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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.

———–

**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.

Hot Stove Heats Up in Milwaukee — Will Gallardo be Traded?

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Sunday was a big sports day in Wisconsin. First, the Green Bay Packers lost to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in the NFC Championship Game, 27-22. And next…the Milwaukee Brewers are considering trading starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers?

Really?

Apparently it’s true. This report from Yahoo’s “Big League Stew” column explains why a trade like this might take place. Gallardo was raised in Texas, so he’s familiar with the area. Texas’s pitching coach is Mike Maddux, and as longtime readers of this blog know, Maddux was the Brewers’ pitching coach before he left for Texas several years back — which means Maddux has known Gallardo for a long time. And in addition to all of that, this particular trade seems to make sense from a financial standpoint for both sides — that is, depending on who Texas is willing to send in return.

Now, just strongly considering the merits of a trade in this instance does not commit the Brewers to actually sending Gallardo to Texas or anywhere else. But it seems logical that the Brewers might do this for several reasons:

  • There currently are six potential good starting pitchers on Milwaukee’s staff, including Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, Gallardo, Matt Garza, Mike Fiers, and Jimmy Nelson. (Nelson is the most unproven of these starters.) Trading Gallardo would open a spot in the rotation for Nelson.
  • Gallardo never quite became the ace the Brewers faithful were hoping for. He’s more a solid number two starter, or a really good number three, not an ace. If he’s in Texas, behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (if the latter stays healthy), Gallardo would not have anywhere near as much pressure to deal with from the fans or from the media. (Not that the media is all that awful in Milwaukee, mind.)
  • Gallardo may wish for a fresh start, considering he got busted for a DUI last year.

Now, who might Texas want to trade to Milwaukee? Rumors are running rampant, from prospects like Joey Gallo to even potentially sending Prince Fielder back to Milwaukee (if all of the monetary stuff could somehow be worked out). Fielder is a particularly intriguing possibility because the Brewers have had a huge void at first base since he left (with the exception of Corey Hart for half a season).

And there are reasons for Fielder to want to come back to Milwaukee. He always did well here. The clubhouse’s family atmosphere also was appealing to Fielder and his sons. And the media in Milwaukee are, for the most part, far more forgiving than many other baseball markets.

That being said, most likely if Gallardo is traded, it’s going to be for several prospects and one utility infielder who can hit and play some occasional outfield (someone much like Tony Graffanino in his heyday with the Brewers). The Brewers need prospects. And they desperately need a MLB-capable utility player.

Personally, I’ll hate to see Gallardo go. I respect him, and I think he’s a quality pitcher.

But if he goes, I hope the Brewers will make the right trade — not simply trade him because he’s owed $13 million in 2015 and the Brewers don’t particularly want to pay.

So, what’ll it be, Brewers? Will we have a shake-up just in time for the Brewers On Deck event on Sunday?

Stay tuned.

Milwaukee Brewers 2014 End-of-the-Season Wrap-up

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Folks, I waited a few extra days to post my end-of-the-season wrap-up for the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, mostly to see if the Brewers would show some sense and fire manager Ron Roenicke. But as they haven’t — yet — it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Here’s what I thought of my 82-80 2014 Milwaukee Brewers:

PITCHING

  • Kyle Lohse (13-9, 3.54 ERA, 198 1/3 innings pitched) was robbed. He left with the lead six more times than he has wins; if the Brewers had won even three more of those games, he’d have had a 16-win season. Lohse was Milwaukee’s most consistent starter, and threw a 2-hit shutout gem late in the season when the Brewers were still (barely) in Wild Card contention.
  • Wily Peralta (17-11, 3.52 ERA, 198 2/3 innings pitched) was a bit overrated. Peralta improved in his second season, no lie, but unlike Lohse and the other starters, Peralta’s games featured better offensive support and better relief pitching . . . so Peralta didn’t have as many no decisions as Lohse.

These were the Brewers two best season-long starters.

“But what about Mike Fiers, Barb?” you ask. “Wasn’t he great, too?”

Yes, he was.

Fiers was Milwaukee’s best pitcher down the stretch and helped keep the Brewers in contention long past their sell-by date. But Fiers (6-5, 2.13 ERA, 71 2/3 innings pitched) wasn’t brought up for good until August, which is why he’s not listed above with the two best Brewers pitchers.

“What about Yovani Gallardo (8-11, 3.51 ERA, 192 1/3 innings pitched) and Matt Garza (8-8, 3.64 ERA, 163 1/3 innings pitched)?” you ask.

Mostly, Gallardo and Garza both had better seasons than their records indicated. Both, like Lohse, were victimized by poor run support throughout the season and hit-or-miss relief pitching that often wasted their quality starts.

These five pitchers should be in the starting rotation for 2015.

Now, as for the relievers?

  • Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez (5-5, 3.04 ERA, 44 saves in 49 opportunities) was excellent at the start of the season, had an odd July, and a decent rest of the season. The home run ball was a bit of a concern at times, and K-Rod lived up to his nickname of “twenty minutes of terror,” but he’s a quality closer and at thirty-two is already tenth on the all-time save leaders list with 348.
  • Will Smith (1-3, 3.70 ERA, 78 appearances, 30 holds) was overused; prior to his overuse, Smith was a legitimate All-Star candidate and was K-Rod’s set-up man for the first three-fifths of the season.

Everyone else (with Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang as a conspicuous exception) was competent and unexceptional over the long-term, though several (Zach Duke and Tyler Thornburg in particular) had some great stretches here and there that made me sit up and take notice.

HITTERS

Here, I’m going to break it into the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The good:

  • Jonathan Lucroy (.301, 13 HR, 69 RBI, and a league-leading 53 doubles) had a breakout season. Deservedly a starting All-Star, Lucroy will garner some MVP votes; unlike most of the other Brewers hitters, Lucroy is willing to take a walk and patiently waits until he gets his pitch. Lucroy is not the world’s fastest runner, but he also makes very few baserunning mistakes and is perhaps the smartest — and toughest — player on the team.
  • Scooter Gennett (.289, 9 HR, 59 RBI) did very well against right-handers and exceptionally poorly against left-handers in his second season in the bigs. Gennett’s main problem is that he strikes out way too much and takes far too few walks; he needs to learn some plate discipline from Lucroy.
  • Carlos Gomez (.284, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 34 SBs) did reasonably well and was a deserving All-Star. However, he swung at everything and anything — especially toward the end of the season — refused to take walks, and made some bad outs on the basepaths down the stretch. The epitome of a “high risk, high reward” player, Gomez must learn to keep his head in the game.

The bad:

  • Mark Reynolds (.196, 22 HR, 45 RBI) would’ve been acceptable if he’d just have kept hitting at his pre-All-Star levels (.205, 14, 33) because his defense at first and third was stellar. But his production fell off, his strikeouts mounted, and he had some odd mental lapses that contributed to the Brewers losing games down the stretch that they should’ve won. Reynolds should not be back in 2015.
  • Jean Segura (.246, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 20 SBs) had a great final thirty days of the season, batting .327 during that stretch, or he’d have been in the “ugly” category. And his defense continues to be way above average. But considering Segura was an All-Star in 2013, his first full year in the bigs, 2014 was a step backward. (Mind, players are only human, and Segura lost his son right before the All-Star break. That assuredly accounts for why much of his second half was abysmal.) Let’s hope in 2015, Segura gets back on track.
  • Aramis Ramirez (.285, 15 HR, 66 RBI) has decent numbers, but they are somewhat deceptive.  Down the stretch, Ramirez showed that he was tired, old, and slow — and while his defense at third was still adequate or better, he cost the team numerous runs because he simply could not run (possibly due to a lingering injury, possibly due to his age). He’s due $14 million if the Brewers pick up his contract option next year, and I’m not at all sure Ramirez is deserving of such largesse — especially considering his anemic performance (.212, 1 HR, 5 RBI) down the stretch.

The ugly:

  • Ryan Braun’s thumb injury sapped him of his power stroke and caused Braun to alter his overall hitting mechanics. None of this helped Braun’s overall numbers (.266, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 11 SBs). In addition, like Ramirez, Braun’s final thirty-day performance was dreadful (.200, 1 HR, 3 RBI). Braun has had cutting-edge thumb surgery since the end of the season, and much is riding on it; only time will tell as to whether or not Braun can regain his power stroke.
  • Khris Davis (.244, 22 HR, 69 RBI) was a major disappointment. He struck out way too much, walked too little, his defense remains a work in progress and his arm is quite weak. Ideally, Davis projects as a DH in the American League, though if he’s willing to learn how to play first base and shows some aptitude for the position, Davis might be OK there instead.

Everyone else was either mediocre or competent in some ways but not others (for example, Lyle Overbay did quite nicely as a pinch hitter and can still field at first base, but otherwise showed that he’s ready for retirement).

PROGNOSIS

Simply put: The Brewers could not hit down the stretch, which cost them any chance at the playoffs. The pitching was competent and sometimes brilliant; the hitting was OK at the beginning of the season and dreadful at the end, while the fielding was for the most part steady and unspectacular.

To improve in 2015, the Brewers need a brand-new manager of the firebrand type — Ozzie Guillen, say. Or Mike Maddux, who definitely let it be known when he was upset with his pitchers during his stint as the Brewers pitching coach years ago. Or even Dale Sveum, who certainly mixed it up in his playing days and was willing to chew his players a new one in private . . .

Anything but Roenicke, who is too quiet and reserved to manage this bunch of huge, overpaid egos. He should’ve kicked some butts and taken some names during the Brewers woeful 1-13 stretch in September, and allowed at least some of his frustration to show through so fans understood he wasn’t happy with how his team was playing.

As it stands, Milwaukee was not consistent in how it’s handled Roenicke’s tenure, either. Ned Yost was fired back in September 2008 because his team was on a losing streak. Yet Roenicke’s Brewers were on a bigger losing streak, and the Brewers did not make a move.

But they had better. Because Roenicke, while a quality human being and a good baseball man, is not the right fit for this team.

Anyone who watched Milwaukee stumble down the stretch should know that.

AWARDS

Pitcher of the year: Francisco Rodriguez (Runners-up: Kyle Lohse and Wily Peralta)

Brewers MVP: Jonathan Lucroy (No one else was even close.)

Comeback Player of the Year: Mike Fiers (Runner-up: Zach Duke)

Rookie of the Year: No award.

Milwaukee Brewers win, 5-0, over Cincinnati — Still Alive (Barely) in WC Race

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Folks, last night I wrote a blog about the Milwaukee Brewers being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. But later on Wednesday, I found out that the Brewers had a very minimal shot at making the playoffs instead.

The way the Brewers can go to the playoffs is this:

  1. They must win all of their remaining games.
  2. The San Francisco Giants must lose all of their remaining games.
  3. Providing those two things occur, a one-game playoff would ensue between the Brewers and the Giants at the conclusion of the 162-game regular season. Whichever team won that one-game playoff would then play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the official one-game Wild Card playoff. (And whichever team won that game would proceed to play the #1 seed among the three division winners; as of today’s date, that team is the Washington Nationals.)

So at the start of Wednesday night’s action, Brewers starting pitcher Kyle Lohse knew it was all down to him. He’s been pitching extremely well lately, though he hasn’t picked up the wins to show for it due to Milwaukee’s offensive woes, and he was by far the best pitcher to take the mound last night against the Cincinnati Reds.

What did Lohse do while under pressure? Why, toss a 2-hit complete game shutout, of course (shades of last year), helping the Brewers to a 5-0 win.

So the Brewers stayed alive another day in the playoff hunt, albeit on serious life-support. The Giants’ magic number (of Brewers losses or their own wins) remains at one, which means the above scenario remains in force.

Thursday’s afternoon game is the season finale against the Reds, and Yovani Gallardo will be going to the hill in the attempt to keep the Milwaukee’s playoff dreams alive.  (Is it just me, or is the ghost of Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis — he of “Just win, baby” fame — hovering around the Brewers for some reason?)

Providing the Brewers beat Cincinnati, all eyes will be on San Francisco’s evening game against the San Diego Padres.

Will the Padres play spoiler? Who knows?

All I know is that I hope Gallardo wins, because it’s better by far for the Brewers to end their season with a bang instead of a whimper.

Milwaukee Brewers win, 1-0, in Pittsburgh after SP Matt Garza Ejected

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The Milwaukee Brewers have had several heartbreaking losses lately. But tonight, in a must-win situation in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, the Brewers were able to pull out a needed 1-0 victory despite starting pitcher Matt Garza’s ejection in the 5th inning.

The game was a nervous, tension-filled one from the start. Almost no one was getting on base for either team, and when someone did, he didn’t score. Brewers and Pirates kept trying to get on; two Pirates (both in the form of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, in different innings) managed to reach after being hit by a pitch. (More on that in a bit.)

Let’s put it this way. Logan Schafer’s sacrifice fly in the 9th inning was by far the biggest hit in the game, as it scored the only run for either team.

So it was a pitcher’s duel throughout. But it wasn’t a usual type of pitcher’s duel at all due to the fact that Brewers starting pitcher Matt Garza got thrown out in the fifth inning after hitting McCutchen for the second time.

Here was the situation. There were two outs. No one was on base. Garza had a 1-2 count, and pitched inside to get McCutchen — who’s famous for leaning over the plate — to step off the plate a bit. (As Garza said later on in the after-game press conference, you can’t take chances with McCutchen as he’s a dangerous hitter — my best paraphrase here, as I don’t have a transcript.)

Now, there is no way in the world that Garza wanted to throw at McCutchen, OK? This is a playoff game of sorts for the Brewers, as they know they must win if they’re to have any chance of overtaking the Pirates for the second and final Wild Card slot. No runs at all had been scored, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player was at the plate in McCutchen, and he’d already been hit once by Garza so Garza knew he had to be careful not to hit him again.

That said, it’s not because Garza hit McCutchen that Garza ended up getting thrown out. Instead, it’s because Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez threw inside twice — two purpose-pitches — to Ryan Braun that both benches were warned. And once the benches are warned, even if a pitcher isn’t intentionally trying to hit another batter, the umpires basically have no choice whatsoever: They have to throw out whatever pitcher actually hit someone.

So we go back to Garza in the 5th inning. It’s a tie game, nothing to nothing. McCutchen is, as usual, standing right on top of home plate. McCutchen is one of the best hitters in the NL, and Garza can’t give him anything, so probably the best outcome for Garza if you can’t get McCutchen off the plate would’ve been a walk.

But McCutchen also is a very fast runner. So if you put him on, you risk him stealing a base or two and creating a run. Which is the main reason Garza was trying to get McCutchen to back off a bit from the plate — that’s the only way Garza has, as a pitcher, to force McCutchen to hit Garza’s pitch. (I know all this “inside baseball” stuff may throw some of you. If it does, don’t worry; just skip to the next paragraph or so down.)

Anyway, because of Volquez’s actions in nearly hitting Braun twice (and throwing in the same place both times), when Garza hit McCutchen twice (albeit in two different innings), tempers would’ve flared and the benches might’ve cleared if the umpires hadn’t thrown Garza out. That’s the main reason the umpires don’t have much discretion in those cases; they are trying to prevent brawls where people get hurt, then the league office ends up fining people and issuing suspensions. And when both teams are still in the playoff hunt (no matter how tenuous it might be for the Brewers), the last thing you want is for someone’s season to end via injury because of a bench-clearing brawl.

So Garza was out, and so was Brewers manager Ron Roenicke (as that’s what the rule is; both must be ejected). The game could’ve turned ugly fast for the Brewers . . .

Except that every relief pitcher who was brought in subsequent to Garza’s ejection, starting with Marco Estrada, put up goose eggs.

Look. I’m a Brewers fan, but I’m also a baseball fan. I understand that McCutchen was hit badly in Arizona on August 2 due to a stupid, intentional action. That nearly ended McCutchen’s season right then and there.

I also understand that the Pirates don’t especially like the Brewers, because for years the Brewers would go into Pittsburgh and wipe the floor with the Pirates. Even when the Brewers had horrible teams that seemingly couldn’t beat anyone else, the Brewers just had the Pirates number, and it showed.

But I also know this: There’s no way, in a playoff hunt, that Garza wants to hit McCutchen right there. It would be a stupid act. More to the point, it would be a senseless one, as he has to know that McCutchen is still upset over the August 2 HBP that nearly ended his season . . . Garza’s job was to get McCutchen out, not to hurt McCutchen.

And Garza said as much in the postgame press conference. He wasn’t necessarily kind about it, as he said, in essence, that McCutchen “isn’t his guy” and that Garza pays attention to what’s happening right now, not what happened to McCutchen back on August 2. But as Garza said, you would have to be “an idiot” to believe Garza was intentionally trying to hit McCutchen under the circumstances — especially as Garza had no way to know at the time that his bullpen would step up and that the Brewers would actually find a way to win this game after losing three heartbreakers.

Anyway, the Brewers 1-0 win has kept their playoff hopes alive. My hope now is that Wily Peralta can come out on Sunday and pitch as well as the rest of the Milwaukee starters have done for the past two weeks, and shut the Pirates right down . . . and that the Brewers offense wakes up enough to win another game.

Brewers Beat Marlins, 4-2, After Giancarlo Stanton Gets Hit in the Face

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The Milwaukee Brewers haven’t been playing well lately, to put it mildly. After losing more than they’ve won since the All-Star Break (with a record of 22-28 starting tonight’s action), the Brewers have needed wins in the worst way.

Enter starting pitcher Mike Fiers. Fiers has been brilliant since being brought up from AAA Nashville a month ago; he’s now won six games and lost only one, with an ERA of 1.74. More importantly still, Fiers has struck out 54 while walking only 10, and before tonight’s game had hit no batters. None.

What a difference one game makes.

With the Brewers up, 4-0, in the top of the 5th, Miami’s RF Giancarlo Stanton came up to the plate in a high-pressure situation. There were two outs and a runner stood on first; as Stanton leads the National League in both HRs (37) and RBI (105), he’s obviously someone Milwaukee — and Fiers — took very seriously.

Fiers was in an 0-1 count before he threw a pitch up and in to Stanton — the pitch that hit Stanton in the face, causing a nasty, gruesome injury with a great deal of facial bleeding. After several long, tension-filled minutes, Stanton was taken off the field in an ambulance cart, and the game resumed with an 0-2 count to emergency pinch hitter Reed Johnson.

Now, I’m a Brewers fan, but I honestly don’t understand why Stanton wasn’t awarded first base after getting hit in the face. Yes, he swung — a defensive swing, because his body was already in motion, trying to avoid the ball coming at his face — but the most important thing was that Stanton got hit in the face.

Everyone in the ballpark, much less every fan watching the Marlins-Brewers game, knows that.

Anyway, Johnson stepped into the batter’s box, and he, too, was hit by a pitch — this time on the hand. Again, there’s a defensive swing . . . again, the umps call a strike, and this time call it a strikeout due to a dead ball (the ball hitting Johnson’s hand, that is).

So even though the box score will not show that Fiers actually hit two batters, anyone with eyes knows good and well that Fiers first hit Stanton, a genuine MVP candidate for the NL, in the face. (Was it intentional? Of course not. But the fact remains that Fiers hit him.) Then, after the  umps did not award Stanton first base as they should’ve, Johnson stood in there against Fiers and Fiers threw it in more or less the same place — up and in — this time grazing Johnson on the hand.

The benches cleared after the second hit batsman, which is somewhat sensible. Former Brewer Casey McGehee, who knows Fiers, came out and yelled — either at the umps for not sending Stanton’s replacement to first base right off the bat, or for the umps perhaps crediting Fiers with the oddest “strikeout” I’ve ever seen . . . or maybe at Fiers**, who is known for being a control pitcher as his fastball tops out around 88 mph (which is very slow for MLB, these days). McGehee was ejected, as was Miami’s manager Mike Redmond, and everyone else was sent back to their respective dugouts to cool off.

I reiterate: I don’t believe Fiers was trying to hit Stanton. Nor, for the record, do I think Fiers was trying to hit Reed Johnson, either.

But the fact of the matter is, Fiers hit two guys on two successive pitches, one right after the other. And the umps didn’t send either one of them to first base.

Instead, both benches were warned that if anyone else was hit, the manager and pitcher would be concurrently ejected.

The Marlins did retaliate, of course, despite the umpire’s warning.

With two outs and no one on in the sixth, reliever Anthony DeSclafani promptly hit CF Carlos Gomez on the left elbow on the first pitch. And as expected, DeSclafani was immediately ejected, along with acting manager/bench coach Rob Leary.

The rest of the game was an afterthought, as it was obvious both teams were far more worried about Stanton’s injury than they were in finishing this game out. So while the Brewers did “win” this game, it didn’t really feel like one.

As for postgame reaction?

Both Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and Fiers said during comments to the media as shown by Fox Sports Wisconsin during their “Brewers Live” postgame telecast that they both hope Stanton will be all right — and of course Fiers wasn’t trying to throw at Stanton (or Johnson, either).

Marlins manager Mike Redmond’s postgame comments were also shown by Fox Sports Wisconsin. Redmond said that anyone being upset at the Marlins for being angry that their MVP Stanton’s season has probably ended due to terrible hit to the face isn’t being honest with themselves, because any team would be upset under these circumstances. And that he, personally, was very upset that Fiers hit two guys in a row with two pitches, but neither Marlin was awarded first base.

I think Redmond’s comments are understandable. I hope he knows that Fiers would not hit Stanton in the face intentionally, because Fiers isn’t that type of guy at all — he’s worked too long and too hard to get back to the major leagues after his mother’s untimely passing last year due to complications from lupus. But losing your MVP to a freak thing like that? I’d be upset, too, especially considering how Fiers hit Johnson on the next pitch in the hand, with neither of them being called a HBP by home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg.

Anyway, that was a very weird game, and a very odd victory that doesn’t at all feel like something the Brewers should celebrate.

Before I go, here’s the most current update on Stanton’s condition from MLB’s Joe Frisaro, one of the beat writers for the Miami Marlins. Frisaro Tweeted this in regards to Stanton’s injuries just a few minutes ago:

Giancarlo Stanton suffered a facial laceration requiring stitches, multiple facial fractures and dental damage

Obviously this is terrible news . . . certainly not the news I’d hoped to hear, especially considering the early news from the Marlins only said “facial laceration.” (Which, admittedly, seemed ludicrous. I suspected a broken orbital bone or possibly a broken cheekbone, considering, and “facial laceration” seemed remarkably light.) This will end Stanton’s season in a truly freakish way, something no one — not Mike Fiers, not the Brewers faithful, not anyone affiliated with the Marlins and certainly no one around MLB itself — wanted.

My hope now is that Stanton will make a quick recovery and be ready to go during Spring Training 2015.

———-

**Fiers looked wild all game. Perhaps the colder-than-average weather didn’t help, as it was 50 degrees at game time . . . yes, the Brewers have a domed stadium, and  the roof was closed, but that damp cold still seeps in and it does affect the pitchers.

##A personal update: I am recovering from surgery, and posts have been few and far between for the past week because of that. But I couldn’t let this one go by . . . really hope Stanton will be OK down the road, and had hoped that somehow he would escape serious injury.

Tagged in the Meet My Character Blog-Hop…and Other Stuff

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Folks, I’ve been tagged by author Erin Moore in the Meet My Character(s) Blog-hop. She’s the author of AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR, a contemporary romance about a man forced to shapeshift into the form of a Minotaur that’s set in Greece and uses Greek myth as its basis. Her book looks a little bit like P.C. Cast’s Goddess novels, which means it should be a fun, fast read with some really good grounding in history and mythology and a goodly amount of spice.

And as I’ve read nearly every book P.C. Cast has ever put out — even if I haven’t reviewed most of them — I look forward to diving into her book soon.

Now, observant readers may be aware that I’ve done this particular blog-hop before (here’s the link, if you don’t believe me) — but I talked about Bruno the Elfy, then. This time, I’m going to talk about Sarah, his human love interest — both are teens (or the equivalent, in Bruno’s case, as Elfys mature more slowly than humans), so it’s an age-appropriate, gentle romance — and discuss things from her point of view.

So look for my response to Erin’s tag next Monday, OK? (And thanks again, Erin, for tagging me! I’m always glad to discuss AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE.)

Now, as for the other stuff.

I’ve taken to Twitter in my support of comedienne Joan Rivers, as the eighty-one-year-old dynamo had a heart attack while undergoing a throat procedure in an outpatient clinic in New York nearly a week ago. Since that time, Ms. Rivers has been in a medically-induced coma, but the most recent word is that the doctors have started bringing her out of that.

No one knows how long Ms. Rivers was without oxygen, though. And that’s important — someone can survive a heart attack with immediate treatment (CPR, in this case), but the longer the brain goes without oxygen, the more likely she’s going to be impaired either physically or mentally.

Here, obviously, losing mental faculties has to be the main issue. (No one wants to lose the ability to move around, but actors and comedians can continue to make a living providing their minds are intact and they can speak and be understood.) As Ms. Rivers has made her way in the world due to a razor-sharp intellect, she must have her mind or she can’t work.

More to the point, she won’t be herself if she doesn’t have her mind, whether she ever works again or not. So I hope she does regain her mental faculties, knows who she is and recognizes her family and friends when she wakes up, regardless of whether she ever steps foot on stage again.

Because I don’t know about you, but losing one sharp-witted comedian earlier this year in Robin Williams — a good friend of Ms. Rivers, I might add — was more than enough.

Next, what can I say about my poor favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, that isn’t already being said? The words “collapse” and “folding” and “I told you so” are already emerging from the national pundits, as the Brewers have now officially lost their nearly year-long lead in the National League Central due to their 4-2 loss today to the lowly Chicago Cubs.

But I’m more concerned about the fatigue I’ve seen on the faces of too many of the Brewers regulars. Ryan Braun looks like he needs not just one day off, but several — his thumb, and perhaps his back as well, is obviously hurting him. Khris Davis is not running as well as normal, so he looks to be ailing. Aramis Ramirez is still playing good defense, but he can barely run, and probably would be on the disabled list if not for being in the thick of the pennant race . . . the list goes on and on. And that’s not even discussing the relief pitchers who’ve been with Milwaukee since the start of the season, who to a man are exhausted due to their many, many appearances.

Mind, the Brewers traded a few days ago for Jonathan Broxton, late of the Cincinnati Reds, who’s a former closer and perhaps may serve as a fresh arm. But they look tired, they’re not playing well, and the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals look to be pressing their advantage — as they should, mind, because that is their job.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Finally, I’m working on two fiction short stories and finishing up a major edit right now, so I may be scarce for the next several days. (We’ll see.) Don’t be surprised if you don’t see much of me until next week, as that’s what tends to happen when I’m on deadline.

As Maury Povich says, “Until next time, America…” (or should I say world?)

Quick (Sports) Hits, Friday Edition

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Folks, I’d hoped to write a post tonight about P.G. Wodehouse, which is the second of my “Learning from the Fiction Masters” blogs. However, that needs must be postponed as I have lots of work at the moment and very little time to do it in . . . I apologize, but I’m going to make this a bi-weekly series for the time being, and will have a new blog in this series up next Friday instead.

Anyway, I do have a few quick hits for you, updates regarding previous blog posts about sports. So here we go!

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has changed his mind about domestic violence. Instead of the piddly two-game suspension Goodell gave to Ray Rice for hitting his then-fiancée and dragging her off an elevator (I wrote about this here), new domestic violence offenders will be penalized six games for the first offense, and have a lifetime ban after the second — but the lifetime ban is a qualified one, meaning the offender can try for reinstatement after a year away from football (and presumably improving his life in some way). This is good news, and I applaud Goodell for taking a step in the right direction.

    But Ray Rice still got over, and I remain deeply unhappy about that.

  • Chris Kluwe had filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Vikings over the way special teams coach Mike Priefer behaved during the 2012 season (I discussed Priefer’s behavior in this blog, though I did not discuss the lawsuit as I was waiting for a resolution there — or perhaps for the trial to start, take your pick.) The Vikings initially were going to fight Kluwe, but instead have settled with him. The proceeds of this lawsuit are going to several LGBT and transgender charities, and are believed to exceed $100,000 (but are perhaps shy of the cool million dollars Kluwe’s lawyer was initially asking for); none of it benefits Kluwe directly in any way.

    I see no losers in this deal.

  • I continue to watch the Milwaukee Brewers, 2014 edition, and am cautiously optimistic that they can win the National League Central division. (Despite them stinking up the field thus far tonight in San Francisco, where as of this writing they are down, 6-1, in the bottom of the 4th.) The best position player thus far has probably been Jonathan Lucroy, and the best and most consistent starting pitcher all season long has been Kyle Lohse. (Don’t get fooled by Wily Peralta’s current pitching record of 15-8. Peralta can be very good, or very awful, and tonight he was awful as he gave up six earned runs.)

    Mind, I am worried about the relief pitching. Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has been giving up homers lately in his save opportunities, and blew a save on Wednesday precisely because of that. Will Smith has looked good again lately, but has had a ton of appearances; so have Zach Duke and Brandon Kintzler and most of the rest of the Brewers bullpen.

    At some point, the Brewers pitchers may hit the wall, collectively. (We’re already seeing that with Peralta, and may have seen signs of that already with Smith, Duke and Kintzler.) If that happens, and the Brewers cannot bring up fresh and experienced arms, that will imperil the Brewers playoff chances — much less their chances to win the NL Central.

Oh, and as for folks wondering what I’m up to with regards to reviewing books over at Shiny Book Review? I hope to review something tomorrow, but it still won’t be “Mad Mike” Williamson’s excellent FREEHOLD. (I want more time and energy than I currently have to discuss that book. Let’s just say, for now, that I really have enjoyed my re-read and that it’s unlikely any fans of Mad Mike will be displeased by anything I have to say.)

It’s more likely that I will review a romance of some sort for Romance Saturday, even though I’m not exactly sure what at this point…still, I will find something, and we’ll all know tomorrow!

Five Things about the Milwaukee Brewers, July 2014 Edition

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Thus far in 2014, the Milwaukee Brewers have played exceptionally well. They have led the National League Central division since early April, they have the best record in the entire National League at 52-38, and they’re sending four people to the All-Star game next week: CF Carlos Gomez and 3B Aramis Ramirez will be starters, as they won the fan vote, while C Jonathan Lucroy and closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez are also on the squad, voted in by the players.

And as such, they’ve received massive media publicity. So you’d wonder why I’d want to blog about them (especially if you don’t already realize I’m a big Brewers fan) . . . but I have noticed five interesting things about Milwaukee’s season thus far that I felt were worthy of sharing.

1) Baserunning errors need to be minimized.

Look. The Brewers are a very good team, no lie. But they’d be even better if they didn’t make stupid mistakes on the basepaths.

Last night’s game was a case in point. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia, 3-2, mostly because of three baserunning mistakes killing rallies: the worst was when Jean Segura got thrown out at third base in the fifth inning, just after Jeff Bianchi had delivered a pinch-hit single with the bases loaded to drive in two runs and get the Brewers on the board. Segura needed to stop at second base, but was overly aggressive and ended up getting thrown out at third by a mile.

Later, Ryan Braun delivered a double to start off the eighth inning, but was obviously hobbled due to injury. (Ryan Howard actually jogged alongside Braun while Braun made his slow way toward second base. I’ve never seen an opposing player do that before.) So Logan Schafer came in to pinch run for Braun, which was sensible . . . however, when Lucroy weakly hit a ball to the right side of the infield, Schafer should’ve stayed where he was.

But did he? Hell, no.

Instead, Schafer went with the pitch and was easily thrown out at third. So a promising rally was immediately snuffed out, and the Brewers went quietly.

Somehow, these baserunning blunders need to stop. Because it’s reasonable to assume the Brewers could’ve come up with one more run and tied the game, especially back in the fifth inning before Segura’s mistake . . . if they’d just shown some common sense.

2) The relief pitching has been stellar.

Every reliever the Brewers have, with the exception of Wei Chung-Wang, has been somewhere between good to outstanding. Rob Wooten pitched two scoreless innings last night, and he has the highest ERA of any bullpen pitcher who’s pitched regularly and not been hobbled by injury at 4.34. And the best of the lot have been Will Smith, whose 21 holds and 2.16 ERA are worthy of an All-Star game appearance, and of course K-Rod, who’s 27 saves in 30 opportunities leads all of baseball is going to the All-Star game, as he ought.

3) The hitting isn’t working on all thrusters.

You might be wondering how I can say that when the Brewers, in general, score a lot of runs. I’m well aware that Lucroy is having the best season, hitting-wise, he’s ever had, and Gomez has done well also. Ramirez and Braun are performing well despite some nagging injuries. Davis and Reynolds have respectable power numbers. In addition, Scooter Gennett has done better than anticipated, while Rickie Weeks has had a good bounce-back season thus far.

So why am I saying the hitting isn’t quite there yet? Well, it’s not just that Braun is obviously hobbled by injuries (so, too, is Davis, who went station-to-station on the basepaths last night, a clear sign that he isn’t running well). Jean Segura really hasn’t found himself at the plate at all. Schafer isn’t using his speed to leg out hits, as he should. Both Reynolds and Davis strike out far too much, and often look completely befuddled at the plate. And Lyle Overbay is mostly showing that while he still has value as a part-time player, he’s definitely in the twilight of his career.

4) The starting pitching, with one exception, has been solid.

Kyle Lohse has pitched like a bona fide ace all year. Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo have both been solid #2 starters. Wily Peralta has looked much steadier than last year and has killer stuff, but I’m not yet certain he’ll ever be an ace. (He may top out at the same level as Gallardo — very good, but not quite an ace.)

The one exception, of course, is Marco Estrada. Estrada has given up many, many home runs, to the point that you could probably win a betting pool if you bet that Estrada was going to give up a HR to someone whenever he starts. He’s had some rough outings. And yet, he’s a smart and talented pitcher, so his lack of success, comparatively speaking, is baffling.

Is he a decent #5 starter? Sure. But Estrada has the potential to be much better than this.

Personally, if I had to bet on one player being traded any time soon, I’d bet on Estrada as that player, even over Rickie Weeks and Weeks’ bloated contract. Because Estrada has clearly underperformed, so another team may take a chance on straightening him out.

5) The defense has, with one exception, been much better than anticipated.

For the most part, the Brewers have had solid defense all season long. Reynolds, in particular, has been much, much better than anticipated, making many sparkling plays at both third and first base.

However, Khris Davis’s outfield play continues to perplex. Even before Davis’s recent injury that limits his speed on the bases and in the outfield, Davis doesn’t seem to know how to play left field very well. His arm is quite weak, and down the line, his ultimate position would probably be designated hitter as he does hit pretty well most of the time.

Even Weeks’s infield defense has improved, but nothing much seems to improve for Davis. He reminds me of the older Carlos Lee out there, before Lee was moved to first base, minus Lee’s obvious intelligence (Lee at least knew how to position himself in the outfield, most of the time, and Davis seems to lack that despite having superior coaching available).

As Davis is hurt right now, my advice would be for him to rest over the All-Star break. (Braun needs to do that, too.) Then, after that, Davis needs to listen to Gomez and Braun and Schafer, who are all much better outfielders than Davis will ever be, and try to learn from them. Davis also needs to listen to coach John Shelby, who was an excellent defensive outfielder in his time, and do whatever Shelby and his fellow outfielders tell him to do.

Maybe that way, Davis will improve.

In summation, the Brewers have to limit their baserunning mistakes. They need better pitching from Estrada, or to acquire a solid and serviceable fifth starter. They need better defense, by far, from Davis. They need better hitting from Segura and Overbay and they need to get healthy.

Otherwise, everyone needs to keep doing what they are. Because that’s the way to win baseball games and get to the playoffs . . . maybe even the World Series. (One can dream, anyway.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm