For all that has gone wrong in the last three weeks, the Brewers remain in a relatively fortunate position.
Starting strong while the rest of the National League Central struggled, Milwaukee built up plenty of cushion for the slump that had to come eventually. Unfortunately, that slump turned into a free fall. But even after such an inexplicable 3-16 free fall, they remain in the hunt.
Sitting just 1½ games back of the Pirates in the wild-card race and four behind the first-place Cardinals, they have three games each against those two teams next week. Win more than they lose and the Brewers could be right back in a postseason spot.
So, the opportunity is there. But the odds are not in the Brewers’ favor.
Last month, Pittsburgh came to Milwaukee six games back and the Brewers had a chance to bury the Pirates as far as nine games behind, or at least knock them down to seven back with a series win. Instead, they lost two of three and the teams started heading in opposite directions.
So much so that the roles now have reversed.
The Brewers are the team heading on the road looking to get back into the playoff picture, and the Cardinals and Pirates have the opportunity to deliver knockout blows. Don’t expect their NL Central rivals to be as accommodating as the Brewers were three weeks ago.
Instead, the Crew will miss the playoffs as the Cards and Bucs play on.
Just look at the next nine games. The Pirates host the Cubs, Red Sox and Brewers; Milwaukee hosts Cincinnati before traveling to St. Louis and Pittsburgh; and the Cardinals host the Rockies, Brewers and Reds.
Playing at home, the Cardinals and Pirates are more likely to gain ground than lose it over the next 10 days. As such, the Brewers could be looking up from an even bigger deficit with just six games to play.
Mathematically, you can’t count the Brewers out yet.
But I wouldn’t bet on them making the playoffs.
Find a group of Milwaukee fans and ask them how to fix the Brewers. Chances are, at least one will say, “Fire Ron Roenicke.”
Doing so wouldn’t be an entirely unprecedented move. But it might not change anything, either.
Just six years ago, the Brewers made the shocking decision to fire Ned Yost on Sept. 15, 2008, with 12 games left to play. Milwaukee had just lost for the 11th time in 14 games, dropping into a tie for the National League wild card after having led the Phillies by 5½ games at the start of the month.
So Yost and Ted Simmons were out and Dale Sveum and Robin Yount were in. The front office wanted to send a shock through the clubhouse, and it seemed to work. The Brewers won seven of their final 12 and held off the Mets to grab the NL wild card spot.
Fast forward to this season, and things look remarkably similar. Milwaukee has inexplicably dropped 11 of its last 13 games — including eight in a row — to free fall from a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Central to three games back and barely hanging onto a wild card spot.
If it worked then, why not try the same thing now, right?
Well, first you have to assume it even worked the first time. Who’s to say the ’08 Brewers couldn’t have finished 7-5 over the last two weeks with Yost at the helm? The team on the field didn’t change. Did a different manager really make a difference?
The second problem is finding Roenicke’s replacement.
Looking around his coaching staff, it’s hard to envision any one of them bringing anything much different to the table than Roenicke. Yost was fired to shake things up when he “didn’t have the answers” to the 2008 team’s problems.
But Roenicke has gotten the team this far, and if he can’t solve this team’s struggles, what could anyone else do differently?
Most importantly, though, firing Roenicke now would set a dangerous precedent.
Sure, it’s been done before, and the situations are remarkably similar. But pulling the same move again doesn’t guarantee the same result. In fact, it might do nothing more than ruin the outside perception of the job.
Who is going to want to manage a ballclub that has fired two of its last three skippers in the middle of a pennant race?
No, firing Roenicke now is not the answer.
But that doesn’t mean his job is safe, even if he did look like a manager of the year candidate as recently as last month.
With the Cardinals in town for four games, the Brewers could be back in first by Saturday, or their season could be all but over by Sunday. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the latter seems more likely at the moment.
The suddenly red-hot Cards could deliver the knockout blow to the punchless Crew this week. If they do, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Brewers shake things up in the offseason.