. It’s a condition of the sporadic success we’ve had in years past that the panic button has been hit early and often in Brewers Nation. The fact is, I think it is a combination of injuries and a slow start. I think this division is not the best in terms of overall competition, and in truth it could be anyone’s division (OK, maybe not the Cubs) to win. A good performance against the Reds could easily turn it around – even if they don’t sweep. We have a strong starting rotation and the offense is beginning to pick up, but Milwaukee needs to get its head on straight quickly or people will begin to lose even more faith in this team. It feels like we’re in every game still, but little problems here and there crop up to extinguish opportunities to win.
2. How much is the loss / absence of Prince Fielder affecting the Brewers’ offense? Is he the “missing link” from last season to this one?
I think Milwaukee saw this coming, and picking up Aoki (a contact hitter who can get on base), and Aramis Ramirez helped to take the place of some of those numbers that Prince left. Replacing Prince with one player is impossible – but Milwaukee picked up a few pieces that could help lighten the load on Braun. The real problem lies in the high strikeout rates of Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, who leave dozens of men on base and are draining power from wherever they sit in the lineup. As I wrote this Corey Hart struck out in the top of the 10th in a tie game. This is a bigger problem now than we thought losing Prince would be in the offseason.
3. The closer situation – is John Axford getting the job done? With Frankie Rodriguez possibly waiting in the wings, would he be given a chance the way things have gone?
Axford is under more pressure for his previous success, and people forget how little time he’s actually been the “go-to” closer. When you convert nearly 50 consecutive saves, people expect a shutdown every night. He’s struggled with command lately, and has come up against some big hitters that you normally don’t have to worry about as a closer. I think it would be good to rotate the closer position for a while, and Frankie and Ax have mutual respect for each other. The problem would be the media’s perception of it, and Frankie’s tendency to help ignite that with his comments from time to time. If they do share closing duties, however, I think it would be better off for both of them.
4. No doubt Zack Greinke is getting it done in the starting rotation for the Brewers since coming from the Royals … is he (or anybody else, for that matter) considered “trade bait” if things continue to stay where they are given his free agent status in 2013?
I don’t think what we’d get in return for the Zack Attack would not be worth getting rid of him. With the amount of money and talent living in that boy, we would need a top-tier pitcher for him at the very least – and then what’s the point of getting rid of him? It’s fun to think about, I suppose, if you’re in the market for a pitcher – but there’s no way I see him going anywhere before the end of the season. I can see one of the back-up catchers (Martin Maldonado or George Kottaras) getting some value, and possibly Wolf or Marcum but to be honest with the way the division is playing out I think we need to get a lot of good players in return or we will be selling ourselves short.
5. Ron Roenicke, led the team to an NL Central title only a year ago in an outstanding managerial debut – has fan opinion stayed positive of him so far or is the leash any shorter now?
Well with his extension this season I don’t think it really matters regardless, but he’s definitely seeing more pressure than he was last year. But he’s doing the best he can with all the injuries the team has been dealt with. He needs to be more consistent with the lineups, I think, but other than that I’m not so sure he’s to blame for the team’s sturggling. He can’t really control the defense – which is a big reason why the team is doing so bad. He needs to move Hart and Weeks out of the line-up ASAP, but it’s also tough because we don’t really have any good replacements. He’s got one of the toughest gigs in the division right now coming off last year.
6. The Reds last faced the Brewers in Miller Park in early May, taking two of three at the time. What has changed with the team since we last saw them?
We’ve had more injuries – specifically to Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel and Jonathan Lucroy which have hurt us immensely. But we’ve been lucky in the fact that a few people have come in and really stepped up. Norichika Aoki is getting more playing time and proving he was worth the money we invested to get him over from Japan. Also, Martin Maldonado is coming up strong as a rookie catcher both offensively and defensively. This is a very different team then one you saw in May. It doesn’t hit as strong, and the defense is faltering. I think the team is trying to find its way – on a path it didn’t expect to be on. There’s real potential there but it hasn’t been fully realized yet.
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