Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Brewers pitchers’ Category

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

John Axford Rejoins Brewers, Gets Injured…Not the Way the Story Was Supposed to Go

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A few days ago, pitcher John Axford rejoined the Brewers, came out to pitch in the 9th inning to wild applause…then injured his elbow after first hitting a batter, then walking two (getting one out in the process). I could see the injury when he threw to the last batter (the second walk), as the elbow looked wrong in a way I can’t quite explain.

This was not the way the story was supposed to go.

Axford is now thirty-eight. He is the Brewers single-season saves leader with 46. And he’d recently pitched for Team Canada during Olympic qualifications, then was sent by the Toronto Blue Jays to their Triple-A ballclub as Axford had looked impressive and his velocity (upper nineties on the radar gun) was back. Then Toronto traded Axford, a then-minor league player, to the Brewers for cash considerations. This was a classy move by a classy organization.

To make matters even more interesting, Axford had worked for the Blue Jays as a TV analyst at the start of this season before making his comeback effort. (To say that all of this is quite uncommon, almost of a storybook quality, is understating Axford’s story.)

So, we return to Milwaukee and Axford’s appearance a few days ago. As I said, he came out to wild applause; there may have even been a standing ovation. (We Brewers fans do not forget our players.) Axford, who’d not pitched for the Brewers since 2013, seemed touched by this (I was watching TV, and saw his expressions). He warmed up on the mound, as every pitcher does, and he looked quite good.

I was happy to see Axford. I wrote about him years ago (that’s why I have a “John Axford” category here at my blog), and I know he’s a quality human being and a class act. I also knew that he’s not the type of guy to accept a challenge unless he believes he can beat that challenge.

Anyway, during the first at-bat by the opposing team (Pittsburgh), he looked impressive. His fastball was hitting 94 or 95 mph consistently and hit 96 at least once. (Fastball velocity matters because major league hitters can tee off on pitches that are slower than that, in general. There are exceptions to this, pitchers who can make change-ups work for them, such as Brewers pitcher Devin Williams. But Axford is not one of those exceptions.) And he’d gotten a couple of strikes on the batter — I forget the guy’s name now, but he always stands right on top of the plate — before hitting him.

So, that guy goes to first base.

Axford still looked OK. He wasn’t rattled. (As an experienced closing pitcher, he’s certainly done things like that before. Not often, but often enough that it wouldn’t throw him.) He kept going.

But something happened to his elbow during the next few at-bats. While he did get one guy out (soft outfield fly, if I remember right), he was not able to get any more outs. And with the last few pitches he threw, the ball came nowhere close to the plate. In fact, they didn’t even come close to the batter’s box, that’s just how far outside they were.

That’s not like Axford, or any experienced player. I knew this. And I also knew that if you ever see something like that in a professional ballgame, the pitcher’s hurt.

Axford was taken out of the game. An MRI was done the next morning, and all Brewers fans know to this point is that Axford is out for the rest of the season as he has unspecified elbow damage.

I feel for Axford. I truly do.

I am not a professional pitcher — not hardly! — but when I was in my teens I had a good fastball for a fourteen-year-old and tried out for the local team. (Unofficially, mind.) Another of the girls I knew, who ran cross-country, also tried out. And we showed enough that it’s possible both of us would’ve gotten an official tryout, even during a time where young women weren’t exactly encouraged to be athletes — and definitely not encouraged to be pitchers. (My friend was a first baseman, mind, and hit a ton. But I digress.)

Anyway, sometime over the next year, I messed up my right arm. I went in to see the orthopedist, and he said as I was not ever going to be pitching again, I didn’t need to have my arm fixed. But that I’d apparently torn something — a ligament, a rotator cuff, he wasn’t sure (and no, he didn’t do an X-ray, either; MRIs were quite expensive, then). Because I was a musician, not an athlete, he did not recommend getting my arm fixed.

Ever since, instead of throwing in the high 70s/low 80s (which was quite good for a fourteen-year-old, I point out again), I can maybe throw a fastball in the mid 30s. My right arm hurts when the weather changes, too.

I know that professional pitchers do get their arms fixed, and they should. But I’m here to tell you that I know these injuries are extremely frustrating. Even to someone like me, who wasn’t really an athlete (though I wanted to be, desperately), an arm injury of the type Axford apparently suffered is difficult to deal with. (I had pain while playing my instruments for at least six months, too. But I digress, again.)

Everyone among the Brewers faithful, and probably most others as well, wanted Axford’s appearance to go differently. They wanted Axford to get the save. They wanted Axford to remain uninjured. And they wanted Axford to enjoy a night that he’d worked hard to get back to: a night in the big leagues, again.

That did not happen.

The story did not go where it should’ve. And that just goes to show you that stories, even when they don’t go the way you want, are important.

I wish Axford well, hope he fully recovers, and pitches again in the big leagues before he retires. But if he isn’t able to make it back to “the Show” again, I hope he’ll remember that the journey to get there was important. All the work he’d done to stay in shape, to try out for Team Canada, to go to the minors and work hard, was important as well.

Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and care are all important. Axford has all of that in droves. And now, he — along with the rest of the Brewers faithful — needs to remember that he’s done everything he can.

The rest, unfortunately, is out of his hands.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2021 at 4:30 pm

When Life Is Like Baseball

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I am a baseball fan. (My Milwaukee Brewers jersey, worn in the picture I put in the “About” section, kind of gives it away.) And while I haven’t written much about baseball in recent years, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped watching it.

Or learning from it, either.

Yesterday evening, the Brewers played the Washington Nationals in the National League Wild-Card play-in game. This is a one-game playoff, and whichever team wins the game advances.

My Brewers did not advance.

Now, they were ahead until the bottom of the 8th inning. (One inning away from winning the game, if you’re not a baseball fan.) But at that time, three pivotal events happened:

  1. Home plate ump called a hit-by-pitch instead of a batted ball when the ball clearly hit the knob of the bat of the hitter rather than any part of the hitter’s hand. And when the Brewers complained, and asked for a replay, the umps doing replay didn’t fix the call.

    Had that call been a batted ball (inadvertent, but still), that runner would’ve been out. Instead, the runner was awarded first base, and that ultimately mattered because…

    2. Josh Hader, the Brewers bullpen ace (and “closer,” meaning he finishes games and usually shuts down opposing hitters cold), did not have his best stuff. He was missing the locations catcher Yasmani Grandal was asking for that Hader normally would’ve hit…and Hader was clearly rattled by the ump’s bad call, too. And that led to the bases being loaded, which led to…

    3. Hader gives up a single to Juan Soto of the Nationals. Soto’s ball went to right field, where Brewers OF Trent Grisham waited. However, the ball got past Grisham (somehow), meaning three runs scored rather than one, or two. (Probably two runs would’ve scored there no matter what, but for the sake of argument, you could say it was possible that had Grisham fielded the ball properly, he could’ve thrown out the second runner at home.)

    This error was costly.

    Check that. Beyond costly.

And after all that happened, instead of the Brewers leading, 3-1, as they had at the beginning of the inning, they now trailed, 4-3. And they weren’t able to muster a rally in the ninth and climactic inning, though OF Lorenzo Cain singled with one out. (This meant the tying run was aboard, but was unable to score.)

Game over.

But that doesn’t mean the season was a waste. Far, far from it.

The Brewers season was good this year. They had ups and downs. They could be streaky. They lost their best player, NL MVP Christian Yelich, at the beginning of September. Several of their other best players, such as former NL MVP Ryan Braun, Lo Cain, Keston Hiura, and Mike Moustakas, were battling through injuries. And they still kept going, and made an improbable run in September (going 20-7) to get to the Wild-Card Game at all.

Persistence, grit, and heart in action. It was fun to watch them overcome so much adversity in September.

That said, this was a disappointing loss. It hurt, as a fan, to watch it. And I’m sure the players didn’t enjoy it either, most especially not Grisham and Hader.

Now, the title of this blog is, “When Life Is Like Baseball.” So you might be wondering, “Barb, what on Earth are you going on about, nattering about the Brewers game? They lost. So what?”

Well, life is like this, too. You try, and try, and try again, and sometimes you make errors. Sometimes you get bad calls, where you did everything right, but the person in charge feels you still did it wrong…and sometimes, your best play (or player) is going to let you down, because that’s what the law of averages is all about.

No one wants to make a critical error in a one-and-done situation like Grisham did, mind. And no one wants to blow a save at the worst possible time, as Hader did.

Sometimes, you are going to make your best effort, and still lose. This doesn’t mean that you should stop trying, but it does mean you have to learn from your mistakes.

You have to keep going, though. Despite disappointment. Despite adversity. Despite setbacks.

You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and sometimes you have to wait a long time to “get a bit of your own back.” (Or better yet, just live well and let that be the best revenge. Or in the Brewers case, play well.)

But you can do it. No matter what the adversity, setback, or disappointment, you can do it if you learn from your mistakes, you keep on trying, and you make your best effort every day.

I firmly believe that. And I hope you do, too.

Why I Don’t Care About Josh Hader’s Teenage Tweets

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As most of you know, I am a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. I love baseball, enjoy the Brewers, watch their games, sometimes write blogs about them, and have been happy to keep the faith over many years of mostly non-winning, non-viable teams.

This year, the Brewers have a better team than they’ve had in years. After last year’s shockingly good season (where they missed the playoffs by only one game), they remain in the playoff hunt. And they placed five players, a team record, in the All-Star Game: Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Josh Hader. Two of them, Hader and Jeffress, are relief pitchers; two, Cain and Yelich, are outfielders; the last one, Aguilar, is a first baseman.

But rather than being happy the Brewers placed five players on the All-Star team (a nice accolade to have), Brewers fans woke up yesterday to a very sour story, that of Josh Hader’s teenage Tweets. Hader’s Twitter account (now locked down to “private” mode) was public, and went all the way back to 2010 or 2011…and some of the Tweets from that time period were pretty raw. Hader bragged about the size of his, er, male anatomy; he quoted raunchy song lyrics without attribution; he said he couldn’t stand gay people; he even made an odd KKK Tweet. (This latter made no sense, but Hader has been an elite-level pitcher since high school. I want to believe he maybe meant this as a reference to three strikeouts in a game he’d pitched, though who knows?) Worst of all, to my mind, was the disregard he showed, whether it was to women, LGBT people, minorities, or anyone else nonwhite and not an elite athlete like himself.

(Note that I am not linking to the screen-capped Tweets, mostly because this is a family blog. (I also believe you can find them elsewhere without too much difficulty.) They aren’t pleasant reading. I felt like washing my mind out with soap after reading them. But back to the blog.)

The thing is, Hader was seventeen at the time of these Tweets. I do not condone what he said; I, myself, would not have said anything remotely like that at seventeen, and I was considered an elite-level musician at the time, with multiple scholarship offers. (Not exactly the same thing as Hader, and certainly without the earning potential. But close enough.)

Still. He was seventeen. And one would hope he’s learned better by now, as he’s now twenty-four.

His teammates have said what’s expected. (Jesus Aguilar in particular came out and said Hader’s not racist, and that everyone should know it.) They know Hader better than anyone else. They do not believe he’s a bigot. Nor do they believe he’s misogynistic.

Look. We all have said something we shouldn’t, that hurts us. (I know I have.) It may not be as bad as this, no. But it is something we do because we haven’t fully matured yet, or maybe we just don’t realize the impact our words have on others yet.

Or, perhaps, we all make mistakes, so we can learn from them? Or try to learn from them?

In this day and age, when mistakes can linger for years and years–as Hader’s did, waiting to bite him on the butt in 2018–shouldn’t we learn how to forgive and forget? Or at least forgive?

Also, keep this in mind: Hader is not making public policy. He is not in charge of the federal government, or the state government, or even the local government…he is a baseball player. A pitcher.

In other words, Hader’s words have only as much effect on us as we allow. And if his teammates are all right with him, and providing he continues to work on himself and mature and become a better person (as we all must, if we want to get something good out of this life at all), why should we care about his teenage Tweets?

So, that’s my position. I do not care about Hader’s Tweets from 2011. But I do care about how he acts right now. And my hope is that he will be able to become a force for good, and use his celebrity and money to good effect.

In that way, he can transform this obnoxious episode from his past into something better. And then, maybe, his old Tweets can become a blessing…that is the best-case scenario.

Tough Day to be a Brewers Fan…Lucroy, Jeffress, Smith Traded

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Some days, it’s harder than others to be a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers.

My team has never, in its forty-six year history, won the World Series. It’s won only one league championship, back in 1982 — when the team was still in the American League. It’s competed only a handful of times in the postseason, including 1981, 1982, and 1983 (banner years, truly), 2008, and 2011.

That’s been about it, for me as a Brewers fan.

So I’m used to futility. I’m used to frustration. And I’m used to the best players I’ve come to know and appreciate ending up on better teams around the league, as only a few players these days play their entire careers in Milwaukee or anywhere else.

Still, today is a worse day than many, because the Brewers have done something teams rarely do — on August 1, 2016, Milwaukee traded their starting catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, their closer, Jeremy Jeffress, and one of their best bullpen arms in Will Smith away to two different teams. Lucroy and Jeffress went to the Texas Rangers, while Smith went to the San Francisco Giants. And what did the Brewers get back? Prospects…with one exception. (And that one exception, former Giant catcher Andrew Susac, has played fewer than 100 games in the major leagues.)

Up until now, the Brewers have been better than expected. While not a world-beating team by any means, they haven’t been embarrassing, either. They’re currently five games over .500 while home at Miller Park, and their overall record is 47-56.

In fact, a few weeks ago, my father asked me, “How many more games do you think the Brewers can win?” My answer was between thirty-five and forty, as they’d been improving lately…providing Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun were not traded. (I would’ve included Jeremy Jeffress in that, but trading a closer at the deadline that’s still extremely productive is almost rarer than trading a starting catcher, so I have to admit it never crossed my mind that this would happen.)

This year has had some good surprises — pitcher Junior Guerra being one of those. So it’s obvious that David Stearns, the Brewers GM, can find talent…but so far, he doesn’t seem cognizant of the fact that fans have to have something on the field to root for.

I expected this to be a bad year, mind. I expected this to be a year where top prospect, shortstop Orlando Arcia, gained time in Triple-A, and where we’d have a shuttle going back and forth from Triple-A affiliate Colorado Springs and Milwaukee — and we have.

I did not expect this to be the year the Brewers traded away two impact players, literally minutes before the trade deadline, and then expect fans to be happy about it.

I’m sorry. I’m not into pain, so of course I’m unhappy with this move.

Do I understand it rationally? Sure.

Do I appreciate it emotionally? Oh, Hell no.

And will I watch games? Yes, but quite frankly, I won’t expect very much…especially with the new closer almost certainly to be Tyler Thornburg. (I like him, but is he closer material?) And with the new starting catcher being defensive whiz Martin Maldonado…

All I can say is this: Dammit. (In lieu of a blue streak of profanity that none of you need to hear, or see, or that I need to say.)

And, of course, I need to add this, specifically to Lucroy, Jeffress, and Smith: Good luck to all three of you. May your teams go to the playoffs, and may you enjoy excellent careers. And someday, remember the fans in Milwaukee, still waiting for our day in the sun…and that we remain in your corner.

 

Brewers Trade K-Rod for Prospect — and I’m Not Happy About It

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Folks, when I read about the Milwaukee Brewers latest trade of closing pitcher Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers for single-A prospect Javier Betancourt — the first trade under new General Manager David Stearns’ tenure — I was not happy.

Why?

Well, one of the few bright spots I had as a Brewers fan, last year, was to watch K-Rod come out to save games. He was one of the few players to remain positive despite Milwaukee’s dismal season, and he had one of his best seasons, to boot.

As Tom Haudricourt wrote at JSOnline.com (aka the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):

“K-Rod” had a tremendous season for the Brewers in 2015, converting 38 of 40 save opportunities with a 2.21 earned run average in 60 appearances. But the club is in the midst of a significant rebuilding program, and Stearns decided it made more sense to acquire young talent rather than keep an aging closer.

And K-Rod is still only 33 years old, plus was signed at a low price for an elite athlete, too…less than $10 million, including a 2017 contract buyout.

What did the Brewers actually get? Haudricourt has that covered, too:

Betancourt, 20, is primarily a second baseman but has seen limited action at shortstop and third base. Rated the No. 11 prospect in Detroit’s system, he played in 2015 at high Class A Lakeland of the Florida State League, batting .263 with a .304 on-base percentage and .336 slugging percentage, with 17 doubles, five triples, three home runs and 48 RBI.

Betancourt had 29 walks and 44 strikeouts in 531 plate appearances. He played all 116 games in the field at second base, a position manned mostly by Scooter Gennett for the Brewers over the last two years.

In other words, Betancourt is a step under Double-A ball. He’s a prospect, and somewhat unproven; he is known, apparently, as a good and solid defender, but has no power potential whatsoever.

Granted, the Brewers are full of free-swingers right now. Only Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy, among the regulars, seem to know how to take a walk now and again.

That said, it’s extremely frustrating to me, as a long-time Brewers fan, that our new GM has traded one of the achingly few bright spots on the team for someone like Javier Betancourt. And, quite possibly, a player to be named later — though this trade, also according to Haudricourt, also has a player to be named later on Detroit’s side, too!

(How is it possible for Detroit to get another player, considering they’ve just garnered one of the best closers in the game in K-Rod? Your guess is as good as mine. But I digress.)

At any rate, I know the Brewers are in a major rebuilding mode. I accept that; I’ve seen it before.

What I don’t accept, as a fan, is the contention that anyone else could do as well as K-Rod on the 2016 roster. Nor that it’s not a salary-dump of some sort — despite Stearns’ assertion to the contrary. (Why Stearns would think any real fan who’s ever followed this team would believe that kind of baloney is beyond me. But again, I digress.)

Look, folks: What I want, as a fan, is for the Brewers to put an entertaining team on the field that at least tries to win every night. Having players who are happy to play in Milwaukee, despite the fact that they’re not likely to get one whiff of the playoffs for another three or four years, minimum, is a huge part of how the Brewers, as a team, can get there.

I fail to see how trading K-Rod away will promote team victories in 2016. Especially as the two most likely choices on the current roster to become closer — Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress — have zero closing experience. (Smith is a brilliant set-up man until July; after July, he’s competent or worse. And Jeffress, while I like him a lot, does not seem to be closing material, either.)

Maybe K-Rod will enjoy being in Detroit, because Detroit, on paper at least, is a better team than Milwaukee. (But as I’m also aware that K-Rod took less money last year to re-sign with Milwaukee because he liked it so much despite all the nonsense, I have to wonder about that assertion, too.)

Bottom line: The Brewers did not get nearly enough for K-Rod. And unless Javier Betancourt turns out to be the steal of the century, those folks in Detroit have to be laughing their butts off at the hicks in Milwaukee over this one.

Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Trade Aftermath: Situation…Bleak

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Folks, most of you know I’m a huge fan of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club.

And most of you are aware that when good players like Carlos Gomez, Gerardo Parra, and Mike Fiers get traded for minor-league prospects, that usually indicates that the team in question (in this case, the Brewers) is undergoing a rebuilding phase.

As a fan, I don’t like seeing rebuilding phases. I know they’re necessary. But it’s frustrating all the same, because I like to see a team that competes hard and does its best every day.

Right now, the MIlwaukee Brewers cannot do that.

When you take a hitter like Carlos Gomez out of the lineup, you lose a great deal. Couple that with taking Gerardo Parra out of the lineup — Parra hitting better than he ever has, and playing solid defense at all three OF positions, and you have the recipe for a lineup with little pop and even less situational hitting.

Couple that with the earlier trade of Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates, and the hitting situation grows even more desperate.

Right now, the Brewers have only two hitters with any chance of doing well: Ryan Braun and Adam Lind. Both have had trouble with back spasms this season, and Braun has a lingering issue with his thumb that will almost certainly plague him from time to time for the remainder of his career. So these things have to be taken into account, health-wise; both players cannot play every day in the high heat and humidity, not if manager Craig Counsell expects to get a maximum return out of them.

The other hitters are not doing that well this season. Jonathan Lucroy hasn’t looked like himself all year. Khris Davis — he still strikes out too much, and he waves at pitches in the opposing batter’s box, too. So no one with any sense is going to throw Davis a fastball. And Hernan Perez?

Really?

Granted, Jean Segura has shown flashes of his old hitting style, and is playing reasonably decent defense in the field. But he’s not a guy the Brewers should be depending on for RBIs; he’s a table-setter, not a meat-and-potatoes type of guy.

Then we get to the starting pitching. And we see the void that the trade of Mike Fiers has left in the Brewers pitching staff.

Look. Taylor Jungmann has had a great ride thus far, and looks like a solid pitcher for 2016. But Kyle Lohse — much as i like the man, and much though I root for him, he looks like he’s at the end of the road. And Matt Garza’s been up and down, Jimmy Nelson is still overrated (he’s done well most of the time, but I still don’t trust that), and Wily Peralta is showing just why his 17-win season last year was such a fluke.

If the Brewers didn’t have excellent relief pitching, they’d probably be even worse off than they are. Neal Cotts has actually been good (I have to say this, as early on I said I wanted him gone). Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has been stellar, as always. Will Smith has been iffy lately — at about the same point he became iffy last year — but was very good at the start of the season. And Tyler Thornburg is back up and pitching well…Jeremy Jeffress looks solid…really, I have few complaints with the bullpen.

The Brewers are currently 44-62. They look like they probably won’t even win sixty games this year, the way they’re playing. So I understand, mentally, why GM Doug Melvin made the trades that he did.

Still. Right now, what the Brewers front office is doing is an exercise in narrative framing. They’re saying, “Hey, in a year or two, we’ll be really good. Look at all these prospects!” And trying to divert the long-time fan, who’s seen the Brewers be awful before (in my case, many times), into dreaming of the future…all while the present looks downright depressing.

The thing about prospects is this: It’s all speculative.

We knew that Carlos Gomez loved Milwaukee, would hit reasonably well, would play excellent defense most of the time, and make some baserunning mistakes while striking out a goodly percentage of the time. Because that’s who Gomez is.

But Gomez is a known commodity. Brewers fans knew exactly what we were getting in him.

Similarly, Fiers and Parra were also known commodities. I knew, as a fan, that Parra would be tenacious at the plate and have good situational-hitting skills, and I knew that Fiers would always try his hardest and be unsparing of himself in postgame commentary if he just didn’t have it.

But fortunately, Fiers mostly does have it.

Anyway, Doug Melvin took three very good players — one perhaps a superstar in Gomez — and traded them, when the Brewers are already having trouble with their offense. He got back some very solid prospects, some of which may develop into decent-to-better players (Phillips, which the Brewers received in the Houston trade, might even turn out to be a superstar himself down the line; but that day is not today).

But for now, the situation is bleak and getting worse.

What I want to see, as a fan, is for Doug Melvin to go out and get some hitters. Daniel Nava was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox last week — and Nava can hit. (Granted, he hasn’t hit well this year at all for Boston, but a change of scenery might really help him.) Plus, Nava has some speed and would play a better left field than Khris Davis, who really shouldn’t be in the field at all (why, oh why, hasn’t Davis been traded to the AL by now? He is a DH in the making; he’ll never make an outfielder.)

And the Brewers need to find other diamonds in the rough like Nava. Guys who can hit, who’ve proven they can hit, and who can do a little better than the Shane Petersons or (gasp! shudders! horrors!) the Hernan Perezes of the world.

So that’s where I’m at, as a fan. I think the aftermath of the Brewers trades of Parra, Gomez and Fiers is showing itself right now.

And if I had to bet, I’d probably say it’s very unlikely the Brewers will even win 60 games this year. Which is very, very sad.

So don’t believe the narrative hype, my friends. Know full well that the Brewers will be awful for the remainder of this year, with some flashes of solid playing by folks like K-Rod, Braun and probably Lind.

And hope that somehow, some way, we’ll get some people in the lineup who can hit, run, and field…because right now, they’re just not there.

Milwaukee Brewers Chatter: Will Smith Gets an 8-Game Suspension

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Folks, I’ve been head-down in my final edit for A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, so I am a bit behind-hand in discussing what’s going on with the Milwaukee Brewers lately.

Let’s rectify that.

A few days ago (on Thursday, May 21, 2015), Brewers reliever Will Smith came into a game against the Atlanta Braves and had something shiny on his forearm. This substance was something to help him better grip the ball on a cold and somewhat windy day, and many pitchers use it for exactly that. But they don’t put it openly on their arm; they attempt to conceal it.

Smith, because he did not conceal this substance, got thrown out of the baseball game after Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez complained. And Smith was irate.

After the game, Smith answered some questions from reporters (this was shown on Fox Sports Wisconsin’s postgame show). Smith said he’d put that substance (identified as a mix of sunscreen and rosin) on his arm in the bullpen to help with his grip. He said he wanted to wipe it off, but forgot…and then he got thrown out. Smith pointed out that many pitchers do this, and they do not get thrown out.

On Friday, Smith was suspended by Major League Baseball for eight games for using this illegal substance.

Of course Smith is appealing the suspension, because both Smith and the Brewers management think that eight games is too long, considering the cold weather and the fact that Smith is a relief pitcher. (Why does the last part matter? Well, a starter who’s suspended for 10 games misses two starts. But a reliever who misses eight games misses eight potential opportunities to pitch.)

Smith is allowed to keep pitching until his appeal is heard (probably sometime early next week).

What do I think of all this as a Brewers fan? I think Smith was at best absentminded, at worst incredibly foolish, to have that substance openly on his arm. But I don’t blame him for wanting to get a better grip on the ball considering the conditions, especially as the Brewers have had several players hit in the head this year — most notably Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura.

(Of course, Smith hit a batter anyway. So I don’t know what good that substance actually did him. But I digress.)

Ultimately, I think the suspension is likely to be reduced on appeal. It’s possible MLB could reduce it by a couple of games, maybe even three…which will leave Smith with a five- or six-game suspension rather than the current length of eight games.

Let’s hope that Smith can use his impending time off wisely. (Maybe he’ll study up on just how to properly conceal the same substance so he’ll not get thrown out of the game next time. Or am I being too cynical?)

Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Season Starts at 2-11…When Will Changes Be Made?

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Folks, I’ve been waiting for the Milwaukee Brewers to actually win a few games before writing this blog. But as they only have two wins all season thus far, and eleven losses, I can’t delay this post any longer.

How long is it going to take for Brewers owner Mark Attanasio to realize that manager Ron Roenicke is not the answer?

I know, I know. Roenicke was given a quiet one-year contract extension in Spring Training. That will make it quite difficult to fire him.

But something has to be done. Whether it’s a new bench coach — is Robin Yount available? — or a new pitching coach (as Rick Kranitz doesn’t seem to be doing much), or better yet, getting rid of most of the coaches, something has to be done.

Last year, I wrote a blog about how ridiculous it was for the Brewers to get rid of first base coach Garth Iorg and hitting coach Johnny Narron when Roenicke still had a job. Here’s a few words from that post:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Which is why I find the Milwaukee Brewers’ refusal to fire manager Ron Roenicke after the Brewers’ historic collapse in September 2014 so troubling.

…firing Iorg made very little sense, as Iorg wasn’t to blame for Milwaukee’s players’ brain freezes on the basepaths or Mark Reynolds’ failure to remember how many outs there were in an inning or Carlos Gomez’s inability to lay off bad pitches or even Ryan Braun’s thumb injury.

While Roenicke wasn’t directly to blame for any of those things, either, someone has to be held accountable.

I mean, really. The Brewers were in first place for 150 days of the season. Then they went 9-22 over the last 31 games to miss the playoffs and finish 82-80.

And the person who usually is held accountable is — wait for it — the manager. Not the piddly first base coach.

I stand by my assessment that Roenicke should be fired for the team’s poor play since last July.

Why?

Roenicke is the wrong man to be leading this team. He’s not a bad guy, and he does know baseball. But he can’t motivate this team. They aren’t playing well in any aspect of the game right now — not hitting, where the team has a woeful .217 batting average according to ESPN’s stats page as of 4/20/2015; not pitching, where the Brewers have a combined ERA of 4.76; and while their combined fielding percentage of .973 is not abhorrent, it should be much better than it is.

That’s why Roenicke should go.

Here’s the main reason people are already talking about putting paper bags over their heads when they go out to Miller Park to watch the Brewers play:

Team Leaders as of 4/20/15

  • Home runs: Ryan Braun (1), Jean Segura (1), Carlos Gomez (1), Adam Lind (1)
  • Batting average: Adam Lind, .302
  • RBI: Carlos Gomez, 6
  • Hits: Jean Segura, 14

The only bright spot there is Segura, who appears to have regained his hitting form from his rookie year. He’s currently batting .292, and actually has hit one homer along with four RBI.

However, our RBI leader is Gomez, a man who is currently on the disabled list (DL) with a partial hamstring tear. The second-most RBIs on the team belong to Lind, with five; Braun has three.

As usual, Aramis Ramirez is not hitting this early. (It’s rare when Ramirez does hit in April, as he did last year. His entire career, he’s been a slow starter.) So I’m not worried about him, especially as Ramirez is playing excellent defense.

Scooter Gennett has not been hitting well, either, though his fielding hasn’t been abysmal. But Gennett is out right now, too, as he had an accident while showering in Pittsburgh after yesterday’s game; he had to have stitches in his left hand, and may be placed on the DL soon.

The guy I was most worried about — until tonight’s broken toe injury — was catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He has looked dreadful behind home plate; he’s made a couple of throwing errors, he’s had a passed ball, and he just hasn’t looked comfortable. (He was injured going into Spring Training, and my guess is that he tried hard to play too early.) Lucroy also hasn’t been hitting, batting only .156 with two RBI.

But now, he has joined Carlos Gomez on the DL. And the guy coming up to replace him, Juan Centeno, is not exactly a robust hitter…Centeno was hitting less than .200 at Triple-A in Colorado Springs (a place that’s notoriously hitter-friendly). He is, however, an excellent fielder with a strong arm, so the Brewers will at least have some stronger defense coming with Centeno spelling Martin Maldonado (also an excellent defensive catcher) now and again.

As for the pitching, we have a few guys with positive stats:

Team Leaders, Pitching, as of 4/20/2015

  • Jimmy Nelson has a win, 12 strikeouts (Ks), and a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings pitched (IP).
  • Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has one save and a 2.25 ERA in limited appearances (mostly because the Brewers have only had two winning efforts thus far; you don’t need a closer when you can’t get close enough to win a game). K-Rod has also taken one loss and has one blown save. (Three good games, and one bad thus far.)
  • Neal Cotts — a guy I didn’t even think should make the team, as he did so poorly in Spring Training — has seven Ks in 6 2/3 IP with a 1.59 ERA.
  • And Will Smith thus far has given up nothing in 4 1/3 IP and has six Ks.

(I don’t see much of a silver lining here, though I’ve tried mightily to find one.)

The Milwaukee Brewers are trying hard. They have pride in themselves and they assuredly don’t want to lose games in the same fashion as tonight’s 6-1 loss against the Reds. (The game was tied, 0-0, until the top of the 6th. Wily Peralta got rattled due to a number of factors, and gave up four runs. Then, for some reason, Roenicke trotted Peralta back out in the 7th and Peralta gave up two more runs.)

I see good defensive plays being made by guys like Lind, Ramirez, Braun, Segura and Gerardo Parra. I see better baserunning, for the most part, than last year, which means Roenicke has addressed that properly. I see true effort on the part of the Brewers — they aren’t just phoning it in.

But the team, as a whole, isn’t hitting, and almost no one is pitching well.

That is not a recipe for a winning season, much less a playoff contender.

Unless things turn around in this next homestand, I firmly believe Roenicke and the vast majority of his coaching staff should be fired. Because that way, at least the fans will know the owner holds himself accountable.

And don’t be surprised to see Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin on the chopping block, either. (As well he should be, if they cannot turn this mess around. Fast.)

Yovani Gallardo Traded to Rangers for 3 Prospects

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As expected, Yovani Gallardo was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers around 8:30 p.m. CDT on Monday, January 19, 2015. In exchange for Gallardo, the Rangers sent twenty-one-year-old utility IF Luis Sardinas along with two pitchers — eighteen-year-old Marcos Diplan and twenty-three-year-old Corey Knebel.

Now, was this an equitable trade for a guy who’s racked up 89 wins and over 1000 strikeouts in his career over an eight-year span?

No. It wasn’t. Especially considering that the Rangers somehow got the Brewers to agree to pay $4M of Gallardo’s nearly $14M salary in 2015.

So let me get this straight. Texas gets Gallardo and $4M. And Milwaukee got a promising young utility infielder, Sardinas, who hit left-handers very well in a limited big-league sample, Knebel, who may not quite be ready for the big leagues yet (after looking at these stats, Knebel probably grades out needing another year of AAA), and a huge wild card in the young, hard-throwing Diplan, who has all of one year of professional experience under his belt in the Dominican Summer league.

How does this trade make any sense whatsoever?**

To give up someone as consistent at Gallardo has been for the Brewers for the sake of these three guys at this stage of their careers seems…well, the only word I can come up with is “risky.”

Yes, the Brewers desperately needed a platoon partner for Scooter Gennett, as Gennett cannot hit left-handers to save his life. And with Rickie Weeks gone, Gennett’s weaknesses would’ve been exposed. I also agree that the Brewers needed a major-league-ready bat who could play a more than capable infield, considering Aramis Ramirez is going to be 37 in June. Ramirez will need someone to spell him who can hit; it’s quite possible that Sardinas is that man.

So I can see why they went and got Sardinas, even though I don’t think they should’ve traded Gallardo to get him.

In the long run, this trade could work well for the Brewers. But in the short run, the only upside for Milwaukee that I see is that the Rangers will be paying $9M+ of Gallardo’s salary and that Sardinas could potentially help shore up the infield.

No matter what other noises the Brewers make, it is absolutely impossible to know right now whether Knebel could be someone to help Milwaukee fans forget about Tom Gorzelanny or Zach Duke or whether Knebel goes to Colorado Springs and stays there for the duration of 2015.

As for the “addition by subtraction” debate going on in some corners of Brewers fandom, I do not believe Jimmy Nelson is ready to become a solid, big-league starting pitcher. So getting rid of Gallardo to make a space for Nelson makes no sense, especially as Nelson has shown only two major-league ready pitches thus far (a fastball without much movement, and a hard slider) and needs a minimum of three to keep major-league hitters off-balance.

My bottom line analysis: Unless Knebel makes the big-league club and does well, this trade seems like an absolute steal for the Rangers. In Gallardo, they get a quality, durable #3 starter who likes Texas and is from there, so he should fit in well with their team. While we get one guy, Sardinas, who looks like he’s probably ready for the big show on a regular basis to play in various places around the infield, and two other guys who may or may not pan out.

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**Gallardo would’ve been a free agent at the end of 2015. So this trade is in effect a one-year rental for the Texas Rangers unless they can get Gallardo to sign an extension. But if the objective is to “win now,” as Brewers owner Mark Attanasio says it is, it makes zero sense to trade Gallardo unless you have someone better in the fold to take Gallardo’s job.

Jimmy Nelson is not that guy.