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.

No comments:

Post a Comment