Late in his batting practice session Monday afternoon, Jean Segura sent a ball screaming to right center, the sound of the bat meeting ball producing a distinct echo through an empty Miller Park.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop carried that into the game against Cincinnati Reds starter Mat Latos, sending a triple to nearly the same spot in the third inning. He forced the issue heading to third after hesitating around second, but Reds shortstop Zack Cozart’s relay hit Segura’s leg and bounded away, giving Segura home plate and the Brewers a 1-0 lead.
"When I scored in the third inning, I feel like it’s going to be some good things because I’ve been a long way to go, I don’t hit the ball to the other field like that. That's comfortable, and I get that feel that helped me to get through to (help) this team."
Later in the inning Ryan Braun would double home Wily Peralta and Carlos Gomez. Gomez would then record a double of his own in the fourth inning.
The crack of the bat – Segura’s especially – had to be a welcome sound for the team, as extra bases have been missing of late. It is one reason why the Brewers’ win over the Reds was only the team’s fourth since June 28.
Heading into Monday night the traditional power hitters in the lineup – Mark Reynolds, Aramis Ramirez, Khris Davis, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez – had just 23 extra base hits in 284 combined plate appearances in that time.
The power outage looks even worse when in that same time frame, only seven of those extra base hits went over the fence.
Pull back even further to include Segura, Jonathan Lucroy, Scooter Gennett, Rickie Weeks and Lyle Overbay – essentially all of the Brewers every day position players – and the 10 of them had a total of 40 extra base hits (11 homers) in their 518 combined plate appearances during the 3-13 skid that saw the team’s entire margin in the division slip away.
Despite this prolonged absence of power, on the whole, the Brewers have a top-flight offense in the National League.
Through 100 games, the team ranks:
- Second in doubles (190)
- Second in home runs (97)
- Second in slugging percentage (.410)
- Second in OPS (.725)
- Third in batting average (.257)
- Fifth in triples (22)
This is perhaps why there are encouraging signs to take away from Monday’s victory, and even some at-bats in the St. Louis and Washington series’ – in their last seven games the Brewers have 23 extra base hits as a team.
Simply, "We’re squaring up more balls," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, referencing hard outs hit by Lucroy on Monday and Braun on Sunday.
Then there was Segura’s sharp triple, and a follow-up single smacked to right field and he now has at least one extra base hit in four of his last five games – which are at-bats that compare more favorably* to the All-Star the Brewers saw last year.
"I feel better (at the plate)," Segura said of the better contact he’s been making of late up the middle and to right field. "I feel good. I’ve been working hard all year long. It’s going to come."
Braun is also heating up, hitting .407 with five extra base hits (one home run) over his last seven games, though he is not pulling the ball with power as much* as he did during his last full season in 2012.
Beginning with the three game series against St. Louis prior to the All-Star break, the Brewers have scored four or more runs five times in their last seven, which may not seem like an explosion – but prior to that they had scored four or more just three times in the previous 10.
"Carrying quality ABs (at-bats) after quality ABs is a tough thing for pitchers to deal with; putting that pressure on them," Davis said.
Such a power-reliant team is likely to go through slumps, especially if key components are struggling (Ramirez, for instance, has just one extra base hit since June 28 and hasn’t homered in nearly a month), but if the Brewers’ ship is making a slow turn back to the mean offensively, at least the signs are there to see it's happening.
"We had a lot of guys with good at-bats," Roenicke said of Monday’s win. "Brauny, big at-bat to go down and get, really, a good slider and go down and get that for a couple runs. We did some good things. We have trouble with Latos so it was nice to score some runs off him."
* For an explanation of the spray chart, visit fangraphs.com.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.