MILWAUKEE A few hours before Monday's game against Cincinnati, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke took his usual, pre-game stroll through the team's clubhouse. This time though, he was surveying a team that had changed quite drastically since its last game at Miller Park.
Only pitchers Chris Narveson and Brandon Kintzler were injured the last time Milwaukee had laced up in its own clubhouse. But after the team's nine-game, 10-day road trip, in which four players left in four consecutive games, three players had joined them on the disabled list. And two of them, like Narveson, were now out for the season.
Now, Roenicke had plenty of new faces and lockers to look upon as he made his way around the room -- Brooks Conrad, Taylor Green, and Edwin Maysonet were all called up in the past week, taking the spot of Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel, and Carlos Gomez, who all were sent to the DL.
Roenicke smiled as he made his way around, joking with players and trying to keep the mood light. He knows multiple blows to the team's core in one week are liable to hurt morale, and Roenicke admitted the mood wasn't quite where he would want it to be one month into the season.
"Certainly not what I'd like it to be," Roenicke said. "My morale isn't what I'd like it to be because of the way we're playing, because of the injuries. The 15-day DL's, those aren't hard. That happens so much in baseball, and I know Gomez is going to be back and 100 percent when he comes back. But the season-ending ones really hurt. You just try to replace them and try to move on."
It's hard not to wonder if fate had been against last season's NL Central champs on their recent road trip. After Narveson's injury was discovered due to soreness following a start, the season-ending injuries to Gonzalez and Gamel were nothing less than freakish.
Gamel tore his ACL running for a foul ball, as he suddenly came up lame and in obvious pain at San Diego's Petco Park. Gonzalez, meanwhile, slid awkwardly into second base at San Francisco's AT&T Park, turning his right knee as his foot connected with the base.
Shortstop Cesar Izturis, who is one of the many fill-ins to take on everyday roles in light of an injury this season, knew Gonzalez's injury had to be serious immediately, just by watching him from the dugout. Right then, he said, it was hard not to wonder why all of this was happening to the Brewers.
"You might have injuries, you have injuries every year, but not like that," Izturis said. "Not two key players. You have to ask "Why?" It's hard to understand. ... It's part of the game, but it's definitely hard."
"We're definitely a little bit snake-bitten," Roenicke said.
With that kind of bad luck striking all at once, the plans from here on out are piecemeal at best. Neither Travis Ishikawa nor Cesar Izturis, the two direct backups to Gamel and Gonzalez, are guys Roenicke would probably hope to trot out on an everyday basis. Both have been in that role before, but Ishikawa has limited experience as an everyday first baseman in San Francisco, and Izturis doesn't offer much offense and won't be able to play every day. Roenicke expects to rotate guys like Conrad, Green, and Maysonet in to lighten the load, as he holds out hope that one or more of them catch fire at the plate.
But even with the bevy of injuries all at once, Roenicke said the team's main problem hasn't even been health. In fact, it's been much simpler than that. With a lack of fire at the plate -- they have the third-worst average in baseball at .228 -- and on the mound -- the fourth-worst ERA in baseball at 4.88 -- even the healthy players have struggled to produce, he says.
"Regardless of who we have out there, if we don't do those things better, we're not going to have a good year," Roenicke said. "I know Alex was doing a great job for us offensively and I know Mat Gamel was doing a nice job for us offensively, but still, the bulk of (the lineup) needs to do better."
Maybe one of the Brewers fill-in players will become a breakout success. Or maybe a lack of firepower will convince Brewers GM Doug Melvin or owner Mark Attanasio to make a move earlier than they may have liked in the season. Down just five games, Milwaukee isn't in too much of a hurry to rush or hope for either of those options.
At this point though, with so much going against them, there's just one thing that can cure the Brewers recent brush with bad luck.
"You just have to win," second baseman Rickie Weeks said. "You can't do anything more than that. That's the way you keep spirits up. We have guys here that have gone down and the only thing that will try to ease that pain or take that pain away is to just win games. That's it."
But with a team that looks so different now with an influx of injuries, even this early in a long season, will this year's Brewers ever have the same look as last year's NL Central winners? According to Roenicke, there's still a chance.
"I know you have to overcome those things," Roenicke said. "I know even without those guys this team is still a good team, and we still have the good possibility to finish up where we want to finish."
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