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.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The injury bug is a biter

The Milwaukee Brewers are 24-30. It's June 4, two months into the baseball season. Check out the beauty of a starting lineup the Crew threw out against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon:

LF - Norichika Aoki
CF - Nyjer Morgan
RF - Corey Hart
3B - Taylor Green
2B - Rickie Weeks
SS - Cody Ransom
1B - Brooks Conrad
C - Martin Maldonado
P - Michael Fiers

BOLD = Not on roster at beginning of the season
ITALIC = Not in opening day starting lineup

If my math is correct (and as a failed math major, it might not be), that lineup sports FIVE players that weren't on the opening day roster for the Milwaukee Brewers. On top of that, only TWO of the eight position players in yesterday's starting lineup were in the opening day starting lineup. Holy cow. I know injuries have been bad all over the league this season (something that would make a pretty good feature story, by the way), but has anybody been hit as hard as the Milwaukee Brewers? Two months into the season, and we already know Chris Narveson, Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez, all regulars for the Crew, are done for the year. Not to mention...and this is a long list...players such as Marco Estrada, Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy (ugh), George Kottaras, and Carlos Gomez are either currently missing time with injury or have missed games due to injury. Say what? Sunday's lineup is a pretty clear representation of how the Brewers' season has been going, but this season has been fun and makes me want to watch the Brewers even more than usual. Here's why:

Ryan Braun

Yesterday, the Brewers were down 5-4 in the bottom of the eight inning and Milwaukee managed to get two men on base with two men down. A camera shot then showed Ryan Braun getting ready to come out of the dugout and pinch-hit for Cody Ransom, and the crowd went nuts. Sitting at home, I couldn't help but get that assuring feeling that Braun was going to come through, just like he had time-and-time again. Unfortunately, this would not be one of those times, but you can count on your fingers how many players in pro baseball bring that kind of excitement to their fans. Braun is a little banged up right now, but he could very well be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday, and that's something this team and this city desperately needs because of the special moments he creates. Even if the Brewers season continues down this path and they don't return to the playoffs, at least we've got Ryan Braun.

Players trying to make their mark

With the flush of injuries the Brewers have suffered through this season, new players naturally have to be brought in as replacements. In Milwaukee's case, some of these guys have come from the minor leagues, like Fiers, Maldonado, Conroy and Green. These guys have been getting plenty of time to make their mark because of the injuries to everyday players. Fiers had an incredible debut start, Green's versatility has helped, and even Edwin Maysonet got in on the action with the team's only grand slam of the season. Few of them deserve to actually be on a major league roster, so the extra fire and scrapiness (made up word?) they present makes the Brewers fun to watch, even if they don't necessarily translate to victories.

There's still hope, and lot's of it

I'm not sure if there's anyone on the planet who checks the MLB standings has much as me before the month of July, but I like to use the standings to gauge my level of cautious optimism. While the Brewers are only 24-30, they are starting to put things together on offense, and the pitching hasn't been half-bad either. Last week, the Crew swept the best team in the National League ON THE ROAD. Oh, and they are only 6.5 games out of first place. Their next six games are against the worst two teams in the NL and the Brewers will be playing within the confines of Miller Park. Braun and Ramirez are expected back within the next couple games, which will bring some stability to the lineup. And to top it all off, I'll be attending the game on Friday, and good things tend to happen when I enter The Keg. Just check out what occurred the last time I was there (ahhh...goosebumps).

First of all, let me say that it doesn't feel right that I haven't been to Miller Park and it's already June 4. Clearly, I have some catching up to do. Second of all, I think I bring up three strong points as to why people shouldn't stop watching the Brewers and filling up the seats, myself included. This is a team that came two games away from playing in the World Series last season. The city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin has rallied around this team and their confident swagger that boarders on arrogance. Sure, losing Prince Fielder was one of the bigger blows this franchise has perhaps ever seen, and along with that the Brewers lost not only a great talent, but a great presence in the clubhouse. But there are still a number of characters on this team that I consider "igniters," such as Ryan Braun because of his cockiness and great ability, Carlos Gomez because of his 110 percent all-the-time effort, Nyjer Morgan because of...Nyjer Morgan. Even a relief pitcher like K-Rod who acts like he won the World Series every time he throws a scoreless eighth. This team is FUN to watch, even as it attempts to tread water as it battles injury and tries to find its identity at the plate.

The injuries have been flat out ridiculous, from Gonzalez destroying his knee sliding into second to Lucroy breaking his hand via suitcase. There's no denying that. Two every day starters are out for the season, and who's to tell there won't be any more (fingers crossed). But this team is scrappy. It has swagger. It has Ryan Braun. It has a strong starting rotation save for Randy Wolf, who apparently still deserves his own catcher. I'm excited to finally get back to Miller Park this week and root on my Milwaukee Brewers, because there are plenty of reasons to do so.