Roenicke doesn’t deserve all the blame
It was about the time Brewers-killer David Freese’s three-run homer in the first inning stopped rattling around the Menomonee Valley that you were put to mind of another Waterloo-level move, the Great Mark Kotsay Experiment in Game 3.
Or the Jeff Suppan start in Game 4 of the 2008 NLDS.
Or, for that matter, Glenn Robinson’s missed shot in Game 5 of the 2001 NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Seems like the paid-to-play set in our town can only get so far.
And it’s easy to blame the baseball manager now that a season, likely with Prince Fielder’s tenure in blue, is over. Even if it was one of the best seasons in franchise history.
“It’s was awesome,” Fielder said after hugging these teammates for probably the last time in a quiet clubhouse Sunday night. “I love these guys. The organization has been great to me. It was cool.”
But this, not so cool: How many times was Ron Roenicke given the chance to wiggle out of committing the Suppan-slumping Marcum to an elimination game?
Just how quickly did it take Roenicke to run the people’s choice, Chris Narveson, out there? After 27 incredibly damaging pitches, that’s how long.
And know what? It still didn’t matter.
This was a total team breakdown, the 12-6 Game 6 stinker and the entire series for that matter, pretty much out of any manager’s control.
Seven errors in 18 innings when you’re this close to the first World Series in Milwaukee—with, doubly ouchie, home-field advantage—in nearly 30 years? Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks, a combined 2-of-24 in the last two games, two of the worst for the Brewers collectively all season, the ones they saved for the absolutely wrong occasion?
That’s least mode.
The Brewers met two of three goals in a remarkable regular season, but this was no way to go out.
“They just played better,” Fielder said in what were likely his final comments as a Brewer. “They played great baseball. Give them the credit. But I’m really proud of the way we played. We gave it all we’ve got and that’s all you can do.
“As long as you play as hard as you can, you can sleep at night. Time to play with the kids now.”
Still, the Brewers made it way too easy on the St. Louis Cardinals to reclaim their birthright that is the World Series. They made it way too easy on Octavio Dotel, the Sam Cassell of baseball for as many times as he has been traded, and the rest of the St. Louis bullpen.
As poorly as they handled their first chance for a National League pennant, the Brewers also made it way too easy to heap all manner of criticism on their rumpled caps. The only thing another sellout crowd at Miller Park had to commemorate was a flashbulb-marked and genuinely warm sendoff of their mighty first baseman to free-agent riches in the eighth inning.
By then, there was no reason to hang around to see the Cardinals celebrate all over the home-field disadvantage. By then, it was just another beat-down by the most worthy division rivals.
For perspective sake, the Brewers won 96 games and a Central title. Roenicke handled the team with aplomb during the regular season. It was a great ride while it lasted.
“I was happy with our season,” Roenicke said.
But leaving the pitching-short Cardinals in the dust during the regular season did nothing for the Brewers in the playoffs, when pitching, hitting, fielding, everything betrayed them. Two 12-run games from the Cardinals and a composite 43-26 score tell you everything you need to know about the difference in the teams when it mattered most.
Of course, it was better to get to the second round of the playoffs and flop miserably than to never have reached this rarefied point at all. But you also wonder if this is the high-water mark for the franchise for a long time to come.
It’s true, they’ll bring back almost the same team next season, notably minus Fielder and Frankie Rodriguez. They should again be more competitive than the smallest market in a no-salary-cap game has the right to kick the bigger franchises around.
This wasn’t necessarily a must-win year. The Brewers went further than many expected.
“I still think we’re among the best teams in baseball,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
Maybe they are. We’ll see. But they were built for this moment, with Fielder and pitching. You wonder if it will come again.