The All Star Game is history, and we are a day away from the most anticipated second half of Pirates baseball in years. The Bucs will begin their push for a N.L. Central Division championship with a visit to Miller Park to take on the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers had a rough first half, finishing 40-45 and 8.0 games behind the Pirates in the division. However, regardless of record, we all know the history that precedes the Pirates anytime they travel to Miller Park. The Brew Crew’s domed domicile has been a house of horrors for the Bucs over the years. Heading into this season, the Pirates record in Milwaukee had been 4-38 since 2007. The Bucs took two of three from the Brewers in their stadium earlier this summer, a three game series that was highlighted by wins for James McDonald and Kevin Correia. This series is very important to Milwaukee, who can ill-afford to fall any further back in the division race if they plan on making a late run in 2012. For the Pirates this series offers another opportunity to prove that they are for real, to come out of the gate fast in the second half, and to help erase all of those bad memories they have collected at Miller Park over the past six years.
With all that in mind, I have the chance to catch up with Benjamin Orr, a Staff Writer for Reviewing the Brew. Reviewing the Brew is the Fansided Network site for the Brewers, a fantastic site that is by far the best source of Brewers news on the internet. I also had a chance to answer some questions about this series from a Pirates point of view, so make sure you check out Reviewing the Brew tomorrow for their article. I’ll link it up the The Hub section on Rumbunter as well.
Benjamin provides some great insight into the Brewers season and their possible plans moving forward. Although I will have to disagree with his final prediction for the N.L. Central race…….
Rumbunter: Where do you see the Brewers in the sense of being buyers or sellers in 2012?
Reviewing the Brew: I see the Brewers being in sellers in only one player, George Kottaras. I know a lot of people are speculating about Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Rodriguez and for some reason Randy Wolf, but if it’s anybody, it’s Kottaras. With Jonathan Lucroy due back soon from the disabled listed and Martin Maldonado doing well enough to play in the big leagues, there’s no need for three MLB capable catchers on a NL roster.
I really don’t see the Brewers going after anyone at all. The big thing the front office should focus on is keeping Greinke, provided he isn’t traded before July 31. Being the small market team they are, they already have to pay quite a few people with extensive contracts, then comes free agent signing. Greinke is the key and if we can’t resign him, then it goes to Marcum. If we are unable to resign both, I’d expect the Brewers to explore what they can after the season ends.
RB: Who do you think they would make available if they decided to sell, and what would they be looking for in return – position players, pitchers?
RTB: Kottaras and Kottaras only. It’s speculation to say him, but looking at who the Brewers have, it’s split into two categories: guys we need to keep and guys nobody else wants so we’re stuck with them. It’s the unfortunate thing about being a small market team. I assume the Brewers would focus somewhere around bullpen pitching because our bullpen has been awful this season. We picked up Livan Hernandez not too long ago, so the Brewers are still out there looking for guys to fill in that void.
If the Brewers are unable to sign Greinke and Marcum, then I’d expect them to shell out some cash for relievers. The bullpen has been such a mess. A lot of people thought losing Prince Fielder was a fatal blow to Milwaukee, but not so much as losing LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito. Consistently good middle relievers aren’t exactly easy to come by, especially in Milwaukee. For the time being, we’ll more than likely expect Marco Estrada to take over that role until he gets some support.
RB: What is the deal with Rickie Weeks in 2012? Has he finally started to come around?
RTB: To be quite frank, he’s just flat out awful this season. Let me put it this way, Bryce Harper nearly has identical stats to Weeks, and Harper’s only been playing since late April. As a Brewers’ fan, it’s hard to watch Weeks struggle like this. Doug Melvin invested quite a bit of money in Weeks and for him not to produce, that’s just flat out unacceptable. Yes, there are things such as slow starts, but for Weeks, his whole season has been a struggle.
I don’t think we’ll see much out Weeks for the rest of the season unless he had a darn good All-Star break and figured out his approach to the plate during his time off. On the year, he’s batting an abysmal .199 with 100 strikeouts. In 2011, he struck out 107 times, so that there says a lot. He’s clearly not seeing the ball and frankly, it’s not only frustrating, but a tad concerning.
There’s really nothing the Brewers can do about this unless they decide to bench him for the newly brought up Jeff Bianchi. So basically at that point, you have $11 million dollars a year sitting on the bench, eating away at the Brewers’ monetary value, which not only hurts Weeks’ professional numbers, but it cripples the front office as they are unable to sign anyone worth a hoot and gives them trouble resigning guys like Greinke.
RB: Is Mat Gamel a long-term solution for the Brewers at first base?
RTB: Yes and no. I think yes because he’s really all we have. Ron Roenicke has experimented with Corey Hart at first and even Travis Ishikawa is the current first baseman with Gamel out. I think Gamel was in the limelight for the job after Fielder left so it’s really his job to lose.
Now, permanently? That’s a new ball game there. If Gamel at all struggles (and this is depending on whether or not we resign Ishikawa), he can easily be replaced by Hart, Ishikawa or even Taylor Green / Bianchi. However, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. Gamel for his entire career has lived under the shadow of Fielder and never got really establish himself as a true first baseman.
Gamel has time to learn first base in a more extensive role and I am trusting the Brewers to work with him. I don’t expect Gamel to have Gold Glove stuff instantly, but first base is a hot corner and if he can overcome that, he’ll be fine. His offense is a different story, but it wasn’t exactly bad. He was batting .245 before his injury and you have to take into account that his injury occurred on May 1. Being still early in the season, low averages are expected so it’s hard to judge Gamel based off of that.
RB: As a Brewers follower, what did you think of the Veras/McGehee deal when it happened, and how do you feel about it now?
RTB: I was a bit surprised at the time because we just signed Aramis Ramirez only hours beforehand, but then it made sense. I wasn’t exactly sure why (and I’m still not sure) Milwaukee feels the need to try and bring in average talent all the time, if you can call him average. My initial thought was that it can really only help add some extra padding to the bullpen with Saito leaving that same day.
Now, being halfway through the 2012 season, Veras hasn’t helped at all. He does have some decent pitches, mainly his curveball, but more often than not, his pitches flatten out and he gets in trouble. I guess I understand the front office’s decision on trading for bullpen pitching, especially since we signed Ramirez who in my opinion, is a much better third baseman than McGehee. I just feel we could’ve gotten someone a little better for McGehee.
RB: How do the fans in Milwaukee view what is going on in Pittsburgh? Does it bring back memories of 2008?
RTB: To a degree, it’s somewhat expected while being surprising. Everyone, us Brewers’ fans included, knew the Pirates were going to have to break out of that terrible 20 year slump sooner than later and 2012 may prove to be that year. I think what surprises us the most is how bad we’re doing and how good Pittsburgh is doing, especially when the Pirates won the first series of this season at Milwaukee, where they have always struggled tremendously.
I can’t say that it does. The span of four years has drastically changed both clubs, so it’s hard to say that it compares to 2008. Actually, it’s almost as if the two have switched places in the NL Central and the Brewers are going to be the team looking in from the outside if they cannot continue to play any better. The Pirates on the other hand are not used to so much success that it will be interesting to see how they can handle it later on down the road.
RB: Finally, give me your top to bottom final standings in the 2012 NL Central race.
1. Cincinnati (97-65)
2. St. Louis (88-74) – Wild Card
3. Pittsburgh (82-80)
4. Milwaukee (80-82)
5. Houston (59-103)
6. Chicago (55-107)
You can follow Jeff Snedden on Twitter @jeffsnedden
You can follow Jeff Snedden on Facebook.