The Brewers dropped a pair of tough losses in St Louis over the weekend. The first came Saturday night, a high scoring 9-7 loss where the Crew got behind early and rallied several times, only to ultimately come up short in the end. Sunday’s loss was even harder, with the Brewers giving up a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning after starter Matt Garza left the contest with a strained oblique muscle. The bullpen gave up three runs in the seventh, and gave the Cardinals the winning margin they needed to climb back to within a single game of the Brewers.
As is so often the case with tough losses, the focus turned to manager Ron Roenicke after he elected to allow Kyle Lohse to give up nine runs (seven earned) over four-plus innings on Saturday and then really zeroed in on him with laser beam focus as the lead crumbled away in the seventh inning Sunday. Managers are always going to be targets even when they don’t do anything in particular to bring it on themselves, but this weekend was a perfect case study in how anger and frustration can color perception and lead to some pretty silly places.
Saturday’s game was probably one of Roenicke’s worst days as manager of the team. Not necessarily because of what he did in leaving Lohse in to give up so many runs, but because of the downright Yostian explanation he gave about it afterwards. From the always excellent Adam McCalvy:
With long reliever Marco Estrada having pitched only two-thirds of an inning since July 19 and a pair of off-days bookending this three-game series, Roenicke was asked why he didn’t replace Lohse earlier.
“Marco takes a long time to get loose, so we were trying to get [Kintzler] ready,” Roenicke said. “[The pitching change to Kintzler] could have been a batter earlier.”
Roenicke also suggested that the team needed innings from Lohse, despite Monday’s off-day. He was hesitant to go too early to long man Estrada because, “You think, ‘OK, Estrada can go four innings for me,'” he said. “Well, if you’re behind and you have a situation where you have to [pinch-hit], trying to score runs, you can’t. You can only go two innings, because we have to hit for him. If you want to try to win the game, you just can’t say he’s going to go four or five innings. If you think you’re out of it, you have no chance, then it’s a little bit different.”
Look, I tend to have a lot of sympathy for managers giving explanations for decisions post game. Who among us would like to have to give a detailed accounting of everything we did in a given day at the office to a pack of reporters who would like nothing more than to lay it open to the ridicule of a pack of people who don’t have anything approaching the expertise to legitimately criticize those decisions? It’s only natural that they would develop a fondness for safe cliches and doublespeak to avoid a bunch of needless headaches.
That being said, there are some things really wrong with his stated reasoning above.
- He himself made the idea of Estrada needing extra time to warm up as a reason for Lohse staying in so long look ridiculous. Of course he could have done what he ended up doing at any point if that was the case: use a bridge reliever like Brandon Kintzler to get there. Of course.
- The notion that he couldn’t pull Lohse earlier because he might need to pinch hit for him at some point is barely better. The Brewers bullpen doesn’t just possess one reliever capable of going more than three outs. By my count, they have at least three in Estrada, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeremy Jeffress. If the situation presents itself where a pinch hitter would be desirable, he can turn to any one of those three guys still trailing and feel reasonably good about still being able to eat up the innings.
In fact, the situation did present itself in the top of the fourth inning. Having already given up six runs, Lohse came to the plate with Scooter Gennett on third and two outs and trailing 6-4. Given the fact that the Brewers have recently gotten a string of long starts and had an off day looming on Monday anyway, it was very tactically justifiable for Roenicke to send Lohse to an early shower and get a pinch hitter into the game. He elected not to do so and Lohse gave up another run in the fourth and two more in the fifth before bowing out anyway.
It’s all so silly that one has to at least wonder if the fact that Lohse is a respected veteran and a leader on the team played a role in Roenicke giving him more leeway than he perhaps would with one of his other starters. Not that such considerations are completely out of bounds for managers to worry about, but one would hope that part of the value of a guy like Lohse would be his ability to handle such a situation gracefully and make it a non-issue anyway. Either way, it wasn’t a particularly a good night for the visiting skipper.
So it was under that cloud of dissatisfaction that many fans headed into the game on Sunday.
Everything was looking pretty good for the Brewers until the top of the seventh inning, when something unexpected happened. With two outs and runner on first, the pitchers spot came due. To that point, Garza had thrown 71 pitchers and allowed only one hit and no walks. So of course it was a pretty big surprise when Lyle Overbay came in to pinch hit for him. Overbay got a hit, but the inning ended one batter later with a Carlos Gomez popup to third.
Grumbles of dissatisfaction on social media quickly turned into outright rage when first Zach Duke, then Jeffress proceeded to allow five straight hits and the lead was gone, just like that. It turned out that Garza wasn’t pulled from the game just because Roenicke wanted to play matchups. He was actually legitimately hurt, even if it took some time for social media to come to grips with that reality. It was an object lesson in not jumping to conclusions before all the facts are in, a lesson that we all need reinforced from time to time.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much what we, as fans, think or say about Roenicke as long as we’re still tuning in and showing up at Miller Park. He probably could avoid getting reactions like the one he got Sunday by not having nights like Saturday very often, but really it doesn’t make much difference. As long as he keeps the respect of the guys in the clubhouse, the upstairs offices and wins enough every few years to keep the owner on board, his job is pretty safe. That’s surely disappointing to some people, but it’s probably best for the franchise at this point.