The process of evaluating an entire baseball team can be a long one for a new manager, especially one as thorough and intelligent as Macha. It wasn't simply a matter of drawing up a lineup and sticking with it until someone got hurt, and it was going to be a process that made Macha look like a guy who is easily better than his predecessor.
After that slow start, Macha has been golden for Milwaukee. He has the Brewers playing some great baseball, as they've surged to a game-and-a-half lead in the National League Central over the hated Chicago Cubs. Sunday's 8-2 curbstomping of St. Louis serves as an example of what this team is capable of doing when they work counts and get solid pitching.
I'll freely admit that I didn't expect the Brewers to spend much time in first place in this division during the 2009 season. But Macha has been refreshing.
While hockey coaches are often reluctant to change lines, defensive pairings, or goalies when the team is winning, it's exceptionally important for a baseball manager to integrate different guys into the lineup all the time. It keeps the main guys fresh by getting them a few days off here and there (the Brewers just had a stretch of 20 straight days without a day off), and it keeps the bench players from getting too rusty with just limited late-inning at-bats.
Macha probably surprised some recently. He told FanHouse colleague Jeff Fletcher that he uses philosophies learned in Oakland (better known as "Moneyball" tactics) when it comes to preparing his pitchers.
Macha has brought more of the A's practices to Milwaukee. Third base coach Brad Fischer, who was the bullpen coach in Oakland, has helped the Brewers pitchers have more intense preparation and knowledge of the statistical tendencies of the opposition.Those tactics appear to be working. The Brewers have steadily improved their pitching since a rough start, with both Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra doing a good job to start limiting their walks. It's easy to just credit the coaching staff, but the players deserve kudos, too. They've been through a lot of transition since September, both in coaching and in player personnel. They've responded with a great start to the season, and they may have already exceeded some expectations around baseball.
"That's something that Fisch was into with (A's pitching coach Curt Young)," Macha said. "We've got our computerized stats program that we look at. The pitchers aren't overpowering, but they have the ability to make pitches. We give them a plan and Jason Kendall (also from Oakland) listens to the plan and helps them carry it out."
... (Brewers GM Doug) Melvin and Macha have a winning team, and Macha also has a chance to see what it's like to manage without Beane looking over his shoulder.
"We went on a road trip here and I didn't hear from Doug one time," Macha said.
He told a story about a day this spring when he and Melvin were discussing the rotation, and Melvin said: "That's your call."
"That's your call," Macha repeated, as if they were some sort of magic words.
Here's to plenty more shirt untuckings, just to piss off the Cardinals.