• Archive:  
Updated: May 20, 2010, 1:03 PM ET

Don't blame Macha for Brewers' current failures

Olney By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
Archive
Ken Macha is in the last year of his contract with the Brewers, and Milwaukee is off to a terrible start, winning just 15 of 40 games. The Brewers have dropped eight in a row, and there is speculation about whether Macha might get fired -- and given the results-oriented management style of Mark Attanasio, it would not be a surprise if a change was made. Remember, Attanasio was the driving force behind the dismissal of Ned Yost in the last days of the regular season a couple of years ago.

But you wonder how much of a difference a change at manager would actually make, because no matter who is filling out the lineup card, that person -- whether it's Macha or Willie Randolph or Connie Mack or John McGraw -- cannot change the fact that the Brewers just don't have a lot of pitching weapons.

[+] EnlargeYavani Gallardo
Andy Hayt/Getty ImagesAfter Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers don't have much power in their rotation.

A rival evaluator chatted on Tuesday about the Brewers' staff. "When you look at their rotation," he said, "they basically have a guy who has the stuff to be a No. 2 starter on a good team [Yovani Gallardo] and a guy who could be a No. 4 [Randy Wolf], and then a bunch of guys who should be long relievers. That might be the softest group of pitchers I've seen in years."

By soft, he wasn't talking about their mental toughness; rather, he was talking about their pure stuff. Gallardo has 61 strikeouts in 53 innings this year, for a very healthy 10.36 strikeouts per nine innings. Wolf is more of a finesse pitcher, however, averaging 6.33 strikeouts per nine. Before Doug Davis was placed on the disabled list because of a heart ailment, he had averaged 8.64 strikeouts per nine. "But he has to trick people," said the evaluator. "They just don't have enough guys to overpower hitters."

This problem was apparent the other night, as Dave Bush pitched against the Philadelphia Phillies. He doesn't have the pure stuff to pound the strike zone with fastballs, so he carefully picked at the edges, and Philadelphia scored a run in each of the first three innings. In the end, Bush hung in there and gave the Brewers a quality start -- three runs in six innings -- but he is not a shutdown pitcher; Milwaukee lacks shutdown pitching.

It hasn't been much better in the bullpen, either. Trevor Hoffman appears on the verge of losing his job as the Brewers' closer because he lacks weapons, now that the command of his changeup has been missing.

As Brewers GM Doug Melvin made midseason trades in recent years, he spoke of how this type of aggressiveness comes with a price. To be clear, making those deals was the right thing to do -- the Brewers' playoff run in 2008 has been one of the best events in baseball over the last decade.

In order to get a CC Sabathia in midsummer, or a Ray Durham, you have to give up assets -- and while young slugger Matt LaPorta was the centerpiece of the Sabathia deal, the Brewers probably could have gotten a power arm for LaPorta sometime last year, if they had kept him.

So firing Macha might feel good, and might placate some corner of the Brewers' fan base. But the real problem is pitching. Milwaukee finished dead last in starters' ERA in 2009, and right now, the Brewers rank 28th in ERA, at 5.25. Until that changes, the standing of the their manager, whoever it is, will always be in question.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and an analyst for "Baseball Tonight." Read his daily ESPN.com blog here.

Baseball Tonight Live

Baseball Tonight analysts, ESPN.com writers and SweetSpot Network bloggers chatted and gave their in-game opinions throughout the day's games -- all in Baseball Tonight Live.

Touch 'Em All

Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Thursday's Best Matchups

Reds at Braves, 1:05 p.m. ET

A promising pair of talented young arms takes the mound. The Reds' Mike Leake is 4-0 in his first seven major league starts. Tommy Hanson is 3-3, but is carrying around a 2.88 ERA. In two of his three losses, the Braves were shut out.


Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET

The Rays took the series opener in the Bronx to up their record to 29-11, giving Tampa Bay a four-game lead in the AL East. Andy Pettitte puts his perfect 5-0 record up against Matt Garza's 4-1 mark.


Twins at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET

Yes, another very good pitching matchup, this one pitting Francisco Liriano (4-2, 2.63 ERA) against Jon Lester (3-2, 3.91). Liriano, though, enters having lost each of his past two starts, giving up 19 hits and eight runs in 12 innings. Lester is 3-0 over his past five outings.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?