Monday, July 30, 2012

Evaluating some exciting talent

We are three days removed from the Zack Greinke trade, but I would still like to chip in my two cents regarding the deal and what the Brewers received in return for Greinke, who is now a Los Angeles Angel. On Friday, the Brewers ceased to delay the inevitable and shipped Greinke off to L.A. in return for a star shortstop prospect and two minor league pitchers, all three players from Double-A. The shortstop, Jean (zzz-John) Segura, is one of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball and has instantly become the best prospect in the Brewers organization. The other two involved in the deal, pitchers Ariel Pena and John Hellweg should also be considered top 10 prospects in the system.

Let's begin with Segura, who is only 22 years of age. He had actually just been called up to the big leagues by the Angels on July 24 as a result of an injury to their regular shortstop Erick Aybar. Segura played in just one game, going 0-for-3, but that's not something you should pay any attention. He has produced every year in the minor leagues since beginning his career in 2007, with his best season coming in '10 at High-A Cedar Rapids where he hit .313 with 10 HR and 79 RBI to go along with a remarkable 50 stolen bases. Along with his plus speed comes his glove, as Segura is regarded as a plus defender. This season, Segura was hitting .294 with 7 HR and 40 RBI before his call-up to the Majors and made his debut on July 29 with the Huntsville (AA) Stars.

What should be music to Segura's ears is the fact that the Brewers' weakest position at the moment is shortstop (unless you want to include "bullpen" as an entire position). Without a doubt, Segura is now the organization's best shortstop and should receive a call-up at some point later on in the season. He should be the team's every day SS beginning next season assuming the team decides to part ways with this year's opening day SS Alex Gonzalez, who is out for the season with a knee injury and due $4 million in 2013. Milwaukee won't want to keep Gonzo around and stunt Segura's growth. This season, however, is a different story, and they'll want to see what Segura can do in the minors before promoting him to Milwaukee.

Next up is Johnny Hellweg, a 23-year old right handed pitcher who stands at a towering 6-foot-8 inches tall. Hellweg is regarded as the better prospect between himself and Pena, and his numbers on the season at AA Arkansas were a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA. However, his strikeout-to-walk ratio leaves something to be desired (1.47) and his strikeout-per-9 innings ratio isn't the greatest either (6.62). Still, Hellweg is also considered to be close-to-big league ready and should also be expected to see some time in Milwaukee this season. Word on the street is that Hellweg has a high-90s fastball, and with his big frame, that's a nice asset to have in his arsenal along with a decent change-up. But Hellweg lacks a good breaking ball (slider), so until he develops a good third pitch, he may spend most of his time in the minors over the next season or two.

Last we have Ariel Pena, another 23-year old righty arm (6'3" 190 lbs). The fact that all three players the Brewers received in the trade for Greinke are in their early 20s is very promising for the team's future, not to mention close to the Majors. Despite Hellweg being ranked ahead of Pena prospect-wise, Pena has actually put up better numbers this year (6-6, 2.99 ERA, 111 K, 2.64 K/BB, 8.74 K/9 IP). Damn. That stat line has me wiping the drool off my face a little bit. Apparently, Pena was dealing with some control problems a few years back, but judging from his strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, he's ironed out that issue. His fastball is also blazing, topping out at 98 MPH to go along with a low-90s sinker and a strike-out slider. If he can control these three pitches, Pena might be a mainstay in the Bigs for many years to come.

Wow. Three Major League caliber players in return for Greinke. It's hard to be disappointed in what GM Doug Melvin was able to get in return for the former Brewers ace. After losing five highly touted prospects two off-seasons ago when Melvin dealt for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers system appears to be replenished and on the upswing. And there's always the chance the Brewers decide to bring back Marcum for at least another couple years with his dwindling value on the market due to his injury (Marcum was recently placed on the 60-day disabled list). It should also be noted that catcher George Kottaras, who was designated for assignment a few days ago, was traded to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league pitcher Fautino de los Santos (1-3, 7.25 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento). The numbers aren't pretty, but de los Santos (26) began the year in the Majors and was sent down after beginning the season with a 3.00 ERA in six appearances out of the 'pen, so there's perhaps some upside there as well for a team with a...really, really pathetic bullpen. As for Kottaras, there simply wasn't room left for him with the Brewers and the team had no choice but to find a new home for him, but we wish George and the Zack Attack the best of luck moving forward.

With Greinke due to pitch on Sunday for the Brewers, guess who the Brewers called up to take his place? That's right. My main man Mark Rogers. As excited as I was to see Rogers pitch, I was more excited to go see The Dark Knight Rises and only caught the first few innings of his start (and with the way that game turned out, boy am I glad I made that decision). From what I can tell, Rogers was able to settle down nicely after surrendering a lead-off home run to the Washington Nationals' Stephen Lombardozzi (yes, that's a real name) and ended up with a line of 5.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 7 K, and 1 BB on 98 pitches. Not too shabby. Of course, the bullpen threw that beautiful start right out the window and blew their 19th lead of the season, but who cares (bullpen coach Stan Kyles was fired as a result). This season has not only been a joke, but is a lost cause. This blog post was meant to get us excited for what 2013 has in store for the Brewers, and I think it managed to do just that.

With the potential to see guys like Pena, Hellweg, Rogers, Tyler Thornburg (who was recently sent back down to AAA Nashville), Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta all in the starting rotation at some point next season (not to mention Segura starting at SS), it's hard not to already get excited for 2013. Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum are set to be free agents at year's end and Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson could help a struggling bullpen next season by becoming relief pitchers. I've always wanted to see Estrada in a bullpen role, and Narveson, who is arbitration eligible, simply won't be one of the top five starting pitchers in the Brewers organization when next season rolls around, at least in my opinion. However, I can see the Brewers trying to bring in a veteran starter to help anchor the rotation. They could also throw Narveson in anyway because he is a left-handed thrower, something none of the pitcher mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph have to their name, but I'd really prefer that not happen.

So there you have it. Excitement is back in Milwaukee...kind of. And if that's not enough for you, Green Bay Packer preseason football is just days away. I promise you I'll be talking more about football than baseball moving forward. Stay optimistic about your Brewers, and get ready for foozball. It still feels good to be a fan of Wisconsin sports.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brewers bullpen

Did everyone get a good laugh from that title? I think it says it all, really. If you want to get another laugh, read my Twitter timeline on the right side of the page. You know, I would actually like to take a moment to thank a few people, including the group of fine young men that make up the bull (shit) pen, but I'll start with someone who really deserves a tip of the cap.

Zack Greinke. His performance last night against the Phillies (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 5 K) was nothing short of immaculate. Considering the circumstances surrounding his start, like the uncertainty that he was 100 percent because of his 11 days off and the swirling trade rumors that had scouts watching Greinke's every move, there was a lot of pressure on Greinke to perform. And he did just that. His trade value certainly went up and he put to rest any rumors that he wasn't on top of his game or that he was worn down. For that Zack Greinke, I salute you for going out with a bang. Yes, that was his last start as a Brewer, folks...don't kid yourselves. I'll have more on Greinks later.

Now for the thank you I owe the bullpen. I know what you're thinking. This is going to be one of those quote, unquote thank yous. Well, you're partially right. But in all seriousness, for those of you who were clinging on to false hope that the Brewers still had a chance to make the postseason like me, we owe the Brewers bullpen a sincere thank you. I mean, did you watch the end of these last two games? First of all, I'm sorry if you did, because not even I could sit through the epic collapses that Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Francisco Rodriguez have combined to perform over the last few nights (on a side note, Brewer games are much more fun to watch if you turn them off after the starting pitcher exits the game. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn't work if you're in attendance unless you plan on leaving early, which is a cardinal sin, by the way). Secondly, these collapses have erased all false hope from my body regarding the Brewers season. And for that, Brewers bullpen, we thank you.

So. Back to Greinke. One part of his stat line I forgot to mention other than his zero walks was his pitch count. I hate to get started on pitch counts because you may know by now I have a strong hatred for this, but did you know Greinke had only thrown 87 pitches through seven innings? Yes. With the roll Greinke was on, there was a distinct chance that Greinke could go the distance and save the bullpen from complete embarrassment. But nope. Greinke was yanked and I can only think of one legitimate reason this occurred: someone told Ron Roenicke to yank him. It's the only logical explanation. No manager in his right mind is going to pull Greinke in the situation unless a higher power took the reigns. If Roenicke's reasoning is that he didn't want to wear him out, here's a newsflash for you...he just had 11 days of rest! Am I missing something here? I really hope not. I'm guessing he was pulled because teams interested in acquiring Greinke are worried about his durability moving forward, and that's where I'm going to draw the line. I mean, c'mon...we're talking about Runnin' Ron Roenicke here!

The Brewers now sit at 44-52, 6 million games out of 1st place, so it HAS to be time to wave the white flag...right? Other than Greinke, there doesn't appear to be any valuable trade commodities in the Brewers' possession unless you include the DL laden Shaun Marcum, but there hasn't been much buzz surrounding his name these days. Any rumors about L-Rod going anywhere have to be dead in the water after his complete choke-job Monday night, and if teams do still want him, the Brewers ain't getting much in return. That leaves a few other names I could see the Brewers dealing: Randy Wolf, who is in the final year of his deal as well, and George Kottaras, the Brewers backup catcher.

Wolf being left-handed makes him an intriguing piece for a contender, and he hasn't performed terribly as of late. For what it's worth, the bullpen has blown eight leads in games which Wolf has pitched, so despite is not-so-great ERA (5.46), this dude's win-loss record could be standing at 11-6, which is a lot more appealing than 3-6. Plus, Wolf is a veteran and he's been down the postseason road before, so that experience could also be compelling. Meanwhile, the lack of work Kottaras has received this season has hurt his numbers and production, but with Jonathan Lucroy set to return any day now, the Brewers will be stuck with three MLB-caliber catchers on their roster. One thing Kottaras has going for him is his on-base percentage (.409), which is .200 higher than his average. Remember guys, OBP is waaaaay more important than AVG, but I shouldn't have to tell you that. Anywho, if the Brewers could find a way to part ways with these two, I wouldn't be upset about it.

That leaves us with one other issue to tackle: the bullpen. Honestly, what do you do here? Just ship off the entire group and start from scratch? Even though my last blog post may suggest otherwise, I'd only keep two men in that bullpen right now, and those men are Tyler Thornburg and John Axford. Assuming Thornburg moves into a starting role once Greinke is dealt, that leaves us with one bullpen pitcher in Axford. By the way, Axford has only allowed one hit in his last 3.1 innings pitched, so clearly something has clicked there. When I went on my rant a little while ago, I suggested some pretty crazy alternatives for who should be pitching at the end of games for the Brewers. They don't seem so crazy anymore now, do they? Let's get Wily Peralta up here. Let's get Mark Rogers up here. Both guys have looked pretty good lately (their numbers don't look so hot, but don't let that fool you), so with the atrocious bullpen the Crew currently has, there's no better time to bring these dudes up. I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who will disagree with me on this one, so I'll leave it at that.

I mean, really...what do you do with this bullpen? I don't know. But pulling your starter after 87 pitches isn't going to solve any problems unless it results in the Brewers getting an entire bullpen in return for Greinke. Or at least some kick-ass prospects. Brewer fans need something to look forward to at this point, and once Greinke is gone, we can pick apart the trade and the players the Crew received in return, and get excited about SOMETHING. That's the one silver lining we can take away from this awful stretch for the Brewers...Greinke was dominant on Tuesday, perhaps as dominant as he's ever been in a Brewer uniform. For that, the Brewers should get some yummy treats in the coming days.

So again, thank you, Zack Greinke, for not only your time as a Milwaukee Brewer, but for your dazzling performance last night. You won't have to put up with Roenicke's bull shit anymore, so at least there's that. Good luck wherever you may land and for giving me something to talk about before WE GET TO FOOTBALL SEASON!!!! (oh, and of course, thank you to the bullpen) (the Packers training camp opened today, by the way)

One last note before I go...I recently landed a "job" as a writer for the Bleacher Report, a fairly popular sports blog site. How much that duty takes me away from this blog is unknown to me, but I managed to crank this post out in under an hour, so I think I'll still be able to manage at least a post a week. Anyway, I think this gig and the popularity of the Bleacher Report will help get my name out there and increase my visibility a touch (the number of views I got on my first published article was over half of what I've received writing this blog over the past two years - that's not a knock on you guys!). So I'm excited to begin that chapter of my life and continue my journalism career. I hope you can all come along for the ride as well.

15 days until the Packers preseason opener. Get pumped.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's time to ax the Ax Man

Monday night was one of those nights where I wish I was an early riser. It would have resulted in an earlier bed time, and therefore the likelihood that I missed the end of the opener of a 3-game series between the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. For those of you that were smart enough to let your heads hit the pillow before about 10:15 PM and thought the Brewers would hold for a 2-0 victory (and make up a game in the standings on all three teams ahead of them in the Central Division), allow me to fill you in on what kept the Brewers seven games out of the playoffs.

Per usual, Ron Roenicke "stuck with his guy" and called on his "closer" John Axford to put away the Cardinals. I hope everyone got  a good laugh from that last sentence. I'll cut to the chase here: three base hits (two of which were seeing-eye singles) and two walks later, Kameron Loe was in the game, and the Brewers were down 3-2. Sure, the two hits that drove in runs weren't exactly crushed, but Axford got behind nearly every hitter, and the fact of the matter is that you can't walk the opponent when holding a 2-run lead. The Brewers offense failed to reach base in the bottom half and thus concludes the career of John Axford as the Milwaukee closer.

I'm too quick to draw that conclusion, you say? First of all, I doubt anyone is saying that, but for those of you who are sarcastically asking such a foolish question, let me throw some numbers at you. Axford has now converted 16 of 22 save opportunities (72.7% rate). That's good for 18th in the National League among closers with at least 12 save attempts. Yes, there are only 16 teams in the NL. His ERA has ballooned to 5.35, making him 17th among those same 18 closers with 12+ save attempts. Monday night, Axford was one strike away from saving the game against four different batters. And finally, Axford wears number 59, the same number - you guessed it - Derrick Turnbow wore.

Almost a month ago today, I didn't allow myself the necessary recovery time after a disappointing loss and went on a rant I only somewhat regret. To prove it was nothing short of a rant, I shamefully called out Ryan Braun for failing to come through in the clutch. One thing I will stand by in that rant was my bashing of the Brewer bullpen, specifically the combination of Francisco Rodriguez and Axford himself at the tail end of games. Who did I say should replace them? Tyler Thornburg and Mark Rogers. I'm sticking to it. Although the call-up of Rogers may realistically not happen until September, Thornburg is here, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a "why not" situation when it comes to putting Thorny in the closer's role.

Here are a few reasons that support my case for both being placed in late inning situations. First of all...why not? The Brewers are 42-47, have lost 20 games in which they've held a lead, and the bullpen has BLOWN 16 SAVES THIS SEASON (19 BS all of last season). So there's that. There's also the fact that both are extremely talented and have the stuff needed to perform at the big league level. Rogers has had his share of injuries and plenty more was expected of him by this point in his career, but the fact of the matter is that he's still only 26-years old. Mike Fiers? He's 27. Rogers has also pitched well as of late down at AAA Nashville. And other than the four long balls Thorny has allowed (I know...not good), he simply just needs to make adjustments and better mix his pitches to avoid these home run problems.

I know I've forgotten to address one problem - both of these guys are starting pitchers. But last time I checked, there still isn't room in the starting rotation (for now). Sure, we would all like to see Randy Wolf take a hike, but he's the team's only left-handed starter and he's in the final year of his deal, so the suffering will only last so long. Thornburg is making a spot start on Wednesday in place of a supposedly fatigued Zack Greinke (something smells there), but as far as we know, he'll just return to the bullpen immediately following his start. So who do the Brewers send down to make room for Rogers?

How about John Axford? Seriously, what's the worst that could happen? Best case scenario is Axford works out his control issues and eventually works his way back into the closer's role. I know that his career path is taking almost the same exact course as He Who Must Not Be Named (Turnbow for those who didn't follow), but the least the Brewers can do is give him a chance to regain his bearings. Let's not forget this dude went 46/48 in save ops last season with a sub-2.00 ERA. He's got good stuff, and although the problem could just be that the rest of the league has figured him out, I wouldn't consider such an extreme idea as parting ways with Axford.

Monday night's loss hurt a lot - not any worse than some of the other tough defeats the Brewers have suffered through this season, but certainly not any better. With that being said, not all hope is lost, but last night was kind of the Brewers' season in a microcosm. It would probably be best for the Brewers to start making some trades that benefit the team for the future and make things easier on the organization and it's fans when it comes to everyone's "hope factor." As much as I don't want to care, this team isn't losing enough for me to quit on them, but boy does it sting when they lose in such heart-breaking fashion time and time again. Thanks to the extra Wild Card slot, less teams are going to be "sellers" as the trade deadline approaches, and more teams are going to be caught in no-man's land.

But back to the team's most pressing issue besides the trade deadline - the bullpen, and more specifically the end-of-game situation. What we are realistically looking at is Francisco Rodriguez being inserted into the closer's role and John Axford being used in less-stressful situations to help him get his mojo back. I'd love for Axford to hit the minors and Rogers to get his shot, but Roenicke will likely do with Axford what I mentioned just before. In my opinion, I believe Axford's confidence could receive a jolt in AAA, but there's also the risk of him struggling, leading to his career going down the shitter. Sure, his 2011 success is still reason for the Brewers - and other teams for that matter - not to give up on him quite yet, but in the meantime, give some guys who haven't received an opportunity.

Okay. I'm going to try and combine the extreme with the real. I'll accept the fact that Rodriguez will now take over the closer's role. At least this gives the Brewers a chance to showcase him at the end of games, which could make him a more enticing asset for teams in need of bullpen help. Axford...fine, you can stay in the Bigs, but in no way can you pitch in a meaningful situation until you figure things out. That leaves the eighth inning role open for Thornburg to enter. After his Wednesday start, it appears as though Thornburg will return to the 'pen (at least until Greinke is dealt). Why not put him in the setup role? There isn't anyone else worthy of such a job (Kameron Loe 4 BS, Manny Parra 4.20 ERA, Jose Veras...just no, Livan Hernandez already in the long relief need for two LRPs). He could pitch in the eighth, potentially move into the closer's role should Rodriguez be dealt, and if all else fails, throw him in the starting rotation when Greinke is dealt. I'd be hard pressed to believe both Rodriguez and Greinke will still be in a Brewers' uniform come August.

I still believe Rogers' time will come at the big league level, and I haven't even discussed how dominant Wily Peralta has been lately (only 1 ER allowed in his last 22.1 IP). I strongly believe pitching remains at a premium for the they just need to learn how to use it. The closer's role is the most delicate role in baseball, no questions asked, and that's what makes it so valuable. There are only so many guys like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. I've gone as far as saying bullpens - or at least specific bullpen roles - shouldn't exist, but again, that's me being a little too extreme. If it weren't for starting pitchers having to be in their cute little "routines," I believe the best plan of action would be to pitch whoever gives you the best chance to win on any given day, given that such a pitcher is healthy/not fatigued. We can still monitor pitch counts for the sake of taking care of arms, but everyone pitching at the big league level should have the ability and the arsenal of pitches necessary to go at least 100 pitches/five innings in a game.

Whatever. Not going to get into that argument right now. As it currently stands, the Brewers are 42-47, seven games out of the playoffs, and once again not doing a whole lot in yet another important stretch in the schedule. C'mon, Brewers. Mix it up a little, hold on to your leads and get some good, young talent for the years to follow instead of completely wasting away another season of baseball. You owe it to the fans that have stuck with you this long, and they need something to root for this season and look forward to in future years. Should such things occur, I'll be back to discuss them. In the meantime, we're 27 days away from Aug. 9, also known the day the Packers open up their pre-season slate, and I can't wait to talk about a team with its head on straight. Until then, we're stuck with baseball, so here's to hoping you - and the Brewers - make the most of it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Brewers' first half season review

The Milwaukee Brewers have made the playoffs two times in my lifetime out of 22 potential chances. Compare that to some of the other Wisconsin sports teams. The Green Bay Packers have made it 14 times, including two Super Bowl victories in three appearances (that's more "finals" appearances for the Packers than total playoff appearances for the Crew). The Milwaukee Bucks have made it nine times (wait, what??). Marquette and Wisconsin men's basketball have made numerous trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Wisconsin football team has won three Rose Bowls and played in five overall. All things considered, the Brewers have been the most disappointing team for Wisconsin fans to root for. This season is proving to be no different, with the Crew standing at 40-45 heading into the All-Star break, eight games out of first place in the Central Division and six games out of a Wild Card position. And yet baseball remains my favorite sport, with the Brewers being my favorite team to root for. I'm as helpless as they come. Within the past couple of weeks, I've conceded the season for various reasons, one of the most prevalent being that Milwaukee is a small market....and being a small market team doesn't hurt any professional sports franchise in Wisconsin more than the Milwaukee Brewers. Why? A lack of a salary cap.

Of course, baseball is about as traditional as it gets. It likely won't make any strides towards implementing a salary cap any time soon. Obviously, this puts the Brewers at a disadvantage despite spending more than they ever have lately thanks to Mark Attanasio. They are forced to make a decision every season: are we in contention and therefore going to be "buyers" as the trade deadline nears, or are we out of contention and "sellers?" This season, even though many of you would disagree, the Brewers are caught in a tough position. Being six games out of the playoffs with 77 games remaining doesn't seem insurmountable. It's been done time and time again. But for reasons I've stated previously (can't risk going "all-in," constant bullpen struggles, the inability to string wins together), the Brewers need to sell. I don't like giving up hope. Even though I'm trying to part ways with hope, deep down, I can't help but remain hopeful. As Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, "hope is a good thing...maybe the best of things." I couldn't agree more, although the one glaring problem with hope is the disappointment that can come along with it. But hey, I'm done preaching now. Let's take a look back at the Brewers' first 85 games of the season, and look forward to what might happen during the last 77.

Milwaukee Brewers: 40-45, 4th in Central, 8 GB

Let me begin by saying this: I've been relatively good at predictions since I've started this blog as far as records and overall team success goes. However, my 2012 Brewers' record prediction might be one of my worst ever. For the Crew to finish 91-71 and win the division, they would have to make up eight games on the Pittsburgh Pirates (hmmm...) and go 51-26 to close out the season. Essentially, the Brewers would have to win two of three games, or basically win every series they play for the remainder of the year. It ain't gonna happen. Not with this bullpen. Not with the injuries they've sustained.

Speaking of the bullpen and injuries, those are easily the two most glaring issues with this club. I know I promised I wouldn't complain about injuries for the rest of the season (and I promise I won't), but they have to be addressed since we're going back in time here and I'll try and get them out of the way ASAP. Losing so many players was bad enough, but the kicker was how it occurred in such a small time frame. The Brewers were forced to scramble to replace guys like Mat Gamel (1B), Alex Gonzalez (SS) and Jonathan Lucroy (C) while also dealing with some other slight aches and pains. A depleted farm system didn't help their cause. It took awhile, but they found a full-time replacement for Gamel by bringing Corey Hart in from right field. The move made sense...with the talent the Brewers already have in the outfield (see: Ryan Braun and Norichika Aoki), moving Hart to first almost left the team better off without Gamel because Aoki was able to move into a full-time role in right, allowing Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan...who have both had their platoon in center. Even at the catcher position the Brewers managed to tread water. Martin Maldonado (.303 OBP, 5 HR, 17 RBI) filled Lucroy's role while George Kottaras (.430 OBP, 3 HR, 12 RBI) has still mainly served as Randy Wolf's personal catcher (ugh). I'd like to see George get more than just one start a week, but he's a valuable bat to have coming off the bench and judging by his on-base percentage you can see why. So there's certainly been a drop off at catcher, but not as much as originally thought. Lucroy's projected return date is July 20 for those of you wondering how long a suitcase can keep a professional baseball player from the sport.

But then there's Alex Gonzalez. Shortstop, no matter which way you cut it, is always going to be one of the hardest positions to replace. It's where team's place their best infield defender and good shortstops are few and far between. Is Alex Gonzalez "good?" I certainly think so. He isn't a top five shortstop by any stretch of the imagination, but his defense and pop were two of his most valuable assets and he was an upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt. Gonzalez was performing better at the plate (.326 OBP, 4 HR, 15 RBI through 24 games) than many expected coming into the season and brought some stability towards the bottom of the lineup. I'll tell you a few things the Brewers DON'T have right now...stability at the bottom of the lineup, and a mainstay at shortstop. The platoon of Cody Ransom and Cezar Izturus is, well, painful to watch. Sure, Ransom brings some power to the plate (pun intended) and both are pretty steady with the glove, but neither is hitting above .214, and that's a problem. The Brewers were able to do a nice job replacing Gamel, a decent job at replacing Lucroy, and a not-so-good job replacing Gonzalez. If the Brewers were in a buying position right now, they would certainly be looking for a shortstop to help them for the stretch run. You know what else they would be looking for?

A new left fielder. And by a new left fielder, I mean an entire bullpen. Take a stab at how many blown saves the Brewer bullpen has this year....give up? 14! Four-freaking-teen! That's about 16 percent of their games. Let's just be realistic and assume the bullpen only blows half that number. The Crew's record is now 47-38, a game out of first place with a spot in the postseason. In 2011, the Brewers had a total of 19 blown saves. What the 14 blown saves fail to show is how many late leads have been given up by the starting rotation as well, a product of Ron Roenicke both not knowing when to pull the string and having absolutely no faith in his bullpen. Kind of puts him in a tough spot, don't you think? I'm not going to take the time to calculate the bullpen's ERA this season, but I'll give you a hint: it's somewhere between "NOT GOOD" and "PATHETIC." John Axford simply hasn't been the same guy this season and already has five blown saves to go along with a 4.86 ERA (last season: 1.95 ERA, two BS). His setup man hasn't been the same guy, either. Francisco Rodriguez has blown four games of his own with an ERA surfacing above 4.00 as well. This doesn't exactly bode well for his trade value and what the Brewers could get in return. Not having a viable shortstop and bullpen are easily the two things holding back the Brewers the most from being contenders.

Now we know why the Brewers aren't doing well. But why are they doing as "well" as they are? On Wednesday, I traveled to Miller Park with my head held high because the Crew had a four game winning streak going, which I'm pretty sure was their longest of the season to date. They were up 5-1 in the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins and I had finally stopped sweating to an extent (it was 95 degrees out), but there was one glaring issue: Randy Wolf was on the mound. As you probably know by now, the Brewers would not win that game...believe it or not, Axford had something to do with that. It was kind of a culmination of the Brewers' season. Oh, sorry...this paragraph was supposed to have a positive vibe to it. Well, as I mentioned before, the Brewers took a little while to adjust after their slew of injuries, and in the process they found out a few things:

A lead-off hitter (Norichika Aoki)
An MVP candidate (Ryan Braun)
A stellar run producer (Aramis Ramirez)
A new best pitcher (Michael Fiers)

These are some nice things to find out, no? Looking at the Brewer offense, the first six hitters in the lineup should make you feel good. Lately, it has gone Aoki, Morgan, Braun, Ramirez, Hart, Weeks. Aoki currently has a 15-game hitting streak and has a .369 OBP. No complaints here. Braun is once again putting up HUGE numbers and Ramirez has been swinging a red-hot, and most notably clutch, bat. Hart doesn't really hit for average but we know what we get out of him by now. And then there's Rickie Weeks. Weeks started the season unbelievably slow for reasons unknown. I'm not quite sure how long it takes to recover from a sprained ankle, but the guy played at the end of last season (rather poorly), and the fact that he was playing on it gave me the idea that he would be 100 percent heading into 2012. Whether he was 100 percent is unknown to me, but the fact of the matter is that Weeks is finally heating up. A career .250 hitter, Weeks has climbed back up to .199 (try not to laugh, please), but his on-base percentage is what we should really be looking at, people! It's at .314. Not bad for a guy hitting below the Mendoza line. It reminds me a lot of a former teammate of mine my junior year during varsity baseball. His average was roughly where Weeks' was, but his OBP was over .400. Our head coach, whose hatred I have towards is indescribable, clearly does not value one's ability to get on base (sounds kind of important to me, but what do I know), sent him down to junior varsity. Bull spit, I know. So what I'm trying to say here is Weeks, who strikes out an absurd amount, also walks an absurd amount, and I guess I'm willing to accept this despite how bizarre and frustrating it can be. He's on the upswing, and that's undoubtedly a good thing for the Brewers.

How about we dish out some mid-season awards?

MVP (Offense): Ryan Braun (.990 OPS, 24 HR, 61 RBI)

Duh. No surprise here. It might be a surprise to the rest of the league that Braun can continue to have success despite now being off of the PEDs (allegedly), but Brewer fans knew what they'd be getting from the slugger. Braun has been incredible, being among league leaders in all the major offensive categories while being steady in the field, arguably making him a five-tool player to go along with his 15 stolen bases. The Brewers inability to stay in contention may hurt Braun's chances at winning back-to-back MVPs, but he's starting in his fifth All-Star Game on Tuesday and is the second Brewer in franchise history to be elected to at least five All-Star games (Cecil Cooper...Robin Yount only made 3?) He's well on his way to solidifying his place as the best player in franchise history, and I couldn't be happier to be along for the ride.

MVP (Pitching): Zack Greinke (9-3, 3.32 ERA, 111 SO)

Greinke has All-Star caliber numbers, but was one of the most notable snubs this season. That, combined with the lingering trade talks, have in my opinion taken a toll on Greinke lately, but this won't stop me from giving him the honor of pitcher of the season thus far for the Brewers (sure as hell ain't giving it to a bullpen member). He's been a reliable "ace" and never loses at Miller Park, which makes me wonder why he would ever want to leave Milwaukee. There are various factors that go into this that I've gone over previously, but Greinke is highly unlikely to return to Milwaukee and for all intensive purposes may have made his last start in a Brewer uniform on Sunday. All-in-all, his stint in Milwaukee was a successful one, and the decision to bring Greinke in prior to the 2011 season was the right one.

Newcomer of the Year: Aramis Ramirez (.346 OBP, 10 HR, 52 RBI)

As far as guys who were brought in from outside the organization, Ramirez has to be the best newcomer this season for the Brewers. He almost always seems to come through with runners on base and this shows in his 52 RBIs, only second to Braun on the team. He's filled in nicely as the cleanup hitter for Prince Fielder, whose numbers aren't all that better than Ramirez (.380 OBP, 15 HR, 63 RBI). Ramirez is doing pretty much what's expected of him and it's helping me slowly overcome my hatred for him when he was a Chicago Cub.

Rookie of the Year (Offense): Nori Aoki (.301 AVG, 5 HR, 20 RBI)

Hard to argue this selection. Aoki has quickly replaced Morgan in the fan favorite department (with the exception of Braun) and having "Right Round" by Flo Rida as his at-bat music doesn't hurt. As I mentioned before, Aoki is in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak, the longest current streak in the Bigs. He's also taken on the difficult role of lead-off hitter and thrived in it while becoming the every day right fielder for the Crew. I'd like to think he has an outside shot at NL ROY, but the popularity factor surrounding Bryce Harper will probably shut down that dream (see: Dontrelle Willis over Scott Podsednik in '03). Still, Aoki has been a pleasant surprise and is one of the reasons we should continue watching the Brewers this season.

Rookie of the Year (Pitching): Michael Fiers (3-3, 2.31 ERA)

Speaking of guys not getting enough publicity, how about the job Michael Fiers has done? Since being called up from Nashville, Fiers has arguably been the Brewers' best pitcher. His story is one to behold. Fiers is 27-years old and this is his first true chance at the Major League level. When in college, Fiers fell asleep behind the wheel and was forced to sit out an entire season because of the injuries he sustained from the crash. Now, Fiers has fought all the way back and should be a mainstay in the Brewers' rotation this season and moving into next season. It'll bring up an interesting proposition when Shaun Marcum is ready to return from the DL, but perhaps by that time the Brewers will have dealt Greinke or another starter to resolve that issue.

There you have it. My first half review of the Brewers is complete. In the next couple weeks, we could be looking at a totally different baseball team depending on how the Crew acts with the trade deadline approaching. We'll continue to keep an eye on the following things: where Greinke will be traded and what the Brewers receive in return, whether or not the Brewers will make any other news worthy moves, Ryan Braun's MVP bid, and how rookies Nori Aoki and Michael Fiers perform moving forward. It would be ideal to receive several prospects in return for Greinke along with a bullpen arm or two, and in my mind, the more trades the Brewers can make, the better. They need to turn their depleted farm system into a nourished one in order for there to be hope in the coming years. I can't think of a bigger travesty than wasting Ryan Braun's prime years. To deal Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, Rodriguez and Kottaras would satisfy my desires and likely refresh the Brewers' organization, but if the Brewers can get three of those guys off the books, I'd take it. Don't get me wrong...I'm still cautiously optimistic about the Crew's chances to make a late-season push, but with the bullpen this team has, I'm not getting my hopes up. Hope. There's that word again...

Some news and notes. Ersan Ilyasova has reportedly signed a 5 year/$45 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks (like). I'm still currently unemployed (like/dislike). I threw out my back on Saturday cleaning because I'm an old man (dislike). Well, I think we're all caught up on the world of Wisconsin sports. I'll catch you guys on the flip side.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How we fix the All-Star Game

Alright. I've had it up to here (holding my hand level with my forehead) with baseball's All-Star Game. This season is the last straw. How many deserving players can be robbed of being All-Stars because of selfish, ill-informed fans and selfish, ill-informed players and managers? If this game really "counts" (which is a whole different argument I'm not getting in to), then how come the selection process is such a scam? Even if this game didn't matter - and in my mind, it has to if it gives a league home field advantage in the World Series - I'd still be upset because being named an All-Star is a great honor. It was cool to be named to my little league's All-Star Game in sixth and seventh grade. Guys who deserve to be there...should be there! So how do we fix it? Do we completely eliminate the fan aspect from the voting? Do we give them even more power? Please read on if you do so choose if you'd like to find out.

Let's start from the top with the players who are selected to start the All-Star Game via fan voting. These are the starting lineups for the American and National Leagues:


C - Mike Napoli (A.J. Pierzynski)
1B - Prince Fielder (Paul Konerko)
2B - Robinson Cano
3B - Adrian Beltre
SS - Derek Jeter (Asdrubal Cabrera)
OF - Jose Bautista
OF - Curtis Granderson (Mark Trumbo)
OF - Josh Hamilton
DH - David Ortiz


C - Buster Posey (Carlos Ruiz)
1B - Joey Votto
2B - Dan Uggla
3B - Pablo Sandoval (David Wright)
SS - Rafael Furcal (Jed Lowrie)
OF - Melky Cabrera (Andrew McCutchen)
OF - Matt Kemp (Ryan Braun)
OF - Carlos Beltran

Okay. Some of these selections are an absolute joke, and some of them don't even deserve to be All-Stars in the first place (I bolded such players). And out of the 17 players that fans voted to be starters, only eight were deserving of these spots. Now normally, fans do a much better job than this, but this year apparently San Francisco was pumping drugs into the drinking water because their fans messed everything up. Pablo Sandoval isn't even eligible for the batting title, let alone considered a top four third his own league! Shit...even Aramis Ramirez is more deserving than Panda. If Sandoval wasn't like anyone else on this planet, he would give up his roster spot to someone more deserving, but I certainly won't hold anything against him for playing. Another brain fart from the anyone aware that Kemp has missed half the season with injury? Dude won't even be able to play in the All-Star Game, but that didn't stop fans from blindly penciling him in their ballots. Buster Posey is another product of Giants' fans being Giants' fans ahead of baseball fans. Yeah, you can vote for your entire team over and over again, but it doesn't make it right. Ryan Braun was the only Brewer I voted for, and the only Giant they should have been voting for is the Milk Man.

But guess what? I'm not going to eliminate fan voting. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to revamp the ballot. First of all, can we do a better job of who we actually put on the ballot? For example, Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez stayed on the ballot throughout the entire voting process despite going out in the first month with season ending injuries. Corey Hart is a freaking first baseman for God's sake, and he's still listed as an outfielder. Nori Aoki is an every day player now, and his name is nowhere to be found. Sorry if this costs you some of your precious money, Major League Baseball, but how about you update your ballots every now and then? Don't just look at the opening day lineup and assume that's how it'll stay the entire year (especially this year, seeing how injuries have ravaged teams all over the league...I'm just using the Brewers as an example). But that's not even the biggest problem I have with the ballot. While updating the names on the ballot, say, once every week or two, we should also input statistics on each ballot and update those every few weeks. Fans look at a ballot, see a name they recognize (see: Derek Jeter), and automatically pop a hole next to their name. But what if they see that Derek Jeter actually has the fourth or fifth best statistics among AL shortstops and see that Asdrubal Cabrera is without question deserving of the start? Then I'm hoping this would change their mind, and they'd vote for Cabrera (of course unless they're Giant fans).

Call me crazy, but shouldn't All-Stars be determined based on the numbers they put up? I'm not taking the power of the vote away from the fans...I'm simply making them smarter and more informed. It's up to the moral values of the fan whether or not they want to be "selfish" and continue voting for their entire team to fill out the roster. I'm looking at you, Giants' fans.

Still, fans aren't the only issue with how the All-Star rosters are assembled. Players and managers fill out the remainder of the roster, and this season there seemed to be just as many injustices done by those who play and coach the game. Here's one problem - ex-manager/lunatic Tony LaRussa is managing the National League after retiring at the conclusion of last season. Now I'm sure LaRussa still follows the sport of baseball to an extent, but I vehemently disagree that he should be coaching this game, let alone selecting nine of the roster slots. Again, if this game really matters so much, how can a guy living at a retirement home be responsible for 16 teams vying for home field advantage in the World Series? So of course, LaRussa botched some picks and the players did as well. This also goes for AL manager Ron Washington and the AL players, although they (and their fans) did a much better job. I didn't take away the voting power from the fans, but I'm going to take it away from the players and managers. Aren't they too busy doing what they have to do for their own teams? The fans probably watch more baseball than the players, and we've already got them screwing up, so let's just let the players play, the coaches coach and the fans cheer...and vote.

I'm going to bring up that crazy "statistics" word again because, you know, it kind of gauges how good a player is or something wacky like that. Judging by my rule changes on how ballots should look for the fans, I'm going to make the assumption they select players who are at least deserving of an All-Star roster spot, if not a starting position.  Therefore, with all the advanced statistics we have these days along with people becoming smarter about which of these statistics actually matters, I feel this is the best way to determine who fills out the remaining roster slots. Of course, we can't forget that every team needs to be represented (another rule I would change if this game truly matters). Let's begin with the position players that SHOULD be playing in Kansas City on July 10.


C - Pierzynski (CWS) - Joe Mauer (MIN) - Matt Wieters (BAL)
1B - Konerko (CWS) - Prince Fielder (DET)
2B - Cano (NYY) - Jason Kipnis (CLE)
3B - Beltre (TEX) - Miguel Cabrera (DET)
SS - A. Cabrera (CLE) - Elvis Andrus (TEX) - Derek Jeter (NYY)
OF - Bautista (TOR) - Adam Jones (BAL) - Granderson (NYY)
OF - Trumbo (LAA) - Mike Trout (LAA)
OF - Hamilton (TEX) - Josh Reddick (OAK)
DH - Ortiz (BOS) - Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)


C - Ruiz (PHI) - Yadier Molina (STL) - Posey (SF)
1B - Votto (CIN) - Bryan LaHair (CHC)
2B - Uggla (ATL) - Brandon Phillips (CIN)
3B - Wright (NYM) - David Freese (STL) - Chase Headley (SD)
SS - Lowrie (HOU) - Ian Desmond (WSH)
OF - Braun (MIL) - M. Cabrera (SF) - Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)
OF - Beltran (STL) - Carlos Gonzalez (COL) - Matt Holliday (STL)
OF - McCutchen (PIT) - Michael Bourn (ATL)

Yikes. On paper, it looks like the American League is going to destroy the National League. Then again, we haven't gotten to the pitchers yet, so let's get to it.


SP - Chris Sale (CWS) - David Price (TB) - Jered Weaver (LAA) - Justin Verlander (DET) - C.J. Wilson (LAA) - Jake Peavy (CWS) - Felix Hernandez (SEA) - Matt Harrison (TEX)
RP - Jim Johnson (BAL) - Fernando Rodney (TB) - Jonathan Broxton (KC) - Joe Nathan (TEX)


SP - R.A. Dickey (NYM) - Johnny Cueto (CIN) - Matt Cain (SF) - Zack Greinke (MIL) - Wade Miley (ARZ) - Stephen Strasburg (WSH) - Clayton Kershaw (LAD) - Gio Gonzalez (WSH) - James McDonald (PIT)
RP - Craig Kimbrel (ATL) - Joel Hanrahan (PIT) - Aroldis Chapman (CIN) - Huston Street (SD)

FINAL VOTE (AL): OF Josh Willingham (MIN), OF Austin Jackson (DET), RP Chris Perez (CLE), DH Adam Dunn, SP Yu Darvish
FINAL VOTE (NL): SP Ryan Vogelsong (SF), 2B Aaron Hill (ARZ), 3B Chipper Jones (ATL), OF Bryce Harper (WSH), SP Cole Hamels (PHI)

BOLD = Not originally included on roster

There. Not sure how much you guys get out of that other than my inclusion of Greinke, but this is who should be in the All-Star Game, bottom line (pending any injuries or guys who are starting on the Sunday before the ASG). I also included who should be included in the final vote because no matter which way you cut it, a few guys are going to be left out who are deserving of an All-Star spot. Granted, a few of the guys who were snubbed will obtain roster spots as a result of the Sunday-start rule or injuries, so it ends up being fairly fair in the end, but it should never come down to that in the first place. With my roster, everyone is deserving, every team is represented and players who didn't make it that may have deserved it are involved in the final vote. Whew. Glad I could get that off my chest.

The Brewers trade watch is on. This week could be the final nail in the coffin depending on how the Brewers do entering the All-Star break. Their next seven games? Four at home against the Miami Marlins and three on the road against the Houston Astros. Well...if the Brewers can't have a winning record during that stretch, then it's officially time to throw in the towel and Greinke might be leaving Kansas City in a different uniform (I'm banking on Greinke being named to the All-Star me hopeful). So yeah. This week is kind of important.

Stay cool out there. Current 620 Lincoln temp: 92. Pray for me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Milwaukee Bucks NBA Draft preview

Well guys, it's 90 degrees and rising here at my Oshkosh stomping grounds, so as I sit on the couch with a fan blowing in my face and the EURO 2012 semifinal between Italy and Germany showing in the background, I've decided to write a (short) preview for what we should expect to see tonight when the Milwaukee Bucks are on the clock. First things first, the Bucks made a trade yesterday that supposedly solves the lack of a legitimate big man problem. In a deal with the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee received 7-footer Samuel Dalembert (7.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG), who ranked as the 10th best fantasy center last season for what that's worth. They also swapped picks with the Rockets, who will now pick 12th while the Bucks move down to 14th overall in the first round. I believe I also read somewhere that the Bucks would receive the Rockets' 2013 2nd round pick.

So what did the Bucks give up? Jon Leuer, Shaun Livingston and Jon Brockmon. Three players who had relatively limited roles last season in exchange for a starting center. It looks good when you put it in that context, but you wonder if the Bucks are giving up too early on a player like Leuer, who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season and was for some reason benched for a large portion of the season by head coach Scott Skiles. Also, Leuer was a fan favorite because of his time with the Wisconsin Badgers, so it could be viewed overall as a negative decision to ship him off. Now the Bucks roster looks a little something like this:

PG Brandon Jennings, PG Beno Udrih, SG Monta Ellis, SG/SF Carlos Delfino (Free Agent), SF Mike Dunleavy, SF Tobias Harris, PF Ersan Ilyasova (Free Agent), PF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF Ekpe Udoh, PF/C Larry Sanders, PF/C Drew Gooden, C Samuel Dalembert

BOLD = Last season's main starters

That's ten players and three starters under contract heading into the 2012-2013 season. The Bucks will likely look into re-signing Carlos Delfino, but for some reason all hope appears to be lost in retaining Ersan, which would only further distance myself from being a Milwaukee Bucks fan along with departure of Leuer. I could see the Bucks starting Gooden at the four next season and also look to bolster their bench through free agency or trade. But enough about next season...let's look at tonight's draft.

Now that the Bucks have the 14th selection and are no longer targeting a big man, most have been saying that the team will now look at adding a wing player with good size to compliment the small back court of Jennings and Ellis, who were 12-9 last season playing together. With that in mind, here are some players who could potentially be available that fit such a build:

SG - 6'5" Austin Rivers (Duke, FR)
SG/SF - 6'7" Terrance Ross (Washington, SO)
SG - 6'5" Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut, SO)

Rivers and Lamb are the more recognizable names on this short list, but Ross is the guy likely to still be remaining at the 14th pick and several mock drafts have the Bucks selecting him there. There are also others who still like the Bucks taking either:

C - 7'0" Tyler Zeller (North Carolina, SR) OR
C - 7'1" Meyers Leonard (Illinois, SO)

There have even been whispers of John Henson, Moe Harkless, Terrance Jones, and Jared Sullinger should any of the previously mentioned players be available, but that would seem to give Milwaukee a little too much size. That's why I'm pretty set on the Bucks taking either Lamb or Ross with their first round pick, especially since Milwaukee is high on both of these players...but should Rivers somehow drop to 14, I don't see how the Bucks could pass him up unless they got an enticing trade offer from...oh say, the Boston Celtics? It'll be interesting to see what the Deer end up doing.

Assuming the Bucks take a swing man with their first round pick, I could see them looking at some size in the second round. Maybe not a center...we might be seeing a trend in the NBA about teams playing without a center based on what the Thunder and the Heat did in the Finals...but a guy in the 6'9 to 6"10 range who has some upside. Or, maybe the Bucks take a big man in the first round and think a swing man they like will be available at the 41st pick. With these things in mind, here are some players who could potentially be available that fit the bill:

PF - 6'10" Furkan Aldemir (Turkey)
PF - 6'9" Drew Gordon (New Mexico, SR)
SG - 6'6" Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech, SR)
SG - 6'6" Kim English (Missouri, SR)

Honestly, it's so wide open once you get to the second round. I somehow predicted correctly last season that the Bucks would take Tobias Harris with their first round pick and had Jon Leuer on my shortlist for the Bucks' possible second round selection. I've already had to make some assumptions based on which positions the Bucks will select and where they will select these positions, so here is my official prediction for the two selections the Milwaukee Bucks will make in the 2012 NBA Draft (assuming no trades):

1st round, 14th pick - SG Terrance Ross
2nd round, 42nd pick - PF Furkan Aldemir

Might as well get a good sized guard for when Monta Ellis leaves and might as well get another Turkish guy to replace Ilyasova. Forgive me if I sound ill-informed about the NBA and the state of the Bucks in this blog post. I really haven't paid much attention to either lately. In fact, I basically just did all my research on the Bucks and this draft in the last three hours. You know, kind of like cramming for a college exam (WHICH I'LL NEVER HAVE TO DO EVER AGAIN!). What's that, David? You don't have a job yet? Yeah. You should probably hold off on the bragging. Okay, that's enough from me. Enjoy the draft if you so choose to watch it and I'll be back soon with some more yapping about sports.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time to abandon ship

Baseball is a funky game. You can go from elation to hopeful to disappointment in a matter of days, or even minutes, depending on the situation. Take Tuesday night for example at Great American Ballpark where the Brewers squared off against the Cincinnati Reds. Marco Estrada, making his first start since coming off the disabled list, would go up against Bronson Arroyo, a guy whose longevity in the big leagues can be attributed to how crafty he is. He doesn't throw hard, but he throws everything with movement to keep hitters off balance. Fortunately for Arroyo, he wasn't only facing a team whose offense was about as non-existent as dinosaurs, but also a team that can't hit anything but a well-thrown fastball and the occasional hanging breaking ball. Sounds like the perfect storm if you ask me.

To make matters worse, Ron Roenicke decided it would be a good day to take guys like Corey Hart and Martin Maldonado out of the lineup, two guys who were actually seeing the baseball well as of late. That allowed the Brewers lineup to include the likes of Travis Ishikawa (fresh off the DL) and Cezar Izturus (fresh off the DL). Estrada pitched about as well as he could before running out of gas, and was aided by some remarkable defense by Nori Aoki and Nyjer Morgan, who should have the top web gem of the night for his catch as he rammed into a wall so hard it opened the bullpen gate. Anyway, apparently Roenicke felt as though Estrada could push 100 pitches in his first start in about a month. Estrada got through six innings, earning a remarkable 12 strikeouts, but left a curveball up to Jay Bruce, who made him pay by launching it over the left field wall. As all this was going on, Arroyo was taking advantage of poor lineup decisions and a poor offense in general and had a no-hitter going with a 3-0 lead. Three Brewer outs later, Arroyo had a no-hitter heading into the eighth inning. Uh oh. Rock bottom take 3?

Not so fast. Kottaras, the new Greek God of walks (move over Youkilis) drew a base on balls and then my ex, Taylor Green doubled down the right field line to all of a sudden put the Brewers back in business (for the record, the Brewers have thrown one no-hitter in franchise history and have been subjected to three no-hitters, the last coming in '07 to Justin Verlander). Up came Corey Hart to pinch hit for Ishikawa, and Hart missed a home run by a few feet with a blast off the center field wall. Two batters later, Nori Aoki drove in Hart, and we had a tie game heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. Just like that, Reds fans went from elation (potential no-hitter) to hopeful (well, we can still win this!) to disappointment (now we might not even win...) in like three minutes. As if this wasn't bizarre enough, two of the stranger moments of the game were yet to happen. With the score TIED at 3 in the bottom of the EIGHTH inning, in came the Brewers' CLOSER John Axford. Um...what? Axford's first pitch landed somewhere between Indianapolis and Louisville and...just like that...the Brewers were forced to try and come back once again.

We all know the Brewers have a struggling closer, but the Reds had a scuffling closer of their own in 100 MPH fireballer Aroldis Chapman. My friend Boom texted me after the game that had the Brewers left their bats in the dugout that inning, they would have managed to win strictly on walks. The sad thing is, he wasn't kidding. Aramis Ramirez was the only one wise enough to draw four balls for a walk, and Maldonado struck out to end the game in a pinch-hitting situation. But good job, Roenicke, you made one good decision on the night by pinch-hitting Hart. Hey, I'll even give you two with the Taylor Green start at second in place of Weeks. I wouldn't mind seeing it more often, in fact. So here's the second bizarre thing I saw in the final innings...immediately after striking out Maldonado to earn the 4-3 victory, Chapman did not one, but two somersaults towards home plate before embracing his catcher. Um...what? Somersaults? What is this, second grade? Now the Brewers are 33-41 and 8.5 games out of first place. Do you think they took too kindly to those somersaults? I think not. Someone is getting a fastball in the ribs tomorrow, and I'll give you a hint: they play for the Reds.

So why did I begin my post with a recap of the Brewers last game? Well, I don't have an answer for that, but it's going to lead into my explanation as to why it's time to abandon ship, aka for the Brewers to become sellers and give up hope on the postseason. I know. I, the eternal optimist, have given up hope on the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. It's a difficult realization to come to, but it's something that has to be done. Sure, I've seen teams come back from 8.5 games back in June to make the playoffs (it happened at the expense of the Brewers in '07). And maybe the Brewers have it in them to make an Oakland Athletics circa 2002 push and win the Central Division. They've played the Reds tough in the series, but before the series began, I said it would be the biggest series of the season for the Brewers. Well, it is. Dropping the first two games to the Reds and falling eight games below .500 might not be a big enough reason for some teams to sell house, but it is for the Milwaukee Brewers. They're a small market team. They can't afford to cling on to hope, watch the trade deadline go by, and still have free agents-to-be like Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum on the roster sitting seven games out of first place. Brewer fans have gone from elation (fresh off a playoff run) to hopeful (can we do it again?) to disappointed (nope...we can't). For those of you that have been able to wipe the tears away from your eyes, let's take a look at how the Brewers can make the most of this unfortunate situation.

Who to deal:

Zack Greinke (8-2, 2.81 ERA, 99 SO)

The Brewers tried to negotiate a new contract with Greinke and his agent earlier in the season and there was nothing doing. The reason? Likely to see how well Greinke could perform in 2012 to increase his value on the market. It's unlikely Greinke would return to the Brewers after becoming a free agent at the end of the season, even though he has had incredible success at Miller Park and has thrived there partially because of Milwaukee being a small market team (anxiety disorder). It would cost more than I'd like to think about to bring Greinke back, especially with how well he's performed so far this season, so the Brewers might as well see who they can get for him. With there apparently being more pitching than offense out on the farm, the Crew may want to look to get offense in return for Greinks, and maybe even receive a pitching prospect in return. They might not get back in return what they gave up for Greinke, but it could be damn close. Greinke should be pitching in Kansas City this July in the All-Star Game. And who knows...maybe if he becomes a free agent after he's traded, he'll come back to Milwaukee.

Shaun Marcum (5-3, 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

I might have to find my third "boy" of the year if Marcum is dealt before the trade deadline, which is very possible. Trade talks have circulated Marcum's name, which isn't surprising considering the Brewers haven't made much of an effort to re-sign him to a long-term deal. Marcum has been steady all season long, but recent elbow soreness could hurt his value a bit. Assuming it's nothing serious and Marcum is able to come back and continue to perform well, the Brewers should still be able to get something good in exchange for him. Just not as good as Brett Lawrie, who is a flat-out punk. I'll be sad to see Marcum go and for the record, I don't think it was a bad idea to trade for him in the first place. For Greinke and Marcum, some potential suitors in need of starting rotation help could be the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, and Atlanta Braves. The Blue Jays have been killed by injuries in their starting rotation, so what do you say, Toronto? How about a re-do on that Marcum/Lawrie trade? No? Alright, fine...

Francisco Rodriguez (15 HLDS, 3.82 ERA)

The man formerly known as K-Rod has certainly had his ups and downs this season, but he's been on the upswing as of late and this increases his trade value. Rodriguez, along with Greinke and Marcum, is due to be a free agent at the end of the season, and contending teams who are in need of late relief help have Frankie on their radars. A potential suitor could ironically be the New York Mets, whose closer just went on the DL and has a near-5.00 ERA. Other contending teams who have poor bullpens include the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Detroit Tigers. Plenty of suitors for the Crew.

George Kottaras (3 HR, 10 RBI, .439 OBP) OR Martin Maldonado (5 HR, 16 RBI, .329 OBP)

Once Jonathan Lucroy returns after the All-Star break from his broken hand, the Brewers will have three big league caliber catchers and only two spots available. Lucroy gets one of them, so Milwaukee may look to deal either Kottaras or Maldonado. Maldonado has been a pleasant surprise and was a recent addition to my fantasy team, so I would personally love to see him get a full-time gig elsewhere should the Brewers choose to ship him off. On the other hand, Kottaras has one of the best eyes on the team and is Randy Wolf's personal catcher. We don't want to see big bad Randy Wolf get upset when his personal catcher gets traded, so it makes total sense to deal Maldonado. Kidding. And don't look into the whole thing about having two right handed catchers if we choose to keep up/don't trade Maldonado. Doesn't matter. Teams that need catching? Who the hell knows. The Brewers may not get much in return for a catcher, but something is better than nothing with a surplus at the position.

I'd be surprised to see any other names involved in trade talks. I know Rickie Weeks has struggled like crazy this season, but he's not someone I see the Brewers giving up on yet, especially with him being signed through 2015. Other guys signed on long-term are Ryan Braun, Lucroy, and Yovani Gallardo, and I don't see the Brewers dealing any of those guys, either. Corey Hart has also been a mainstay in Milwaukee and is signed through 2013. Making little deals with meaningless players doesn't make any sense to me for the Brewers to do. The players they should trade seem quite clear to me. Now it's time for a new segment I'd like to call " My Latest Little Thoughts about the Milwaukee Brewers."

- Marco Estrada should be in the bullpen. He wears out at the end of every start.
- Keep Mike Fiers up. He's fun to watch and has earned his keep with the big league squad.
- I'm so sick of specific bullpen roles. Just put the guy out there who gives you the best chance to win on any given night.
- Nori Aoki is really fun to watch and was a great signing by the Brewers.
- Alex Gonzalez is the only major injury that has really hurt the Brewers. Corey Hart has been a great find at first base (Gamel) and with the surplus of outfielders the Brewers have, moving Hart to the infield doesn't hurt. The combination of Maldonado and Kottaras has kept the catching position as a strength for the Crew (Lucroy). Mike Fiers has the best ERA among Brewer starters after four starts and has been solid (Narveson). It's come down to offensive execution...or lack there clutch situations and a pathetic bullpen. I guess that's just baseball.

I may take a break from baseball to talk about the NBA Draft on Thursday. Or I may not. We'll see. Even though the Brewers will likely become "sellers" as we near the All-Star break and trade deadline, there is always a reason to watch baseball. New guys come in...prospects arrive...hope for the future...Ryan Braun for MVP. So yeah. Keep watching the Brewers, but maybe with a different mindset. Look for the positives, and if more tough losses like Tuesday night roll around, just accept them and move on. Just chalk it up to "one of those years."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ask and you shall receive. Kind of.

I'm five days removed from my infamous rant about the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. They are 3-1 during that time and a poor seventh inning from Zack Greinke away from being undefeated. I'm nervous to come back to the blog for fear of somehow tilting the universe back to the way it was last Thursday, but I woke up to some exciting news today. Rumors had spread - since the news came Monday that Shaun Marcum would miss his start tonight - that perhaps Tyler Thornburg would be called up to start in his place. If you read my last blog post, you know how high I am on Thornburg, along with several other Brewer fans with any knowledge of the Brewers' farm system. Of course, I suggested the possibility of Thornburg coming up to fill in as closer for a little while or to even get a crack at the number five spot in the starting rotation. Well...this morning, Thornburg's high school team tweeted that Thornburg, 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA with AA Huntsville this season, would be getting the call Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Milwaukee Brewers hadn't officially announced the move yet, but I figured it couldn't be long. For one, how long can you keep this decision from the opposing team? Lineups have to be released by within a few hours before game time. Sure, they could wait until then, but what about your fans? The announcement of Tyler Thornburg's arrival to Milwaukee would certainly help fill more seats at Miller Park this evening, which is never a bad thing for your organization. I would be one of those seat-fillers (and I'm still not ruling myself out), but a few things hold me back: lack of a motor vehicle, finding a person willing to drive my ass down to Milwaukee from Oshkosh, purchasing tickets for the 7:10 start time, and a nagging cough that has me miserably laying in bed. For now, I'll assume I'm not making it down...which is sad...but you can bet your life I'll be watching every pitch thrown by Thornburg tonight. Oh, that's right. I forgot to announce whether or not he's officially starting tonight. Well, he is. Around 1 P.M., the Brewers' twitter handle posted the news that many felt was inevitable: that Tyler Thornburg would be starting in place of my boy Shaun Marcum (I told you I'd be a big jinx - he has elbow tightness) against the Jays on Tuesday. (For those of you curious as to who the Brewers sent down to make room for Thornburg on the 25-man and 40-man rosters, Brooks Conrad was designated for assignment. His .075 batting average will be sorely missed by Brewer fans and the organization for years to come)

And who knows? Maybe this Marcum elbow tightness - which is deemed to be not-serious - will turn into a disabled list stint. I'll be the first one to tell you I hope that isn't the case, but it's a possibility. Also, would it really be the worst thing in the world? We saw what happened to Marcum at the end of the 2011 season. He burned out. Of course, this didn't stop the stubborn Ron Roenicke from marching him out three times in the postseason, but let's say he misses a few starts here in late June. Doesn't this mean he'll be a little more fresh at the end of the season? Sure, the Brewers will likely be out of playoff contention by this time, but who knows. Even if Marcum only misses this one start, the fifth spot in the rotation could remain up for grabs. Marco Estrada has been rehabbing in the minor leagues and is due back by the weekend, and he has been the Brewers' number five starter since Chris Narveson went down for the season, and Estrada has since been replaced by Mike Fiers. Nothing against Fiers, who has performed admirably since being called up from Nashville, but he would be the likely option to go back down with Estrada returning.

Now it's time to play everyone's favorite game known as speculation. Let's assume Fiers is sent down for Estrada. Let's also assume Marcum returns for his next start. Do the Brewers then send down Thornburg after his spot start for Marcum? Highly likely, especially if he shits the bed. What also hurts Thornburg's chances is that he is being called up in place of a position player, meaning the Brewers' bench would be short. However, on his way back is Cezar Izturus, who could replace Edwin Maysonet, who really has no business being on the Major League club, but he could also replace a relief pitcher such as Tim Dillard or Juan Perez. But back to Thornburg...could he stay on as the Brewers' number five? I've already accepted the fact this probably won't happen, but in my last blog post, I mentioned that I'd like to see Estrada return to the bullpen as that safety valve should a Brewer starter bow out of the game early, which hasn't happened in quite awhile (knock on wood). I know that's supposedly what Manny Parra is there for, but then the Brewers lose their only (legitimate...see Perez) lefty in the pen because of mop up duty. Estrada taking back over his long relief duty and Thornburg fulfilling the number five slot would happen in a perfect world. But look around you, folks...this world is far from perfect. I know I don't have to look far. I'm still unemployed.

All that's left for the Brewers to do now is bring up Scooter Gennett and Mark Rogers. I thought Thornburg seeing some big league time before September was highly unlikely five days ago, so who knows with Gennett and Rogers? In all reality, they won't be up until September, but better late than never is what I always say. I'm proud to say that I've cooled down since Thursday night when I lost just about every single one of my marbles, but I don't think that blog post should be completely thrown down the drain. I semi-called out Ryan Braun, who had been particularly unclutch over the past few weeks. Look how that one turned out...he hit three home runs in two days, immediately launching himself into MVP talks. And deservedly so. I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but on Saturday, Braun was the only National Leaguer to be in the top six in on-base percentage, home runs, and runs batted in. He was also the only player in all of baseball to be in the top ten in those three categories. Sounds like MVP criteria to me.

Not only has Braun returned to "form," but Axford has also avoided blowing a save, although the bullpen still continues to torment Brewer fans. But what I'm most excited about is my proclamation about Thornburg coming to Milwaukee, and now here he is. He was scheduled to pitch in the AA All-Star Game tonight, but something tells me he'll gladly accept this opportunity as an alternative. Sit back and enjoy his major league debut tonight with the Brewers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

No title needed

DISCLAIMER: Some of the following content you are about to read will contain some vulgar, irrational thoughts about the Milwaukee Brewers. It will also contain some rational, non-vulgar thoughts. At the moment, they all seem pretty rational. They probably won’t when I wake up in the morning. As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday night, I felt as though the Milwaukee Brewers had once again hit rock bottom. I was going to write a blog post, got distracted, and decided that I would push back the post another day to see if perhaps this was just a little funk the Brewers were in and give them a chance to bounce back. I’ve decided that a team cannot have multiple “rock bottom” moments if it thinks it has a chance of reaching the playoffs and/or making any sort of noise. If you’re keeping track at home, the Brewers have had more than one moment this season where they have nowhere to go but up (2, and it’s June 14). Having learned this nauseating information, let’s get down to business.

Let me refresh your memory in case you suffered from some sort of short-term memory loss. Tuesday night, the team I now like to refer to as the Milwaukee Screw-around-ers (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) resumed interleague play against the Kansas City Royals, one of the perennial bottom-feeders in the American League. But you know what interleague play means, right? It means the Brewers get to face pitchers they probably haven’t ever faced before, and we all know how well the Brewers do against pitchers they haven’t faced before! That’s right! F***ing terrible! So on Tuesday, I looked at the lineup card and saw the Screw-around-ers would be facing off against the great…hold on, I forgot his name, let me look this up…Luis Mendoza (2-3, 5.36 ERA entering Tuesday). Apparently, the hitting coach (whoever the hell he is) and the Milwaukee offense had as much tape as I did of this guy and his tendencies on the mound, because as expected, they didn’t do jack-shit at the plate. But no need to worry. Zack Greinke rose to the occasion in his return to his former home, a place where he admittedly pushed the front office to trade him (sounds like a real team player). After the first inning, Greinke was damn-near flawless and only allowed one run in seven total innings pitched.

Enter the garbage bullpen of the Milwaukee Brewers. Frankie Rodriguez (he no longer deserves to be called K-Rod) allowed four base runners and a run in the eighth, and the ‘pen managed to allow just as much as the starting pitching did in one God-forsaken inning. But it was only two runs in eight innings, so ALL the offense needed to do was have three people – heck, some could even do it twice if they wanted – circle the four bases in the infield and cross a house-shaped plate to accumulate at least three runs. I know I’m asking for a lot here, but bear with me, guys. Turns out the Brewers did in fact fail to score three runs. Heck, they even failed to score two runs. And if this makes you feel better, the Brewer offense finally got to the second coming of Sandy Koufax and put two base runners on in the top of the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Taylor Green, who is no longer “my boy” (you’ll find out later who it is – I apologize to them in advance) flew out to left. Not deep left. Just left. One out. But hey, Ryan Braun’s got some wheels. Might as well send him! Two outs. Aramis Ramirez (no longer known as A-Ram) at least advanced to second. Now of all the nonsense that took place in the inning, this might just be the most nonsensical: Rickie-4 (think about it…) Weeks drove in Ramirez with a single up the middle to tie the game at one. Do not adjust your computer screens. That actually happened.

I know I’ve harped on Mr. Braun’s ability to step up in the clutch time and time again, but the very next inning was not one of the those times. With two runners in scoring position and two outs, Braun went down on strikes. My roommate has recently pointed out to me that Braun enjoys swinging at the first pitch when he comes up to the plate with a lot on the line. Low and behold, he took a hack at the first pitch, which by the way, was a blazer right down the pipe. It’s like pitchers know that Braun is coming up to the plate with first-pitch swinging on his mind and they just taunt him with a belt-high fastball anyway. I don’t like hating on Braun, but as of late, the Brewers pathetic excuse for an offense has NEEDED him to step up in these situations, and he’s simply not coming through. His numbers are still All-Star caliber (and ironically, he’ll be playing in the same stadium he just played in for the All-Star Game), but I hold him to a higher standard. It’s kind of like looking at LeBron James’ incredible stats he puts up, and then watching him in the last two minutes of a basketball game. I NEED more from him. It’s what makes Braun so fun to watch. You can scratch him off the reasons to watch the Screw-around-ers if his un-cluctchness continues. Oh, and if you’re not ticked off enough by the Brewers’ play as of late, here’s a nice video for you to watch. Weird how nowhere in that clip they discuss how his numbers haven’t changed one iota. I hate Skip Bayless with every fiber of my being.

So Milwaukee would go down in game one 2-1, but at least it didn’t hold a lead at any point of the game, so it wasn’t technically a game the Brewers should have come away with (in case you didn’t catch on, I’m using Brewers and Screw-around-ers interchangeably). That is, if you say the Brewers shouldn’t have ever held a lead, which they should have. But we’ll just cut our losses and say this was a tough road game against a quality team that really pulls it together in their home ballpark (7-20 coming into Tuesday) and move on to game two of the series. On the mound: Randy Wolf. Uh-oh. Well, never mind, because Randall came through big time against a team that can really swing the bats. Wolf, just like his predecessor, went seven innings and only allowed one run on Wednesday night. Unlike Greinks, he left the game with a lead and a chance to earn a victory. It was 2-1, and the Brewer offense decided it would get a little greedy and snatch another run to take a resounding two-run lead into the ninth inning. Kudos to Rodriguez for getting through the eighth unscathed and lowering that ERA to a solid 4.34.

Unfortunately, I have to spend another paragraph on this game. This is where I pretend I’m sarcastically and obnoxiously talking to someone in retrospect as the game goes on. [Why do I have to spend another paragraph on this game, you ask? Well, it’s because the final score of this one would not be 3-1. You sound kind of surprised…duh, of course John Axford entered in to the game in the bottom of the ninth. He’s Milwaukee’s closer! I know his ERA just ballooned over a run after his struggles against San Diego, but c’mon, he’s Ron Roenicke’s guy! You can’t just go away from someone who’s in a funk. You have to keep going to him. Just like a goalie in hockey who has given up four goals in the first period. You keep him in the game and give him a chance to…wait, what’s that? The goalie usually gets pulled in that situation? Okay, bad analogy. But still. You stick with him. So the Royals tie up the game at three, but again, let’s cut our losses. He didn’t TOTALLY blow the game. And Manny Parra just came in and pitched a perfect 10th inning. Heck, it only took him nine pitches so he can come back out in the 11th. Oh. That’s Kameron Loe running out of the ‘pen. Roenicke must like the matchups better with Loe on the mound here. It’s all good, I trust him. Oh poop. Bases juiced. Let’s bring in Jose Veras. He looked pretty good on Sunday when he came in for Axford and saved the game. Okay…someone needs to tell Jose that this is the Major Leagues. You can’t just go walking people with the bases loaded. That’s how people get hurt. Damn. That one stings. I’m thinking this is the second time the Brewers have hit rock bottom this season. Should probably write a blog post about it.]

I won’t take you through the mental dilemma I had about when I should write this blog post again, so let’s just move on to game three of the Royals’ series and see if the Brewers can save part-of-face with a victory. On the mound? My boy, Shaun Marcum. There’s really no reason for him not to be my boy. Marcum lives on the corners, can’t throw hard, has a scraggly beard, has gotten screwed over by his offense and bullpen on multiple occasions, and burns out at the end of the baseball season. I can attest to at least three of those traits being attained by yours truly. Marcum has arguably been the Screw-around-ers most reliable starting pitcher, which means he has arguably been the Brewers most reliable pitcher period. What’s even better is that the Brewers were going up against a starting pitcher with a 3-7 record to go along with a 6.57 ERA. His name is Luke Hochevar. Yes, I know you didn’t know who this was until the previous sentence. My guess is that the Brewers still don’t really know who he is, but they still managed to squeeze three runs out of him in six innings to help lower Mr. Hochevar’s ERA by 30 points. Was pretty nice of them, really. Marcum was pretty studly, going 7.2 innings on only 99 pitches while giving up two earned runs. Huh. That’s strange. Pulled mid-inning with just one runner on base and he’s not even to 100 pitches? Allow me to revert back to Greinke’s start for a moment. Greinke threw 105 pitches in seven complete innings and was ROLLING. ABSOLUTELY. F***ING. ON A ROLL. He must have been butter, I kid you not. I’m not sure if I’ve ever ranted about how much I hate pitch counts, but here goes. I really hate them. Why? Consider this. What if a pitcher gave up one hit in the first inning and then all of a sudden couldn’t be touched. BUT, let’s say his pitch count runs up to…oh, say 115 after seven innings. He’s done. Now let’s say that he doesn’t give up that hit. He has a no-hitter through seven. 115 pitches. He’s not done, is he? Nope. I’m not saying Zack Greinke was untouchable on Tuesday, or that Marcum was untouchable Thursday night, but both guys were around 100 pitches, wheeling and dealing, and they were pulled. Annoying. When I pitched in high school, pitch count was literally a non-factor. This could explain my rubber right arm, but if I was doing well, it was the right move for the team to keep me in the ball game. Why risk winning a game by going to Frankie Rodriguez and John Axford (no longer the Ax Factor/Ax Man), two guys who have plus-4 ERAs, and pulling a starting pitcher who is in control? Because “he’s your guy?” It makes me sick. Listen. I like Roenicke…I really do…but I’m not sure if I like him as a manager. He doesn’t get thrown out of games protecting “his guys.” If Marcum and Greinke are “your guys” too, then how come you don’t give them a chance to finish what they started? I know Marcum burned out last season, but you can’t worry about that right now. You have to worry…about NOW now. And if Marcum is struggling at the end of the year and the Brewers by some miracle make the postseason, don’t pitch him. Man. Hindsight really is 20/20.

I read an article today passed along by a friend about why we have entered the so-called Age of the Pitcher. One of the reasons…and I’ll admit that I agree with it…is because coaches are saving kids’ arms. They are monitoring pitch counts. It’s keeping them from burning out, kind of like how I did. Now do I believe that my pitching career came to a halt because my pitch count didn’t stop me from staying in some games for too long? No. I believe that my pitching career ended because of a shit-ass coach and because I wasn’t taught how to take care of my arm. I did well up until my junior year of high school because I was in the right situation and as a result of doing well, my coaches used me. And that’s fine by me. Did I throw a lot? Yeah, but who cares. I didn’t do what it took to take care of my arm, and had I known how to do so, I’m confident I could maybe even be pitching to this day…well, maybe not. Sorry for that pity party. Let’s get back to the Brewers, which is arguably more depressing. The point I was poorly attempting to make is that Marcum and Greinke should not have been pulled until they ran into trouble. That’s what relievers are for: to put out the fire. There was no fire. And in the case of the Milwaukee bullpen, they start their own fires and then throw gasoline on them. I know these are close games we’re talking about, but I don’t give a rat’s ass. Rodriguez spelled Marcum on Thursday night and struck out the only batter he faced with a man on and two outs. It may be a small sample size, but cool, he’s looking good. Maybe we’ll see him in the ninth. Nope. John Axford. Did he blow the save? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “schmess.” Did he also allow the Royals to take the lead, therefore giving Kansas City back-to-back walk-offs and a sweep of the Brewers? Same hint. Can’t say Rickie-4 helped too much along the way, either. To be honest, I didn’t even watch the bottom of the ninth. Whether that makes me less of a fan is up for debate, but I value my health more than anything.

I see not a lot has changed since I’ve been gone from good ole Balls, Brats and Beer. The starting pitching is good (actually, it’s been great). The defense has been surprisingly good (spectacular at times). But this team continues to be haunted by its bullpen and its offense. Seven total runs in a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals, who are now only a game worse than the Brewers (that should give you an idea of where this season is headed), is not going to cut it. Not even close. Not even with the insane performance of the starting five, most notably Greinke, Marcum, Wolf and Yovani Gallardo. I’m done crying about not having Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup. I’m done crying about injuries. But I’m not done crying about how in the good Lord’s name the Brewers can make up for these losses, because they fricken can. The performances this season we’ve gotten as Brewer fans from Rodriguez and Axford are so unacceptable it makes me sick to my stomach. I would have gotten this blog post up sooner, but I l was too busy vomiting all over my bathroom floor. You can’t even go to the excuse that our bullpen is doing so poorly because it no longer has LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito. ALMOST EVERY TIME OUT, THE STARTING PITCHING IS GOING SEVEN INNINGS AND KEEPING THE TEAM IN THE GAME. That’s not even an exaggeration. Remember last season? After seven innings, it was over. Over. I’m not sure what exactly is nudging Frankie and John away from performing even close to the level they are capable of, but until they figure out just exactly what it is, here’s a crazy idea that I’m sure Ron Roenicke won’t appreciate: put someone else in the damn game. Or, keep the starting pitcher in. I know that 100 pitch-count is pretty intimidating, but I know you can break down that mental barrier, Ron. I believe in you! And even if you can’t, there are a few guys that have been getting the job done in the bullpen, and I think they’re getting a little tired of waiting for their opportunity. Oh boy…never mind, I think Roenicke has a beat on that one. Kameron Loe (3.00 ERA) is currently the Brewers best reliever and Manny Parra is runner-up (4.15 ERA).

How do we fix this problem? I wish I was a big league manager sometimes. If we REALLY have to turn to our bullpen every time we get through seven innings, here’s what I do. I make some roster moves and I let Axford and Rodriguez pitch in non-stressful situations to help them find their stuff, hoping those non-stressful situations don’t lead to stressful situations. What roster moves, you ask? Tyler Thornburg and Mark Rogers for Juan Perez and Tim Dillard. Yes, I’m getting a little drastic, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Milwaukee Brewers are 28-35, are getting whipped during perhaps the easiest part of a schedule in the history of Major League Baseball, and yet somehow sit within striking distance of a playoff spot with about 100 games to go. Let’s begin with Tyler Thornburg (23), who is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA down at Double-A Huntsville. Actually, I think that justifies my decision. He can replace Perez, whose current role on the big league club escapes the capacity of my brain. Moving on to Mark Rogers (26), who has had his share of injury problems and has a 5.87 ERA. Allow me to explain my train of thought…in case you haven’t noticed, Perez and Dillard typically come in for mop-up duty. Their spots on the Brewer roster are expendable. Why can’t the team bring up young talents like Thornburg and Rogers? You can’t tell me these guys don’t have the stuff for the big leagues. And what’s even better is that they don’t know any better. They have something to prove. Throw them in any situation, and they are going to go full-out 100 percent, consequences be damned. Would I like to see Thornburg get a chance to start this season as a Brewer? Abso-freakin-lutely. But you know what I’d like to see more right now? Him to get a chance to close out a ball game. His stuff is electric. He throws hard. And you know what? If you don’t want to put a guy that fresh and young into a pressure-cooked ninth inning, then that’s what Mark Rogers is for. He started a few games for the Brewers in 2010. He’s had his cup of coffee. Let Thornburg pitch the eighth and Rogers pitch the ninth. Will this ever happen? No. But a kid can dream, and you can’t tell me you wouldn’t be excited to see this proposition be put into action. If Axford and Rodriguez suddenly figure it out, then let Thornburg and Rogers have a crack at the five spot in the rotation, because I like Estrada out of the bullpen. And if push comes to shove, send them back down so they can develop a little longer. I’m just saying…28-35. 7.5 games back. Why the eff not.

Now for the offense. This one is a little tougher, believe it or not. I’m not going to be as drastic as my thoughts referring to the bullpen because to be frank, there isn’t anyone in the minor leagues that is going to help this team’s offense. MAYBE Logan Schaefer. Shit, maybe even Scooter Gennett. But that’s all I’ve got for you and you’re probably sick of hearing names you’ve never heard of anyway. Here’s what the Brewers lineup should look like every day except for the occasional days off.

RF – Norichika Aoki (.365 OBP, speed at the top of the lineup)
C – George Kottaras (.439 OBP (yes, you read that correctly), NEED PEOPLE ON BEFORE BRAUN. And Lucroy can fill this slot as well when he returns)
LF – Ryan Braun (‘nuff said)
3B – Aramis Ramirez (he drives in runs, simple as that)
1B – Corey Hart (power in the middle of the lineup)
SS – Cody Ransom (steady with the glove, .333 OBP)
2B – Scooter Gennett (Damnit…I talked myself into it. In three minor league seasons, never has he hit under .300. Also, Rickie Weeks currently plays this position. Also, Gennett is younger than me. I suck)
CF – Carlos Gomez (speed at the bottom of the lineup, great glove, team’s third best current AVG at .262…sad, I know)
[Pitcher’s spot]

2B Weeks, OF Morgan, C Maldonado (will be Kottaras), IF Maysonet (will be Izturus), IF Green (will be Ishikawa)

SP – Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo, Wolf, Estrada
Long reliever – Parra
Middle relief – Veras, Loe
Setup man – Rogers (maybe starter/closer)
Closer – Thornburg (maybe starter/setup man)
Job in review – Rodriguez, Axford

In all honesty, that lineup doesn’t and shouldn’t look all that bad. Pop in the middle. Guys who can get on base at the top. Scrappiness at the bottom. Actually, I think the main reason it looks so much better is because Weeks is out of it. Either way, I believe the offense can get back on track. It tends to show signs of being there every now and then, and once it can stop facing American League teams, I think the signs will be here to stay. That might be the first optimistic thing I’ve said about the Brewers in this post. Sounds like a good time to stop talking about them.

As you’re probably aware, there are a few teams being followed a little more closely than the Brewers right now in a league known as the NBA. We’re through the first two games of the NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. My reason for even bringing this series up since they don’t appear to be Wisconsin related? Dwayne Wade and Lazar Hayward are in it, and they both played for Marquette. Anyway, I won’t waste too much more of your time with NBA talk, but this should be and has already proven to be an entertaining series. I believe the Thunder will win the series even though they just lost home court advantage, although a small part of me – and I can’t help it – is rooting for LeBron to win a title. I know I mentioned him earlier in the post and talked about his inability to come through in the clutch, but he has been a man possessed this postseason. You can tell he REALLY wants to win it all. He’s changed his image as a result. I can’t help but respect the way he has changed his demeanor and think he is someone who has deserved to win a title by this point in his career. I love Kevin Durant (and hate Russell Westbrook), but he is much younger than LeBron and his time will come. If the Thunder manage to win it all this season and they find a way to keep all this talent in one place for years to come, how does anybody stop them? They’ll only get better and could very well dominate the league, including LeBron’s heat, for the next five years or so. LeBron needs to take advantage of what could be a small window to win a title. I don’t think he’ll do it, but I’d like to see him do it. Sorry. I know that’s not what many of you want to hear.

And finally, because I want this post to reach 4,000 words (I felt like writing 6,000 earlier but I’m growing weary), I’ll close things out by touching on EURO 2012. That’s right…soccer! This sport has grown on me over the past five or so years, and FIFA 12 is one of my favorite games to pop in the Xbox, so I’d like to speak of this on-going tournament. Being someone who took eight semesters of Spanish back when I attended that school thing, I feel obligated to root on the Spaniards. Lucky for me, they won EURO 2008 and the World Cup, so they were naturally one of the favorites heading into EURO 2012. Group play is nearly over and they will likely be moving on to the quarterfinals. I have them reaching the final, but I decided to go with Germany winning it all, mainly because it’s unheard of for a team to win three major tournaments like that in a row. The Germans have a good striker and solid play all around, so I think they have what it takes to knock off Spain in the final. Again, this isn’t very Wisconsin related, but it’s a prevalent sporting event and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Stay strong, Brewer fans. Always a critic, but always a fan. Go Crew.