Monday, March 28, 2011

It's about that time again

Can you feel it, folks? Just taking a walk outside and feeling that chilly, mid 20s weather can't help but make you feel like baseball season is right around the corner. Okay, so maybe we'll have to keep the roof closed on Miller Park for a few more weeks, but it's almost time for the boys of summer to take the diamond for the next six (seven?) months. As I feel every year, I have my hopes that the season will last well into October for my beloved Milwaukee Brewers, but this year I actually have a few reasons to back up my optimism. And that's what I'll be getting to in just a bit. For those of you who have been caught up with the Packers and basketball during the MLB off-season (which includes me), allow me to introduce you to some of the new acquisitions to the roster as well as some key reductions.

Who's New?

SP - Zack Greinke
Never mind the fact that Greinke fractured a rib playing basketball (ugh)...this guy will be good. Prove it, you say? Well, Greinke won the Cy-Young two years ago with the Kansas City Royals when he was finally able to put all of his focus into his day job after battling with psychological issues. Last year was a down year for Greinke, who received almost zero run support, but a move to the National League is an automatic boost to pitchers and their success. If Greinke can control his depression, he should be a force to be reckoned with after his stint on the disabled list is up.

SP - Shaun Marcum
Not much is known of Marcum, a guy who came over from a very underrated Toronto pitching staff. His numbers are almost remarkable when considering the division he came from (13-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.84 K/BB ratio). Holy hell. That's impressive. Again, consider the move from the AL to the NL, especially because of the wretched AL East, and Marcum is set up to have a solid year by being the unsung guy behind Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. Oh yeah, and both Greinke and Marcum are signed through 2012! Only concern...a former Tommy John Surgery recipient.

Manager Ron Roenicke
The first Brewers hire I can remember being in support of since...umm...shoot...let me think. NEVER! Roenicke came from the Los Angeles Angels under manager Mike Scioscia, who is an MLB manager-breeding machine. See: Bud Black, Joe Maddon. Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to run...thank God...and he's got the personnel to do just that. The players have expressed their liking for Roenicke, who brings a lot of energy into the clubhouse, which is something you never saw with Macha. I like this guy, and that already gives him a one-up on any other manager I can remember during my lifetime.

SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
Below-average defense. Below-average hitter, but not for his position. Could provide some pop at the bottom of the order. Not really much else to be said about Betancourt other than he was necessary for the Greinke deal to go through because of what we had to give up. In other news, I named my fantasy baseball team after him, but let's just say it's not for good reasons.

CF - Nyjer Morgan
This guy gets me excited. He was solid in his first couple seasons in the bigs, but struggled last year. This was mainly due to some temper issues as well as just being in an overall bad situation in Washington. Still, he provides the Brewers with more speed, which is never a bad thing, and will certainly help with the dire center field situation that before the trade appeared would be Carlos Gomez. I would like to see this guy hit lead-off, but I don't know if Weeks will be relieved of that duty any time soon.

Other new guys that could play a role: RP Takashi Saito, 1B/OF Mark Kotsay, P Sergio Mitre

Who's gone?

CF - Lorenzo Cain
This loss was the one that hurt the most, but it was a piece that the Brewers were going to have to part ways with if they wanted to obtain Greinke. He's a guy you would've liked to watch progress and get better with the Brewers, but it won't happen, and now we have to deal with watching Carlos Gomez swing for the fence every time he steps to the plate.

SS - Alcides Escobar
As Kyle texted me today, Escobar has unleashed five dingers in Spring Training to go with a .350+ average. A little frustrating to see, but it is exhibition play. Losing Escobar hurts the Brewers' defense, but probably not their offense. Can probably say the exact opposite of Cain. Tough loss, but I'm not terribly sad to see him go. He had his chance to make his mark in Milwaukee and couldn't do it.

Manager Ken Macha

P - Jeremy Jeffress
This was another tough one to swallow, although one more slip up for Jeffress and he's out of the league. Jeffress could absolutely BRING IT, and looked solid for the Crew late last year out of the pen when we were bringing up guys to see what they had. The silver lining is that if we hadn't called up Jeffress and watched him perform well, we may not have had the final piece that Kansas City was looking for in the Greinke deal.

RP - Carlos Villanueva
Call me ill-informed, but I still have no idea who the Brewers got in return for Villa when we shipped him off to Toronto. Nevertheless, what we got from Villanueva was a fast start and then deteriorating performance as the season went on year after year. Not too sad to watch him go. Sorry, Kyle.

C - Brett Lawrie (minor leaguer)
Yeah. The Brewers really emptied out the youth movement this off-season. Lawrie was shipped to Toronto for Marcum, so it's not a total loss. Still, this guy probably has a bright future and it's sad to see him go. Again, a necessary loss should the Brewers want to compete right away.

RP - Todd Coffey
IT'S COFFFFEEEEEEY TIMMMMMMEEE!!!!! Not anymore :( Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Other losses: P Jake Odirizzi (ML), OF Cutter Dykstra (ML), OF Chris Dickerson

So you're all caught up, right? Not quite, as the Brewers still have to make a few roster moves before Opening Day (Thursday!). But for the most part, we know who the key players are going to be for what we all hope to be a playoff push. Some story lines to keep an eye on will be how Prince Fielder performs in a contract year, how the new pitching additions will work out, if the Brewers will be able to overcome shotty defense and if John Axford can at least match his 2010 performance in the closer role. Now sit back while I make an ass out of myself and make 12 bold predictions about the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers...

1. Shaun Marcum will win 15 games.
2. Prince Fielder will either collapse under the pressure of a contract year or have a career year because of the motivation of a contract year...then walk after '11.
3. Nyjer Morgan will eventually become the main guy in center field after starting the year in a platoon with Carlos Gomez and the Crew once again realizing Go-Go sucks.
4. John Axford won't top his 2010 season in the closer role but do enough to stay in it. In addition, set-up man Zach Braddock will be an absolute beast.
5. The Brewers will rank in the bottom five in the MLB in defense.
6. Zack Greinke will not perform as well as expected, but Yovani Gallardo will succeed thanks to a lack of pressure.
7. The Brewers will acquire a key bench player mid-season.
8. Manager Ron Roenicke will win NL Manager of the Year.
9. Mark Rogers will be called up at some point during the season and make some key spot starts...maybe even earn the fifth spot at some point.
10. Sergio Mitre will make one start and then find his way to the bullpen, where he had some success last year with the Yanks.
11. Mat Gamel will not be touched in the minor leagues (barring injuries at the major league level), but will replace Prince Fielder in 2012 at first base.
12. Milwaukee Brewers 2011 record: 91-71, 1st place in NL Central

That's as far as I'll go. Come see me for a playoff prediction after they make it.

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Some news and notes from around Wisconsin...the Bucks lost back-to-back heart breakers to the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats and it might be time to give up on the Deer's playoff chances (or was I the only one who still had any hope?)...the Badgers and Warriors both reached the sweet 16 and then had disastrous efforts, getting knocked out of the dance as a result...I failed to follow some of my March Madness Manifesto rules, leaving me with an 11th place finish in my pool...that's all I can think of for now. Be prepared for Brewers, Brewers and more Brewers as we crawl towards summer. I love baseball. Did I mention it's my favorite sport? Yay baseball!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So you want a perfect bracket?

Well, you've come to the right place, my friends. You're talking to the guy who won a $50 pool his freshman year of high school (and has yet to win it again since). But I would ignore this fact, because I have put together a list that ensures perfection. We always hear about how nobody's perfect and I'm hear to tell you that that's a load of crap. After witnessing Kansas go down to Northern Iowa last season, completely devastating my bracket, myself and a few others (mainly Kyle and I) decided to go to town on what wasn't gelling with our NCAA tournament predictions. After reviewing these regulations again recently, I couldn't find much else that I would change. So basically, it comes down to this: do I want to show you this list? Hmmm....ah, what the hell.

But first, let me share my thoughts on a few pressing Wisconsin sports' subjects.

Zack Greinke. Thanks for deciding that playing pick-up basketball is more important than helping out a franchise that hasn't had a lick of success and is making possibly their last playoff push for quite sometime. Appreciate it. Get well soon...UW-Milwaukee. They made a valiant effort to make it to the big show, but not many people expected them to defeat Butler, even on their home court, to earn an automatic bid. Therefore, their loss isn't too disappointing, but it would've been cool to see...Marquette. Big win yesterday. They should be locked into the tourney now with their victory over Providence. Beating West Virginia tonight would be the icing on the cake, and I think it's very do-able...Wisconsin. You gave up 14-15 shooting from three. You got killed. Not really much you can do about that. Let's hope for a finals appearance in the Big Ten tournament, and then let's hope that the opponent isn't Ohio State. Dear Lord they're good...okay, back to business.

The March Madness Manifesto (in no particular order):

1) Stick with your gut. Don't second guess.
I'm sure you've heard your college/high school professor say that it's not a good idea to change your answer unless you're really, really sure. Same goes for picking your winners. Trust yourself, even if you usually don't.

2) Don't ride the hot team. Don't pick the cold team.
There's always one or two teams that are red-hot heading into the tournament. Naturally, you pick them. And naturally, they go out in the sweet 16. Just be careful and look at the entire body of work of a team. On the other end of the spectrum, if you're cold, you're cold. By this time of the year, team's should have figured it out. If they haven't, it's not a good sign. Avoid them.

3) Always pick at least one 12 over 5 seed upset.
Check this out. A 12 seed has defeated a 5 seed at least once in 21 of the past 23 years. Crazy. Another little known fact is that 5-12 upsets occur more often than 6-11 upsets. In other words, look at all of the 5 seed vs 12 seed match-ups, make notes of who the weakest 5 is and who the strongest 12 is and go from there.

4) Have the team you root for go a round shorter than you think they will.
Let's face it. We watch our favorite teams (Wisconsin, Marquette and UWM in many of our cases) all year long and see what they are capable of. Normally, we think they're capable of way too much. Fill out your bracket, see how far you have your favorite teams going, and push them back a round.

5) Don't look into strength of schedule too much.
Case in point: the Big East. Ever since the conference expanded in 2005, a National Champion hasn't emerged from the Big East. They beat each other up too much during the course of the regular season. I'm not saying a team can't come out of this conference and win it all...I'm just saying that the conference a team plays in shouldn't be overblown when it comes to making your selections.

6) Don't look into location of game too much.
I'm stressing the 'too much' part on this one. If you are really having difficulty choosing between two teams and one of them is playing in their backyard, then sure, go ahead and pick that team. But don't completely base your pick off of who is closer to home. It doesn't make that much of a difference.

7) How well a player is projected to do in the NBA won't necessarily translate into success for the player's team (This depends on the supporting cast). A Good Team > 1 or 2 very talented players.
Pretty self-explanatory, I'd say. See: Any John Calipari-coached team.

8) In close match-ups, pay close attention to team free throw percentage.
See: Any John Calipari-coached team.

9) The coach can play a role in the team's success, but in the end the team is more important.
I know. This seems pretty evident. Obviously, coaches like Tom Izzo and Coach K are going to get the most out of their players, but it's up to the players to execute the game plan.

10) Always pick a 7/10 seed to beat a 2 seed in the 2nd round.
This has happened 9 of the past 10 years. So do it. Same strategy as the 5-12 rule applies here.

11) Listen to Jay Bilas.
The man is a college basketball encyclopedia. Cornell in the sweet 16? Ha. Oh wait...

12) Teams play better when they have a chance to play close to home later on in the tournament.
The past two years, Michigan State (Detroit) and Butler (Indianapolis) have willed themselves through the tournament to play extremely close to home in the Final Four. However, once they get there, see rule #6.

13) Ride the team with the clutch player for awhile.
There are always those certain guys who just get the job done when the going gets tough and the pressure mounts. Find out who these players play for, and then give this team an automatic pass through the first round or two because there's no way they're going home early.

A few more tidbits...Coach K and Coach Izzo are very good on the second game. In other words, if they reach the Sweet 16 and win, they are more than likely going to win in the Elite 8. It's just how it is...Avoid picking Vandy and Clemson. History says so...Avoid picking team's you haven't heard of late in the tournament. Butler kind of defies that idea but usually, you're going to see the big name schools dancing until midnight...Experience > Youth. See: Any John Calipari coached team.

Happy bracket filling out! You're welcome in advance for winning your office pool.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time to make-it or break-it

There is really only one thing that's certain heading into the month of March on the Wisconsin college basketball front: the Wisconsin Badgers are going to the Big Dance. Marquette and UWM? They might be sitting pretty right now, but the selection committee won't be making their decisions until March 13th...10 days from now. In between now and one of the most exciting Sundays of the year (at least for me), the Warriors and the Panthers need to win some ball games.

My 1st draft of March Madness predictions. What's that, you ask? No, I don't have a life. Perhaps this wouldn't have been the case for Marquette had they not allowed a Cincinnati Bearcats team to walk into the BC and control the game from the get-go. The Bearcats have an amazing record for a Big East team, don't get me wrong, but they aren't going to be a team that lasts very long in the tourney. Therefore, an 18-12 (9-8) Marquette squad needs to take care of business at Seton Hall on Saturday (for the love of God...please do), which would give them ten victories in the most demanding conference in the nation. Most would say this is enough, but just to be sure, it would be nice to see the Warriors nab a Big East tournament game so they could reach the 20 win plateau and lock themselves in.

The Milwaukee Panthers flat out NEED to win games. Two, to be exact. Should they win two games, they will have won the Horizon League tournament and earned an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. If you recall my previous blog post, I noted how UWM would have to defeat the conference leader at the time, Cleveland State, on the road and then travel to Youngstown State and eek out a win (my hopes were not high). Who would've thought that last place YSU would poise more of a threat to a conference title and home court advantage in the conference tourney than Norris Cole (stud) and the CSU Vikings? Not I. Low and behold, had a Youngstown State player not missed a point blank put-back-lay-up as time expired in regulation, UWM would not have had the opportunity to pull away in OT to earn that coveted one seed. After watching that video, you have to feel awesome for coach Rob Jeter. Once an assistant under Bo Ryan, Jeter took over in '05 after Pearl scurried over to Tennessee for a chance to coach at a bigger Division I school. With the players Pearl recruited, Jeter was able to lead the Panthers to the round of 32 before falling to the eventual champions, the Florida Gators. Since then, it's been an uphill battle, but notice that each year, UWM's win total has increased. Well...up until this season (at least thus far), but I'm sure Panther fans will take a conference title and a #1 seed over a 20 win season and bowing out in the conference tourney semifinals. It just goes to show that if you give a guy a chance to institute HIS OWN system and recruit HIS OWN players, special things can happen.

Certainly, I could have never seen this coming, but an improbable late season run put the Panthers in their first realistic position to reach March Madness since immediately after the Bruce Pearl era. More than likely, UWM will lace 'em up against Cleveland State yet again on Saturday for a chance to reach the tournament final against, more than likely, the defending runner-up in the NCAA tournament, Butler. Ant Hill, Tone Boyle, Tony Meier, Ja'Rob McCallum...these are names that Wisconsin sports fans should get acclimated with because they will be the reason Milwaukee reaches the tourney...but first they have to get there. Get your popcorn ready.

In other news...Wisconsin heads to Indiana tonight to face the Who-siers and then travel to Columbus where the Buckeyes will more than likely exact their revenge on Bucky. Let's hope not. Or at least, let's hope for a good game and a sweep of Ohio State. They're kind of our bitch...The Bucks continue to fall off the face of the Earth. However, I think I defended them nicely after this douche-rod put up this article on The Sports Jury (scroll down to the comments, I'm the bottom one)...March Madness Manifesto and Brewers' season preview coming soon!

One more note of interest: I received my first assignment for the school newspaper, the Advance-Titan. I'll be covering Men's tennis! Woot! In all honesty, I'm excited to actually get something published as it should definitely help me in the foreseeable future. Thanks for all the support, because this blog was a big reason that I got noticed for the position.

Keep reading y'all!