Watching close games slip away can crawl under one’s skin. However, watching close games slip away because of questionable managerial decisions is even more maddening. The Brewers unfortunately experienced one of the latter on Wednesday evening against the Cubs.
The ninth inning is not what solely cost the Brewers the game. Plenty happened in earlier innings that can easily be critiqued. Still, that’s where I would like to focus our attention. Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Brewers had Juan Francisco leading off the inning against the Cubs’ closer, Kevin Gregg.
Francisco’s offensive profile has been extremely consistent throughout his career. Massive power with massive holes in his swing. He has always hammered baseballs when opposing pitchers make a mistake middle-in and below the belt, but he’s struggled with essentially everything else.
This is why we’ve seen opposing teams continually bust Francisco up-and-in. He really struggles in that location. While the Brewers are reportedly working with him to revamp his swing, it remains a work-in-progress, and coming into Wednesday’s game, he was only hitting .224/.289/.391 on the season.
In the ninth inning, though, Kevin Gregg hung a splitter that caught the heart of the plate. Francisco got a mistake in his wheelhouse, and he didn’t miss. The 26-year-old slugger laced a missile over the right-field wall to bring the Brewers within one run.
Rickie Weeks then followed with a double to right-center field — how hot has he been at the plate? — and Roenicke opted to have Logan Schafer bunt him over to third base. At that moment, the Brewers’ manager effectively tipped his hand. He was content to play for the tie. He was doing everything he could to ensure Weeks could cross the plate and (at least) send the game to extra innings.
Certainly not a poor plan to have Schafer bunt, especially when considering the fact that Kevin Gregg has been absolutely devastating to left-handed hitters all season. Try to secure the tie, and everything else in that situation is gravy.
The problem, though, was Yuniesky Betancourt. The Brewers’ manager sacrificed a valuable out and chose to rely on his worst hitter in the bottom of the ninth. Betancourt had been hitting .164/.196/.237 since the beginning of May — and worst of all, nine of his previous 12 balls put in play had been grounders to the left side of the infield. Thus, the Brewers chose to rely on a guy who has displayed a penchant for doing the one thing the team couldn’t afford, which was a simple grounder to the third baseman or shortstop.
And sure enough, Betancourt reached out on a first-pitch slider and weakly grounded the baseball to the third baseman, who easily gunned down Weeks at home plate. The threat was effectively extinguished. Scooter Gennett almost shocked the world when he flew out to the warning track, but in the end, Betancourt’s grounder proved to be the deepest wound.
Roenicke should have done something different, right?
Simply arguing that Roenicke should have pinch-hit for Betancourt, however, somewhat misses the context of the potential move. The Brewers only had Gennett and Maldonado on the bench, and removing Betancourt from the game in an attempt to secure a tie would have necessitated a change in left field for extra innings. Gennett in left field? Maldonado to first base and Francisco to left field?
Neither of those options seem desirable.
On the other hand, Betancourt in left field is undesirable in itself. He’s played two innings in left field during his professional career. Two. The Brewers were playing someone out of position and solely relying on his athleticism in left field, so with that in mind, the Brewers could have also risked playing Scooter Gennett in left field. The idea that Betancourt couldn’t have been lifted because the team didn’t have anyone to play left field is flawed. The team already didn’t have anyone to play left field, but they trotted out Yuni Betancourt anyway.
To me, Gennett makes just as much sense, and it would have allowed Roenicke to pinch hit with Maldonado in a key spot — a better hitter overall, as well as a guy with a lower ground-ball percentage.
I generally believe the impact of baseball managers is dramatically overstated. Ron Roenicke can’t hit or pitch or run the bases for his team. Instead, his job is to put his team in the best-possible scenario to have success. I’m not sure he did that in the bottom of the ninth inning on Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs, though, and it was frustrating to watch.
BREWERS PROMOTE SEAN HALTON
The Brewers also made their second roster move this week, promoting 26-year-old Sean Halton to the big leagues and sending Scooter Gennett back to Triple-A Nashville.
Gennett needs regular at-bats to continue his development as a hitter, and with Rickie Weeks busting out of his slump in dramatic fashion this month, those regular at-bats are not going to come in Milwaukee. Thus, the organization sent him back to Nashville to play everyday and ready himself for another shot in the big leagues — either later this year or next season.
Halton is the perfect guy to call up. He can play both first base and corner outfield, and he’s only a fringe major-leaguer — so the organization isn’t burning significant arbitration time or rushing the development of a big-time prospect. As a bonus, he should get a chance to replace Betancourt as the right-handed member of the first base platoon.
On the season, the 6-foot-4 California native is hitting .288/.338/.492 with 18 doubles, two triples and nine home runs. In June, though, he’s been tearing the cover off the baseball. He has a .378/.435/.622 slash line this month, and despite the fact he doesn’t have the requisite power to carry a first-base profile, he’s shown throughout his career that he can at least hit for a solid average. The Brewers desperately need that at first base, at least part-time at first base.
Having Halton serve as the replacement of Betancourt on the roster — and not just as the replacement in the first base platoon — would obviously be preferable. Gennett needs his everyday at-bats in Nashville, though, and it was important to ensure that would take place sooner rather than later.