Sunday, July 31, 2011

Daylight Come and I Wanna Stay Home

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. The Brewers come back home after dropping out of first place on the road, only to continue their dominance at Miller Park (now a ridiculous 39-14 at home) and reclaim the top spot in the Central. Winning six straight may look impressive on paper, but the teams the Brewers have been whooping up on, the Cubs and the Astros, are in a bad place right now. It's been a joy to watch the Crew kick teams of a lower caliber like these around, especially because they should (and especially because it's the Chicago Cubs), but I have my eye on the upcoming series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Before we size up the Cardinal series, I wanted to look back at some of the deals that went down for the Brewers over the past week. The first move General Manager Doug Melvin made was one that's hard to argue against - acquiring second baseman Felipe Lopez from the Rays for cash. Lopez had success here during his stint with the Brewers in '09, when he also replaced Rickie Weeks due to injury, and therefore it makes sense to bring in someone who is already comfortable with Milwaukee as well as someone who is proven at the position. That's not to say Felipe wasn't having his struggles this season (his numbers were anything but impressive at Tampa), but Lopez should at least bring some kind of stability to second while we wait for Weeks to return. Originally, the Brewers brought up Eric Farris, who hasn't quite earned a spot in Milwaukee, from Nashville to get a start here and there while Craig Counsell and Josh Wilson shared some time at second as well, but the day after Farris came up, Lopez was dealt for. Speaking of short stints in The Show, outfielder Brett Carroll was up for a whole week before being designated for assignment when Milwaukee traded '10 minor league player of the year Erik Komatsu to the Nats for Jerry Hairston Jr.

This move I question. Did the Brewers really need to give up one of their better prospects for Hairston? It's going to be a rental since his contract is up after the season...Komatsu is only 23 and was having a pretty solid year down in Huntsville, so it's not like he was was bad or anything...Hairston is versatile, but he's only going to have so many chances to play, especially once Weeks and perhaps Gomez return from injury. I trust our management and I certainly think Hairston can contribute and gives the Brewers more depth, but my personal opinion is that this trade was not only unfair, but also unnecessary. It bothers me that younger players in the system haven't been given a legitimate chance (other than Mat Gamel) to help out the Big League team. Those that read this blog regularly know by now that I think Taylor Green should have been called up by now. I worry that Green is on the PTBNL (Player to be Named Later) list in the K-Rod trade, a trade in which the Brewers must give up two players to the Mets after the season ends based on Rodriguez' performance in Milwaukee. Shouldn't we all be worried? Look at Green's numbers...insanely good. And with all of the problems the Brewers have had with putting a quality bat in the five hole, why not put Green there? He has some experience at second base this season, which is where he would probably have to play since Casey McGehee's leash apparently still has more slack. But it's not only the Taylor Green thing that bothers's other guys not getting a legit shot, like Caleb Gindl and Brett Carroll. I can understand the argument that if they are going to play at the Major League level, the Brewers want them to basically have an everyday role (we've seen how that's hindered Gamel's progress), but you can't assume that since Gamel struggled in that position that other guys would as well. Gindl probably wouldn't hardly play at all since he's a left-handed hitter like Morgan, but Carroll had pretty respectable numbers in AAA and bats right-handed, so he would be guaranteed a spot every time a lefty was out of the mound. I'll leave it at this: as long as the Brewers haven't included Gindl or Green on any PTBNLs, they WILL be in a Brewer uniform in the very near future. Here's to them not being traded soon...we've already dealt away enough young talent over the past year for me to stomach.

One more note about the Brewers and the trading: since there wasn't much of a market for lefty relief pitchers, it doesn't appear that Milwaukee is going to make a move for one...perhaps they will after the deadline once a player has to clear waivers, but word on the street is that there isn't much available. My feeling is that once teams begin to fall out of the playoff race and realize they can't contend, they will be willing to part ways with players they weren't going to earlier in the season and the Brewers might see someone on the block emerge that they want to take a stab at. With lefties Mitch Stetter and Manny Parra both out for the remainder of the season and Zach Braddock continuing to struggle on the mound, the Brewers are left with zero left-handed options in the bullpen. They managed to shore up their depth because of Weeks and Gomez going down, so this is really the one glaring issue on the Brewers' roster right now. That, and Casey McGehee.

Wow...judging by my tone so far, you'd think the Brewers are out of the playoff race. There are so many good things that outweigh the bad on this team (I literally just got out every quip I have with the Brewers). Just a few minutes ago, the Brewers completed a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Astros to complete their second straight sweep. Axford closed it down for the 28th straight time even though K-Rod gave up a run in the eighth on a wild pitch...the bullpen has been on lock-down mode recently now that Loe has essentially become a righty specialist and guys like Hawk and Saito can be called upon before the eighth inning. Over the past 16 games, a starting pitcher hasn't given up more than three runs. Crazy. Corey Hart is catching is is Yuni is Braun. Lucroy is anchoring the bottom of the order nicely and had 4 ribbies today. Greinke is figuring it out. And the Brewers took care of business, winning six games against the Cubs and 'Stros that they should have. See? It's (almost) all good. Just don't want people getting the wrong idea.

Back to the Cardinals series. It's rather big. It makes me wish I was living back in Sussex for the summer so I could attend at least one of the games against STL. The Cards will be within three games of the Brewers no matter what once the series begins, so it's a chance for either St. Louis to regain first in the Central or for the Brewers to stretch it out to a comfortable lead. Should be a good one and hopefully a well-attended series. CAN'T WAIT!

Alright. Get ready for this. I'm about to talk about something that hasn't been discussed on this blog for quite awhile. FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!! While several NFL teams have been wheeling and dealing during this free agent signing frenzy, the Packers have made their fair share of moves while flying under the radar of media coverage...just like Teddy T would like it. The first news to come out of Green Bay revolved around linebacker Nick Barnett, who was informed that he would either be traded or released. Eventually, Barnett was released and as of a few hours ago, is now a Buffalo Bill. He was always someone who was good but not great for the Packers, but Barnett brought a lot of life and energy to the team and worked hard to get where he was in the league. Good luck with the rest of your career, Nick. The other players who were cut by the Pack were OT Mark Tauscher, LB Brandon Chillar, LB Brady Poppinga and DT Justin Harrell. I'm not too disappointed to see Harrell and Poppinga go, but I'm holding out hope that Chillar will be re-signed for less money because I think he would still bring something to the Packers, especially since Green Bay is all of a sudden quite thin at middle linebacker. I'm sure that guys like Brad Jones or Erik Walden would be able to jump into the middle to relieve Hawk and Bishop every now an then, but Chillar would add more depth at linebacker. And after seeing the Packers' Super Bowl run last season, we all know depth is a good thing. Other players who were free agents and signed on somewhere else were Daryn Colledge (Arizona), Brandon Jackson (Cleveland) and Cullen Jenkins (Philadelphia). Colledge and Jackson...fine. Jenkins...ouch. He will be missed.

The Green and Gold didn't only get rid of players; they made some signings as well. Green Bay re-signed kicker Mason Crosby, who has made a total of zero at-least-semi-difficult-clutch field goals during the course of his NFL career. He's got a boot, there's no doubt, but Crosby needs to figure out how to rise to the occasion before I'm on board with his return to the Packers. And just today, thanks in part to Plaxico Burress going to the Jets, James Jones returned to Green Bay. I'm torn on this one. One part says: this makes the Packers' receiving corpse ridiculously deep (Jennings, Nelson, Driver, Jones, rookie Randall Cobb)'s insurance for when Driver inevitably stops playing football...Jones' has a very high ceiling and if he can overcome his case of the dropsies, he'll be very valuable. The other part says: he drops way too many passes and he gets in the way of Cobb's development. His play this year will hopefully help me become untorn - turns out that isn't a word. Along with Crosby and Jones, the Packers also signed all of their draft picks. It should be interesting to see how many things play out over the next month. Where will Derek Sherrod fit into the offensive will the running back situation play out with Grant, Starks and now Alex Green thrown into the mix...will the Packers' receiving group be considered the best will the Packers add more depth to the front seven? Tune in to find out.

Football is back. The Brewers are cruising. is good.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Damage Control

I will admit I said I'd be happy if the Brewers were only a game or two out of first place once they got done with the West Coast circus known as their 11-game road trip. Today, I have different feelings. Sure, the Brewers were somehow still tied for first place once they returned to Milwaukee (they are now 1/2 game behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis after play on Monday), but then something hit me...this team is better than 54-49. At least five or six games better than 54-49. And while Ron Roenicke bringing an aggressive-minded style to Milwaukee has been exciting at times, it's been just as frustrating if not more. Oh yeah. Don't forget about the defense, either.

Let's get one thing straight: this isn't the brightest Major League Baseball team to ever assemble. I won't name names, but over the course of this post you'll probably be able to pick up on a few of the guys that have been responsible for the Brewers underachieving thus far in 2011. The game on Sunday against the San Fran Giants is a prime example of how to throw away a ballgame, and it's definitely not the only game the Brewers have let slip down the drain this season. Sunday's game started off on a good note, just as many games have this season. This time, it was Ryan Braun continuing his home run tear by bopping one out in the top of the 1st off of starter Madison Bumgarner (no, I didn't make that name up). And just like so many times this season, the Crew seemed content with the offensive output they contributed early in the game. It seems as though pitchers make adjustments against our hitters as the game goes along when it's supposed to be the other way around. Hitting coach Dale Sveum preps his hitters well for what they'll see from an opposing pitcher, but then seemingly doesn't give tips on how to approach the same pitcher or other pitchers later on. Perhaps it's just a recent trend, but I've seen it multiple times this year...the Brewers jump out early, maybe even score five or six, and then get a little too comfortable. That happened on Sunday. Braun went deep...and that was that.

The sad thing is that might have been enough for a victory had the Crew not resorted to bonehead baseball. In the top of the second, Milwaukee got their lead-off man on in Yuni B and then up stepped Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy flew out to center...and Betancourt got doubled off. Huh? In the bottom of the third, the Giants tied it up thanks to a double by the happens, I guess. Here's the thing, though...Gallardo also doubled in the third, got to third base with one out after a sacrifice...and was stranded. And then there was the bottom of the fourth, where third baseman Josh Wilson decided that it wasn't necessary to wear sunglasses on a bright afternoon day in California and watched a pop-up land two feet to his left to lead off the half inning. Thankfully, this mistake didn't end up costing the Brewers or end up resulting in the go ahead and game winning run did? Shucks.

On Satuday, the Brewers also made two crucial errors on the basepaths, including an awful call on Rickie Weeks at home plate that cost Milwaukee a run and an extension to their lead. Still, mistakes are being made on the bases in addition to the field. Today, I heard an alarming and yet unsurprising stat - the Brewers lead all of baseball in outs on the bases with 54. Here's the kicker...that doesn't even include caught stealing. Ouch. Normally, the players who are getting thrown out are the ones with the most speed, like Nyjer Morgan and Rickie Weeks, but rarely do we see people like the recently injured Carlos Gomez or stolen base leader Ryan Braun make an out on the bases. It partly comes back to Roenicke's insistence on being aggressive. I apologize if I've said this before to you in person or on the blog, but there is a distinct difference between aggressive baserunning and stupid baserunning, and there has been a lot of the latter going on this season. Do you realize how many games stupid baserunning has cost this team? At least a couple. AT LEAST. Tack on the joke of a defense the Brewers run out behind their starting pitchers each and every game and we're talking about another couple games. I hope you're starting to realize the sneaky value that Go-Go had on Milwaukee. Even in the games where Gomez entered in the eighth inning or later, he had an affect with his glove and his feet. Even with his limited playing time as the season wore on, Gomez is second on the team in SBs.

Now let's be real...we knew coming into this season that the Brewers were willing to take some hits on defense in order to improve their pitching and keep their dangerous offense intact - when Alcides Escobar was essentially swapped for Yuni B is the most telling evidence - but the idiotic baserunning blunders are something that can be avoided...especially when people like Braun, King and Weeks are at the plate or due up. There are ways to avoid these mistakes and it's knowing when to take calculated risks. By now, players should be smart enough to know when it's time to take off or hold and hopefully RR has realized by now that being "aggressive" on the bases can easily be and has been taken out of context this season. We've seen Roenicke go through his fair share of growing pains as a first year manager, but we've also been treated to more exciting baseball and RR has also bounced back from his mistakes to pull a rabbit out of his hat every once in awhile. I've been fine with Roenicke this season for the most part and think that it's unfortunate that he couldn't have had more time to work with these players seeing as how this is a do-or-die season for the Brewers.

In the end, it comes down to this: the two biggest problems this season for the Milwaukee Brewers have been defense and baserunning, with a sprinkle of un-clutch hitting and poor middle relief. One of the major issues can be fixed internally. One cannot (the funny thing is, the Brewers are actually the second best fielding team in the division despite being 23rd in the league in regards to errors. The only team above Milwaukee? 6th. That's why they aren't going away easily). If the Brewers want to make a move to shore up their bench, replace the struggling Casey McGehee, get better defensively or all of the above, that would be fan-flipping-tastic. But I think defense should be the number one priority as Milwaukee nears the July 31 trade deadline (then McGehee...then bench). They've already dealt for a solid arm in the pen and now it's time to trade once again. If they don't, a few things could happen. This team could get by with what they have now and sneak into the playoffs, not get by with what they have and flounder down the stretch, pick up a player off waivers once the trade deadline passes or search from within their farm system for what they need. It was nice to see the Brewers play better than usual on the road (5-6 on the recent road trip) despite some tough losses, and if they can continue to sure up their play away from home while maintaining their dominance at Miller Park, a move isn't necessarily necessary.

But it would be nice.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I love baseball. Possibly more than life itself. We all know that. But it's been awhile since there's been anything to talk about OTHER than baseball. Football ended last February (in dramatic and awesome fashion, I might add), but then we went into a lockout and haven't had anything to talk about other than the NFL draft. Pro basketball is a subject that hasn't been touched for awhile and probably won't be touched for many months to come because of, yes, another lockout...only the Bucks' draft picks and trade have been discussed ever since they floundered their playoff chances away in March. College basketball will receive more attention as a result, but that doesn't begin until November, nor gain much relevance until January and February. As much as I have fallen in love with the NHL over the past few seasons, I don't have a team to discuss on this blog because Wisconsin doesn't have a pro hockey franchise. So I'm going to talk about baseball some more, but there's no need to worry. Remember when I started this thing up back on August 8th of last year? That time is drawing close, and I believe that my preview of the Wisconsin Badgers football team was done on August 10th. Which means...that's right. I'll be talking about football soon. Not only that, but once this NFL lockout comes to a close (which supposedly is very soon), the Packers can start looking at free agents, begin practicing and...holy s---...their first preseason game is on August 13. Can that be right? Like...three weeks from now? Nice.

So we've got some things to look forward to. College football. Pro football. The one-year anniversary of Balls, Brats and Beer. But that's not all. How about playoff baseball? The Brewers once again reclaimed first place from those pesky Pirates last night despite new acquisition Francisco Rodriguez doing his best Derrick Turnblow impersonation and won against the D-Backs 5-2 in ten innings. For those keeping track, the Brewers have now won back-to-back road games twice...and both have happened in the last five days. Milwaukee is 4-3 on the current road trip, which to be honest is better than I expected. Before I get to the big picture, I'd like to discuss a few things from last night's game that caught my eye that pertain to rookie manager Ron Roenicke.

Once the Brewers had grabbed a two-run lead after seven innings and had seen Stephen Drew break his ankle sliding into home and Carlos Gomez fracture his clavicle making a beautiful diving catch in center (both are likely out for the season), Roenicke made a decision that is easy to look back on and criticize. Starting pitcher Chris Narveson had been brilliant through seven innings and his pitch count was only in the mid-80s, but RR decided to go with what had worked on two separate occasions and bring out K-Rod for the 8th. A half-inning later, the game was tied due in part to Rodriguez getting behind in the count and Ryan Braun's calf preventing him from cutting off a ball that was heading for the left center field gap. So why didn't Roenicke leave in Narveson to see if he could keep on rolling? Good question, but it's already been answered. The K-Rod/Ax Factor 8th-9th inning combo had yet to fail, so RR turned to it again. However, this situation was different and Narveson should have been given the chance to finish what he started. In the other two games that K-Rod and Ax have finished it out (both against Colorado), K-Rod didn't relieve the starting pitcher - he relieved another reliever. Roenicke shouldn't have treated it like any other situation. The Narve-Dog was rolling along and even if he did get left in and ran into trouble in the 8th or 9th, then that's where you should step in and put in Ax or K-Rod. Simple as that. I'm sure Roenicke has learned a valuable lesson. Luckily it didn't cost us a victory.

But get this: Roenicke redeemed himself almost immediately. In the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third and no one out, Reliever Takashi "Tsunami" Saito was in a jam and a half. Just like he has done on previous occasions, RR brought in a fifth infielder from the outfield (Brauny) and put his faith in Saito to force the batter to hit a ground ball. The next two hitters grounded out to McGehee and the Brewers were able to put Braun back in left and return to their normal alignment. After a fly-out to Gomez' replacement, Tony Plush, the Crew had momentum back on their side. The very next half inning, none other than Nyjer Morgan had the game winning and go-ahead base hit and Axford put the Ax down for yet another save. Pirates lost. Cards lost. Brewers win. Brewers in first. Everyone's happy.

The Milwaukee Brewers now sit at 53-46 and 0.5 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who don't play the Crew again until August 12 (the first of nine remaining games against the Brewers, including the final three games of the season), a game which I will be attending in the Miller Lite Beer Pen thanks to Kyle's birthday. The August 13 game was moved to an afternoon start so that it could be nationally televised. Really? An August Brewers-Pirates game? And if that's not enough, to close out the season the Crew and the Bucs will play three games at Miller Park. Get your tickets now, folks. I have my doubts that the schedule makers put the Pirates-Brewers series at the end of the season because they knew it would have playoff implications, but that seems to be what it's shaping up to have. What the Brewers have going for them is that they have completely dominated the Bucs over the past couple seasons, especially at Miller Park. As a matter of fact, they are 5-0 against Pittsburgh this season. But as the season has progressed, the Pirates have morphed into a team with exciting young talent and a surprisingly good pitching staff. People are waiting for Pittsburgh to fade...and it's not happening. Not yet, at least.

Things have been promising lately for the Brewers. Ryan Braun appears to be getting closer and closer to 100%...the bullpen received a nice boost with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez (despite last night's effort)...another move to improve the bench and/or left side of the infield appears to be in the making...and the Brewers are holding their own on a very difficult road trip that will close out with a showdown against the fellow first place San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately, Go-Go's loss means no late-game insurance in the outfield or on the base paths for some time to come. To replace Gomez, outfielder Brett Carroll, 28, was called up from Triple-A Nashville. This season, Carroll was hitting .281 with 15 HR and 51 RBI, but has been struggling as of late and hasn't exactly proven himself at the big league level. I would've preferred to see someone like fellow outfielder Caleb Gindl (22 years old, .290 AVG, 12 HR, 35 RBI) or even another infielder like Taylor Green (24 years old, .316 AVG, 13 HR, 55 RBI), but perhaps the Brewers don't want to tinker with Gindl's progress or make the infield too crowded. Besides, Gindl is a left-handed hitter so he wouldn't be able to replace Gomez in the righty/lefty platoon in center field. Still...why not give this Green guy a shot? I talked about him earlier in the summer as a possible replacement for McGehee, who continues to do a whole lot of nothing for the Brewers this season. At the very latest, we should see Green as a September call-up (or late August call-up so that he's eligible for the postseason roster) perhaps get a few chances to start over Casey. Just another little something for us Brewer fans to look forward to.

That's all I've got for now. Don't worry. Football is on the horizon for those of you who are tired of me blabbing about baseball. For now, let's just sit back and's ride an emotional roller we watch the Brewers duke it out for a spot in the playoffs.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another Shot in the Arm

When you're right, you're right.

A week ago, when I reviewed the pre-All-Star break Milwaukee Brewers and apparently dealt out incorrect grades to each player on the roster, I suggested that the Crew make a rather ballsy move. I believed (and have since before the season even began) that Rickie Weeks should be removed from the lead-off spot in the lineup and hit in the five hole. Thankfully, Brewers' manager Ron Roenicke is an avid reader of the blog and decided a change was necessary after dropping the first two games of a four game series at Colorado. Although he didn't put Tony Plush first in the order like I had suggested, he did swap Corey Hart with Rickie Weeks and low and behold, the Brewers are 2-0 with Hart first and Weeks fifth. The change had an immediate impact on Saturday when both Hart and Weeks went yard, with Weeks' blast coming in the top of the ninth after Fielder got on base. Weeks' home run was not only noteworthy because it gave the Brewers the lead, but because it shows how important it is to have a run producer hitting behind King because of how much Fielder gets on base. And as if Weeks' blast Saturday wasn't enough, he was part of the tie-breaking rally in Sunday's win over the Rockies in the fifth inning. In other words, this appears to be a solid move by RR and he knows when to heed good advice.

With the two wins over the Rockies, the Brewers split the series, gained some momentum heading into the Arizona series and won consecutive road games for the first time in six weeks. Plus, the Brewers once again responded to the Pittsburgh Pirates being in first place and jumped back into the driver's seat in the NL Central. That's right, folks...the Brewers are in first...AGAIN. Something tells me this division race is going down to the wire and I'm going to have to go to the well for some heartburn medication. Let's hope it isn't dry.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, just like we have throughout the entire season whenever the Brewers go streaking. The Brewers are playing the three best teams in the NL West in ascending order during this road trip, which means it's only going to get harder this next week. Milwaukee played the D-Backs right before the All-Star break at home and lost two of three, so it's not going to be easy going into Phoenix where it can't possibly be any warmer than here. Holy hell it's hot right now. Then again, Prince appears to enjoy playing there judging by his MVP performance in this year's ASG. Speaking of the All-Star Game, the Brewers were the main attraction not only during the Midsummer Classic with Fielder, but also immediately afterward. Of course, I'm talking about the kind-of-blockbuster deal that brought K-Road, Francisco Rodriguez, to Milwaukee. So far, I can't say that I'm disappointed in the single season saves record holder. All K-Rod has done since putting on a Milwaukee uniform is get a win and a hold in his only two appearances thus far. Gotta admire how General Manager Doug Melvin continues to push any remaining chips he has in the middle of the table. They might not always pay off, but if the Brewers really are going for it all this season, making moves like trading for Greinke and K-Rod are needed.

To recap: The Brewers are 2-0 when Rodriguez pitches and 2-0 when Rickie Weeks hits fifth in the lineup. Yes, this means that the Brewers will never lose when either of these things happen...simple as that. But really, I really, really, really like the two moves I discussed above. Should be interesting to see when K-Rod gets his first opportunity to save, especially since Ax has been a little iffy lately.

Tough day for America. The U.S. Women lost in the World Cup Finals to Japan, a game they certainly should have won, and both Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson faltered after both being at or near the top of the leaderboard during the Open Championship on Sunday. Oh well. I'll continue to care about women's soccer every four years and golf roughly four times a year. Stay cool, everyone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

First half (56.8%) Review for the Crew

The timing of the All-Star Game has really thrown me off. Usually when baseball reaches the Midsummer Classic, people assume that the season is halfway done. In reality, the Brewers were through 81 of their 162 games a few weeks ago and have technically now completed 56.8% of their let's just call the following the 46/81 review for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Record: 49-43, T-1st in NL Central
Team MVP: 1B Prince Fielder, .415 OBP, 22 HR, 72 RBI
Team Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo, 10-5, 3.76 ERA, 104 K

I already did a mini-season review for The Sports Jury, but I'll be putting my blood, sweat and tears into this one so you've come to the right place. With baseball getting a little breather with the exception of the Home Run Derby (currently putting me to sleep) and the ASG, it's a good time to reflect on what the Brewers have accomplished so far this summer. If you wanted to take the short route in summing up the Brewers, it could be done with one word...inconsistent. There probably isn't a better team to root for than Milwaukee if you're looking for some health problems. The Brewers could easily be looking up to the division leader instead of the ones on top if they didn't manage several heart-stopping comebacks, although they have also let a few leads slip away late in ball games. Earlier in the season, I wrote about how there is something different about this team than in past years and I still believe that to this day. When the Crew hit their lowest point of the season and were 13-19, they picked themselves up and went 21-7 from May 7th to June 6th. Since that time, they have had their ups and downs, but here they 1st place. And that's what really matters.

Before the 2011 season began, General Manager Doug Melvin realized the trend that was going around baseball. Teams were loading up on pitching...and it was working. The other trending topic, if you will, was teams loading up on defense. This hasn't been as much of a success (see: Seattle, Oakland, Chicago White Sox), and Melvin decided that he wasn't going to go the defensive route...we'll get to that later. The two pitchers that the Brewers gave up so much for were Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, who have gone a combined 14-6 so far this season. Yeah, you can go ahead and complain about Greinke's struggles...and he certainly hasn't been right for the majority of the season...but the way he pitches to contact (99 Ks & only 16 walks), works fast and keeps the defense on its toes can't be overlooked. Hitters reward Greinke with lots and lots of runs, which explains his solid record despite his 5.45 ERA. Before the season, I thought that Greinke wouldn't perform as well as expected, but Gallardo would succeed due to some pressure being taken off his shoulders. And in my mind, Yo has been the rock of this team and that's what makes him the M-V-Pitcher for the Crew. Gallardo has been healthy all season (unlike Marcum and Greinke), has already reached double digits in victories and has gotten HUGE wins when the Brewers needed them the most (when they were 13-19, after losing 6 of 7, etc). I still have faith in Greinke coming around, but as long as he keeps getting Ws, I'm happy. As for Marcum, he might only have seven wins (thought he would get 15), but he should probably have ten or 11. He has either pitched in a lot of low scoring games or watched Kameron Loe take the opponent off the hook with his blown saves...I'll get to that and the rest of the 'pen later. It's okay. There's still time for Mr. Marcum to reach the 15 win plateau. To round out the starting rotation, Randy Wolf has been a pleasant surprise (3.65 ERA), but he's kind of a dick for not letting Johnny Lucroy catch him so I'm not going to give him any further praise. Last but not least, we have the Narve-dog, Chris Narveson. 6-5 with a 4.75 ERA for a number five starter? Yes, please. There's no question the performance of the starting rotation is why the Brewers are where they are right now. For those of us that are religious, let us pray for continued good health and more wins. Here are the grades:

Yovani Gallardo: A- ... An All-Star last year, he has become very reliable.
Shaun Marcum: A- ... A true pitcher, Marcum almost always keeps team in games.
Randy Wolf: B+ ... Always keeps hitters guessing but has struggled of late.
Zack Greinke: C ... Tends to miss too much with his spots and it kills him.
Chris Narveson: B- ... Like I said, I'll take his numbers for a #5.

Overall: B+

It's hard to argue with who the most valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers has been so far. Perhaps Ryan Braun has an argument for this honor with his gaudy average and productive numbers hitting in front of Prince, but that's the thing. It's partly due to hitting in front of Prince. Fielder has embraced being in the final year of his contract and is making his case for not only a massive pay day, but also MVP of the National League. In my season preview, I noted that King would either collapse under the pressure of a contract year or have a career year. I think I'll give myself a correct prediction on that one up to this point. Speaking of correct predictions...Nyjer "Tony Plush" Morgan. Even before the season began, I felt like a giddy school girl every time I thought about what Plush could bring to the table once coach Ron Roenicke finally decided it was time to give the Carlos Gomez experiment a rest. The result has been spectacular defense, a .327 batting average, speed on the base paths and possibly the most entertaining interview in the history of sports. Alright. It's time to go through all the position players the Brewers currently have on the roster:

LF Ryan Braun: A ... A total stud in the 3-hole. Not much more can be said.
OF/1B Mark Kotsay: B- ... Surprisingly clutch, but a liability in the field.
OF/IF Josh Wilson: B ... Was he the key bench player pick-up the Crew needed?
CF Carlos Gomez: C ... Can become likable when accepting the role he plays.
OF Nyjer Morgan: A- ... This guy should get a job setting tables. Or in comedy.
RF Corey Hart: B ... His numbers are about where you'd expect, so can't complain.
3B Casey McGehee: D- ... Terrible at protecting Prince and at the hot corner.
SS Yuniesky Betancourt: D+ ... Hasn't really done much of anything for MIL.
IF Craig Counsell: C- ... Can't be too harsh. Solid with the glove, good teammate.
2B Rickie Weeks: B+ ... Definitely Weeks' best year to date, but still bad w/glove.
1B Prince Fielder: A ... It's a damn shame that he's leaving Milwaukee because...
1B Mat Gamel: INC ... Gamel still hasn't figured it out at the Big League level.
C Jonathan Lucroy: B+ ... Putting up league leading numbers among NL catchers.
C George Kottaras: C ... A nice power threat to have and handles Wolf well.

Overall: B ... Even though it appears on paper that this offense is fairly impressive, there doesn't seem to be enough help around Braun and Fielder. We all know about McGehee and the lack of production from Yuni B and I think there is a simple solution: take Weeks out of the lead-off spot. We've seen how well Plush gets on base to start rally after rally, and therefore I think he has the ability to assume this role from Rickie. Morgan has hit first before in his career and Weeks is better suited in the five hole because of his immense production as far as lead-off hitters are concerned. Perhaps it's too drastic of a move for Roenicke to make in his first year of managing, but this might be it for awhile for fans in Milwaukee. He needs to do whatever it takes to get as much out of this squad as possible. Just think about it...Morgan, Hart, Braun, Fielder, Weeks to start off a ball game? With Lucroy as the anchor to keep things respectable at the bottom of the order? I'm salivating. One last thing...I didn't think Gamel would be brought up this year (at least not until September) and I still wish he hadn't. Gamel needed as much time as possible in the minors to get used to first base for next season and it didn't happen. This was due in part to Roenicke wanting an extra bat for interleague play and the awful play of McGehee. There's no way he's back on the roster with his .115 average after the All-Star break.

Finally, the bullpen. I believe that this is one of the more difficult aspects of a big league club to manage. It's shown this year in Roenicke's first year as skipper as it took him about 85 games to realize that Loe simply couldn't handle the 8th inning role. I've harped on this enough, but ever since LaTroy Hawkins assumed this role, have the Brewers lost a lead? No, sir. Other than that, the Ax Factor John Axford has been very reliable as the Brewers' closer and many guys have come and went. As of now, the Brewers only have six relievers on their roster...the six mainstays that should remain at the major league level as the season continues. Here are the grades:

John Axford: A- ... Hasn't been quite as good as '10, but hasn't let many get away.
LaTroy Hawkins: A ... With a 1.08 ERA, he has earned the setup role behind Ax.
Kameron Loe: C ... Incredibly effective against righties, but has seven loses.
Marco Estrada: C+ ... Has faced some difficult tasks as the long-inning man.
Zach Braddock: C ... He is clearly still dealing with some issues after DL stints.
Takashi Saito: INC ... Has been solid since returning from injury; could be key.

Overall: B- ... When the Brewers have the lead late and the bullpen is called upon, it hasn't exactly been lights out. In fact, Estrada and Loe have combined for 30% of the Brewers' losses and the bullpen overall has lost about half of the games for the Crew, which is rather staggering. Braddock has battled with a sleeping disorder, which is especially disappointing to me because I'm a huge Braddock guy and I thought he would play a very important role for the Brewers this season. However, if the Brewers want to do things this year, they will need Braddock to figure it out. Hopefully, with Hawkins and Axford taking the last two innings of games in which the Brewers hold the lead, Milwaukee can shorten the ball game.

That's that for the players. How about first-year manager Ron Roenicke? Obviously, Roenicke has made his mistakes along the way, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone that totally dislikes the least not at the level of Ned Yost or Ken Macha. I think this has a lot to do with Roenicke's aggressive style of managing. He likes to put runners in motion and has put on a few squeeze plays that have been very effective. Of course, sometimes this style doesn't work and players will turn aggressive base running into flat out stupid baserunning, but you can see the progression of Roenicke. He keeps things loose and it shows in the attitudes of the players. Over the course of the last home stand while not having the luxury of Ryan Braun in the lineup, Roenicke made some crucial decisions that probably helped the Brewers win an extra game or two. I really look forward to seeing how Roenicke manages down the stretch as this club (hopefully) remains in the thick of the playoff race.

Okay. So it turns out that the Prince Fielder contract situation isn't the only elephant in the room. The Brewers' defense appeared to start off strong, but now they find themselves 22nd in the MLB in fielding percentage. Just three more spots and they'll fulfill my prophecy and finish in the bottom five of the league. Like I talked about in my last post, the Brewers are basically willing to bite the bullet and try and win games behind their stellar starting five and the big boppers in their lineup. So far, so good. Milwaukee is in first, but they face a daunting road trip after the break where they have to travel to Colorado, Arizona and San Francisco. It isn't quite make-or-break, but it's pretty damn close. Considering how much the Brewers have faltered away from home and the level of competition they will be facing on this west coast swing, we have to set our expectations at a reasonable level. If Milwaukee can manage to stay within a game or two of the division leader after the trip, I'll be more than happy. But it would be nice if by some sort of miracle, the Brewers found out the secret to winning on the road during their three days off.

For those keeping track of my pre-season predictions at home, that's five correct, three wrong, and four pending (Roenicke manager of year (at this point, ATL and PIT beat him out), Marcum wins 15 games, Rogers makes a spot start or two (looking doubtful), and the Brewers will win the division and go 91-71 (need to go 42-28 rest of the way)) as of now. Remember to root on the National League tomorrow in the ASG because, you know, this time it counts or whatever.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Party Like it's 1982?

Don't look now, but the Brewers are in first place...again. After a brutal stretch in which the Brewers went 1-7 and dropped all the way down to third place, Yovani Gallardo made a decision that some of you may find stupid, but that I find ingenious. After losing the first two games in a three game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (and losing back-to-back games for the first time at home all year), Yo decided it was time to mix things up. He was given the option of choosing what uniform the Brewers would wear on Wednesday for his start and Gallardo went an interesting route. Normally designated for just Friday home games, Yo went with the retro uniforms in order to try and change things up. Whether it was the uniforms (it was) or just coincidence, Gallardo pitched brilliantly and Casey McGehee had a clutch pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh to giving Yo a W along with the Brewers.

Next it was Chris Narveson's choice as far as which uni the Crew would be sporting and naturally he also went with the throwback ball and glove logo. Even though things got a little dicey towards the end of the ball game, the Brewers were able to ride another three-run home run from Home Run Derby participant Rickie Weeks and a strong start from the Narve-dog to a win over the Cincinnati Reds. And wouldn't you know it...the Milwaukee Brewers are 47-42 and tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for first place yet again in the NL Central. I don't care if you believe in jinxes or are superstitious. The stuff makes a difference no matter which way you cut it. The Brewers needed a swift kick in the ass and a breath of fresh air. The swift kick came after Tuesday's loss to the Dbacks when manager Ron Roenicke held just the second closed doors meeting of the season. The breath of fresh air was mixing things up...wearing the retro unis more than once in a week and on totally random days...the same unis that a certain team wore back in the early 80s.

The comparisons between the two teams - the 1982 American League Champion Brewers and the 2011 Brewers - are downright scary. Both relied on the home run. Both had an upper tier pitching staff. Both put lots of runs on the board. Both were terrible with the gloves. You could say that the 2008 team that reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years had basically the same characteristics, but in my mind, this team's defense is a little worse than '08 but has better pitching. In an interesting article from Bill Simmons' new website "," these same comparisons were brought to the forefront. It talked about how the Brewers have an extremely below average defense with the exception of a few players based on the new Sabermetrics statistics. However, the strength of the Brewers' lineup coupled with the key off-season moves that brought in some quality arms has helped overcome this problem. The author then brought up Zack Greinke. Greinke has been a sore subject around Brewers Nation because of his disappointing ERA, which exceeds 5.50. But the fact of the matter is that Greinke plays to contact, even with his high K/9 ratio along with his K/BB ratio, which is among league leaders. What's unfortunate for Greinke is that he has virtually no help behind him with the exception of Nyjer Morgan or Carlos Gomez. To help make up for these circumstances, the Brewers have given Zack Attack enormous run support, which explains his current 7-3 record. With Greinke starting tonight, look for plays that above average defenders would make that the Brewers are unable to execute. Hopefully Greinke is able to receive his usual run support while still having a solid outing.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that the Brewers have enough to overcome their shoddy defense...they just need to figure out how to make up for it by using good defensive positioning, having pitchers pitch batters a certain way based on this positioning and putting up a s--- ton of runs on the board...which has been difficult without Ryan Braun the last five games (2-3). Along with this realization, the Brewers have made a rather noticeable change when it comes to their late game situation. Instead of trotting out the utterly useless Kameron Loe ever eighth inning and watching him look completely incapable of retiring lefties, LaTroy Hawkins was handed this role. In his two games as the setup man, Hawk has allowed an earned run but has two holds...which is really all that matters. Don't get me wrong. I have the utmost faith in Loe when it comes to getting righties out, but he's just not someone that can be counted on to get through an inning or two late when the game is on the line. As you all probably know by now, I have been on the LaTroy Hawkins bandwagon for quite least when it comes to him compared to Loe. Currently, the Brewers only have six pitchers in the bullpen because they haven't made a roster move since interleague play (Saito, Braddock, Low, Estrada, Hawk, Ax). What I anticipate happening is Gamel heading back down to triple A fairly soon so that he can continue getting work at first base. I think he was being held over McGehee's head the past couple weeks because of the struggles the Brewers' third baseman has been having. Gamel even received the starting nod at third base a few times during his time with the big league club, but I think McGehee's huge, enormous, gargantuan, spectacular home run on Wednesday was enough to keep him with Milwaukee and for Gamel to head back to Nashville. All for the better. I never wanted to see Gamel up with the Brewers this year anyway, but it made sense to bring him up to DH and to light a fire under Casey McGehee's behind.

So let's hope we see those retro unis on our beloved Milwaukee Brewers Friday night. Knowing Zack Greinke, he probably couldn't care less about what uniform he wears. Aside from Brewer talk, I don't have much for you guys. NBA Lockout. NFL Lockout (not for long hopefully). No college sports ongoing. Yeah. Doesn't leave me with much. Oh well. Let's see the Brewers stay hot into the All-Star break and Ryan Braun get healthy. the Brewers can only stay afloat for so long without the Hebrew Hammer out there.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Star-Studded Crew

As I drove home from a relaxing weekend up north earlier today, I tuned into everyone’s favorite play-by-play man Bob Uecker to catch the majority of the Brewers game versus the Twins. Coming off such a thrilling victory from the night before courtesy of a four-run ninth sparked by a Tony Plush two-run double on his 31st birthday, the Crew arguably got its most important victory of the year. The Twins had built up a 7-0 lead through four innings on Saturday and the Brewers appeared poised to lose yet ANOTHER road series, but the comeback of all comebacks occurred thanks to Nyjer, the bullpen and the correct strings being pulled by Ron Roenicke. With the win, the Brewers pulled back into a tie for first place with the Cards and had old Uncle Mo back on their side…or so we thought.

Flash forward to my two-plus hour drive home. After a monster five-run fourth inning, Milwaukee was well on its way to another victory, sole possession of first place and returning home with a little swag. But there was a problem. Zack Greinke was on the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers. The man who the Brewers received in return for four of the best prospects in the Brewers’ system has been anything but dazzling. Today was yet another example. Greinke, who has had little success against the Minnesota Twins throughout his career, decided a five run lead wasn’t going to cut it and allowed the Twinkies to cut the Brewers lead to 6-5 before he left with a two-run lead after six innings. This is one thing…a big thing, mind you…but at least Zack “Heart” Attack had the lead when he left the ballgame. The other Zach…my boy Zach with an “h” Braddock let a few guys on to my dismay but probably should’ve been given the chance to get out of the inning even with the righty (and all-star) Michael Cuddyer strolling up to the plate. Even if he wasn’t given the chance (which he wasn’t), let’s ponder the situation for a moment. There’s a guy sitting in the ‘pen who can get out lefties and righties equally effective and has an ERA of…get this…f---ing 0.43 in 23 games. His name is LaTroy Hawkins. I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m one of the few people who knows this. Am I missing something? Is an ERA of 4.73 better than 0.43? Is the ability to ONLY get out righties better than having the ability to get out BOTH righties and lefties? According to Mr. Roenicke, it most certainly is! And you know what? That’s all that matters. Two hits, a walk, a costly error and four runs later, the Brewers are walking out of Minnesota with a disgusting taste in their mouths after what should have been a memorable holiday weekend.

My relaxing weekend up north had all of a sudden turned into a distressing car ride that forced me to reach deep inside myself to avoid taking the Chevy Cavalier off of a bridge. This game had several underlying stories that I would like to attack. The one that stood out to me the most was the Mat Gamel start at third base. Think RR might be sending a certain someone a message? I’ll give you a hint. He struck out to end Sunday’s game and snapped his bat over his thigh in frustration. I was flat out shocked by the decision to start Gamel at the 5...and to put McGehee in a spot at the end of the game that could easily result in failure with how low his confidence is right now. Throughout the season, the Brewers’ organization has been pretty strict with keeping Gamel at first because they want him to get accustomed to the position by the time King walks out of Milwaukee. McGehee has been struggling…badly…but I don’t think it was necessary to stick Gamel at third base. DH makes sense. I understand wanting to give Rickie some time off from second, but this was REALLY making a statement. I feel terrible for McGehee. He is someone who worked extremely hard to get where he is today and one of those guys that you want to root for. Having said that, I think the best thing for McGehee right now is a two week stint down in Nashville to get things figured out. Casey has options left and the Brewers could bring up another reliever to help give the bullpen some depth (the Brewers carried an extra position player with them last week). The next decision regards Gamel. Does he stick with the Brewers and play more third while McGehee finds his stroke? Does he also head back down to AAA since the Brewers no longer need a DH? So many questions and so many answers I don’t have. What I would like to see is for us to send down McGehee, keep Gamel up, start him every day at third and replace him in the seventh or eighth inning on defense. Let’s face it…the guy can hit. He’s struggled so far with the big league club, but with more consistent playing time comes more production with a guy like Gamel. We’ll see what Roenicke decides to do.

Another situation that made Brewers’ fans a little uneasy this weekend was the injury to Ryan Braun. It was reported that Brauny, who holds a current 22-game hitting streak, strained his left calf Saturday night and that’s why he was replaced late in the ballgame. Thankfully, he said he was feeling okay today but didn’t play, which was a wise choice. Even if Braun has to miss another game or two in order to feel right, it’s much better to be safe rather than sorry. Besides, we want to see Braun out there starting for the NL All-Star team come July 12th. Speaking of the All-Star game…

The Brewers have three starters in the All-Star Game for the first time in franchise history (if that’s not a possible foreshadowing to what this season has in store, I don’t know what is). Weeks gets the starting nod at 2nd base over Brandon Phillips while fellow teammates Prince Fielder and Braun also start alongside him. Of course, what comes with the unveiling of the all-star rosters is the controversy and snubbing of players more deserving than some who make the Midsummer Classic. And that’s what I’m here for. Believe it or not, as far as the National League is concerned, I thought the fans did a better job than the managers and players as far as selecting players. The American League…not so much. For those who don’t know, the fans select the position player starters, the players elect the bench players and the starting manager (the World Series’ coaches) pick the pitchers. Also, since there is a rule that pitchers who pitch next Sunday cannot pitch in the ASG, there will be a few other deserving guys invited to Phoenix (like Ax). Without further ado, here is MY AL and NL All-Star squads compared to what they really are (keep in mind that every MLB team has to have a representative in the ASG).


C – Alex Aliva (DET)
1B – Adrian Gonzalez (BOS)
2B – Robinson Cano (NYY)
SS – Derek Jeter (NYY) CABRERA
3B – Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
OF – Jose Bautista (TOR)
OF – Curtis Granderson (NYY)
OF – Josh Hamilton (TEX) ELLSBURY
DH – David Ortiz (BOS)

C – Russell Martin (NYY) PAUL KONERKO (CHW)
C – Matt Weiters (BAL)*
1B – Miguel Cabrera (DET)
2B – Howie Kendrick (LAA)
3B – Adrian Beltre (TEX)
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) JHONNY PERALTA (DET)
OF – Michael Cuddyer* (MIN)
OF – Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) ADAM JONES (BAL)
OF – Matt Joyce (TB)
OF – Carlos Quentin* (CHW)
DH – Michael Young (TEX)

SP - Josh Beckett (BOS)
RP - Aaron Crow* (KC)
SP - Gio Gonzalez* (OAK)
SP - Felix Hernandez (SEA) C.C. SABATHIA (NYY)
RP - Brandon League (SEA)
RP - Chris Perez (CLE)
RP – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
SP – James Shields (TB)
RP – Jose Valverde (DET)
SP – Justin Verlander (DET)
SP – Jered Weaver (LAA)
SP – C.J. Wilson (TEX)

* = Only representative from team
FIVE all-star snubs in the American League
TOUGH TO LEAVE OFF = Victor Martinez (DET), Adam Lind (TOR), Ben Zobrist (TB)
WHAT’S THE DEAL with the two backup catchers? Throw in another 1st baseman instead.


C – Brian McCann (ATL)
1B – Prince Fielder (MIL)
2B – Rickie Weeks (MIL)
SS – Jose Reyes (NYY)
3B – Placido Polanco ARAMIS RAMIREZ (CHC)
OF – Ryan Braun (MIL)
OF – Matt Kemp (LAD)
OF – Lance Berkman (STL)

C – Yadier Molina (STL)
1B – Gaby Sanchez* (FLA)
1B – Joey Votto (CIN)
2B – Brandon Phillips (CIN)
3B – Chipper Jones (ATL) POLANCO
SS – Troy Tulowitzki* (COL)
SS – Starlin Castro* (CHC)
OF – Carlos Beltran (NYM) ANDRE EITHER (LAD)
OF – Jay Bruce (CIN)
OF – Hunter Pence* (HOU)
OF – Justin Upton* (ARZ)

RP – Heath Bell (SD)
SP – Matt Cain (SF)
RP – Tyler Clippard* (WSH)
SP – Roy Halladay (PHI)
SP – Cole Hamels (PHI)
SP – Cliff Lee (PHI)
RP – Joel Hanrahan* (PIT)
SP – Jair Jurrgens (ATL)
SP – Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
SP – Tim Lincecum (SF)
RP – Jonny Venters (ATL) HUSTON STREET (COL)
SP – Ryan Vogelsong (SF) TOMMY HANSON (ATL)
RP – Brian Wilson (SF)

FIVE all-star snubs in the National League
TOUGH TO LEAVE OFF = Jonathan Lucroy (MIL), Ryan Howard (PHI), Carlos Gonzalez (COL)
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH all of the Giants’ pitchers? Share the wealth, would ya?

So that’s that. If you have any comments on my selections/changes or the original selections, feel free to mention them in the comment section below and we can get a nice little discussion going. Either way, I’m right so you’ll just have to deal with it. I would like to go back to the Brewers for a moment. I think I’ve harped enough on the poor performances of Zack Greinke, Kameron Loe and Casey McGehee, the terrible play on the road, and the stubborn ways of coach Roenicke (although he does mix things up in other ways), but now that we’ve reached July it’s kind of just something us Brewer fans have to deal with the rest of the way. You can look at Greinke’s injury as an alibi for his struggles, but perhaps this is all we’re going to get out of him. Maybe now that he has essentially hit rock bottom, he will break out of it and take the inexistent pressure off of himself. Brewer fans never expected all that much from Greinke if they were realistic in the first place. He’s only had one really good year (the year he won the Cy Young). We thought that he would at least bring some quality starts to the table and he’s failed to do that on a consistent basis. We can only hope that Greinke finds what he found a few years ago with the Kansas City Royals…otherwise, he is what he is. McGehee? You know what I think should happen with Casey. Roenicke? He needs to keep learning as he continues on through his first year of being a manager. Loe? He can go take a hike. Or just face righties…and that’s it. Even though a victory on Sunday would’ve given the Brewers sole possession of first in the Central, they managed to get through this wretched road trip and maintain a division lead. Now that the Crew is back home, it’s time to pump some confidence back in Milwaukee.

Happy 4th!