Balance key for Brewers' top-heavy lineup

Balance key for Brewers' top-heavy lineup

CINCINNATI -- The Brewers began their second half with a game similar to many of the ones they played before the All-Star break. Save for their contributions in a ninth-inning rally that fell just short, the bottom half of the lineup had little to offer in a 5-4 loss to the Reds on Friday.

Milwaukee's top four hitters -- Jonathan Villar, Scooter Gennett, Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy -- accounted for six of Milwaukee's nine hits -- including the Brewers' only extra-base hit, Gennett's solo homer in the sixth. The second baseman had a chance to make it a huge night when he batted with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth with the tying runner at third, but Gennett popped out on the infield and Braun did the same, sealing the Brewers' third straight loss.

"We had it set up," manager Craig Counsell said. "Just to get Ryan up that inning was a good result."

Gennett's solo home run

That inning included a leadoff walk from Jake Elmore, pinch-hitting in the six-hole, followed by successive singles by third baseman Will Middlebrooks hitting seventh and pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hitting eighth, but those hits were the exception for this Brewers team.

In the first half, the Brewers ranked in the top half of National League teams in OPS from each of the first four lineup positions -- and in the bottom half from the five-hole through the eight-hole.

Their best spots, not surprisingly, were Braun's three-hole (.885 OPS, fourth of 15 NL teams) and Lucroy's cleanup spot (.869 OPS, third). Their least-productive spots in the lineup were the six-hole (.641 OPS) and the eight-hole (.556 OPS), each of which ranked 14th.

With that disparity, the Brewers finished the first half ranked 23rd of 30 Major League teams with a .715 OPS and 26th at 3.93 runs per game.

Asked about adding more depth to the lineup in the second half, Counsell said, "That's always important. You can't expect the same guys every night. … It can't be Braun and Luc every night. We need pressure every inning, and those guys did a good job [in the ninth]."

Perez's RBI single

Perez's single through the hole on the right side scored a run. A sacrifice bunt from pinch-hitter Yadiel Rivera and a Villar walk loaded the bases for Gennett, who popped out against left-hander Tony Cingrani, and Braun, who popped out against Ross Ohlendorf.

The Brewers should get a boost in the coming weeks with the return of right fielder Domingo Santana, whom the club hopes is about a week away from a Minor League rehabilitation assignment. He is on the DL with an elbow injury.

"I think [an offensive surge] is inevitable with the hitters we have," Gennett said. "It seems like certain teams go in spurts and some teams are more even and score four runs, five runs every night. I think we've got a team that, once we get hot, we'll throw up eight-spots, nine-spots, consistently."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.