Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Literal Shot in the Arm

Can anyone remember the last time they were excited about a Wisconsin Badgers quarterback? Badger football has made a living out of building up a legitimate running attack that runs behind a ginormous offensive line. This then allows the quarterback to benefit from defenses packing the box and running the play action, throwing primarily from the pocket and darting passes no more than 15 to 20 yards down the field. Rarely does Wisconsin design a play that allows for the QB to roll out of the pocket or try and create a play for themselves. Boy, are Badger fans in for a surprise this fall. On Monday, it was confirmed that former N.C. State quarterback and minor league baseball player Russell Wilson would be leaving the Colorado Rockies' Single A affiliate to play football for Wisconsin next season.

Wilson, who graduated in three years at N.C. State, was selected in the fourth round of the MLB draft last season, but was struggling early in his baseball career. Since he graduated college so quickly and only played three years of football, Wilson has a year left of eligibility. Thanks to the current state of the Badgers' football program, a stud offensive coordinator in Paul Chryst and uncertainty at the quarterback position, Wilson decided to take his talents to Madison. Instead of announcing this during a one hour special on ESPN, Wilson humbly decided to make his first appearance as a Badger on College Football Live. And Badger fans, you're not going to believe this, but Wilson can do more than just throw the football...he can run with it, too. This is one of the main reasons that Badger fans can get excited for football this season. Even with the departure of several key guys like Lance Kendricks, J.J. Watt and John Clay, the Badgers return eight starters on defense, two 1,000ish yard rushers in Montee Ball and James White and now will be adding one of the best QBs in ACC history. I don't have to run through all of the numbers to convince you that Russell Wilson makes this Badgers team noticeably better and a lot more unpredictable on the offensive side of the ball. Along with his ability to create plays with his feet, Wilson was a very effective passer with the Wolfpack. He's unconventional when it comes to the Wisconsin norm to say the very least...that's what so many people will like about him when they tune in each Saturday to watch him go to work. In my mind, with the recent happenings in Columbus (Tressel resigning, several players suspended, Pryor leaving town) and the addition of the versatile Wilson, the Badgers are contenders in whatever stupid name was given to their division. There are still many challenges on the schedule that Bucky must confront, but once it's confirmed that Russell Wilson has won the quarterback "battle", expectation should be higher than what many thought they would be in 2011. And thank goodness...the end to last season still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

With my NBA draft talk in the past, the NFL in a 100+ day lockout and the only active Wisconsin professional team being the Brewers, there isn't all that much to talk about besides the future. What Brewer fans hope for in the future is a playoff birth and maybe more, but should the Brewers run into teams like the Phillies, Red Sox or Yankees late in the postseason, some things are going to have to change with this team. There are guys on this team that get it and some that still seem to struggle with the pressure that comes along with being a first place ball club. Thankfully, the players I'm talking about (Braun, Fielder, Weeks, Marcum, Wolf) have been able to pick up the slack that other players cannot (McGehee, Betancourt, Greinke). The latter mentioned can't sit back and expect to not contribute while still watching this team succeed. At the moment, the Crew is good...but not great. Sure, the American Leauge is a totally different animal, Milwaukee is basically the smallest market in baseball and they have landed the two best teams in the AL...on the road. But the Brewers have the pieces to be a great team this season and maybe this season only should Fielder visit Mr. Free Agency this winter. It isn't the year for Casey McGehee to be completely useless behind Prince or for Zack Greinke to have a 5.00 ERA. There is little margin for error for a team like the Brewers, even with the talent they have assembled this season.

The previous paragraph was prompted by the first game of the Yankees series Tuesday night. Greinke lasted two innings. McGehee failed to hit when in a position to contribute and brainfarted on defense. The Brewers looked starstruck as Kyle so rightly stated. This isn't acceptable. Professional athletes can't act like they've never been in New York and then go on to play like they just stepped on a professionally kept baseball field for the first time. Hopefully it's just something that the Brewers needed to get out of their system, but wait...wouldn't that have already happened in Boston, another city rich with baseball tradition and a stadium revered around the league? Apparently not. Now I'm not going to throw away all hope and overreact about the Brewers struggling against one of the best divisions ever assembled. I just don't want Brewer fans thinking that because we can beat up on teams like the Twins and Pirates, we should start acting like this is the best team to strut across Milwaukee. The Brewers have a long way to go yet, but they have the right core in place to keep this team's head on straight. Let's just be thankful that interleague play isn't year-round and that the Brewers have received some nice breaks so far this season. Pujols' time on the DL has helped the Crew at least stay in contention for the division lead and once he gets back, it would be nice for the Brewers to hold a somewhat comfortable lead over the Cards. The Bucs have been surprisingly good for their standards, but in the end they don't have the horses or the experience to contend in the end...kind of like the Brewers in '06. Everyone says the Cincinnati Reds will be there in the end and I don't argue against this, but they haven't shown that they are division-winning quality like they were last season when they came out of nowhere to make the playoffs. Milwaukee has been lucky but good for the most part. Right NOW could not be a more important time to show how good they really are.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reviewing the Draft, Praising the Crew

With an NBA lockout closing in, I'll be happy to ignore pro basketball for as long as humanly possible, but first we have to take a look at how the Bucks fared with their two draft choices Thursday night. After a rather notable trade that left the Bucks better off in many ways, they were still left with just one true shooting guard on the roster in Stephen Jackson. However, my instincts served me well for once and Milwaukee chose a combo forward - Tobias Harris out of Tennessee. Sure, there may have been better players left on the board...and in my opinion, there were a few...but the Bucks liked what they saw in Harris during the pre-draft workouts in Milwaukee and news on the street was that unless a Morris twin or someone else plummeted Aaron Rodgers-style to 19, the former Volunteer would become a Buck. Harris is considered to be more of a hybrid between small forward and power forward, which is what I deemed Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova to be in my last post. In the second round, the Bucks chose (power?) forward Jon Leuer out of close-by Wisconsin-Madison much to the delight of Badger fans (and myself). Therefore, the Bucks now have four point guards, one true shooting guard, eight forwards and one true center. Hmmm...we seem to have the same problem prior to last season; too many forwards on the team. Not only that, but the Bucks will have to ditch a point guard or two, perhaps in favor of another shooting guard.

It also currently leaves Milwaukee with 14 players on their roster. That problem will solve itself over time, but for now let's evaluate the draft picks of Milwaukee. Obviously, we can't get too far in depth with the judging process for these two selections because we haven't even seen them put on a Bucks' uniform, but we can go off how we expect them to fit in with Milwaukee as well as their performance in college. What excites me about Harris is that he is extremely young and therefore has plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps if he had stayed in school for a few more years, Harris would've been selected higher in the future, but he decided to come out after his freshman season. More than likely, Harris will play the three but has the ability to play the four should the Bucks decide to go small from time to time. He should be able to handle this well because of how versatile of a player he is and he has room to get bigger even though he is already 226 pounds...he was around 210 at season's end. By playing with many score-first minded players at Tennessee, he showed that he is willing to let the game come to him, but when he does he can surprise people with his quickness. Harris averaged 15 and 7 as a freshman and although he struggled with his jump shot, he has good form which leads me to believe that he could develop a decent outside game as well. All in all, I can't complain with the selection of Tobias Harris and I'm excited to see how he fits in with the Bucks next season.

Someone who might not get to see how he fits in with the Bucks next season is Jon Leuer, who unlike Harris stayed all four years in school. Leuer improved his game each year at Wisconsin, and by getting to watch him up close many times can tell that he still has a ways to go if he wants to become a mainstay in the NBA. One thing that will play to Leuer's advantage is that at 6'11", he has a guard skill set because of how much he grew during his time in high school. Leuer can work outside and inside because of this skill set and his size, making him versatile like Harris. With the Bucks' struggles to score and shoot efficiently last season, picking versatile players like Harris and Leuer probably isn't a bad idea. The problem with Leuer is that even though he bulked up quite a bit during college, he still has to get a lot bigger to face the size he will be expected to face at the next level. He's also not someone who's going to fool you, so Leuer will have to add more to his game...which he'll get a chance to do when he starts the season in the NBA Developmental League. Probably. Trust me. I want to see Leuer suit up for the Bucks just as badly as any other Badger/Buck fan, but I think he has a lot farther to go than Harris. My hope is that he gets there sooner rather than later. So of course I like this pick...a guy I got to see play college ball for my favorite college team gets to play for my favorite pro team.

Draft Grade: B+ .. whatever that means
2011-2012: Harris - Backup forward, Leuer - D League, eventual call-up
Moves needed: Trade/release Keyon Dooling AND/OR Shaun Livingston, acquire 2-guard

We now move from the hard court to the diamond where the Milwaukee Brewers seem to have used their day-off on Thursday to get their s--- together. The Brewers have taken the first two games of their series against the Twins, which is especially satisfying because the Twins enjoy completely owning the Brew Crew year after year in interleague play. By winning the series, the Brewers are now 4-4 in interleague play, although another difficult stretch is upcoming as they have to travel to New York and Minnesota next week to close out play against the American League. Because I'm attending the ballgame at Miller Park tomorrow, I'm tempted to bring along a broom; I'll have to refrain...that would guarantee victory for the Twinkies. I'll save busting out the broom for when my place needs a good cleaning...which is always.

Thanks to a St. Louis Cardinals' two-game losing streak, the Crew has stretched their division lead to two games and three games over the Cincinnati Reds and...wait for it...the Pittsburgh Pirates. This helps support the belief that good pitching helps you hang around for awhile and even though the Pirates have been fun to laugh at over the years, it's nice to see that fan base become hopeful again. And that's the difference between my feelings towards Cubs fans and everyone else's fans. Despite the feel-good story of the Pirates recently, I'd still prefer that the Brewers win the division. They can feel free to stick around for awhile...hell, they can even take the Wild Card if they want...but that's it. Now back to the Brewers. Even though the Twins had been on such a roll before they came to Milwaukee, they have several key players on the disabled list, including Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and now Delmon Young after an ugly play out in left field on Yuni B's inside the park homer. I think it was only a matter of time before the Twins started to play at the level they should with their current lineup. Luckily, it happened right before this series and the Brewers have capitalized, winning a thriller last night and taking game two tonight by the largest margin of victory the Crew has had all season.

It's been difficult to figure out this team, especially the bullpen, which appears to have figured things out again. I think the day off helped that unit the most from the looks of it. In the two games against the Twins, the Brewers' 'pen hasn't given up a run. Dare I say it, but Kameron Loe has been solid in his last couple outings and of course, the Ax Man continues to make his case for a spot on the NL All-Star team. A good outing from Chris Narveson tomorrow would make it a good last couple starts for the starting five with the exception of Shaun Marcum, who is clearly battling out there with his hip injury. Because of his personal bid at becoming an all-star, it would be great to see Marcum return to form...if this means the Brewers have to take a hit and have Marcum miss a start, so be it. With the off day Thursday and another day-off upcoming, the extra rest should help either way. Otherwise, everything is back to normal and the Brewers have given themselves some breathing room before heading out east to the (new) Cathedral of Baseball. I'll try my best to bring home a W on Sunday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Captain Jack Now a Buck

See? I told you today would be important. Sources say that the Bucks are taking part in a 3-team trade that will bring former Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard Stephen Jackson to Milwaukee. All of the details can be found at this link courtesy of Chad Ford of ESPN. Like I speculated yesterday, the Bucks will be moving down in the draft as a result of this trade and will also be receiving point guard Shaun Livingston from the 'Cats and point guard Beno Udrih from the Sacramento Kings. The players being shipped out of Milwaukee are John Salmons and Corey Maggette, and let me be the first to say good riddance to Mr. Maggette, arguably the main reason Milwaukee was unable to reach the postseason this past year.

A few notes on this trade. The Bucks will now pick 19th in the first round rather than 10th, which isn't the worst thing in the world considering the major drop off in talent after the first five picks or so (according to experts at least). Milwaukee will probably be looking at the following players that could be available at this point in the draft:

6'9" PF Markieff Morris - the other Morris twin, strong around the rim, decent shot
7'0" PF Donatas Motiejunas - lefty, foreign, great offensive potential
6'7" PF Kenneth Faried - tons of energy, great defender and rebounder
6'8" SF/PF Tobias Harris - quick for his size, good around the basket
6'9" SF/PF Chris Singleton - athletic, strong defender, can finish well

The reason I only listed forwards at this position is because the Bucks are now loaded at the guard position. By trading away a shooting guard and a small forward, the Bucks received two point guards and a shooting guard. This leads me to believe that Keyon Dooling could be on his way out of Milwaukee with only one year remaining on his deal, or perhaps Livingston or Udrih will be dealt as they have the same contract situation as Dooling. Either way, the Bucks will not be carrying four point guards on their roster once the start of the season rolls around, so look for at least one of these three players to be moved...maybe even tonight. As far as the prospects available at 19, I have a sense that the Bucks will take Tobias Harris out of Tennessee. Harris has had pre-draft workouts at Milwaukee and although he is a bit undersized for his position, he seems to be someone the Bucks are interested in. Just one man's opinion. However, there have also been reports that the Deer would like to take Markieff with their first round pick. The only problem is that he likely won't be available at this point, so maybe look for Milwaukee to trade up a few spots if they really want the other Morris twin. Obviously, a lot can happen so I'm not really going to get caught up in all the possibilities.

As for what Milwaukee now has? For one, there is a log jam at the point guard position (I seem to have jinxed that), but a formidable back up for Brandon Jennings in Udrih, a guy who can give you quality minutes off the bench and put up some points as well (averaged over 13 a game last season). My feeling is that Livingston will just become someone who gets buried on the bench or has his contract bought out while Dooling will get dealt away either tonight or at some point in the near future. The potential Jennings/Udrih combo gets me a little more excited than I initially thought. Now we turn to the main player in the deal...Captain Jack, better known as Stephen Jackson. Jax is infamously known as one of the guys involved in the Menance at the Palace (Jackson is the one with the yellow headband), but that was much earlier in his career and something Bucks fans shouldn't be concerned about. He will be someone that gives the Bucks a little more stability at the 2-guard. His career numbers are much better than those of Fish and he has done a nice job of getting back in shape. Jackson also was one of the big reasons behind the Bobcats reaching the postseason a few years ago after being traded from the Warriors.

All in all, I like the deal for a few reasons:

1) Maggette - the career loser - is gone
2) The Bucks are better at shooting guard
3) The Bucks are better at point guard
4) The forward positions aren't as much of a jumbled mess as before
5) Moving down in the draft decreases the chances of picking a bust at #19

At this very moment, here is where the Bucks' roster stands:

PG - Brandon Jennings - Beno Udrih - Keyon Dooling* - Shaun Livingston*
SG - Stephen Jackson
SF - Carlos Delfino
SF/PF - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Ersan Ilyasova
PF - Jon Brockman
PF/C - Larry Sanders - Drew Gooden
C - Andrew Bogut

Hmmm...maybe we should be looking at selecting a shooting guard in the first round...okay, here are a few that should be available around the 19th pick:

6'5" SG Marshon Brooks - scoring, scoring and more scoring
6'5" PG/ SG Iman Shumpert - very athletic, quick, lenghty
6'3" PG/SG Reggie Jackson - 7 FOOT WINGSPAN, athletic, creator
6'8" SG/SF Tyler Honeycutt - good defender, athletic

Brooks would be a great selection here if he's available. Not sure if the Bucks are looking to select a guard, but we'll see. Alright...I've lost track of time and talked a little more about the NBA than I'd prefer in the last two days. I'll be back later with a review of the Bucks' selections in the draft. It's time to eat dinner.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thursday, June 23 = Important

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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Return of the Road Woes

At the close of the Chicago Cubs/Milwaukee Brewers' series, I was tempted to hack away at my keyboard in disgust after watching my favorite baseball team get out-dueled by their most hated rival. Instead, I decided to wait and see how the Brewers would respond to such a lackluster performance (on the field and from the manager) because of how often they have done just that...responded. To be real, taking one out of three from the best team in baseball in their home park can't be viewed as a failure. In fact, it's a good way to avoid getting your parachute tangled up while falling toward the ground. It's not the Red Sox series I'm concerned about, the beginning of the most brutal interleague schedule ever created by mankind...it's not Gallardo getting one of his few stinker performances out of the way against the best hitting team in baseball...it's not watching our ace, Shaun Marcum, have to leave the game with a hip injury and possibly miss his next start...it's not even Roenicke's insistence to continue using Kameron "Loe No" in the 8th inning time after time...it's the freaking Cubs' series that bothers me, and the potential return of the road woes for the Milwaukee Brewers.

An alarming stat was brought to my attention a few days ago by my roommate Kenne. The Brewers haven't won a season series against the Chicago Cubs since 2005. Can you believe that? Even with the recent struggles on the North Side, the Cubs have still managed to own Milwaukee, and what makes it even more frustrating is that it's always the same guys that beat us. Aramis Ramirez had the game winning RBI off of Loe in game one while Ryan Dempster continued his domination of the Brewers...Ramirez then promptly hit a game tying home run off of Marco Estrada, who, by the way has also not been of much help lately but was still thrown into a (sort-of) pressure situation in game two...and then in game four, after the Brewers outscored the Cubs to take game three, Greinke left far too many pitches over the plate while Rickie Weeks was gunned out twice at second by Fuku and the Brewers dropped three out of four to the Cubbies. Each starting pitcher had games they would rather forget during the road trip save for Randy Wolf, who had two stellar performances and a victory to show for his efforts. The struggles for the starting five on this trip was concerning considering they have been the key to this team's success over the course of the season. Just when we thought Greinke had finally turned the corner, he failed to step up in a game the Brewers really could've used. Gallardo did the same against the Red Sox earlier today.

The starting pitching wasn't the only aspect of the Brewers that saw a decline in performance while on the road this past week. Manager Ron Roenicke's coaching style cost the Brewers a chance at victories in both game one and game two of the series against the Cubs. Calling a suicide squeeze for Randy Wolf with Betancourt on third and one out in the fifth inning was pushing his luck a little too far for my liking. And to top it all off, Wolf crushed one to right for a double right after Betancourt was caught in a rundown when Wolf whiffed on the squeeze bunt. Later on in the same game, Loe trotted out for the eighth and that was that. In game two, RR decided it was best to insert his second worst reliever statistically into the eight inning slot instead of his worst and the result was even more catastrophic...a blown lead and eventual loss in the tenth following another questionable decision from Roenicke: not having Dillard intentionally walk Starlin Castro to set up a double play with a runner on third and one out. It's decisions like this that makes my head hurt, especially against THE FREAKING CUBS. Ugh. So frustrating. I like Roenicke. I really do. His crafty use of the shift. His aggressive style of managing. But playing the percentages like with the infield shift should be applied to other facets of the game...like walking a runner to set up a chance at a double play or a force out at home...or calling for a squeeze with your pitcher in a 0-0 game in the fifth instead of having some faith in his hitting ability. RR is learning the material as he goes, but don't fail an exam against the Cubs for God's sake.

That's about all the complaining I have for you and this is why: despite going 2-5 on the last road trip in which the Brewers visited the two oldest stadiums in baseball and proceeded to play like they were the oldest team in baseball, Milwaukee is still in a tie for first place with the St. Louis Cardinals thanks to the Cards also faltering over the last week. Every division in baseball is tight at the top with the exception of the NL East (Phillies = scary), so we Brewer fans have to accept the fact that this is going down to the wire and it won't be easy on the ole' ticker. But the biggest reason that I can remain optimistic is because the Brewers get to return home now, where they are 25-9!!!!! Decent. The two teams that will pay visit to Mil-town this week are the Tampa Bay Rays (39-33, 3 game winning streak) and the cross-state rival Minnesota Twins (31-39, 7 game winning streak). Because these teams play in the American League, I can't say I'm an expert on either the Rays and the Twins, but I am aware that the Twins have been on an absolute tear as of late. They looked so awful earlier in the year, but Minnesota isn't a team that can be kept down for long. The Twins always play the Brewers tough so it should be a good challenge for the Crew. You'll see me start to complain again if the Brewers fail to have a winning home stand before having to travel to New York and Minnesota, so for all our sakes....Go Brewers.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's time to take a step in a different direction and evaluate a few other sport-related activities around Wisconsin. Last Thursday, the Packers finally received their Super Bowl rings for winning Super Bowl 45 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rings, which are fully described in this article, are ridiculously amazing. But why get the rings now during the lockout instead of afterward? Coach Mike McCarthy gave a good explanation, saying that the team doesn't want to reflect on the past and get distracted by the Super Bowl victory while preparing for next season. Good call, Mike. The rings were handed out during a private ceremony, just as McCarthy would like it. This is the last time I'm talking about football until this damn lockout gets lifted.

Well, pro football at least. Over the last few weeks, there has been some speculation that former North Carolina State quarterback and current minor league baseball player Russell Wilson could come play for the Wisconsin Badgers. Wilson, who has another year of eligibility remaining, currently plays in the Colorado Rockies farm system and has strongly considered leaving baseball so he can pursue football. He has narrowed his options down to Wisconsin and Auburn. Wilson would be eligible to play this season since he wouldn't be transferring from a different school, but first Wilson has to make a decision between which sport he wants to play. According to the recent rumblings about Wilson, he his still very torn between playing baseball, where he hasn't exactly torn it up, and football, where a strong senior season could give him a legitimate chance to play in the NFL. Reports have said that Wilson is favoring Wisconsin, which I believe can be attributed to the genius ways of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, a guy who could find himself at the helm of a college football program in the very near future. Hopefully Russell makes the right choice and becomes a Badger.

And last and also least, our beloved Milwaukee Bucks. In case you didn't notice, I rarely talk about the Bucks because, well, they aren't very good. Their franchise has been run extremely poorly ever since Ray Allen was traded away for a sack of s--- and all the death of Robert "Tractor" Traylor did a month or so ago was remind me of how Milwaukee thought it would be a good idea to trade Dirk "future hall-of-famer" Nowitzki and a 1st round pick for Tractor. Unreal. Of course, his death is very tragic but the horrible memories came flooding back. Arguably, the Bucks have the curse of the Dirk pinned on them for many years to come. But the Bucks are the NBA franchise I root for because they play 25 minutes away from where I grew up and I'm a homer. Because it's my job to write about sports in the Midwest for The Sports Jury, I decided to do a piece on the Bucks for the website. It includes a look at what went wrong last season, what the Bucks need to do to return to the playoffs and some of the prospects that Milwaukee should be targeting in the NBA draft coming up next Thursday. As far as other articles I've written for the site, feel free to take a look at my archive and see if anything interests you. Yes, the picture for my profile on the site is me with a mo-hawk and my 6th grade basketball jersey on.

Don't hate.

Go Brewers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Highs and Loes

I needed to do a shortened follow-up post after my last one now that we've seen "setup man" Kameron Loe choke for the second time in under a week and the Brewers fail to put up a run against their biggest rival. There are a few other things I'll get to, but first: Mr. Loe.

Have we seen enough, Coach Roenicke? There has to be a better way to go about getting the game to the Ax Factor in the 9th with the lead…or at least tied. Why in God's name is Loe in there when it's not even a hold situation? This is normally a time reserved for someone like LaTroy Hawkins (should-be setup man) or even Zach Braddock. Speaking of Hawkins and Braddock, how about these guys share the 8th inning based on who is at the plate? Call me crazy, but I believe that lefty-lefty and righty-righty match-ups favor the pitcher in each situation respectively nine times out of ten. In fact, keep Loe in there for the righties...why not. His sinker is almost unhittable when it's working, which has been occasional this season, but in no way should Loe pitch to a left-handed hitter. Loe has as good of a chance of getting a lefty out as Lebron James has of coming through in clutch situations. With how deep the Brewers' starting pitchers have been getting into games this season, Roenicke should have plenty of well-rested relievers to use for either the seventh or the eighth, and yet we continue to see him march out Loe's corpse and his 5+ ERA. Here's the ultimatum...either let Loe face only righties in the seventh or eighth and allow Braddock to take the lefties or just remove Loe from the setup role altogether and throw Hawkins in there. Clearly, there are other bullpen guys able and willing to take on a task that Loe simply cannot complete. Don't believe me?

LaTroy Hawkins: 16 G, 0.59 ERA
Tim Dillard: 7 G, 1.86 ERA
Sergio Mitre: 19 G, 2.00 ERA
Zach Braddock: 16 G, 2.31 ERA
KAMERON LOE: 36 GAMES, 5.23 ERA

I'd now like to back up to my previous post. I mentioned that I would like to see Mike Rivera to come up from AAA and fill the backup catcher role behind Jonathan Lucroy instead of current backup Wil Nieves. However, whatever Nieves has been doing behind the plate with Wolf, it's been working. Wolf lowered his ERA to 3.20, which is second-best among the Brewers' starting five...that’s saying something. Nieves is Wolf's designated-catcher for lack of a better term, but he is the only Brewers' hitter without an RBI and is hitting .140 in 50 AB. For those keeping track at home, Nieves leads the league in number of plate appearances without an RBI. Ouch. Here's why I can except having Nieves on the roster. He only takes up one spot in the batting order, and he calls a great game behind the plate for Wolfy, who refuses to throw to the youngster, Lucroy (which still bothers me). Still, I would much rather have a happy Wolf throwing to Nieves while having success instead of a frustrated Wolf throwing to Lucroy with the chance of maybe getting another run or two from the offense, but risking a bad outing from Wolf. For now, it's worth it to keep Nieves on the roster. Think of centerfielder Carlos Gomez; his role has basically transformed into pinch-running/defensive specialist...a guy who comes in late to relieve an outfielder or a slow runner on the base paths because of his blinding speed. Josh Wilson and Craig Counsell do this on the infield - Nieves, to a degree, does this behind the plate. I should have thought of this before throwing Nieves into the fire last weekend.

One final note...it seems as though that as of late, the Brewers have done a good job of getting up against clubs with winning records, such as the Cardinals, Marlins and Giants (I know...not the Reds). It can be argued that they have caught a break because these teams haven't had the likes of Buster Posey, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Holliday, but I'm hoping that this doesn't put a damper on the recent success of the Crew. Coming up, the Brewers face a treacherous interleague schedule, having to travel to Boston and New York, host the Tampa Bay Rays and play a home-and-away against the now surging Twins. This is arguably the most difficult interleague schedule out of any team in the MLB and will truly test the Brewers, but I believe their ability to hold their own against the NL's best will carry over to this tough stretch of games. Nevertheless, Roenicke should take a long, deep look at his bullpen and figure out how to utilize some his relievers correctly. RR should be familiar with using a designated hitter since he came from an American League squad in the L.A. Angels, so that shouldn't be a huge issue...it's just a matter of lighting a fire under whoever is suiting up on the left side of the infield.

As long as Milwaukee can avoid a total collapse and keep the ship afloat, they should emerge from interleague play near the top of the NL Central. June 17th to July 3th will show this team's true colors...that I can guarantee.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

There may be a lot going on these days around sports, like the NBA Finals (go Mavs), NHL Finals (go Canucks), the NFL lockout (yawn), the College World Series (eh) and the baseball season starting to get in full swing, but for us here in Wisconsin, there isn't too much to cover. Basically, it's the Brewers and more Brewers, leaving me with little to choose from when it comes to Wisconsin sports - the focus of this blog. I don't mind. I love the Brewers and baseball has always been my favorite sport, but some of you may be interested in other topics, although I feel as though I've done a good job of mixing up what I talk about when it comes to the Brew Crew. If you would like to hear me babble about something else, feel free to leave a comment after you're done reading this post. I'll also do my best to brainstorm. For now, baseball is what's happening for people around Wisconsin and thankfully the Brewers are winning, making them fun to write about. Tonight, I'd like to go a different route and look at different places the Brewers should begin to look if they want to bolster their squad for the stretch run as players in the farm system begin to make their case for a call-up and as the trade deadline nears.

The Brewers are in a nice place right now at this point of the season. The days of panic are behind us and the Crew is only a half game out of first place coming into play on Sunday. This doesn't mean it's time to relax; it's time for the Brewers to look for the areas that need improvement. With the Brewers doing so well lately, nothing should be extremely tampered with...only slightly. However, now that the baseball season is nearly two and a half months old, it's time to stop waiting on certain players to hit their stride. It might sound harsh, but you can't wait this long for professional baseball players to remember how to hit a ball or find the strike zone. Having said that, it's time to pinpoint the players that can expect to see less playing time and see where the Brewers should look, whether it be in their system or across the league, for help.

*DISCLAMER* I hope that the four players on this unfortunate list all begin to figure it out more than anyone, but for the sake of argument and to be fair to other Brewer fans who have the same concerns as me, here it goes.

REPLACE: Yuniesky Betancourt

Coming into the season, I knew that Betancourt would be a downgrade from Alcides Escobar in the field, but I thought he would at least hold his own at the plate. Yuni B is 0/2...8 errors, just 3 HRs and a .230/.256/.340 just doesn't cut it for me, although Escobar has arguably been worse if you can believe it. He is the origin for my former fantasy baseball team name "I'm Betan Our Defense Sucks," which wasn't holding true for awhile, but thanks in part to Yuni B, the team defense of the Brewers has dropped into 15th in the Majors (9th in the NL).

REPLACE WITH: Josh Wilson & Craig Counsell

There isn't anything in the minor leagues, so the Brewers need to look elsewhere on their roster. In my mind, there shouldn't be any more of a demotion than to a platoon for Betancourt since there really isn't anything better available, and it appears that a platoon is already in the works. Counsell has started the last two games at shortstop and Wilson is hitting over .300 with 2 HRs ALREADY after being claimed off waivers from Arizona in almost strictly a pinch-hitting role. Also, they are much more reliable in the field compared to Yuni. Betancourt is likely a free agent after the season is over (team option for $6 million), so the Brewers shouldn't bother to look around the league during the season.

REPLACE: Casey McGehee

I'm hesitant to say this because of how crucial McGehee has been to the Brewers offense over the past two-plus seasons, but it just hasn't been working for the Brewers' third baseman. McGehee is sporting a sub-.230 average with just 4 HRs and has 11 ERRORS! Youch. Can you imagine what kind of season Prince would be having if he had any kind of protection? Ok. I can maybe understand if Casey remains playing almost everyday at third, but it's a no-brainer to throw Corey Hart in the five hole so that pitchers feel at least a little compelled to throw to Fielder. McGehee certainly doesn't have King's back so far.

REPLACE WITH: Wilson, Counsell, Taylor Green (AAA)

Like I mentioned before, Wilson and Counsell should be no more than platoon guys and can help give McGehee some more time off, but this Green guy is intriguing. A 25th round pick in the 2005 draft, Green has hit .299 with 8 HR and 32 RBI between AA Huntsville and AAA Nashville. He has slowly progressed through the minors, but the guy is only 24 and in my mind the next in line should the Brewers not look out of their system for another third baseman after McGehee's time ends in Milwaukee (McGehee is arbitration eligible after '11). This is especially true with Mat Gamel being groomed as the first baseman in-waiting after Prince leaves town, even though there has been some grumbling from fans about Gamel coming up to play third...I hope not. DO NOT touch Gamel. Please.

REPLACE: Kameron Loe

Now I'm not saying replace Loe completely; just in the setup role. Other guys have proved that they are much more deserving than Loe for the job, most notably LaTroy Hawkins and Marco Estrada. Loe's numbers up to this point are a 5.28 ERA and a 2-5 record in 34 appearances (most on the club...why?). Sound like setup numbers to you? To even further my case, Loe has proven that he is basically just a righty specialist because of his tailing sinker. Lefty hitters have had their way with Loe, so I think it's safe to say that he should be demoted to a specialist role like Stetter with lefties. Oh yeah, and he's a free agent after the year is up. C'mon, it's your contract year!

REPLACE WITH: LaTroy Hawkins

It's hard to argue with this selection. Estrada has been good as well and can pitch to both righties and lefties, but he also has his share of blown leads and poor performances. Braddock, in my mind, deserves to be the seventh inning guy even as he is coming off of injury, but that role has been undefined all season. Hawkins has a minuscule .059 ERA. I can see how Roenicke may be cautious in using Hawkins since he's coming off injury, but he's proven to have his velocity back and be able to get the job done all season, unlike Loe. You can only give guys in the bullpen so many chances to keep their spot. Even Trevor Hoffman got the boot and now look what the Brewers have at closer.


REPLACE: Wil Nieves

This may be minor compared to the first three guys on this list, but Nieves sees the field once every five starting pitchers and that's only because Randy Wolf doesn't like the way Jonathan Lucroy calls a game. Nieves is hitting a dismal .146 in 19 games, but to his defense it's difficult to get in a rhythm when playing so infrequently (just 16 games all year). Still, there has to be a guy put in his place that is used to this situation who can at least hit at a respectable average, especially if Lucroy goes down with an injury.

REPLACE WITH: Mike Rivera

I've always like Rivera and was kind of excited when I saw that he was back with the team a few weeks ago after spending last season in the Yankees' system. Rivera was always a guy that I thought deserved more playing time and he doesn't deserve the fate the Brewers are giving him. He would certainly be my option to back up Lucroy in the big leagues and undoubtedly the guy I'd call up to be the main guy if Lucroy for some reason wasn't the guy at catcher anymore.

OTHER UP-AND-COMERS:

AAA - 1B - Mat Gamel*
AAA - OF - Caleb Gindl
AAA - P - Mark Rogers*
AAA - P Amaury Rivas
AAA - 2B - Eric Farris
AA - P - Wily Peralta
AA - P - Cody Scarpetta
A - SS - Scooter Gennett*
A - P - Kyle Heckathorn
A - P - Jimmy Nelson
A - P - Tyler Thornburg*

* = guys I'm legitimately jacked up for

During the course of this entry, the Brewers once again defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by the score of 5-3. Zack Greinke improved to 6-1 and the Ax Factor shut down the birds in the 9th to record his 17th save. Milwaukee is now 37-28, which is good enough for the 4th best record in the big leagues. Amazing to see how quickly this team has turned it around since getting off to such a slow start, but when guys like Prince and Brauny are hitting like they are with solid starting pitching and a shut-down closer, this should be happening. The Brewers are one victory away from claiming first place in the Central Division. Feels good to type that out on the screen...let's just hope it becomes the norm.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

50

My 50th post...I'm on the verge of tears. I know...I'm just as shocked as you guys. 50 blog entries and 3,575 views. If my math is correct, that's 71.5 views per post. Not bad, but I was looking for a number that was closer to Dirk Nowitzki's free throw percentage in the playoffs, which is somewhere between a billion-gazillion and infinity. Watch for Dirk to miss one in game 4. Anyway, I was trying to think about how I could associate the number 50 to this blog post. After I gave up on that idea, I decided that I could talk about why this Milwaukee Brewers team is different from what Brewer fans have grown accustomed to seeing, say, over the past five years or so.

I've been a Brewer fan my entire life, but I think it's safe to say that we saw a "new generation" of fans that flocked to the Crew once players like Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and especially J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun (ladies...) worked their ways to the major league level and new ownership took over the franchise. 2007 would be my estimation as to when baseball was officially back in Milwaukee. It was a time where the disappearance of the Selig's ownership and a bundle of young talent injected new hope into both die-hard fans and newbies who fell in love with one-year wonder and heartthrob J.J. You-Make-Me-Hard-y. Poignant, but (almost) whatever it takes to bring more fans in, I'm in full support. The point I'm trying to make is that there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Brewers for the first time in 20+ years, but there was something missing. C.C. Sabathia brought us along for a ride no one could've predicted, but even then there was just a "cool, we made it to the playoffs and that's good enough" feeling. I got swept up in this vibe along with the Brewers and everyone else, and the result was a first round playoff exit. The disappointment level that loomed over the state of Wisconsin wasn't even as strong as the moments after a week 6 Packers' loss.

You can't really blame the 2008 Brewers for not fully grasping the opportunity that presented itself by the throat. Sure, some players had playoff experience and even World Series experience, but the majority didn't. It was also nearly a total repeat of what happened in 2007 save for a complete late season collapse. Jump out to division lead, blow division lead, miss playoffs. Thankfully, C.C. was a one-man wrecking crew and avoided the miss playoffs part in '08. 2009 and 2010, the Brewers were led by a man with an American League-style mind set who had no idea what stood two feet in front of his face. C.C. signed on with the Yanks to everyone's surprise. One-time free agent signing extraordinaire Jeff Suppan fizzled and burst. Several players came, overstayed their welcome and left. In fact, when I went back and looked at the 2009 roster, there were only nine current Brewers on the team for the majority of the season, two of which are currently on the disabled list (Fielder, Braun, Hart, McGehee, Weeks, Gallardo, Narveson, Parra*, Stetter*). Hard to believe. One thing that Milwaukee's front office knew they had to do was keep their main core of young talent together for as long as humanly possible while filling in the pieces around them correctly. It's obviously been easier said than done.

Fast forward to October of 2010. Prior to the beginning of the '10 season, there wasn't much optimism surrounding the Brewers and if it was, it was false. Macha would receive the customary grace period and be given another chance to lead Milwaukee back to the post season, but the man was a sitting duck and everyone knew it. Some positives to take away from the season? New talent was discovered (John Axford, Kameron Loe, Marco Estrada), some of it finally arrived (Jonathan Lucroy, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers), some of it figured out its place (Manny Parra, Chris Narveson) and some of it would eventually be shipped away (Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, Brett Lawrie). Towards the end of the season, I was accepting the 2010 team's fate and beginning to turn the page to 2011. A solid bullpen was beginning to formulate and new guys were stepping up unlike in previous years, perhaps giving the Brewers something to build from. But what good is a building when you know the core is about to collapse? Prince would almost undoubtedly be walking after '11 and perhaps even more would soon be lost in the years shortly following. Something had to be done NOW. What the Brewers had for '11 was promising, but not satisfying. Doug Melvin strung together a series of moves, some of them almost out of sheer desperation, and to be perfectly honest, a few of them shocked the hell out of me. To be clear, the first one did not.

October 3rd - Manager Ken Macha is fired
November 4th - New manager Ron Roenicke is hired
December 6th - Star prospect Brett Lawrie is dealt to Toronto for Shaun Marcum
December 19th - Zack Greinke is acquired for a boatload of players, including Escobar and Cain
February 16th - Rickie Weeks is locked down long-term
March 27th - Prospect Cutter Dykstra is dealt for Nyjer Morgan
April 21st - Ryan Braun is locked down long-long-long term

Loads of young talent lost, but some centerpiece-players secured and immediate hope provided. Except it's not just one guy this time; it's several guys. A few of which many didn't know about that would give the Brewers a shot in the arm...and one who would be held to standards close to if not the same as Mr. Sabathia. Instead of a pre-2010 feeling, there was a pre-2007 feeling, only better. The nucleus had matured and gained experience. There was a legitimate 1,2,3 in the starting rotation. The Brewers' strength from a year ago, the bullpen, had its important pitchers returning while a few new ones were thrown into the mix. But then...

Greinke hurt
Lucroy hurt
Hart hurt
Parra hurt
Hawkins hurt

Brewers: 13-17 on May 4th

Sure, some players were out and a new man was in charge, but 13-17? And then two days later, 13-19?? What was going on? The Brewers' front office had done almost everything in its power to put a contender on the field knowing full well that this would be the year they would be "all-in", and they were sitting in 5th place. Ahhh...this is where being an experienced fan pays off. I’ll admit that I had my late-April rant after attending my first Brewer game of the year and returning home disappointed (my only loss at Miller Park this year), but April 24th Dave still had this to say:

“We are FINE. All you people jumping off the bandwagon are still free to hop right back on if you so please because this team is going places. You can take my word for it.”


As in life, in sports it’s best to always keep things in perspective.

Greinke returns on May 4th

Zack attack loses in his much-anticipated return from his fluke injury and stint on the DL. He hasn’t lost since. For as much as the Brewers lacked discipline in the first month of the season…for as much as coach Roenicke struggled to understand what he had at his disposal while being given the difficult task of inserting unproven players in positions they had no business being in…for as much as Brewer fans wanted to jump off a cliff because their favorite team was six games below .500 and heading down the path that would return them right back to the late 90s…Zack Greinke had returned. Others followed suit. Roenicke learned what he had and started to mix and match. There was finally some stability. Winning all of a sudden became expected.

Brewers: 29-24 on May 27th
8-17 on the road

So Milwaukee had made a drastic rise and was five games above .500. Everything was clicking, but June 1st Dave had a bone to pick with the Brewers:

“The fact of the matter is that good teams are able to win a respectable amount on the road and then build up a solid record by winning two out of three at home time and again. The Cardinals…have had just as much success at home as on the road. This leads me to believe that the Cardinals will be able to hold their lead on Milwaukee because they will naturally begin to win more at home...UNLESS the Brewers begin to win more on the road.”


Milwaukee was in the midst of a seven game road trip in which they were 1-1. They would finish this road trip 5-2 against two teams who are very capable of making it to the playoffs. The Brewers had answered my call yet again.

Brewers: 34-26 on June 7th
Three game series against the Cardinals (1.5 Games Up) June 10-12

Allow me to apologize for not immediately answering my proposed question. Why is this Brewers team different? Wait…I already answered it. To put it into layman’s terms, this team overcomes adversity. They overcome roadblocks. They have leadership. They have meat in the middle of the sandwich. They have a starting rotation. They have a bullpen. They have an aggressive-minded manager. They have focus. They have experience. They have players who can snap you over the head with a newspaper. They have a confident demeanor, not just a swagger.

They give fans a unique feeling they aren’t really used to having. I can vouch for that. Allow for June 8th Dave to make another brief statement that I hope to ring true:

“I’m not na├»ve. This team isn’t in first place yet, it’s June 8th and they have yet to prove that they can beat the stiffest of competition, especially within the division, which is another vital key to success. What’s happening right now can change…injury, bad breaks…whatever…but over the next three-plus months, I expect to see a team that continues to overcome whatever is put in their way because of what ‘They have.’”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Not all that, but a bag of chips

Here's a fun fact for you. The Milwaukee Brewers come into play Wednesday 14th out of 16 National League teams in pitching when it comes to ERA (4.27). To be honest, I was extremely surprised to hear this at first because of how much the Brewers' pitching has seemed to improve this season compared to 2010 (4.58 ERA, also 14th in NL). But when I put things into perspective, it makes sense that the Brewers are where they are because we have seen an increase in pitching performances all over baseball. It's strange to see pitchers have this much success so early in the season because it normally takes some time for pitchers to shake the rust off their arms. This brings up a few questions. 1. Does this mean that pitchers will continue to dominate hitters this season? 2. Why are pitchers beginning to regain control in the pitcher/hitter duel?

1. I don't think so. Just like the way pitchers make adjustments based on who's at the plate, hitters are able to pick up on a pitcher's tendencies. However, I do believe that pitchers will still hold an advantage simply because of my answer to the second question.

2. This is a two part answer. First of all, the steroid era has essentially come and went. Players 'roiding up and smashing the ball out of the park helped bring a lot more fans to the park, but now the combination of a bad economy and better pitching/lack of the long ball has dropped attendance a bit. Basically, the people who have stopped coming to the park aren't true baseball fans, so I guess it's for the better. The other major factor? The cut fastball. This pitch is just dirty. Pitchers all over the league are starting to pick up on this notion. In fact, pitchers have reinvented themselves and salvaged their careers because of the cutter. It's very difficult to pick up the break because of how slight it is, but it's enough to throw off hitters, causing them to break their bats when it comes in on them, hit a dribbler off the end of their bat when it's going away or completely whiff on it altogether. It's different from a slider because the break on a slider begins much earlier, although it does have more of a bend. Even so, a hitter can adjust much easier to the slider than the cutter because of the spin on the baseball. Back in the day, I dabbled with the cut fastball but could never quite figure it out. Would mastering this pitch have helped extend my baseball career? The 69 mile-per-hour gopherball that I tossed at Miller Park last Saturday answers that question.

Enough with the boring lessons of baseball that no one cares about. Let's assess the Brewers as we near the end of the first-third of the season. 30-25? Sure, that's not bad, especially while being towards the bottom of the NL in pitching. Thankfully, the Brewers have made that up by scoring the 3rd most runs in the league and having...wait for it...THE THIRD BEST FIELDING PERCENTAGE IN THE LEAGUE!!!!! WHOA!!! I believe I said the Brewers would be one of the five worst fielding teams in the Majors. What I failed to mention was that I was drugged prior to making that prediction. Jokes on me I guess. They say that as long as you're doing well in two of the three major categories (Hitting, Pitching, Fielding), you're going to be in the running towards the end of the year. And as far as the Brewers' pitching is concerned, it's only going to get better. My main reason behind this statement is Zack Greinke. He hasn't been all that Brewer fans had hoped for before the season when many were resting playoff hopes on Greinke's back, but a 4-1 record can't be frowned upon too badly (the 5.29 ERA on the other hand...). Shaun Marcum HAS been all that AND a bag of chips. As I'm currently typing this and flipping back and forth between Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and Game 3 of the Brewers/Reds series, Marcum has been cruising along. He doesn't blow you away with his stuff, but he is the definition of a pitcher; hitting his spots and throwing the pitch that the situation calls for. Tonight in particular, Marcum is using is change-up very effectively, especially against Jay Bruce (who has been on fire as of late). Greinke is beginning to come around and his last appearance proved it...he was without his best stuff, but the Zack Attack was still able to go six innings and only allow two runs because he stuck with his slider, the only pitch that was working for him. Oh and by the way, Greinke has 45 K's to go against just six walks. Greinke is well on his way.

There have been a few causes for concern for Milwaukee that could come back to bite them when the playoff race starts to heat up. For one, the Brewers don't have a lefty in the bullpen because of injuries (Zach Braddock, Manny Parra) and poor performance/injury (Mitch Stetter).

Quick update: Jay Bruce just hit a two-run homer. I'm an idiot.

The Brewers can't expect to be true contenders if they don't have that situational southpaw to call out from the pen to face a dangerous left-handed hitter. Unfortunately, Manny Parra continues to have setbacks and was recently placed on the 60-day DL because of elbow problems. Whether or not Parra will be back at all this season is difficult to say, but Braddock is very close to returning to the bigs and will provide a boost to a bullpen that has had it's ups and downs. Stetter hasn't been the same guy he was two years ago when he was on my good side, but I think that he will continue to be given opportunities to succeed with the big league club because of the lack of competent lefties in the Brewers' farm system/the injury to Parra. Another concern for the Crew is the trouble on the road. Currently, the Brewers are 9-18 on the road compared to a 21-7 record at home. Wow, talk about a split. I understand being more comfortable at home and having the support of your fans, but can it really make that much of a difference? Apparently so. Whether it's just all mental or the strength of opponent, the Brewers need to overcome this problem. The fact of the matter is that good teams are able to win a respectable amount on the road and then build up a solid record by winning two out of three at home time and again. The Cardinals, who currently lead the Brewers by 2.5 games, have had just as much success at home as on the road. This leads me to believe that the Cardinals will be able to hold their lead on Milwaukee because they will naturally begin to win more at home...UNLESS the Brewers begin to win more on the road.

Like I said before, the Brewers stand at 30-25 while sitting 2.5 games behind the front-running Cards and sitting 2.5 games ahead of the third place Reds, whom the Brewers have had their troubles against (2-6). They are 1-2 against St. Louis, so many battles against the Cardinals will ensue to help settle matters in the NL Central. To finish up my rundown of the Brewers, I'm going to do some rankings based on the bullpen, starting pitching, fielding and hitting. Enjoy.

BULLPEN:

1. John Axford (His stats may not be incredible, but he's doing his job)
2. Marco Estrada (Doing a solid job in the middle-relief role & gives you innings)
3. Kameron Loe (An absolute work-horse who helps keep a lead into the 9th for Ax)
4. LaTroy Hawkins (A minuscule ERA but a lack of high-pressure situations)
5. Sergio Mitre (Also a low ERA, but see Hawkins)
*Zach Braddock will be in this top five when he returns from injury

STARTING 5:

1. Shaun Marcum (A 6-2 record with a sub-3 ERA...he pitches for us?)
2. Yovani Gallardo (Recently bumped his ERA under 4 & has seven victories)
3. Randy Wolf (ERA below 3.50, but far too inconsistent for my liking)
4. Chris Narveson (For being the #5, have to be pleased with the Narv-dog's numbers)
5. Zack Greinke (Managing to get W's thanks to offense & starting to come around)

FIELDING:

1. Carlos Gomez (His combination of speed and...speed in center makes him #1)

Quick update: Kameron Loe now dropped to 4th in bullpen rankings after giving up a 2-run homer to Joey Votto and getting the loss, allowing the Brewers to lose ANOTHER series on the road. Wonderful. Brewers are now 30-26, 3 GB of Cardinals.

2. Corey Hart (Pretty solid arm and covers a lot of ground in the outfield)
3. Craig Counsell (By far the best fielding infielder on the team)
4. Ryan Braun (One of two full time players (Gomez) without an error)
5. Prince Fielder (Vastly improved picking the ball and surprisingly agile)

HITTING:

1. Ryan Braun (Duh)
2. Prince Fielder (Off to the best start to a season he's ever had, taking his walks)
3. Rickie Weeks (Have to wonder when this guy moves into a run-producing spot)
4. Jonathon Lucroy (Has put up very solid numbers in a short period of time)
5. Nyjer Morgan (That's right...I said it)

Number of road series' won by Brewers: 1 (Pirates)
Does that count? No.