Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ron Roenicke Outthinks Himself, Puts Brewers in Precarious Position

By all accounts, Ron Roenicke has done a very good job in his first season as a major-league manager. He's handled platoon situations and injuries well, and his quiet, modest demeanor is a good fit for the club. Not only that, but his door is open, and the players seem to like the way he communicates.

He's a huge reason the Brewers are three wins away from the World Series. Unfortunately, though, he's also a huge reason the Brewers are still three wins away from the World Series.

Game 3 of the National League Championship Series was Wednesday night in St. Louis. With the series even at a game apiece, it was looked upon as a crucial game, especially for a visiting team coming off a 12-3 loss and struggling to pitch effectively outside of Yovani Gallardo, Wednesday's starter.

Roenicke decided to make a lineup change, hoping to impact the team's somewhat-struggling offense without killing it defensively. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan was benched in favor of veteran Mark Kotsay, who matched up well against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, but is -- to say the least -- a liability in center field.

In making the change, Roenicke ignored the fact that Kotsay is a clear No. 4 on a team with four guys who have played center field (Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Jerry Hairston). He also ignored the fact that the Cardinals have typically done a very good job of putting the ball in play against Gallardo, meaning the team would need good defensive play more than usual.

So what happens? With one out in the first inning, Kotsay walks. Then Ryan Braun gets hit by a pitch. With Prince Fielder hitting, though, Kotsay appeared to fall asleep at second base. Fielder smacked a line drive to center field that was caught. Inexplicably, Kotsay was halfway to third base, and was doubled off rather easily to kill a potential first-inning rally.

Then, after a leadoff single by Rafael Furcal in the first inning, Kotsay misplays a bloop by John Jay that virtually every center fielder in Major League Baseball -- including Morgan, Gomez, and Hairston -- would have easily caught. That bloop turned into a double, and before the dust settles, the Brewers are down 4-0.

Kotsay hit a solo home run in the third and reached base three times, but the damage was done. Cardinals win, 4-3.

I'm not about throwing good managers under the bus. But Roenicke outmanaged himself in this case. He overthought a situation that didn't require a lot of thought. If Morgan isn't going to hit, and Gomez is an obvious upgrade defensively, get him out there. Instead, Roenicke told the media types after the game that he basically didn't even think about playing Gomez.

That's worth a facepalm. If you have decided your No. 1 option isn't good enough, why would you do anything but start the No. 2 guy? Moreover, why would you ever start your No. 4 guy when the top three guys are all healthy and available?

If it's the worst mistake Roenicke makes over a long and meaningful managerial career, it's certainly forgivable. But in the short-term, with a fanbase that hasn't seen its team make the World Series in 29 years, it's absolutely inexcusable.

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