June 23 is not only one of the longest days of the year here in Wisconsin. It's also one of the most important days in the summer for a couple of Wisconsin's professional sports franchises. Seriously. In the whole realm of things, it's not a do-or-die time by any means, but it's a day where the Milwaukee Brewers finally have time to gather themselves and the Milwaukee Bucks get a chance to acquire a player or two that could help their franchise for many years to come.
We'll begin with what most of us really care about...the Brew Crew. In case you haven't noticed, the Brewers have lost seven of their last ten games after going on a rampage crazy enough to get them into first place in the Central. My hopes of a winning home stand are all but out the window. Fortunately, the Brewers remain the only team to have not lost back-to-back games at home in the MLB. Oh, and the man who never at one time during his entire career used steroids, Mr. Albert Pujols, has a fractured forearm and will miss a considerable amount of time for the St. Louis Cardinals, the team battling with the Crew for the top spot in the Central. This has helped the Brewers keep a marginal lead in the division, but it has also allowed teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates...okay let's be real...the Cincinnati Reds to get back in the divisional race. The recent struggles for Milwaukee can be attributed to a few things, including a rough stretch for the starting five, the inability to put a lot of runs on the board and a string of 20 straight days without a day off. So why is Thursday such a big day for the Brewers? They get a day off. Players get to take their mind off of baseball and relax or try and figure out why they have been slumping. Basically, I'm talking to everyone except Ryan "Leading NL Vote Getter" Braun, Rickie "Best 2nd baseman in the league" Weeks and Prince "MVP" Fielder as far as the offense is concerned. I'm getting a little tired of having little to no faith in the rest of the lineup and I can't quite figure out why there is such a drop off in production in regards to the three eventual 2011 All-Stars mentioned before.
Whatever the deal is, things have to change. What if Braun or King go down unexpectedly with an injury? The offensive production becomes minimal. We saw a glimpse of such a possibility when Braun was out with an illness Monday against the Rays. The Brewers were completely shut down against a guy who hadn't thrown a pitch in a month and a half. That probably also had to do with the Brewers not having much of a scouting report on the opposing pitcher, which seems to be another common theme for Milwaukee. What I'm trying to say is...the Brewers need more than three guys to regularly contribute in order to be legitimate contenders come seasons' end. Whether it be Corey Hart, Casey McGehee or Jonathon Lucroy, I don't care. It was expected to be McGehee after his success as a Brewer the last two years, but he simply hasn't been able to find his groove. Hart had a break-out three home run game...and then what? Lucroy also had a nice stretch, but he's now back in the number eight slot for the most part and can't be expected to contribute as much as he did earlier in the season. And of course there's always Nyjer. Plush is more of a table setter and his role is also vital to this team. Even though I hope it's not the case, Morgan will probably come back down to Earth sooner or later...he has been a nice breath of fresh air for Brewer fans out in center.
Then there's the pitching. It's been difficult to figure out just exactly who can be trusted out in the bullpen. The starting rotation can't be expected to carry this team through the entire season (the last week or two has shown this to be the case). Therefore, the pen has to find it's identity and step up. We know closer John "all-star stache" Axford, another eventual 2011 all-star, is solid along with Latroy Hawkins, the should-be setup man, but recently there has been a dramatic decrease in performance. Ax and Hawk are the only pitchers in the pen with ERAs under 3.00. Either guys like Kameron Loe and Marco Estrada have to get their heads out of their behinds or the Brewers need to look elsewhere for some relief. Literally. My hope is that Zach Braddock can figure out how to sleep soon so there is a little more stability for the Brewers in late-game situations. The man who was called up to the big leagues for Braddock happens to have a 21.60 ERA. You know what isn't good? A 21.60 ERA. Thanks, Danny Herrera. It has to be taken into account that the Brewers haven't had a day off for quite sometime, and this affects the bullpen just as much as the position players. That's why Thursday is so important. Let's hope we see a refreshed, re-energized baseball team ready to take on a red hot ball club in the Minnesota Twins. They are in a stretch of a ridiculous interleague schedule that even Ron Roenicke can't deny is unfair. Still, there's no need to worry. The Brewers will enter play Friday with at least a share of the division lead (41-35, STL 0.5 GB, CIN 2 GB, PIT 3 GB). The first series win for Milwaukee since the Cards would be a good place to start the turnaround.
Now that we understand the importance of June 23 for the Brewers and feel reassured, let's turn our attention to tomorrow's NBA Draft. I shared a link in my last post that had a blurb about the Bucks' possible selection in the upcoming draft, but I don't think I gave them the attention they deserved. This team is coming off of a disappointing season to say the least and injuries along with a drop off in performance from several key players led to this demise. There have been a few rumors brought to my attention recently; some seem more realistic than others. The idea of trading away Andrew Bogut for a top three pick is possibly the most ridiculous rumor of them all. Bogut is without a doubt the most valuable member of the Milwaukee Bucks and one of the top centers in the NBA. The only reason I can see the Bucks CONSIDERING such a trade is because of Bogut's history of injury and the current status of his right elbow. It's unlikely that the thunder from down under will be 100% should the 2011-2012 season be starting on time (potential lockout...those are fun, right NFL?), but an 85-90% Bogut is enough to make a huge difference on this team. Bogut will be staying put and that's that. There has also been considerable talk that the Bucks will trade their number ten pick for a couple of mid-to-late first rounders and I wouldn't be opposed to such a decision, especially if former Colorado shooting guard Alec Burks is off the board. It also makes a whole lot more sense then shipping away Bogut. By doing this, the Bucks could still pick up a guy like Klay Thompson, a shooting guard from Washington State, who could step in immediately as a role player off the bench with the Bucks lacking at the guard position. Should they choose to go big, there are players like Jordan Hamilton from Texas or Bismack Biyombo from the Congo. Later on in the first round, a guy like Kenneth Faried would also fit the bill at power forward. Let's not forget about Wisconsin's own Jon Leuer, someone who has worked out in Milwaukee pre-draft as a possible second round option for Milwaukee...I'm getting excited just thinking about the possibility.
But this is ONLY if the Bucks decide to fulfill this rumor and trade down in the draft. Because of how weak the 2011 draft class is, I think it's a distinct possibility. I would go as far as saying that I wouldn't mind seeing Milwaukee trade their number one for a 2012 number one because of how loaded next year's class is expected to be. Doing so would set up the Bucks nicely. Should the Deer manage to stay healthy this year compared to how much time regulars missed last season and at least contend for the post-season, they would be in great shape with a few first rounders and a solid nucleus in place. Someone stop me...I'm getting ahead of myself. Besides, I'm pretty sure other NBA head honchos aren't stupid enough to trade away a '12 first round pick knowing what I know. Let's say the Bucks stay put and make a selection at the 10th pick. For this to happen, a few players must still be (and likely will be) on the board in my mind. These players are:
6'6" SG Alec Burks - slasher/defender
6'7" SG/SF Klay Thompson - shooter
6'9" PF Tristan Thompson - rebounder/athletic
6'8" SF/PF Marcus Morris - grinder/low-post scorer
I know that none of these names really pop out other than perhaps Morris', but they are guys that could certainly give the Bucks a shot in the arm. All four of these former student athletes play positions at which Milwaukee needs some assistance. There may still be more popular players such as Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette available at the number ten pick, but they are both considered to be point guards, an area that the Bucks don't need to create a traffic jam (just ask Minnesota). Of course, there are other players like San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard that could drop down to number ten. You can dig deeper on your own by checking out this mock draft. So those are all of the realistic options for Milwaukee in round one should they choose to make a selection at the ten spot. Who may be of interest in the second round? Here are a few players expected to be selected in the vicinity of the Bucks' 40th overall pick.
6'11" PF Jon Leuer - scorer with guard skill set
6'3" PG/SG Nolan Smith - leader, scorer, defender
6'7" SF Jimmy Butler - defender, plays big
6'10 SF Chandler Parsons - big man with guard skill set
There are plenty more I could list, but I thought it would be best to note some names that are more familiar. I personally believe there are going to be some gems coming out of this second round when I see names like the one's listed above along with players like JuJuan Johnson, E'twaun Moore, Shelvin Mack, David Lighty and Darius Morris expected to go in the second round. Maybe it's just because I'm so used to watching them go off against my favorite college basketball teams, but there is no reason that these guys can't step into the NBA and make a difference for their future teams.
Whichever direction the Deer decide to go...stay put at #10 and #40...trade down in the draft...select the big name guy or the hometown favorite...there should still be optimism going into next season (lockout pending). There's really no way that the Bucks will run into as many injuries as they did last year, which will help the team gel and live up to their potential. John Hammond wasn't named Executive of the Year two years ago for nothing; he knows how to build a team and as long as Milwaukee gets the right breaks, they SHOULD BE a team to be reckoned with. It all starts Thursday. Check out the draft since there's no Brewer baseball to watch. Be thankful there's no Brewer baseball to watch. We could all use a break.