Search

6 Milwaukee Brewers Hard work and "quality people" won't be enough for this talent-thin club

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

6 Milwaukee Brewers Hard work and "quality people" won't be enough for this talent-thin club

Watching Jeromy Burnitz's morning routine in spring training is
perhaps the best way to understand why the Brewers' power-hitting
rightfielder is successful. On his second day in Phoenix,
Burnitz, who led all lefthanded hitters in the National League in
homers and RBIs last season, is in the batting cage so early that
there's a rooster crowing in the field behind him. Then, after
belting a few buckets of balls, he heads into the clubhouse to
view game tapes so he can study his swing.

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

Manager Phil Garner has studied that swing too. "Jeromy looks
like a big storm up there at the plate," says Garner. "He's
always taking big, aggressive swings, and sometimes he gets
fooled and looks a little silly, but he gets right back in there
swinging the same way the next time."

Burnitz, 29, is iron-willed and independent-minded, the type of
individual Garner likens to an Ayn Rand character. Body? He's
pure Bluto. Honesty? He's totally brutal. "It's obvious that our
talent level is never gonna be unbelievable," says Burnitz, a
green marshmallow clover from the Lucky Charms cereal he's eating
hanging from his chin. "We always have high-quality people who
work hard, but the bottom line is simple: It's not enough, not in
this era when you need great players to win. Hey, a lot of teams
in baseball can't compete for a playoff spot."

While accurate, that's not exactly what the Brewers had in mind
when they set out to build a contender to christen the opening of
Miller Park, in 2000. Milwaukee has endured six consecutive
losing seasons, including last year's fifth-place debacle in
which it finished 28 games out of first, and right now the talent
is still meager. Other than Burnitz, the Mets' No. 1 pick in '90,
the only Brewer of star quality is 29-year-old Jeff Cirillo, who
led all third basemen in fielding (.976) and who was the team's
leading hitter in '98 (.321). "One of the finest young hitters in
baseball," says Garner.

Cirillo and Burnitz bat two-three in the order. The leadoff
hitter is second baseman Fernando Vina, who topped the team in
hits (198), runs (101) and trade rumors. (He was so convinced
he'd be moved for a starting pitcher this spring that he scanned
newspaper clips during batting practice, looking for signs of a
deal.) The cleanup batter will be Sean Berry, a platoon third
baseman with the Astros last season who was signed as a free
agent and shifted to first base because the Brewers are
desperate for a righty power bat. (He hit only 13 homers in '98
though.) Berry's acquisition allows Dave Nilsson to return to
his natural position behind the plate, a move the team hopes
will light a fire under the underachieving Aussie. Another
concern is the health of 31-year-old centerfielder Marquis
Grissom, who was hampered by a pulled hamstring for much of the
second half last year.

The Brewers' pitching has even bigger question marks. Milwaukee
starters had a 5.01 ERA in 1998, the third highest in the
National League. Don't expect that number to improve
dramatically this season. Leading the rotation is lefthander
Scott Karl, who was the only Brewers hurler to make 30 starts
last year. The team's other 10-game winner, 23-year-old junkball
righthander Steve Woodard, reported to camp almost 30 pounds
lighter than last season (243). "He looks anorexic," says
235-pound closer Bob Wickman.

Unfortunately, the rest of the staff looks a little thin, too.
After Karl and Woodard, the team will rely largely on untested
pitchers or retreads. Lefty Bill Pulsipher has been slowed by
recent back surgery, and righty Cal Eldred is recovering from
off-season surgery on the elbow of his pitching arm. The team is
counting on Jim Abbott, who retired in 1997 but made a
successful comeback late last season (he went 5-0 with the White
Sox in September), to continue his winning ways. Lefty Rafael
Roque, 25, also hopes to keep rolling after an impressive
call-up in September. Roque wears number 52 but would be better
suited to wearing 64, since he gave up homer number 64 to both
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

With Milwaukee's starters getting hammered often last season,
the Brewers' bullpen got lots of work. Wickman had 25 saves, but
he was overused (telling stat: his second half ERA was 6.68,
compared with 1.80 in the first half) and lost zip on his
fastball as the year progressed. The setup men are righthander
Chad Fox (64 strikeouts in 57 innings) and lefty Mike Myers,
who, like Wickman, had a terrific first half (0.58 ERA) but a
horrendous second half (6.16).

"Because of our economics, this team can't sign guys like Kevin
Brown or Mike Piazza," says general manager Sal Bando. "So we've
become a team of grinders because that's what we have to be. But
come August, talent always wins out over determination. So for
us it all comes down to pitching. This year we'll go as far as
our pitchers can take us."

In that case, it looks as if the Brewers' only postseason trip
will be a short one--right across the street to their new home
in Miller Park.

--D.F.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Burnitz, the National League's most productive lefthanded hitter last year, packs plenty of punch, but he must cut down on his strikeouts (158 in '98).COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 74-88 (fifth in NL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .260 (8)
RUNS SCORED 707 (10)
HOME RUNS 152 (10)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .275 (14)
ERA 4.63 (12)
FIELDING PCT. .982 (10)

Unfinished Business

The Brewers had only two complete games last season, both by
Jeff Juden. Milwaukee starters failed to complete any of the
team's final 98 games, setting a league single-season record for
consecutive "incomplete" games. The Brewers are 12 games shy of
the multiseason league mark; the 1999 Angels hold the major
league record--116 games and counting.

Team Start of Streak End of Streak Games IP/Start

Angels May 23, 1998 Current 116 5.89
Most Frequent Starters Chuck Finley, Omar Olivares

Rockies July 8, 1994 July 23, 1995 110 5.28 [Most Frequent Starters] Kevin Ritz, Marvin Freeman

Twins Oct. 3, 1992 Aug. 3, 1993 105 5.73 [Most Frequent Starters] Kevin Tapani, Scott Erickson, Jim Deshaies

Brewers June 14, 1998 Current 98 5.66 [Most Frequent Starters] Steve Woodard, Scott Karl

Marlins May 16, 1993 Sept. 1, 1993 96 5.85 [Most Frequent Starters] Jack Armstrong, Charlie Hough

Athletics June 21, 1997 April 10, 1998 96 5.00 [Most Frequent Starters] Jimmy Haynes, Brad Rigby

Yankees July 12, 1991 April 17, 1992 93 5.55 [Most Frequent Starters] Scott Sanderson, Jeff Johnson

Rockies July 25, 1995 May 4, 1996 91 5.40 [Most Frequent Starters] Armando Reynoso, Kevin Ritz, Bryan Rekar

Next Up...

Not only does Geoff Jenkins look like a certain NFL quarterback
who works up the road in Green Bay, but the Brewers' 24-year-old
leftfielder also has a flair for the dramatic. Last April 24,
against the Giants, the 6'1", 204-pound lefthanded hitter became
the first player in Brewers history to blast a home run in his
first major league game. In 84 games with Milwaukee last season,
Jenkins, the ninth pick in the 1995 draft, hit nine homers and
had 28 RBIs; in 55 games with Triple A Louisville he batted
.330. "Geoff may be a big surprise to people this year," says
Brewers general manager Sal Bando. "He's a power hitter, a hard
worker and a hard-nosed kid. He's a complete player."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Phil Garner (eighth season with Milwaukee)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Fernando Vina L-R 129 .311 7 45 22
3B Jeff Cirillo R 88 .321 14 68 10
RF Jeromy Burnitz L-R 27 .263 38 125 7
1B Sean Berry[1] R 107 .314 13 52 3
C Dave Nilsson L-R 201 .269 12 56 2
CF Marquis Grissom R 133 .271 10 60 13
LF Geoff Jenkins L-R 223 .229 9 28 1
SS Jose Valentin B-R 240 .224 16 49 10

BENCH

IF Mark Loretta R 245 .316 6 54 9
C Bobby Hughes R 258 .230 9 29 1
OF Alex Ochoa[1] R 350 .257 2 25 6
OF Rich Becker*[1] L 359 .197 6 21 5
IF Lou Collier[1] R 410 .246 2 34 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Scott Karl 71 10 11 5.8 1.48 4.40
RH Steve Woodard 86 10 12 5.8 1.23 4.18
LH Jim Abbott[1] 175 5 0 6.3 1.48 4.55
LH Bill Pulsipher 176 3 4 5.5 1.62 5.10
LH Rafael Roque 190 4 2 5.3 1.38 4.88

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Bob Wickman 32 6 9 25 1.43 3.72
LH Mike Myers 221 2 2 1 1.32 2.70
RH Chad Fox 237 1 4 0 1.33 3.95
RH Eric Plunk* 255 4 3 1 1.47 4.33
LH Valerio De
Los Santos 331 0 0 0 0.60 2.91
RH Cal Eldred 199 4 8 0 1.64 4.80

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats