BY ZACH HAYES
Special to ESPN Wisconsin
Now 16 games into the 2012 season, the sample size is growing and the Brewers offense is still sputtering.
The struggles extend further than simply the absence of All-Star slugger Prince Fielder. A dreadful combination of slumping stars, underperforming free agent additions and a healthy dose of bad luck has stifled what many expected to be a formidable lineup.
Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Rockies encapsulated Milwaukee’s early season hitting troubles. Colorado starter Jeremy Guthrie, who surrendered six earned runs in each of his prior two starts, held the Brewers lineup to three hits and one run over seven strong innings. Milwaukee went just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, catapulting their team average to a lowly .224 on the campaign.
“You’re facing some good pitching, guys executing pitches,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said, who has totaled just seven RBI this season after driving in 111 during his MVP campaign in 2011. “(Guthrie) was throwing hard today too. We watched him on video, he wasn’t throwing that hard. He really threw the ball well.”
“It’s never fun while you go through a phase like that, but in due time the balls will start falling.”
There appeared to be a glimmer of hope when Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez greeted Colorado’s bullpen with two ringing hits to begin the eighth inning. But the middle-of-the-order bats Milwaukee desperately needs to produce runs came up small: Ryan Braun popped out weakly to first, Aramis Ramirez lined out to right and Corey Hart struck out looking on four pitches.
“We had the opportunity with the guys coming up in our lineup that we count on to drive in runs,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s always tough when you don’t have many opportunities during the game, then you get that one shot at it and you feel like everything is on the line that one inning. Unfortunately, it should be a lot of different innings, so it’s tough.”
The prevailing question after another lackluster performance Sunday is whether any lineup tweaks could act as a welcomed antidote. One potential switch may be the gradual removal of Nyjer Morgan from the number two spot in the order. Morgan is hitting a meager .119 in 44 plate appearances while both Norichika Aoki (.333) and Carlos Gomez (.345) have been two bright spots amidst a scuffling roster.
Roenicke isn’t pushing the panic button only 16 games into the season. After all, during their 96-win season in 2011, the Brewers stood at 14-20 in mid-May and ranked tenth in the National League in runs scored. He knows it’s only a matter of time until integral hitters like Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez find their groove.
“This lineup will hit eventually,” Roenicke said. "I like the way it’s structured. I like the personnel that are in those spots and I think when we do get it together we’ll be able to produce a lot of runs, and I think it’ll be throughout the lineup. I think when it’s all working well I see some pretty good run production.”
“We have to ride it out. We went through it last year and we’ll do it again the same way. If there was a better way to do it, I’d do it.”
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