Braun back, but Aramis out and Gomez in limbo
Brewers to remain aggressive offensively, rely on others to pick up slack
MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun could return from the disabled list Tuesday just as Aramis Ramirez is placed on it, and Carlos Gomez remains in limbo waiting for word on his suspension. Chalk them up as the latest challenges facing the Brewers' sometimes electric but always eccentric offense.
Barring a setback, Braun will be back in the lineup for the first time since April 26, the night he inadvertently smacked shortstop Jean Segura in the face while swinging a bat on the dugout steps, then exited later in the game with a right rib-cage strain. Braun's return will help. But the absence of Gomez's quick-strike ability in the leadoff spot for a few days and Ramirez's bat at cleanup for a longer period of time will hurt.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," Gomez said after the Brewers scored a walk-off win against the Yankees on Sunday.
"The guys that are healthy, it's their jobs to go out there and perform," said Mark Reynolds, who will help man third base while Ramirez is out. "We're doing the best we can, kind of treading water until we get some guys back."
Welcome to one of the most interesting offenses in baseball, both because of its current personnel challenges and its outrageously aggressive nature.
If the first six weeks of the season were any indication, the Brewers will try to swing their way out of their current troubles. No National League team walks less or swings more than Milwaukee, and only two produce more outcomes on the first pitch. Entering Monday, the Brewers' 49.5 percent swing rate was tied with the Braves for the NL lead and only 0.1 percent behind the MLB-leading Orioles. Milwaukee's 62 first-pitch hits trailed only red-hot Colorado's 77, and 179 one-pitch at-bats trailed only the Rockies (191) and Dodgers (184).
Meanwhile, the Brewers have 93 walks, fewest in the NL.
Oh, and they are 24-14, tied with the Giants for the NL's best record entering Monday.
Manager Ron Roenicke and hitting coach Johnny Narron are not intentionally pushing back against the "Moneyball" brand of baseball by fielding one of the game's most swing-happy starting lineups. It's just who they are, Roenicke said.
"We're not teaching this," he said. "It's just the personnel we have. … I don't want these guys going up there looking for walks. Just go up there and look for a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it."
In general, Roenicke says he is a believer in on-base percentage driving the best offenses.
"I think they can still get better at it, but I don't think that ever really changes," he said. "I think the Joey Vottos are always Joey Vottos. There's just something about them that they're able to not chase out of the zone very often. They hit the pitch that they want to hit. The ideal goal is to do that -- to not swing at the pitcher's pitch."
The Brewers' uber-aggressive approach was described in a recent Sports Illustrated article like this:
"Milwaukee is either on the cutting edge of a counterculture," Tom Verducci wrote, "in which running up pitch counts doesn't matter nearly as much as most people want to think -- or they are an unsustainable model off to a freakish start that is bound not to last."
So which is it?
"We may not get starters out of the game early, but who wants to?" Reynolds asked. "Everybody comes in [from the bullpen] throwing 96 mph, anyway. Sometimes the best pitch to hit is the first pitch of the at-bat. Everybody is taught to get ahead, get ahead, get ahead. If they throw you a ball that's good to hit, why not swing?
"That's what I like about Ron. He's aggressive."
The Brewers are batting .207 after an 0-1 count, 24th of 30 Major League teams. On the first pitch, they are batting .346, which ranks 14th.
Braun is 9-for-15 on the first pitch, Gomez is 15-for-30 and Reynolds is 7-for-16. All three are among the top 25 in baseball in first-pitch OPS, among players with at least 10 such at-bats.
"Different strokes for different folks," Reynolds said. "We're the exact opposite of an American League East team. Everybody there sees five pitches per at-bat, 15 pitches per game, the games take four hours. It's a pain in the [rear end]."
Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada, who starts Tuesday against the Pirates, has tried comparing his team to others in baseball. So far, he hasn't seen anything like it.
"There are aggressive teams," Estrada said. "Cincinnati can be aggressive at times. The Diamondbacks are kind of aggressive. Chicago can be aggressive. But it's not the same."
Asked whether he'd ever considered how he would face this lineup, Estrada smiled.
"Of course," he said. "I'm a guy that likes to throw strikes and be around the plate, and I don't think I'd be that aggressive. I think I'd be able to bounce more changeups and curveballs and get more swings. But I can't tell you everything."
Likewise, Kyle Lohse was asked how he'd approach Gomez, who already has four leadoff home runs this season.
"I've started one guy off with a breaking ball, I think, in my whole career," Lohse said. "I probably would do it with him, too."
With Gomez sidelined Tuesday, and Ramirez, too, it will be on other players to produce some runs.
"The players in the lineup have to keep the intensity, keep it cool, until we have the 'real' lineup [back in place]," Gomez said.
Can the Brewers keep winning with their swing-happy approach? The manager hopes so.
"When you have good pitching," Roenicke said, "I think you can do pretty much anything."