Brewers owner Mark Attanasio sounded slightly despondent while talking in the Brewers TV broadcast booth Wednesday.
“If I didn't sound despondent at 4-16 (this month) and down 7-0 (to the Dodgers) I have a problem,'' Attanasio said.
He has a point. The native New Yorker and current Los Angeleno has put immense effort into building and maintaining a winner in Milwaukee. But are his players doing the same?
Under Attanasio's stewardship, The Crew definitely has caught on with the Milwaukee masses. Despite playing in baseball's smallest market, the Brewers' average attendance of 30,388 is 14thbest in the bigs.
They are the hot ticket in town. (The Bucks are passé.) But the team has remained decidedly cool through May and entered Thursday tied for last in the NL Central with the Cubs, at 18-27.
Attanasio is doing what he can considering the constraints. The Brewers' $91 million payroll is right smack dab in the middle, generous in light of revenues. The owner signed free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse for $33 million over three years practically on the eve of the season over the objections of his general manager Doug Melvin, and he brought back Francisco Rodriguez when the bullpen was struggling. (It's now doing well.)
Attanasio surely has done his part to try to make his Brewers a winner. But are his players rewarding him by doing the same?
One scout who recently watched the Brewers for a stand said the Brewers players don't appear to be putting put out maximum effort. More times than they should, the scout said, they'd make a 90-degree turn toward the dugout before even reaching the first-base bag on groundouts. He didn't say it was everyone, just too many guys.
“I haven't heard that from the GM or manager. The guys may be a little down. But I saw them before (Wednesday's game), and there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm. That was a very spirited dugout,'' Attanasio said in a phone interview with CBSSports.com. “One thing I like about (manager) Ron Roenicke, the players play hard for him. That has not been the issue.''
Attanasio then made a joke abut how there's actually been a little too much hustling, a reference to the chance-taking Carlos Gomez, the hot hitter known for occasional gaffes who was just thrown out at third base, down 6-0, in the Dodgers game they'd lose 9-2.
Anyway, Attanasio decided, “I don't know what that the scout saw. I did not see that.'' What he saw, he said, was Ryan Braun climbing the wall to rob Adrian Gonzalez of a home run, then homering himself, while down 7-zip.
What Attanasio has seen, he said, is a bullpen that's been good lately (Jim Henderson has been a godsend as the new closer), a rotation that's struggling and an offense that's been good in spurts but remains streaky. He didn't mention the base running, but it's been bizarre, at times.
Jean Segura, who has been one of a few bright spots on offense, actually one time stole first from second (he absentmindedly vacated second after thinking he was out, then grabbed a lifeline at first), before later in the inning being thrown out at second.
That kind of once-in-a-lifetime play would be funny if the team wasn't tied for last following a series defeat to the equally disappointing Dodgers, Attanasio's hometown team. But while Don Mattingly is obviously on the hot seat in Attanasio's adopted hometown, there's been only slight speculation abut Roeneicke's job status. Attanasio said Roenicke is safe.
“Ron Roenicke is not the issue,'' Attanasio said. “He won 96 games in 2011, and in 2012 he got us within 1 ½ games of the Cardinals with 10 games to go (before falling back). Before today, we had exactly the same record as last year.''
That doesn't mean Attanasio doesn't see issues with the team. The hitters have put up decent numbers (especially Segura, Gomez, Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki and when healthy Aramis Ramirez) but are not jelling as a team. ‘We've been getting good individual performances in many games. But we're not performing well as a team,'' he said.
The Brewers are “not hitting situationally'' and have a “streakiness'' that's hurt them, Attanasio said. Despite being slightly above average offensively (12thin OPS overall), Milwaukee has scored exactly one run in seven games during their 4-16 May.
Meanwhile, the Brewers' rotation carries a 5.28 ERA, which is fourth from the bottom in baseball. As for the starting pitchers, they “need to do better,'' Attanasio said at one point. “We just need our starters to pitch at their career norm.''
He hopes for the best doesn't see a quick fix at the moment after adding Lohse (who's done well but is missing one start with elbow discomfort) and K-Rod.
“If it was just one thing, we could do something about it,'' Attanasio said.
In the meantime, he is not focused on Roenicke as part of the problem. “I think one of Ron's strengths as manager is he maintains the same demeanor, good or bad,'' Attanasio said.
As Attanasio well knows, when things are going this bad, 4-16 bad, that's not so easy to do.