Shooting the breeze with Brewers owner

The Brewers are eight games under .500 and eight games back in the National League Central.

But their owner, Mark Attanasio, isn’t about to concede.

Attanasio was upbeat and optimistic during a lengthy interview with on Thursday at Miller Park, as his team completed a sweep of the interleague rival Minnesota Twins.

Based on his remarks, a fire sale at the July 31 trade deadline seems unlikely. Corey Hart and Prince Fielder are among the Brewers who will draw interest from other clubs.

“The thing you have to remember is that we’ve had three million fans coming to this place two years in a row,” said Attanasio, in his sixth season with the team. “They’re looking for winners. Miller Park is really enjoyable, but they’re coming to see this team win. We have to be conscious of that.

“We think we have a very good team. Our intent isn’t to dismantle the team simply because we may not make the playoffs this year.”

Attanasio spoke about a number of topics, including Fielder’s status, the recent decision to release Jeff Suppan, and the performance of manager Ken Macha.

Here is a partial transcript of the interview:

Q: How optimistic are you that this team will contend in September?

A: I think you have to be realistic. I think, realistically, we’ve got a lot of home games here. We’re going to know a lot more after these 20 games. I’ve always felt if you can close the gap to five games by the All-Star Game, then we’re right in it.

You also have to look at who’s ahead of you. The Reds have won, what, 12 games in their last at-bat? (Note: It’s now 13.) Maybe it’s a magical season for them and they’ll keep that up. But statistically, that’s an abnormality. You would think, with a reversion to the mean, they’re not going to keep doing that.

The Cardinals are the Cardinals. They’re always tough. And we don’t count the Cubs out. They’ve got a lot of horses over there.

We play each other a lot, so you have an opportunity to control your own destiny. I’m encouraged. We’re playing well against the Twins. We played well against the Rockies — we could have won two of three. We’ve got to get over that hump of playing well and losing.

Q: It sounds like the fan in you and the analyst in you are offering different viewpoints.

A: The fan in me is always going to be optimistic. (He laughs.) The analyst in me has to look at where we are. I know, as an analyst, we’re a helluva lot better than (eight) games under .500. I think everybody knows that.

Early on, our pitching was really out of sorts. Now, our starters are going deeper into games, so there’s less stress on the bullpen. And what a surprise: The bullpen’s pitching better. Our defense has played better this month.

Q: Do you have a sense of what will happen at the trade deadline — how active you’ll be and what kinds of deals you’ll be looking to make?

A: The situation will dictate (that). We just have to see. We also have to be mindful that, whichever direction we’re in, you not only have to do what’s right for this year, but the next year and the year after that.

Without picking any particular player, the reality is that your best players are going to be the players other teams come after. We have to field a good core group of guys next year, too. If we don’t win this year, we certainly want to win next year.

Q: I asked Prince the other day what his gut feeling was about whether he would still be a Brewer on Aug. 1. He said he didn’t know. Do you have a feel for that?

A: All I can say is that I hope he’s still here. I’m a big Prince fan. He’s one of the best power hitters in baseball, as we saw today (when he homered). . . . Prince plays 162 games a year and plays hard every play. I watch all the games. That guy never lets up.

Q: Will the possibility of a contract extension for Prince influence whether or not he’s moved in July? 

A: I don’t want to really comment on ongoing conversations.

Q: Trevor Hoffman is currently at 596 career saves, and it sounds like he will return to the closer’s role soon. How do you hope everything unfolds with him?

A: I’m a fan. (John) Axford’s been phenomenal, but, as a fan, you’d like to see Trevor get to 600. The manager’s been looking at his game tape, looking at where his pitches are located, the angle of them, and it’s much closer to normal now. The last few outings have looked more like the real Trevor. But Axford’s 6-for-6 (in save opportunities).

Trevor’s the best. His demeanor has not changed at all in this. He’s the same great guy.

Q: You’ve been able to develop hitters and bring hitters to Milwaukee. Any theories on why it’s been tough for the team to identify pitching, whether through free agency or the draft?

A: This has been a front-and-center inquiry for us since last year, when we had the second-worst pitching in the league.

You have to figure out how you’re going to win. If we have significantly above-average hitting and just average pitching, we’re going to win. You can do the math: If we had average pitching last year, we would have made the playoffs, with the run production we had. Prince and Ryan (Braun) had huge years.

We’ve done an analysis this year on how each team developed its starting rotation — how many guys were homegrown, came in trades, or were free agents. We don’t get enough credit for drafting and developing Yovani Gallardo. And from a trend standpoint, over the last month our pitching has been much better.

Q: Can you characterize your overall level of confidence in (general manager) Doug Melvin’s skills in evaluating and acquiring pitching?

A: Last year was one bad year. This year is still not over. We have to see how we do this year. Then we have to see further: If the statistics were skewed by April and May and we otherwise figured it out, that’s different.

We need to determine — and we will do that this year — if somebody else is doing something we’re not. Are we identifying pitchers as well as other teams? Or is it in how we’re drafting the pitchers?

Q: In general, would you say you’re pretty satisfied with the job Doug is doing?

A: Oh, yeah. (He nods.) From an overall standpoint, yeah.

Q: Was it a gut-wrenching decision to release Suppan because of the money involved? (He signed a four-year, $42 million contract after the 2006 season.)

A: It was difficult because of the personal relationship I had with him — and gut-wrenching because he’s the consummate professional. He’s a leader in the community. He gave a lot to charities here. His wife was a leader in the team wives’ group.

But I’m in the investment business. When you run a portfolio, you have to take your losses and move on.

Q: Do you think the payroll number will be the same in 2011 as it is now?

A: Roughly. I’m counting on the fans still coming out. It seems like they are. We have a great fan base that allows us to do that.

Q: Do you consider the Brewers a mid-market or small-market team?

A: We’re a mid-market team. We’re 18th in revenues and 18th in payroll this year. When I bought the team, we were 27th in revenues and 30th in payroll.

Q: Are you pleased with what you’ve seen from Ken Macha lately?

A: When you watch the games, he makes very good in-game decisions.

When I’m around the clubhouse, I try to take the temperature of the guys. I don’t go to guys and ask for a referendum on the manager. That would be anarchy, right? But you see . . . Are they loose? Are they tight? Are they responding? Are they not responding? Are they playing hard? Are they not playing hard?

There have been a number of games this year we’ve lost where we’ve scored a bunch of runs in the ninth inning. So, the team is fighting back, playing hard the whole game. They’re not giving up. They’re playing the right way, so to speak.

I’ve read some articles recently — on blogs and in the press — about teams not playing the right way. We’re not in that group.

As with everything else, after the season, Doug will make an assessment and a recommendation. We have a contract option on Ken for next year. Doug will make a recommendation. I think Doug’s pretty pleased with him so far.

One thing you see with winning teams — like the Twins, across the way — is there’s an enormous amount of stability in baseball management, in the front office and downstairs. (Ron) Gardenhire’s been there forever. If you look at companies, the top companies tend to have stability.