Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for July 2012

Milwaukee Brewers Fire Bullpen Coach Stan Kyles

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Folks, the bad news keeps on coming for the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff; today, due to a series of several horrible games for many members of the bullpen (including John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez), the Brewers fired bullpen coach Stan Kyles.

I do not approve of this, even though I understand that someone was going to have to take the blame for how poorly the bullpen, as a whole, has done this season.  The Brewers bullpen’s record is 15-26 with a 4.80 ERA, which is the worst in the major leagues.  The Brewers have also blown the most saves in the major leagues — 20 — with 13 of them being blown by closers Rodriguez and Axford alone.  But it’s ridiculous that Kyles, who doesn’t work on mechanics with these pitchers (pitching coach Rick Kranitz does that), and also doesn’t choose which pitcher to bring in (Kranitz and manager Ron Roenicke do that) was thrown to the wolves, mid-season, in a similar manner to how long-time bullpen coach/short-time pitching coach Bill Castro was fired mid-season in 2009.

Look.  There’s another thing in play here that most commentators are completely overlooking.  The fact that Jeff Adcock, who worked as a Brewers groundskeeper for many years and was one of the major bullpen “helpers” — a guy everyone in the bullpen knew, and knew well — died at Miller Park earlier this year certainly has a great deal to do with why the bullpen is underperforming.  This poor man died in front of some of the relievers, and as far as I know, nothing has been done to help any of these men deal with their loss.

Now, maybe the Brewers organization has sent these men to sports psychologists, grief counselors, or have done what they feel needed to be done and it’s still not helped.  But if the Brewers organization hasn’t done this, it should be done now, as it’s possible that if these guys are able to discuss their grief and sadness over this poor man dying without them being able to do anything to affect the outcome that it will help the Brewers on-the-field performance.

My belief is that there’s something that’s gone wrong inside these men’s heads, and that it has nothing to do with their actual ability.  The fact that Axford pitched several innings of sparkling relief when he wasn’t a closer, only to screw up once inserted back into the closing role, makes me think that there’s something else wrong there — and not with his pitching arm.  The fact that K-Rod was good as a set-up man before he was put back into the closer’s role, too, adds credence to my belief.  And finally, as if I needed any further reason for believing the way I do, the strangely inconsistent performance of Kameron Loe (who, if I remember right, was one of those relievers who knew Adcock the best, and may have been in the bullpen when Adcock had his fatal heart attack) since Adcock died makes me believe that he, in particular, needs to discuss his feelings with a priest, counselor, or sports psychologist.  (Or maybe all three.)

What I’m doing my best to remember is that every single one of the Brewers is a human being first, baseball player second.   They’ve all worked very hard to get to the major leagues.  None of them want to screw up, much less screw up royally; all of them want to do well every day, even though they know that’s impossible, and it seems to me that not one of them has any idea why the bullpen has melted down.

Anyway, the Brewers have now made their desperation move by firing their bullpen coach.  But they’d do much better if they got Axford, Rodriguez, Loe, and the other long-term members of the bullpen to psychologists, counselors, or maybe even priests — because I’m convinced that much of what’s gone wrong has little to do with their arms, and everything to do with their heads.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Just Reviewed Linnea Sinclair’s “An Accidental Goddess” at SBR

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Folks, after this past week — especially after hearing about the death of my late husband’s good friend, military science fiction writer Ric Locke — I needed to read a fun, fast, and romantic book that could hold my interest.

Luckily for me, I had a book like that in reserve; it’s Linnea Sinclair’s excellent military science fiction/romance with paranormal elements, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS, which is why I’ve reviewed it at Shiny Book Review this evening.  I’ve called it one of my favorite “comfort books” in the past, as it’s a book I’ve read over and over again because of how enjoyable it is, how quickly the plot moves along despite how many plot elements Sinclair deftly juggles during the course of the book, and because this is a military SF plot with essential paranormal elements.

Now, this last point is the one you need to keep in mind, especially if you’ve read any of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s books (particularly any of their stories in their trademarked Liaden Universe), or if you’ve read any of the military SF/romance of Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald.  Both of those pairs of authors write convincing military SF with paranormal elements; aside from those two pairs, and Linnea Sinclair herself, there just isn’t that much of this type of book on the market.

And I find that puzzling, because the fact is that the more interest you have in a book, the better.  And if someone — or in the case of Lee/Miller and Doyle/MacDonald, a pair of writers — can write a novel that has convincing science fiction and convincing fantasy elements at the same time, readers tend to jump all over it and remember these books.  (And recommend them to their friends, too, for that matter.)

At any rate, if you haven’t picked up AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS yet and you love romantic SF or especially love romantic SF with paranormal elements, you owe it to yourself to get yourself a copy of this book.  Then, block out two or three hours, and dig in.  I promise you, this is a book you’ll enjoy — and remember — for years to come.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Writer Ric Locke Has Died

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Folks, this news stuns me.  But here goes: writer Ric Locke, who was a very good friend of my husband Michael, has died. 

Now, why should you care about this?  Simple.  Ric Locke was a very, very good writer — and he also was an extremely close friend of my late husband Michael.  Ric’s self-published novel, TEMPORARY DUTY, is a particularly good novel of military science fiction and adventure, and was one of the last novels that Michael edited.

Now as to the particulars of Ric Locke’s passing: he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer around Father’s Day, but had been given up to a year to live.  However, Ric had apparently been having money problems; he couldn’t get the needed medical equipment to help him (oxygen tanks and the means to carry them around).  Worse yet, the Social Security Administration was after him because supposedly Locke had “earned too much money” from TEMPORARY DUTY to qualify for help (this last according to writer Tom Kratman).

Ric’s last blog post, made only a few, short days ago, said that he wasn’t doing well, and that the sequel to TEMPORARY DUTY was unlikely to be able to be completed.  Because of this, he apologized to those who’d donated in efforts to help him complete his second novel, and he asked for forgiveness.  (Which of course he didn’t need to do, but that was Ric; he was conscientious to a fault.)

Ric was a very good man, someone who’d do anything he could to help if he was able . . . he was an excellent writer, a gifted conversationalist, and someone whose loyalty was bone-deep.  I know this because of two things — how he thanked Michael years after the fact for editing his novel in a written foreward (something Ric didn’t have to do as Michael was long-dead by the time TEMPORARY DUTY got into print), and because I got a chance to meet up with Ric when he took Michael and me out for dinner back in 2004.  We had a riotous writer’s conversation, full of wide-ranging chatter, puns (my husband loved puns, and Ric was no slouch in that department, either), and more than a few alcoholic beverages.  (None for me; I was the designated driver.) 

It was a night to remember.  And it’s something I’m doing my best to recall, because I believe it’s important to remember those you’ve lost the way they actually were when they were brightly alive.  (It’s tough to do.  But ultimately, it helps a little bit.  Nothing helps that much when someone you really care about it is gone from this plane of existence, and I’d be a fool if I said anything else.)

Ric Locke died at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2012.  Funeral arrangements are pending, but according to his son, James (who made a comment at Ric’s blog to this effect), his memorial service will be held in Mineral Wells, TX — Ric’s hometown.**

You may have noticed that I haven’t given an age for Ric — that’s because I’m unsure what it actually was, except “older than me or Michael.”  (My best guess is that Ric was in his early sixties, but I may be wrong.)  But age is irrelevant; what matters is what you did on this Earth, and the people you got a chance to meet while you were here.

Ric Locke did a great deal, met many interesting people, and wrote a fantastic book of military SF that you owe it to yourself to read.   He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.


**Those of you who read this blog who wish to go to Ric’s funeral need to get a hold of his son, James; he has a Facebook presence, but if you can’t find him, let me know and I’ll be glad to help if I possibly can.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 27, 2012 at 12:41 am

July 2012 Writing Update

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It’s been a while, so it’s time for a periodic writing update (July 2012 edition).  I decided to write this after being asked by more than a few people, “Hey, Barb!  Isn’t this blog supposed to be just as much about your writing as it is about baseball updates?”   

Well, yes, it is.  But I haven’t had much to report lately.  I’ve been submitting stories and none of them have been accepted — such is the writer’s lot — and while one of my poems was held until the very last minute at one rather good poetry market (I won’t say which), it ended up getting bounced out, too.

Other than that, I’ve been working hard on getting a story together for the UNIDENTIFIED FUNNY OBJECTS anthology as my main strength is writing funny urban fantasy.  (If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time and have paid attention to any of these writing updates, you probably know this already.)  But the story’s not ready to go; all I can say is that it’s in process, and that if you wish to submit a story to this anthology, follow the directions at the above link — you have until August 31, 2012, to get a story in of your own.

I have hesitated to even discuss my attempt to get a story into this anthology, because I’ve been somewhat afraid to jinx any chance my story might have down the line.  Nevertheless, there’s still room in this anthology and I’m going to take my shot.  Those of you who can write funny stories, or at least wish to give it a shot, should do the same.

Aside from that, I’m not giving up on any of my novels nor any of Michael’s novels.  But none of them are going like gangbusters at this time, either — they’re just . . . there, like nagging guests that won’t quite tell me whatever important news it is that they have because they’d rather I guess.  (And I don’t know about any other writers, but I hate guessing.)

The only thought I have regarding my recalcitrant novels is this: it’s been very hot and humid in Wisconsin, which has sapped my energy and strength.  I haven’t been able to review anything since last week (though I hope to review at least one book over the weekend); I haven’t been sleeping well, either; I haven’t wanted to eat.  And all of that can’t help but get in the way of my creativity as, last I checked, I’m still a human being.  (I point this out mostly because some people seem to believe, perhaps with an excess of credulity, that science fiction and fantasy writers might not be precisely human.)

So that’s about it: I’m surviving the heat, continuing to write and edit, and I’m also thinking about what sort of story it is that might get through at the UFO anthology (listed above).   And as always, if something changes/improves, I’ll be glad to keep you posted.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Brewers News: George Kottaras Designated for Assignment; Greinke Trade Rumors

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Folks, the Milwaukee Brewers have made four roster moves so far today, but the two moves that concern me right now are these: they’ve reinstated catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the disabled list, and designated for assignment catcher George Kottaras (.209 BA, 3 HR and 12 RBI) to make room for him.  (The other two moves?  The Brewers sent shortstop Jeff Bianchi, who hadn’t yet managed to get a hit in his major league tryout, back to AAA ball, and have brought up pitcher Jim Henderson from AAA, where he’d been having an outstanding year — 4-3 record, 15 saves, a 1.69 ERA in 35 outings (48 innings) with 56 strikeouts.)

Aside from that, everything else is all rumors — but the hottest rumor right now is that pitcher Zack Greinke may be going to the Texas Rangers for shortstop Elvis Andrus via the Brewer Nation blog.  Neither player would be traded alone; supposedly, a relief pitcher and a position player would go with Greinke (anyone but Corey Hart, please!), while a pitching prospect or two would come from Texas along with Andrus.  While other rumors insist that the Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves are still very interested in Greinke and will do anything to cut the rest of MLB out of the mix . . . as always, I’ll keep you posted.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Brewers Lose Three of Three to Phillies; K-Rod Implodes Again

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The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers are having a dreadful year.  Early on, injuries derailed the team; now, it’s the bullpen, the starting pitching, the lack of hitting, or again, the bullpen that tends to make the Brewers lose games.  So what’s the culprit with regards to these latest three losses to the Philadelphia Phillies?  I’ll give you one word: pitching.

You know your season is going bad when your team can’t even win one game out of three against a team with a losing record.  This is where the Brewers are right now; they lost all three against the Phillies by the score of 7-6 (today’s loss being in ten innings; the other two were regulation nine inning games).  These three losses show that the 2012 Brewers do not have what it takes to be a contending ball club.

And that’s sad, because as I said earlier this week, there are still some very good players on this team.  Corey Hart.  Ryan Braun.  Yovani Gallardo.  John Axford.  Jonathan Lucroy, once he comes back from his rehab stint in the minors.  And Aramis Ramirez, after a horrible start, has been playing much better lately.

After that, we start getting into good players (all pitchers) who won’t be with the team through 2013 — Zack Greinke, soon to be traded to a team near you.  Shaun Marcum’s contract is up at the end of the year.  Randy Wolf’s been treated so shabbily by the Brewers bullpen that there’s probably no amount of money that could possibly induce him to come back to the Brewers.

And then, we start to get to players who, while good at something, are bad at something else.  For example, Norichika Aoki hits well, but his defense is suspect, and he makes way too many mental errors.  Carlos Gomez is electric on the basepaths, has a bit of power, and plays good defense when his head’s in the game, but has a poor OBP and his average is never going to be above .240 unless he starts learning how to take a walk.  Nyjer Morgan, while he can still be a sparkplug and plays good defense, just hasn’t hit very well this season.

And then, of course, there’s Rickie Weeks’s lost season, which is in a class all by itself.  Weeks has tons of potential and should have a much higher batting average than .190 (his average at the start of Wednesday afternoon’s game).  Weeks has been a liability at the plate, striking out way too much, and giving Hart almost no help as Weeks, in general, bats right behind Hart. 

And what on Earth can be said about Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), who blew yet another save today — his sixth blown save in nine chances — snuffing out the Brewers chance to salvage one game from the Phillies by giving up two runs in the bottom of the tenth inning?  (While I’m sure K-Rod isn’t trying to blow saves, he just doesn’t seem to have it right now.)

But it’s not just K-Rod who’s fallen apart lately.  In each of the last three games, someone — or many someones — in the Brewers bullpen didn’t have it.  This happens sometimes to every team, but it’s been more prominent with the 2012 Brewers because the bullpen was expected to be a source of strength, not a weakness.

And what’s sad today is the fact that three relief pitchers did have it after starter Marco Estrada had a forgettable day (giving up 5 runs, all earned, in four innings of work) — John Axford pitched two scoreless innings.  Livan Hernandez, the “forgotten man” in the bullpen, pitched two scoreless also.  And rookie Tyler Thornburg did his job, pitching one inning of scoreless relief.  Those three pitchers did their jobs, which allowed the Brewers to come back from a 5-1 early deficit and take the lead in the top of the tenth, 6-5.

But then came K-Rod.  And there went the Brewers chances.

Look.  While I’m frustrated with most of the Brewers relievers right now (excepting Axford, Hernandez, and Thornburg), I think part of their problem is that they’re tired.  I am also starting to wonder as to why Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would bring in Manny Parra twice in two games (games 1 and 2 against the Phillies), when in both games Parra managed to load the bases due to walks; I wonder why Roenicke insisted on bringing in K-Rod again, when Axford’s been great in the set-up role since he was put into it about a week ago and K-Rod’s been terrible as a closer; I wonder if a few of these guys just need a different pitching coach, and/or a change of scenery, in order to get things straightened back out again.

So, what would I do differently with these players than Roenicke and his staff? 

First, I’d try to see if any of the pitchers — the relief pitchers in particular —  need to go to grief counseling due to the death of their friend (the long-time bullpen assistant).  Perhaps going and talking about this would be beneficial — and if it’s not been done already out of humanitarian and compassionate reasons, it should be done for a performance-based one.

Second, I’d give guys like Parra and Loe a physical.  Parra has had many back issues in the past, and if he’s having even minor back trouble now, that might be just enough to cause him major trouble throwing the ball, which would explain why he can’t seem to throw strikes.  And Loe was so good in both 2009 and 2010 that I find it hard to believe that he’d have as much trouble as he’s had lately getting his sinker to work without some sort of nagging injury.

Mind you, if injuries were found, no matter how minor, I’d have the player (or players) in question go on the disabled list for 15 days in order to get some rest. 

And for that matter, I’d bring in someone to look at everyone’s pitching mechanics, but most especially to look at K-Rod’s.  While he had 18 holds in the set-up role, by far the most among the Brewers pitchers, K-Rod hasn’t looked quite right all year long.  This might have something to do with why he’s not been effective — or even acceptable — as a closer despite his past success.

Bringing in a specialist isn’t a bad thing, because even the best pitching coach can miss things over time, especially if there have been gradual changes.  And if nothing’s found, great!  (But I’m betting there’s something there to be found — if not with K-Rod, perhaps with Loe, Parra, or one of the others.)

Third, I’d definitely bring in the best possible medical specialists to figure out why Marcum is not improving.  He wasn’t supposed to be on the DL this long, so what’s going on there?

Fourth, I’d have a heart-to-heart with Randy Wolf.  I’d tell Wolf that I know he’s done a good job for the Brewers — really, he has, as he should have at least seven and as many as eleven wins right now had the bullpen just done its job (his ERA is misleading, as I’ve said before).  And I’d thank him for bearing up under an extremely tough set of circumstances; Wolf’s a very good pitcher who’s done his best, and has deserved a whole lot better than what he’s had thus far in 2012.

Fifth, I’d sit down with Rickie Weeks and ask him if he thinks anyone or anything could help him right now.  (Granted, he did get four hits today.  But Weeks’s defense also hasn’t been up to par; surely there’s someone out there who could give Weeks some pointers?)  Weeks has the lowest batting average of any everyday player in the major leagues, yet he has tons of talent.  I’d get to the bottom of whatever is going on with him, whether it’s with a sports psychologist, needing a new mentor (Willie Randolph helped Weeks greatly when he was here a few years ago), or whatever it is, in order to help him succeed again at the major league level.

Finally, I’d sit down with Hart, Braun, Lucroy, Gallardo, Ramirez, and Axford.  I’d tell these men that I greatly appreciate what they’ve done.  That while they’ve all had ups and downs — Braun’s had nagging injuries, Ramirez’s first month-and-a-half was Godawful, Hart’s had to re-learn how to play first base at the major league level after a several-year absence, Lucroy’s been on the DL, Gallardo’s been good but not lights-out, and of course Axford getting removed from the closer’s role only to shine as a set-up man — they are still valuable members of the Brewers.  And that the Brewers will do whatever it takes to build a team around them; assure them that they aren’t going anywhere, and that owner Mark Attanasio is committed to putting a winning team on the field in 2013.

But since I don’t have that power and am not a member of the Brewers coaching staff, all I can do boils down to two things: hope for the best.  And wait until next year.


Note: Last evening, I was so frustrated with Parra walking the bases loaded twice in two days that I actually said I thought he should be designated for assignment (DFA’d) if he wasn’t injured in some way.  I still think Parra would be better off with another team, where expectations might not be so high — he pitched a perfect game in the minors for the Brewers organization, which is why the expectations have been up there — but after a day to think about it, I’d rather have someone from outside the team give him a physical (if he’ll stand for it) and then have him visit a specialist in pitching mechanics to see if there’s anything that can be done.

Parra, overall, hasn’t been the problem this year.  But walking the bases loaded two days straight was symptomatic of how snakebit the Brewers pitching staff seems to be this year.  That’s why I’d do everything in my power, were I somehow transported to become a member of the Brewers coaching staff for even one day, to see if Parra’s back and knees were OK (I trust Parra to know if his arm’s OK, or if something major is wrong, but a very small problem might not be noticeable), and to check his mechanics.

I like Parra very much as a pitcher.  But my hunch is that he’ll find himself successful in a different team’s uniform, much in the same way former Brewer pitcher Jorge de la Rosa found success in Colorado.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Milwaukee Brewers Lose in 9th to Phillies After K-Rod Implodes; 2012 Season Hopes in Jeopardy

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The Milwaukee Brewers lost a very tough game Monday night to the Philadelphia Phillies; the final score was 7-6.   The Brewers should not have lost this game, not after starting pitcher Randy Wolf pitched six strong innings, leaving the game with a 6-2 lead; that the bullpen (mostly reliever John Axford) was able to do well until the ninth, before closer Francisco Rodriguez came in and stunk up the joint, just makes this loss all the more heartbreaking.

Pity poor Randy Wolf.  Wolf’s season stats look terrible — a 3-6 record, a 5.60 ERA starting Monday’s game — but they are misleading in the extreme.  Wolf’s left eight other games when the Brewers have been ahead aside from his three wins — count ’em, eight.   Yet he’s won only three times. 

Why is this?  Because the Brewers bullpen has been abysmal, blowing saves eight different times in games Wolf’s started and left with a lead.   This is completely unacceptable.

Tonight, unfortunately, was no different, results-wise, than most of the rest of the season.  But perhaps looking at what specifically happened can shed some light on this particularly painful loss.

In the bottom of the seventh, Manny Parra came on in relief of Wolf.  Parra threw 27 pitches, but couldn’t get three outs; he walked three, struck out two, and while he didn’t give up any hits, did surrender one run. 

With the game at 6-3, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke brought on former closer John Axford, who fortunately shut the Phillies right down again.  Axford also pitched a scoreless eighth, recording his first official hold for the season.

Then it’s the bottom of the ninth.  The Brewers were still ahead, 6-3.  They knew that the Philadelphia Phillies, coming into Monday’s game, were a woeful 0-42 when behind after eight innings, so the Brewers had to feel fairly confident. 

Yet the Brewers ended up losing again because Rodriguez (nicknamed K-Rod) didn’t have it.   K-Rod was only able to get one out before getting into major trouble, but Roenicke didn’t have another reliever warming up in the bullpen.  While Rodriguez eventually got the second out by inducing a fly ball, the Phillies ended up scoring the winning run off that fly ball.  (A Pyrrhic victory at best.)  This was Rodriguez’s fifth blown save out of eight chances; his record is 2-5.

The Brewers are now seven games under .500.  They are in fourth place, eleven and a half games behind the front-running Cincinnati Reds, and have shown absolutely no signs of the major run they’d need in order to get to postseason play.  Which makes me think, as a Brewers fan, that any hopes that remain for the 2012 season are just that — hopes.

And what’s sad about this is that there’s some real offensive talent on this team.  Ryan Braun is having a great year, batting .309  at the start of Monday’s game, with 65 RBI and 26 HRs.  Corey Hart, who’s played a good deal of first base this year (a position he’s not played much since the low minors), was hitting .258 at the start of Monday’s game, with 45 RBI and 17 HRs.  Aramis Ramirez, who had a terrible first month and a half, was hitting .277  at the start of Monday’s game, with 55 RBI and 10 HRs.  And normally light-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado, who was hitting under .200 at AAA ball, has been doing so well at the major league level (.280 BA, 18 RBI and 5 HRs, again as of the start of Monday’s game) that he might be considered legitimate “trade-bait.”

As for the pitchers — Yovani Gallardo has been up and down, but has been acceptable, going 8-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 121 innings pitched.  Wolf has had a hard-luck year, no question about it.  (The Brewers defense has been atrocious, but you’d never know it due to the fact that the Brewers have the kindest official scorer in the majors.  But even if our official scorer were kinder to the pitcher by calling more errors on the Brewers defense (as he should), the fact is that the bullpen has not done its job, most particularly in Wolf’s games.)  Zack Greinke, who’s likely to be traded as soon as tomorrow evening, has pitched reasonably well — his record’s 9-3, he has a 3.57 ERA in 116 innings pitched — but I’d be astonished if he were with the team much longer.  Then, of course, the other two starting pitchers at the beginning of the year were Chris Narveson — out for the year — and Shaun Marcum, who’s been on the DL since June 15.

So what’s been the bright spot, if there is one, with regards to the Brewers rotation?  A guy by the name of Michael Fiers.  Fiers wasn’t expected to do anything this year for the big-league club, yet he’s pitched extremely well.  While his record is a deceptive 3-4, his ERA is a terrific 1.96 in 59 2/3 innings pitched.  Fiers is a guy who reminds me of Ben Sheets (currently on the comeback trail with the Atlanta Braves); he’s a tough-minded competitor, and he gives the Brewers an excellent chance to win every time he picks up the ball. 

The main reason the Brewers’ season hasn’t gone well is because of the many injuries they’ve suffered (to Alex Gonzales, Mat Gamel, Narveson, Marcum, Travis Ishikawa, Cesar Izturis, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy).   I accept that, as injuries are a fact of life.

However, the players who are still there must produce.  Some of them aren’t, most particularly Rickie Weeks, who as of the start of Monday’s game was hitting a dreadful .195, with 33 RBI and 9 HRs, and while Nyjer Morgan continues to have value due to his stellar defense and good baserunning skills, he’s not doing that well hitting-wise either, batting only .229 at the start of Monday’s game with 5 RBI and 2 HR in 80 games.

While it’s not General Manager Doug Melvin’s fault that so many players came up injured this season (or just aren’t as good as they should be — witness Weeks), it is his fault for trading away two good, solid shortstops — Alcides Escobar and J.J. Hardy — in previous years.  It is his fault for giving Roenicke an extension, when last year’s National League Championship Series showed how dogmatic Roenicke could be when it came to pulling — or not pulling — pitchers.  (I will never understand why Marcum, who had absolutely nothing left in the tank, got two starts in the NLCS.)  It is Melvin’s fault for not trading for a few more relievers, as most of ours are played out — and it is Melvin’s fault for believing that this team, without Prince Fielder, and with three starting pitchers all having contracts expiring at the same time (Wolf, Greinke, and Marcum), would be a contender this year.

I’m sorry to say it, folks, but unless Melvin can pull a rabbit out of his hat, the Brewers look like they’re right where they should be this year.  In fourth place.  Way out of playoff contention.

And that’s sad.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 24, 2012 at 12:14 am

Quick Note

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Folks, I’d hoped to review Rosemary Edghill’s VENGEANCE OF MASKS at Shiny Book Review this evening — in fact, I’d planned on reviewing it all week.

However, I’m feeling very poorly this evening for the second night in a row.  (I think it has something to do with the heat and my asthma not mixing.)  Because of that, I’m not able to do much — even writing a short blog about Ben Sheets’s superlative start for the Atlanta Braves today was nearly too much.  And writing a quick, fact-based blog like that one is much easier to write than a book review any day of the week.

That’s why I’ve decided that I’m going to take a break for the rest of this weekend in order to come back stronger on Monday.  Because of that, the review for VENGEANCE OF MASKS will be rescheduled for this upcoming week at SBR, with all apologies to Ms. Edghill and to anyone else who may have been awaiting my review.

While you’re waiting for that review, I’d like to suggest something.  Go buy anything Rosemary Edghill currently has available, regardless of genre.  (These books include DEAD RECKONING, VENGEANCE OF MASKS, the Bast mysteries included in BELL, BOOK, AND MURDER, and THE WARSLAYER — the latter should be available from Baen Books directly as an e-book.)   She writes extremely well, always has great craftsmanship, and her storytelling ability is without peer.  So meander on over to Amazon, or, or better yet to her page at Lulu (where the information for VENGEANCE OF MASKS resides), and get yourself one of her books, pronto.

While you do that, I’ll do my best to recover my energy so I can do justice to her extremely interesting and thought-provoking book, VENGEANCE OF MASKS (genre: dark fantasy/urban fantasy hybrid).

Have a great weekend, folks.  See you back here on Monday.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Book reviews, Writing

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Ben Sheets’s Comeback Continues: Sheets Wins Again

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Today, July 21, 2012, was the day for Ben Sheets’s second major league start for the Atlanta Braves against the Washington Nationals.  And once again, Sheets pitched like the ace he once was (and apparently is again), giving up no runs, five hits, three walks, and six strikeouts.  Sheets also extended his scoreless innings streak to twelve; his record is now 2-0.

Here’s a link to a very good story from Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Sheets that was written prior to today’s game; this is a story you really want to read if you care about baseball at all, as it references exactly what happened to Sheets and why it is so remarkable that he’s been able to come back at all — much less pitch at an astonishingly high level.

Here’s a quote from that story:

Understand, this isn’t a simple comeback. Before surgery in 2010, Sheets’ right elbow looked like the after-shot of Kabul. The guy is relatively bionic. In 2010, doctors knew surgery was needed to fix a torn flexor tendon for the second time in two years. But when Dr. Keith Meister opened up the right arm, two other problems were confirmed: 1) a torn ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery; 2) damage to his pronator tendon.

You don’t need to have a Ph.D or even excel in the “Operation” game to know that if a 32-year-old pitcher is having a ligament and two tendons in his throwing elbow stitched, tied and duct-taped, his next career decision likely would involve either starting a tractor or coaching youth baseball (he opted for the latter).

And here’s a quote from today’s story at Yahoo Sports regarding Sheets’s start against the Nationals, starring Braves catcher Brian McCann:

”It’s been a huge pickup for us,” McCann said of adding Sheets to Braves rotation. ”To come out here for his two starts and pitch the way he has. Hasn’t given up a run, he’s pounding the zone and the more you’re around him the more you know why he’s so successful. He’s a competitor, he knows what he’s doing.”

When a team’s catcher is happy with a pitcher — much less this happy — you usually have a happy team.  And considering how well Sheets has pitched since his return, I’d be astonished if the Braves weren’t absolutely ecstatic about his contribution to their ballclub.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The Aurora (CO) Massacre: Why Did This Happen?

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Another horrific incident has happened, folks — James Holmes, 24, of Colorado, shot at least 71 people at an Aurora, CO, movie theater during a midnight showing of the latest “Batman” movie.  So far, 12 have been killed, with more people in critical condition who could pass on at any time in what’s being called the worst mass shooting in American history. 

And Holmes did this . . . why?

The best guess as to why Holmes did this seems to be that Holmes is a psychopath, and/or is mentally ill to such a degree that he does not understand the world or the people around him in the same way most of the rest of us do.  Holmes may have thought he was the Joker (one of the best-known “Batman” characters); Holmes may have thought that what he was doing was sanctioned and allowed, considering the current “Batman” movie features explosions in public places.

Here’s a link to Yahoo’s report:–abc-news-topstories.html

What has come out about Holmes thus far is troubling.  Holmes was a Ph.D. student who’d moved to Colorado in order to pursue his degree at the University of Colorado Medical Center.  He was brilliant, planning his attack to a surprising degree (to the point that he had not one, not two, but four separate guns, with at least two being assault rifles — this last according to AM 620 WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee.  Their on-the-hour news report gave these additional details).  And Holmes booby-trapped his apartment to the point that had the police not known about it (because Holmes himself told them), the apartment building would’ve blown sky high.

So those are the facts as we know them right now; what I’m after, though, is a bit more elusive.  To wit: why would someone this bright do something this terrible?

Honestly, I have no answers, though I do have many questions.

First, why was this man not in a mental hospital?  (Especially considering that his mother’s first reaction after being contacted by the media was, “You have the right guy,” not the usual “I can’t believe this is happening!” denial?)

Second, how did this man successfully buy four separate guns of various descriptions in only a few months?  Especially as it appears he bought them all within the city of Aurora or its environs (meaning Boulder or even Denver, but not all that far away as the crow flies)?  Additionally, how did this guy amass all the military-grade body armor he was wearing at the time of his arrest without anyone taking note of it, either?

Third, the story of victim Jessica Ghawi, also 24, is instructive . . . Ghawi had narrowly avoided a different public shooting in Toronto a month ago, but was unable to avoid being shot and killed by by Holmes.  She was an aspiring sports journalist who loved hockey, had a hockey-player boyfriend who spent much time in the minors, just looking for his big break — his name is Jay Maloff — and was well-known to many hockey reporters and sports reporters of all sorts due to her Twitter presence.  (She wrote under the name of Jessica Redfield.)

This was a young woman with everything ahead of her.  She had a great boyfriend.  She had done many internships at radio stations, newspapers, and was about to be hired at Mile High Sports, which seems to have been enthusiastic about Ghawi’s writing and knowledge of hockey.  She had drive, charm, what friends and colleagues are calling an outsized personality, and was the type of person who was going places and doing things.

So why, oh why, is Jessica Ghawi dead today?  Because of a crazy man, that’s why.  And that’s not good enough; it shouldn’t be.

All we can do is this.  Remember the people who died in this senseless act.  Remember their lives.  Remember what they did while they were here, and honor them.  That’s the only way to gain any meaning whatsoever from this atrocious act.

But before you say it, I am well aware that it’s not nearly enough.  (It’s just all we have.)

Aside from that, do your best to remember your sense of betrayal and outrage when you heard about this latest tragedy.  Remember how awful it is that twelve people, including the young and talented Ghawi, are already dead, with more to assuredly follow.  Remember that it didn’t have to be this way.  Then push for more mental health funding and treatment, because the possibility of prevention is far better than the “pound of cure” we’re now forced to endure.

No matter what you do, though, don’t you dare become inured to horrific violence.  Don’t start seeing things like this terrible Aurora shooting as typical behavior, either.

Because if you do become inured, or start seeing things like this as typical, psychopathic gunmen like Holmes win.  And the rest of us lose even more than we already have.