Visit to McCarthy's Hometown...........Kenny Mayne

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Brewers "Black Wednesday"....Slumping Crew Makes Big Moves Throughout the Organization

This is the team's darkest day of the season. Brewers outright release Bill Hall ended his career with the Brewers. They send J.J. Hardy down to AAA Nashville, who has been in a season long slump statistically in the bottom of almost every category for SS in the NL. And the Brewers fired Pitching Coach Billy Castro, who's pitching staff has been miserable in the last few months.

Some fans have been calling for this move for months, but the Crew also called up SS, Alcides Escobar from AAA Nashville and promoted Chris Bosio to Brewers Pitching Coach.

Now that heads have rolled, what should fans make of all this?

Well, there’s one of two ways that I see.

The first is that the Brewers are making these moves to shake up the roster and staff in one last-ditch effort to make a run at the division title. That is plausible since it would obviously seem Alcides Escobar is an upgrade at shortstop at this point and the Brewers cut dead weight in Bill Hall. Maybe seeing that some jobs aren't safe will spark this club into a final push. It worked with the Colorado Rockies, although that happened way earlier in the season when they fired manager Clint Hurdle.

The other way to view optioning J.J. Hardy, DFA-ing Hall and firing pitching coach Bill Castro is that the Brewers are throwing up the white flag and finally making moves in mid-August that probably should have been made a month ago. Making them now might appear to be too late to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, so the result is the Brewers finally cutting Hall and Castro and seeing what they have in Escobar while they decide what to do with Hardy long-term.

Realistically, it seems the second option is more likely, although the Brewers are still going to say they believe they can make a push toward the postseason. That may be true; the Brewers as a team and organization might still believe the playoffs are a reasonable goal considering their strength of schedule right now and in the near future. But the standings have already started to say otherwise.

Castro is a fall guy for the staff. There is no way it can be said he was given a full toolbox when he was given this construction job. Everyone who follows the team knew when spring training started that the starting rotation was paper-thin and one injury or poor stretch by one pitcher could leave the pitching staff in shambles. Remember, Seth McClung was the fifth starter before the team went and signed Braden Looper.

The Brewers had the injury to Dave Bush and the poor stretches by Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra, a guy the Brewers hoped could slot in behind ace Yovani Gallardo and give them a solid and young 1-2 punch.

The Brewers were fortunate, and manager Ken Macha has even called it “lucky,” that the rotation held steady for so long into the season. The Brewers were one of the last teams in the majors to use the five starters they entered the season with, but once Parra was sent down things snowballed.

The rotation became one of the worst in the National League and the pitching staff as a whole ranks near the bottom of the league in way too many categories, including being second-worst in team ERA and the starters have the worst ERA (5.13), are 10th in victories (37), third-worst in innings pitched (633), have issued the second-most walks (271), have the third-worst batting average against (.277) and have allowed the most home runs (107).

Obviously, some blame has to land on Castro as the pitching coach, but let’s not kid ourselves into believing he had the ingredients to deliver a dominant rotation.

This season seemed to be one of some accountability for the players, but only when it came to Parra in the rotation and Hall starting at third base, and even then his leash was still lengthy and he was given several chances to prove he could be the everyday starter.

The Brewers didn’t want to make this move with him until they were totally convinced he was a lost cause for their team, we should assume. The main reason is his contract, which the Brewers now have to eat. But the bottom line is Hall wasn’t cutting it and had ended up being a non-contributor for his final months.

Hardy, it seemed, was where some accountability stopped. He has struggled offensively all season. Among NL shortstops with at least 250 plate appearances, he is second to last in average (.230) and third-worst in on-base percentage (.301).

Despite that and Escobar coming on strong at Class AAA Nashville, Hardy was still the everyday shortstop, even when the team acquired Felipe Lopez to play second and freed Craig Counsell to play more shortstop.

Now, with the team 6.5 games out of first place in the division with two teams ahead of it and 6.5 out of the wild card with five teams ahead of it, it looks like the Brewers are out of the races, especially since they show no real signs of breaking out of this slump that has seen them go into a tailspin since July 1.

Do you guys think these moves have come too late and are signs the Brewers have decided to look into the future by discarding some of the past, or is these moves to really make a run?

To summarize the moves made this morning by the Brewers:

1. Pitcing coach Bill Castro was fired and replaced by Class AAA Nashville pitching coach Chris Bosio. Castro, in his first year as pitching coach after 17 years as bullpen coach, paid the price for a staff that ranks 15th in the NL with a 4.84 ERA and has taken several beatings in recent weeks. The starting rotation's 5.16 ERA is last in the NL.

2. Shortstop J.J. Hardy was optioned to Class AAA Nashville and will be replaced by top prospect Alcides Escobar, called up from that club. Hardy has struggled at the plate all year and is batting .229 with 11 homers and 45 RBI. Hardy is seven weeks shy of having five years in the majors, which allows players to turn down minor-league assignments.

3. INF/OF Bill Hall was designated for assignment and replaced on the roster by OF Jason Bourgeois, called up from Nashville. The Brewers have 10 days to trade Hall, release him or have him accept a minor league assignment, which he already did a couple of weeks ago. The club probably will be stuck with the $10 million or so remaining on the contract of Hall, who has been in a two-year slump at the plate and was batting .201 with six homers and 24 RBI.

You can file these moves under the "What Have We Got to Lose?" category. The team has lost 23 of 35 games since July 1, won only one of 10 series and fallen two games below .500 and 6 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central.

In other words, the team was already going down for the count. Why not shake things up and see if there's any life left? Owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin obviously thought they had to try something to salvage the season.


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