Roenicke deserves NL Manager of Year honors
Success is no fluke for Brewers skipper, who is basically using 24-man roster
For reasons that show up in the standings, and one reason that doesn't, the first half National League Manager of the Year is Ron Roenicke of the Brewers.
This is a club that was widely picked to finish fourth in the NL Central. And yet, the Brewers have been in first place in the division since April 5.
The competition is hardly lacking. The Cardinals were the NL champions last year. The Pirates and Reds both qualified for the postseason in 2013.
Success is no fluke for Roenicke. In his first year managing the Milwaukee club, the Brewers won a franchise-record 96 regular-season games, won the division and advanced to the NL Championship Series.
Roenicke is relentlessly positive in public regarding his players, but he is no pushover. He sets a level of expectations regarding the way the game needs to be played. The Brewers have reached that level often enough this season to have the NL's best record after 91 games.
One other aspect sets Roenicke's work apart this season. He is the one manager of a contending club who has been working with what has been essentially a 24-man roster.
The Brewers selected Wei-Chung Wang, a Taiwanese left-hander, from Pittsburgh in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. Wang's experience in North American baseball was limited to a season in the Gulf Coast League.
Wang, now 22, throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball, and has a curve and a changeup. His potential is evident. The Brewers believe that that he could be a legitimate big league starting pitcher.
By the rules governing Rule 5 Draft selections, the Brewers must keep Wang on the roster or return him to the Pittsburgh organization.
For this season, Roenicke hoped that Wang could be a long man out of the bullpen. But in early season outings, Wang was, to put it mildly, erratic. His appearances became more sporadic and his work did not improve. Eventually, he appeared in what looked to be lost causes. He has appeared in just 12 games this season, with an ERA of 10.69.
So what emerged was a situation that looked like it would be more comfortable, more logical, for a club in a rebuilding mode, such as the Cubs. Roenicke could use another reliever. Or another bench player. Or more roster flexibility. But he has not carped or complained, even though it appears that the Brewers are sacrificing a roster spot for an undefined portion of the future. "You could look at it that way," Roenicke said. "But if [Wang] pitches the way we think he can pitch, there's still value in him getting some innings that we need. When he can't get through innings, then it's hard. But when he can get through innings, he's a nice piece to have.
"It's always difficult when you don't have the ideal bench, the ideal bullpen. It's always a challenge to try to figure things out. It's not too many clubs that can go out there and say: 'We're set in everything; we don't need one piece to make this team better.' It's just the challenge that you have when you manage, in what personnel you have."
Maybe in the second half of the season, Wang could become a member of the roster in more than name only. On Tuesday night, for the first time since June 29, Wang appeared in a game. Not only did he appear in a game, he appeared in a game that was still in the balance.
With the Brewers suffering from a short start for the second straight night, Wang entered to pitch the eighth against the Phillies with Philadelphia leading Milwaukee, 9-7. Wang disposed of three batters in order -- Domonic Brown on a fly to the warning track in left-center, Koyie Hill on a swinging strikeout and Andres Blanco on a grounder to third.
This wasn't much of a consolation in a 9-7 loss, but Wang did work a useful inning. Ron Roenicke has done a truly commendable job this season. But it would be an easier job with a 25-man roster.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.