A slightly-different take on the series preview this time, with five questions I posed to Jason Trumpy, one of the people who run True Blue Brew Blog, the Milwaukee arm of MVN, and the answers he provided. If you're interested, you can also read his questions and my answers, though you probably know what I think about the team. :-)
1. What has been the take on new manager Ken Macha? Have you seen a difference in his approach from the Ned Yost/Dale Sveum days of last season?
I think the biggest difference is his approach with the players. They seem to have more respect for him than they did for Yost and he seems to be more in control. Sveum really wasn’t much of a factor last year, only being in charge for 12 games. It’s hard to leave your mark on a team in 12 games. I think if he had been given the opportunity to run the ship he would have done just fine. (Brewers' General Manager) Doug Melvin must think so, too, or he wouldn’t still be on the coaching staff.
2. The Brewers find themselves (at time of writing) in fifth place in the division. What do you see as the main problems with their performance to date?
I’m going to let the Brewers performance since you wrote this question (Sunday night) speak for itself. It may have just been against the "lowly" Pirates, but even though the Brewers have beat them 15 straight times, they have always been tough. But, as frustrating as the first few series were for the Brewers, most fans knew that it would just take a little patience for all of the pieces to come together.
3. Prince Fielder has got off to a slow start this season [insert obvious comment here - probably something involving a supertanker!], as are Jason Kendall and JJ Hardy. Which, if any, of these are you most concerned about?
I think Prince has got to be the biggest concern. He just signed a nice fat contract during spring training, and his numbers last year were down from the year before also. Kendall has never been an offensive juggernaut, and Hardy is very streaky. Their season averages will level off at some point in the next month. Fielder, however, may be more of a long-term downward trend. As I noted in a post I made during spring training, Fielder may be gone by the All-Star break anyhow.
The Brewer offense has a lot of weapons, though, enough that if two or three of them go into a slump, another two or three will pick them up nicely.
4. There were concerns about your rotation before the season, losing Sheets and Sabathia. Thus far, your rotation has ranged from the awesome [Looper] to the poor [Suppan]. What's your take on their performance to date?
A lot of people were more concerned than I was. When you look at Sheets’ and Sabathia’s contributions last year, they were significant in that the Brewers would not have made the playoffs without them, but they weren’t so grandiose as to be irreplaceable. Sheets only had 13 wins. You figure if Looper pitches in 30 games and wins half of them, as his lifetime numbers would indicate, he’s got Sheets beat right there. And Sabathia only pitched in 17 games. It’s true that he won 11 of them, and his 3-day rest routine at the end of the year helped guarantee a playoff spot, but they were in position to make a run before they acquired him and they were in position to win it the previous year but they collapsed at the end. And Gallardo has been lights out as of late. I can’t say enough about that kid. If he can keep his performance up all year, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
5. Tell us about the Brewers prospect you think has the best chance to contribute to the team later in the season.
That’s an interesting question. The Brewers starting 8 in the field is exactly the same as it was last year and for the most part they are performing pretty well. I don’t see anybody being bumped by a younger guy. There are two factors that might change that. One being injuries of course. If somebody gets injured, there is a lot of talent at AAA that could step into a spot and not be too much of a downgrade. The other factor could be a trade. The Brewers are still a small-market team, and their payroll is at levels unheard of in this town before. Besides Fielder, there is J.J. Hardy, Billy Hall, and Corey Hart who are either making big bucks or in line to make them soon and may or may not be part of the team's long-term plans, and I don’t think Melvin would balk at making a move if the price was right.
Next year is when the prospect situation will get interesting. Mat Gamel is knocking the cover off the ball at AAA but makes a ton of errors at third base. Alcides Escobar, the likely replacement for J.J. Hardy, is solid defensively (although his errors are up this year) but lacks plate discipline. If we don’t see some trades this year or in the off-season, spring training could be very interesting next year.
Thanks to Jason for suggesting this exchange, and for his thoughtful answers.