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Corey Hart Leaves Milwaukee for Seattle . . .

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It’s official, Milwaukee Brewers fans — Corey Hart has signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Seattle Mariners.

While I’m extremely disappointed, I understand why this happened.  Earlier this baseball offseason, the Mariners signed former New York Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano to a huge deal worth $240 million.  As the Mariners for the past several years have been pitching-rich but offense-poor (Felix Hernandez won a well-deserved Cy Young in 2010 with a 13-12 record and a 2.27 ERA with 232 strikeouts, and the Mariners’ offense hasn’t improved since then), they needed to upgrade their offense desperately if they had a hope of maximizing Cano’s abilities as a hitter.

So . . . enter Corey Hart.  As Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, Corey Hart can be a DH for Seattle, as they’re an American League club.  This means it’ll be easier for Hart to meet whatever benchmarks his incentive-laden contract includes (as the specifics of Hart’s contract are not yet known, partly because Hart must still pass a physical before the contract is approved) than it would be if he were still playing for the Brewers in the National League, as the NL does not have a DH.

In addition, the Mariners traded for OF Logan Morrison, sending P Carter Capps to Miami in exchange.  So it’s obvious that Seattle has majorly upgraded its offense — first they got Cano, next they got Hart, and now they’ve acquired Morrison.

One would think that the Mariners’ offensive woes will now be a thing of the past, providing Hart and Morrison (who both have extensive injury histories) can stay on the field.

Anyway, Brewers fans, while you nurse your disappointment, you may want to check out this post from Book View Cafe author Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff — Ms. Bohnhoff is a baseball fan, just like me, and also like me, she’s written several baseball-themed SF stories.  (Though unlike me, she’s actually gotten her stories into print.  Well, the century is young and I have faith . . .)

Here’s a quick taste (keeping in mind that Ms. Bohnhoff is talking about author W.P. Kinsella and his novel SHOELESS JOE in addition to her love of the game):

One day, after years of believing that baseball was a boring game played by overweight men in their jammies, the corn fields and the thrill of the grass and the brilliant sounds of the diamond gave me that sensation, just as Ray Kinsella describes it to Salinger.

As my husband tells it, we were driving home from a nursery, having purchased a trunk load of plants for our garden. I was pregnant with our second child. Jeff turned on the car radio to a Giants game and braced himself for a wisecrack from me. Instead, I said (and this is the Gospel truth), “You know, I just realized that I love baseball!”

And I did. And do. Because the word is baseball.

Yes.  Yes it is.

And it’s good to be reminded of that, even when your favorite player has just signed with a team that’s so far away, geographically, that you have next to no chance to see him play unless his new team does so well that they end up getting picked up several times for ESPN’s or MLB Network’s game of the week.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 12, 2013 at 5:37 am

Major League Baseball End-of-the-Year Wrap-up

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Folks, my health has delayed this blog significantly, but as I promised an end-of-the-year wrap-up talking about the World Series, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Carlos Gomez and his Gold Glove, and any significant trades, I figured I’d better get down to business and write one.  Because of the rather lengthy wait, I’ve even thrown in a Corey Hart update in the bargain . . . so let’s get started.

First, the World Series did not go the way I expected it to whatsoever.  I’d expected that the St. Louis Cardinals, which had been the best team in baseball over the latter two-thirds of the season, to waltz away with the Series.  But instead, the Boston Red Sox played much better than the Cardinals, even though neither team was anything close to error-free.

In fact, Boston’s pitching was better; its hitting was better; even its defense was better, which was extremely surprising as the Cardinals had been among the best defensive teams in the majors all year long.

And, of course, David Ortiz had a monster World Series, hitting .688 (no misprint) to carry the Red Sox to victory in six games.

After that shocker of a Series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Carloz Gomez of the Brewers won a well-deserved Gold Glove for his play in center field during 2013.  Gomez was most definitely the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but it wasn’t a lead-pipe cinch that he’d win the Gold Glove as Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is also a very good center fielder and had a much better offensive year than Gomez.  Fortunately, McCutchen won the Most Valuable Player Award, a well-deserved honor, but did not win the Gold Glove due to an increased focus on defensive metrics.

Since the Gold Gloves and MVP Awards were announced, there have been two trades that caught my attention.  The first of these was the trade of Detroit Tigers first baseman (and former Brewer) Prince Fielder to Texas for the Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.  At first, I was extremely surprised at this trade because of Fielder’s offensive value to Detroit, but after reflection I thought I understood it.  Detroit needed better defense, which Kinsler will provide at second, and by trading Fielder it’s possible for the Tigers to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base.

But I really think Fielder would still be a Tiger today if not for his really awful postseason.  Fielder looked bad defensively throughout the postseason, but worse than that, he looked as if his bat speed was not there — extremely distressing when your primary value as a player is due to your offense.  Even so, he might’ve rode out all of that if not for his infamous “belly-flop slide” into third in game six of the American League Championship Series that may have cost his team the ALCS, then some ill-advised comments afterward (which I’ll get to in a bit).

Since Fielder’s been traded, it’s now common knowledge that Fielder is in the process of getting a divorce.  I don’t normally comment on player divorces, but I’m going to make an exception in Fielder’s case because he and his wife were so prominent in Milwaukee.

I don’t know when Fielder was served with divorce papers, but it’s quite possible that Fielder’s “indifferent season” (where he “only” hit .275 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs and again backed up AL MVP Miguel Cabrera nicely) was made far less meaningful to him once he found out his wife wanted out.  This seems like a very trite statement — and perhaps it is — but Fielder is very well known in Milwaukee as a family man, and he took great pride in his wife and two young sons while he was here.  So it’s very possible that getting a divorce, for him, is much more difficult than it might be with someone else . . . not that divorce is ever easy.

In addition, Fielder wanted economic stability for his family.  This was the main reason he turned down the Brewers’ offers of roughly $20 Million a season for five or six years (there were several offers, but that is the last one I remember) to go to Detroit in the first place.  (Not that Fielder didn’t have any other offers; I’m sure he did.  But he liked Milwaukee, found it a stable and safe place for his family, and enjoyed the family friendly Brewers clubhouse, and was known as someone who was interested in more than just the greenbacks.)

Finally, my guess is that Fielder’s psyche is a bit more fragile than it appeared.  He’s a big, strong, tough man, sure — and he plays a great game of baseball.  But his own father, Cecil, was not a model father — this is well-known — or a model husband.  Prince took great pride in being both, and to find out that his wife didn’t want to be married to him anymore must have been devastating.

I said all this because without that context, Fielder’s comments after the ALCS was over (he said, roughly, that he wasn’t going to lose any sleep over his performance because he still had two young sons to take care of) make no sense.  And fans excoriated him over it, because it sounded like Fielder just did not care what happened.

As Jeff Deacon of Detroit Sports Nation (part of the Yardbarker sports blog network) put it:

After going 9 for 40 with 0 HR, and 0 RBI in 12 playoff games this postseason, it’s understandable that Prince would be upset. But many believe his comments are crossing a line. We all know he’s going through a now very public divorce, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for yet another awful postseason.

It wasn’t so much what he said to the media post-game, but how he said them. To me, it was evident his head was elsewhere this season. Almost as if he didn’t care.

I’m not saying Prince should ignore his family issues and focus solely on baseball, but when you’re making $25 million a year, you have to be able to cope with them. And if you can’t, take yourself off the field because you’re hurting your name and your teammates. Many people go through tough times in their life, especially over the past few years in Detroit. Yet, we still go to work and get our jobs done. Why should Prince Fielder be any different?

There’s a lot of truth in what Deacon said, and I completely understand and agree with the frustration in Detroit over Fielder’s comments.  But Fielder made many similar types of comments in Milwaukee long before his divorce, and we didn’t get upset with him over it.

Maybe this is because Brewers fans understood Fielder  a little better, or maybe it’s just that Fielder was not going through his divorce when he was with Milwaukee.

At any rate, my view of what Fielder said is simple — as bad as it sounded, Fielder pointed out that the season was over.  He didn’t want it to be over, for sure, and he assuredly wanted to play better in the ALCS.  (No one, most of all a prideful professional baseball player, wants to look bad in the national spotlight.)  But he has to look at the big picture, which is how he takes care of his two sons from here on out and how he rebuilds his personal life after his divorce is finalized (probably sometime late next year if Mrs. Fielder filed in Michigan and my understanding of Michigan divorce law is correct — which, admittedly, it may not be).

So had Prince Fielder still been in Milwaukee and said something like this, it’s unlikely there would’ve been as much of a furor.  Instead, fans would’ve been likely to forgive him, because Brewers fans always saw Prince as one of their own and would be likely to empathize with him over his impending divorce.

Anyway, let’s get to the second trade that sparked my interest, which was of Brewers relief pitcher Burke Badenhop to Boston for low minor league pitcher Luis Ortega.  Ortega is only twenty years of age, pitched in the rookie league last year, and is in no way, shape or form an equal talent to Badenhop.

Look.  Badenhop did a fine job for the Brewers this year, appearing in 63 games, pitching 62 1/3 innings with a 2-3 record and a 3.47 ERA, but he was due to make more next year in arbitration than this year’s $1.55 million.  The Brewers have to know that Ortega may or may not develop into a major league pitcher of any sort, as Ortega is just too young and raw to make any judgments, but they may have seen something in him that caused them to make this trade (giving them the benefit of the doubt).

My view, though, is very simple: the Milwaukee Brewers are again in “salary-dump mode” if they’re willing to jettison a proven major league reliever like Badenhop for someone like Ortega.  I’m so tired of the Brewers doing things like this, especially considering Badenhop’s more than adequate year as a middle reliever — he’d only been with the team a year, did a great job keeping the Brewers in games during an exceptionally difficult season and  seemed to truly enjoy playing baseball in Milwaukee despite all the ups and downs of the 2013 Brewers season.  Which is why I’m sad to see Badenhop go.

One final thought — it looks like the Brewers are going to make a serious run at Corey Hart once Hart is medically cleared for baseball activities on December 3, 2013.  This is very good to hear.

But I’m worried, again, that the Brewers will make Hart a low-ball offer due to Hart’s stated wish to stay in Milwaukee, especially after the Brewers jettisoned Badenhop for next to nothing.  The fans need our favorites after the dreadful 2013 season, and Hart’s one of the most fan-friendly players around . . . here’s hoping the Brewers will offer Hart enough money to stay in Milwaukee, where he’s comfortable and wants to continue playing.

A Slightly Delayed Milwaukee Brewers-Centered Blog…and Other Stuff

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Before I get to what’s been keeping me from blogging, first a few Milwaukee Brewers-centered updates.  The most obvious update has to do with Brewers LF Ryan Braun.  Braun came out with another statement, this one issued through the Brewers public relations department, saying that Braun cannot be more forthcoming than he already has due to the “ongoing investigation” by Major League Baseball.  And because no other MLB player has yet to step forward and admit to wrongdoing besides Braun, Braun’s suspension has remained front and center in the national news for nearly a week now.

What’s saddest about this saga, aside from Braun’s fall from grace, is how many sportswriters of national repute piled on Braun.  Christine Brennan, who writes brilliantly about ice skating, horse racing, and also is a noted baseball writer, was harsh in her condemnation of Braun — his lying, his taking of whatever PED (testosterone, allegedly, which as far as I know doesn’t help anyone hit a baseball any better, though it might be a “performance enhancer” in other ways outside of baseball), and how self-righteous Braun was in proclaiming his innocence back in 2011 and 2012.  But Jeff Passan went even further, calling Braun a “cockroach,” then admitting in a follow-up column that Braun, loathsome as Passan obviously finds Braun to be, still deserves to be paid under the contract previously negotiated between Braun, Braun’s agent, and the Brewers.

And those are just two of the many, many sportswriters who found it in their heart to cast oil on the waters, just so the story might burn a little hotter for a little longer, and thus sell more periodicals.

In other Brewers news, closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez was traded to the Orioles for minor-league third baseman Nick Delmonico.  This is largely considered a “win” for the Brewers front office because K-Rod wasn’t even signed to a minor-league deal by the Brewers until April was nearly over.

And, of course, the Brewers are still in last place in the National League Central.  Their next series will be against the Chicago Cubs, the team in second-to-last place.  However, as the Cubs are five and a half games ahead of the Brewers, I cannot rightfully call the next series “the battle for last place” right now.  (Maybe later?)

Oh, and by the way — the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (say that five times fast) have placed first baseman Albert Pujols on the disabled list with a partially torn plantar fascia.  Pujols is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The reason I mentioned this?  Well, Pujols’ injury is the same one that Brewers first baseman/OF Corey Hart played with — and on — for two solid months during the Brewers 2012 stretch run for that coveted second Wild Card spot.  Had Hart not played, the Brewers wouldn’t have been in contention until the last week of the season.

Now, it’s impossible to know whether or not Corey Hart would’ve needed to have both knees repaired this year if Hart had done the prudent thing and gone on the DL last year when Hart’s injury was first incurred, as Pujols has just done.  But one thing I do know — playing on that injury was a gutty move that I truly hope will not shorten Hart’s career.  (In other words, here’s hoping that Hart will be able to make a full recovery from double knee surgery, whether it takes six more months of rehab, a full year more, or even longer.)

Anyway, after all of these Brewers-centered updates, you might be wondering why I said right up front in my blog title today that this blog had been “slightly delayed.”  It’s simple: I’m working on a story submission for a major anthology, I played another in the summer series of concerts with the Racine Concert Band (free every Sunday night at the Racine Zoo; do check us out if you’re in town), and I’m continuing to ponder various things, editing-wise.

All of this is why I only just got around to discussing the K-Rod trade, much less this whole bit about Pujols going on the DL with the same, exact injury that Corey Hart suffered last year (but played through), today.

Hope it was worth the wait.

Milwaukee Brewers’ Woes Continue: Corey Hart Lost for the Year

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In 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers cannot seem to catch a break no matter how hard they try.  When the starting pitching is good, the offense is bad.  When the offense is good, the starting pitching is bad.  And sometimes, when both the offense and starting pitching are good, the defense is so horrid that it wipes out all of the team’s gains.

This is why I was looking forward to the return of Brewers first baseman/right fielder Corey Hart so much.  Hart plays good defense, hits well (and for power, too), is a two-time All-Star, and plays good, solid fundamental baseball.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs about the Milwaukee Brewers and their dreadful 2013 season, you know that one of the things that’s irked me about the 2013 Brewers is the lack of fundamental baseball instincts by most of the players on the club.  When someone needs to hit to the right side to advance a runner from second to third, he invariably hits to the left side and a double play somehow ensues.  When someone needs to hit a long, fly ball to drive in a run (a sacrifice fly), that’s when a little squib hit comes about that once again seems to always turn into a double play.

And, of course, this is the season where runners have been thrown out trying to take extra bases at least seven times, with the offenders being the best and healthiest players on the club to date: Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Nori Aoki.  (Before anyone pinches a fit, yes, I know full well that Ryan Braun is by far the best player on this team, but he is on the disabled list right now.  Plus, I haven’t noticed him running into outs on the bases, though the year is young.)

At any rate, Hart hits well, plays a good and solid first base, knows his fundamentals cold, and is known as a “good team guy” for whatever that’s worth.  (Some years, you don’t necessarily need a good team guy.  But this year, I’d say the Brewers needs as many of them as they can find.  But I digress.)  So it was a big blow when, before the start of Thursday’s game, the Brewers announced that Corey Hart’s left knee — his non-surgically repaired knee — had also become injured and needed surgery, which means Hart will not play at all during 2013.  The best guess as to why Hart was injured was due to the rehabilitation process he’d been enduring to get his right knee up to snuff.

Now, I’m no doctor, but I have had to rehab injuries before — most recently, I had cortisone shots given to me in both the left wrist and the right wrist in order to alleviate my carpal tunnel syndrome during consecutive weeks, to perhaps play my instruments a little better (and with less pain, to boot).  While waiting for the left wrist to heal, I strained the right wrist . . . while waiting for the right wrist to heal, my left wrist had to take more weight and did more, so it hurt more, though I seem to have avoided an actual strain.

This is what probably happened to Corey Hart, too.  While trying to get his right knee up to speed so he could play baseball well enough to get onto the field, he somehow strained his left knee.  Because the right knee hurt so much — this is my best guess, mind — he didn’t really know that the left knee was hurting, or maybe he figured he’d strained it but there was nothing to be done.

Obviously, Hart didn’t know that he’d injured the left knee, too, during his rehab, until the team doctor recently told him.  Then Hart went to consult with the team doctor for the Los Angeles Angels, who agreed with the Brewers’ team doctor’s assessment.

This was the worst thing that could happen to Hart at this stage of his career, as he was due to become a free agent at the end of this season.  Now, he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy enough to play next year before anyone signs him, and he’ll most likely make a far lesser amount than he would’ve if the left knee hadn’t given out as well.

And it also hurts Brewers fans, because we have so little to cheer for in the first place that many of us, myself included, were avidly looking forward to Hart’s return.

At any rate, the important thing now for Hart is to realize that he needs to get healthy.  If he has to stay out of baseball for a year in order to do it — and I don’t mean just the rest of this year, but all of next year, too — he should do it.  Only when he’s fully healthy should he attempt a comeback . . . but whatever team he plays for, whether it’s the Brewers or not, I know one thing:

I’ll be rooting for him.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 29, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Milwaukee Brewers Roster Moves: Narveson to 15-day DL, Hart Moved to 60-day DL and Lalli Brought up from AAA

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Folks, after the Milwaukee Brewers barely held off the Chicago Cubs in Chicago’s home opener yesterday, 7-4 (the Cubs left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth), I knew the Brewers would have to finally make a roster move or two.

However, I didn’t necessarily expect these moves.

First, left-hander Chris Narveson was placed on the 15-day DL with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand.  Narveson will probably be on the DL for longer than 15 days, and could be there as long as six weeks.

Second, the Brewers brought up the man I suggested a few days ago that they might want to take a look at — catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli.  Lalli’s much more familiar with the contemporary pitching staff than either of the two incumbent catchers, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado — and the way things have gone with the injury bug, the Brewers have had to play both catchers at the same time (Lucroy has caught, while Maldonado has played first base).

This way, the Brewers will always have at least one catcher on the bench into the late innings of every game.  That’s a move I applaud.

The main reason, though, I’m only cautiously optimistic that these moves will help is this — to get Lalli on the 40-man roster, the Brewers had to transfer Corey Hart to the 60-day DL.  The other choices to go to the 60-day DL were Aramis Ramirez, Mark Rodgers, Jeff Bianchi, and Taylor Green.  The Brewers hope to have all of those players back by mid-May, particularly Ramirez.

However, there has been no really good news in the saga of Taylor Green.  He has a problem with the labrum in his left hip, which he sustained in Spring Training.  He’s been on the DL since March 22, and it’s unlikely he’ll play much before mid-May, if at all.

Everyone else — yes, even Rodgers — can be expected to come back well before that time.  But with Green’s vexing injury, if I’d been Doug Melvin, I’d have been interested in putting Green on the DL instead.

Consider, please, that Green is a marginal player at this point, while Hart is a solid contributor with two past All-Star appearances to his credit.  (Mind you, Green could still well improve, does play multiple positions, and is usually a solid defender.)  That hip labrum will need a good amount of time and rest to improve, considering surgery does not seem to be in the cards.  And injuries like this can nag you all season long if not properly treated to begin with . . . which is why with a known “fast healer” like Hart on the roster, I’d have been much happier with moving Green to the 60-day DL instead.

I am pleased that Lalli has come up, because I think he has tons of potential and it’s a very good thing to have another catcher on the roster.  I’m not happy that Narveson has sustained this odd injury, but maybe it’s for the best that he’s been put on the DL.  And, of course, I’m quite displeased that the Brewers moved Hart to the 60-day DL rather than Green under the circumstances.

But as the moves have been made, there’s nothing to be done about it.

It’s Official — Brewers First Baseman Mat Gamel Tears His ACL Again, Is Out for the Season

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Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel apparently has the worst luck of any major league baseball player going these days.

Not one full week into the official start of Brewers’ Spring Training, Gamel has been confirmed as having torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.  This is the same ACL he tore during his ill-fated 2012 campaign while running into that ditch the San Diego Padres call an infield.

So Gamel’s now torn the same ACL two years in a row.   That, my friends, is abysmal luck.

Consequently, Gamel will be out all of 2013.  (See this link, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for further details.)

There are a few odd things about this particular injury according to the Journal-Sentinel report.  First, Gamel tore the middle of the ACL, not either end as is more common.  Most surgical failures — which constitute about ten percent of ACL surgeries — will re-tear on either end of the ligament, rather than in the middle where the ligament should be the strongest.  Second, Gamel had spent eight solid months of rehabilitation prior to reporting to Spring Training.  His rehab consisted of strength and flexibility exercises, and I’m sure his therapy was of the absolute best.

Consider, please, that in order to be able to hit, run, and field — strenuous activity by any other name — a baseball player has to be able to move laterally without strain, swing a bat with full extension and run without noticeable problems.  Gamel had been able to do all of this prior to reporting to Spring Training.

In addition, he’d passed two physicals, where presumably he ran on a treadmill, had to do various arcane flexibility exercises (some akin to yoga poses), and did so in front of various doctors and physical therapists.  He was given a clean bill of health because he had proven that he was ready to resume his life as an active, everyday baseball player.

Otherwise, he never would’ve stepped out onto the field.

And now, Gamel won’t get the chance to prove that he has what it takes to make it in the major leagues.  At least, not in 2013.  And possibly not at all, as two ACL tears on the same knee within eighteen months are a huge red flag to every general manager of every team in major league baseball.

However, I had a thought that might prove useful . . . if not to Gamel, maybe to someone else recovering from such an injury.  It’s a long shot, but hear me out.

Last year, I read GOOSE, an autobiography written by ex-Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa.   Siragusa doesn’t actually have a working ACL in one of his knees, but he was able to work around this by coming up with a unique strengthening and conditioning plan.  Because of this, Siragusa was able to play for twelve years in the NFL and he never missed a game.

But you’d have never known he had that sort of durability coming out of college.

That’s because Siragusa was told that maybe he’d play two years, or perhaps three, for the NFL, all because he didn’t really have an ACL.  From this article from 2001 at Philly.com by Jerry Brewer of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

(Siragusa’s) quite the story, perhaps a great symbol for the NFL today. It is hyped as a league of parity and a league in which a hardworking player can become a success without having a great pedigree.

It is a league in which a then-280-pound tackle from the University of Pittsburgh could go undrafted (mostly because he has no anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee), endure nine knee surgeries, and play 11 years in an NFL career that reaches a plateau on Sunday when he plays in his first Super Bowl.

A wise old doctor from Indianapolis once told Siragusa his knee would hold up for two years in the NFL. Maybe three.

“The doctor examined my knee, and he said, ‘You have no ACL in your knee,’ ” Siragusa said. “I said, ‘You’re a good doctor.’ “

Boiling it down to brass tacks, Siragusa set out to prove the doctor wrong.  And he did — by going to one of his trusted past college coaches, if memory serves (it’s been well over a year and a half since I read GOOSE, mind you), then setting up his brutal training regimen.  This is what allowed Siragusa to play, and play well, for twelve long years without a working ACL in his knee.

My thought is that if Siragusa could do this and play football, it might be possible for Gamel to do the same thing.  Gamel is only 27 years old.  He may, if he’s fortunate, be able to find a strength and conditioning coach that can duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa managed to do.  If so, this would allow Gamel to build up his legs to the point that even if his ACL fails for an unprecedented third time, he can still play despite the injury.

As I understand it, what Siragusa did in his conditioning program was to strengthen all of the muscles around where the ACL should be.  These other muscles took the place of the ACL — or at least bore the strain of a rough and tumble NFL season — so isn’t it conceivable that Gamel could strengthen these same muscles around his ACL, which might take enough pressure off the soon-to-be twice-repaired ligament to allow him to continue his career?

However, if what Siragusa did is not able to be duplicated, perhaps Gamel would be better off to consider coaching.  Or figure out some other passions to cultivate along with baseball to help him pass the time.

As of right now, it surely seems to me that unless Gamel is able to duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa did, Gamel’s body is telling him that it’s time to make other plans.  Gamel has heart, moxie, and drive — everything you want in a major league baseball player — but if his body won’t hold up, he just isn’t going to be able to continue.

That’s why I hold out at least a slight amount of hope that Siragusa’s regimen may work for Gamel.  Because it seems to be the best hope Gamel has.

And any hope beats no hope at all.  Especially if you’re the unluckiest Brewer this side of Brad Nelson (Mr. “0-for-21” himself).

————

Note: Corey Hart has said publicly here that he will help Gamel all he possibly can.  Hart, who is truly a class act, said he feels for Gamel and will encourage him to continue to pursue rehab.  The Journal-Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak quoted Hart as saying:

“I’m just going to hug him and hope things work out. He’s going to have to have support everywhere. This is a tough situation. The biggest thing for him is suport (sic) in here. I told him to move in with me and I’ll help as much as I can. I’ll be leaving before him (to go on minor-league rehab) so I’ll let him stay at the house.”

(This is just one more reason why Corey Hart is my favorite current Brewers player.  Just sayin’.)

Remembering Earl Weaver, Plus a Corey Hart Update

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This past Saturday (January 19, 2012 to be exact), news broke regarding the passing of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles for his entire career and had a 1480-1060 record, good for fifth-best among 20th century managers who managed for ten years or more.

But that’s not what I remember most about Weaver.

Nope.  I remember Weaver as a firecracker, someone who loved to bait the umpires and held the record for most ejections in a career (with 91 regular-season ejections by most counts) until Bobby Cox later came along and broke it.  (But don’t fret, Weaver fans; he still holds the American League record for ejections.)

Weaver was a great manager, don’t get me wrong.  And he certainly beat my Milwaukee Brewers team more often than not, though we did win against Weaver and his Orioles in 1982 in the final game of the season.  (Don Sutton out-dueled Jim Palmer in Baltimore.  Had the Brewers lost that game, the Orioles would’ve advanced to the 1982 ALCS and the Brewers would’ve gone home, there being no wild cards back then.)

Here’s how Sports Illustrated described Weaver:

Anointed as “Baltimore’s resident genius” by Sports Illustrated‘s June 18, 1979 cover, Weaver was a 5-foot-7 spitfire whose irascibility was exceeded only by his tactical acumen; imagine Ozzie Guillen’s profanity crossed with Lou Piniella’s explosiveness, multiplied by Tony LaRussa’s mastery of roster usage. Weaver’s tirades against umpires were legendary; he holds the AL career record for ejections with 94. In 1969, he became the first manager thrown out of a World Series game in more than 60 years. In 1975, he was run from both games of a doubleheader in by umpire and longtime nemesis Ron Luciano, the second time during the exchange of lineup cards, then ejected again by Luciano the next day.

Mind you, Ron Luciano was one of the most colorful umpires in MLB history, and wasn’t likely to get along with someone as equally colorful as himself.

Not that Weaver was easy for any umpire to get along with.  Don Denkinger said this in an article by the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports):

Former umpire Don Denkinger said he called one of Weaver’s last games in the majors.

”He comes to home plate before the game and says, ‘Gentlemen, I’m done.’ He told us the only way he’d ever come back is if he ran out of money,” Denkinger told The Associated Press by phone from Arizona. ”I told him that if he ever ran out of money to call the umpires’ association and we’d take up a collection for him. We’d do anything, just to keep him off the field and away from us.”

But Weaver had a slightly softer side.  Again according to Denkinger (from the above-mentioned AP article):

Umpires found out just how demonstrative Weaver could be.  Denkinger remembered a game in which the manager disputed a call with Larry McCoy at the plate.

”Earl tells us, ‘Now I’m gonna show you how stupid you all are.’ Earl goes down to first base and ejects the first base umpire. Then he goes to second base and ejects the second base umpire. I’m working third base and now he comes down and ejects me,” Denkinger said.

Much later, after they were retired, the umpire asked Weaver to sign a photo of that episode.

”He said absolutely. I sent it to him, he signed it and said some really nice things. It’s framed and hanging up in my office back home in Iowa,” Denkinger said.

I remember many games where I sat in the stands at old Milwaukee County Stadium, watching the Milwaukee Brewers play Weaver’s Orioles.  Weaver was a brilliant statistician, something I didn’t fully appreciate at the time (especially as it always seemed whenever I went to a Brewers-Orioles game, the Brewers were going to end up on the short end of the stick).  But he was an even better motivator, which is why he knew how to get the best out of such players as Mark Belanger (a defensive specialist who regularly hit below the “Mendoza line”), John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley.

Here’s a bit from the SI article, quoting a well-known “underground” audiotape of an interview Weaver did with broadcaster Tom Marr:

Weaver was known for assembling productive platoons, and nurturing exceptional pinch-hitters who could turn a game around. In this legendary 1980 “Manager’s Corner” interview recorded with broadcaster Tom Marr as a gag after a flubbed take — unaired but widely circulated since then (and again not safe for work) — he extolled the virtues of one of his long-time benchwarmers:

Terry Crowley is lucky he’s in ——- baseball for Chrissake. He was released by the Cincinnati Reds, he was released by the ——- ——- Atlanta Braves. We saw that Terry Crowley could sit on his ——- ass for eight innings and enjoy watching a baseball game just like any other fan, and has the ability to get up there and break one open in the ——- ninth.

Weaver believed in pitching, defense and a three-run home run (one of his most widely-shared sayings).  And for the most part, he had the pitchers to back up that philosophy in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Steve Stone, Mike Flanagan, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally, among others.  He also had the acumen to move Cal Ripken, Jr., from third base to shortstop during Ripken, Jr.’s rookie year.

Weaver’s managerial record is extremely impressive.  His demeanor on the field was that of a fiery Napoleon, which was fitting considering Weaver might’ve been 5’7″ on the tallest day of his life — exceptionally short for a major league anything, much less a manager.

And Weaver even has a Wisconsin connection (aside from all those games against the Brewers): He managed the Appleton Foxes (now known as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers) in 1960 to a 82-59 record and a league championship according to ReviewingtheBrew.com, and is ensconced in Appleton’s Baseball Hall of Fame for that season alone.

With all of Weaver’s potty-mouthed tendencies, he was also known as a devoted family man.  He was married, only once, for forty-eight years.

With all of that color, and all of that style and all of those umpire-baiting moments (not to mention the chain-smoking and his well-known penchant for conducting post game interviews in the nude — back in the clubhouse, of course), Weaver will never be forgotten by anyone who ever saw him manage.

Now for something completely different: Brewers RF-1B Corey Hart has decided to seek a second opinion regarding his right knee issues, so surgery has been delayed.  According to MLB.com, the MRI of Hart’s knee has been sent to Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, CO.  Depending on what Dr. Steadman thinks of the MRI, the doctor may or may not wish to consult with Hart in person.

The Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash said this in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article via Yahoo Sports about Hart’s delayed surgery:

“Until we get past this step, we don’t know what the next step will be,” Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said, according to the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel. “Time is of the essence, so we’re hoping it won’t be delayed that long. It’s hard to say right now.”

My take?  I understand Hart’s caution.  He’s already endured one knee surgery on that knee already, and he probably would prefer not to have to go through another one.  Plus, he’s in the final year of a three-year contract and has wanted the Brewers to give him an extension as he wants to join Ryan Braun as potential “Brewers for life.”

The Brewers will not even bother offering Hart an extension if he can’t play, no matter how much heart he showed at the end of the 2012 season while continuing to play on a ruptured plantar fascia.  And no matter how much heart he showed by moving, midseason, to an unfamiliar position in order to better benefit the Brewers after Mat Gamel went down with an injury.

But unless there’s something really odd on that MRI, it’s highly unlikely that Hart will be able to avoid surgery.

What I’m guessing — and mind you, it’s only a guess — that Hart wants out of this second opinion is to perhaps endure a lesser knee surgery that will allow him to heal more quickly.

The current surgical plan would cause Hart to stay completely off his knee in a non-weight bearing capacity for six full weeks after the surgery.  But Hart’s a workout fiend.  He’s known for it.  So being completely off his knee, unable to do any weight-bearing exercises, is likely to make him stir-crazy.

And when you add in the contract issues to the whole mix, I can see why Hart would rather have someone else look at the MRI in order to see if any other course of action will bring about a good result.

However, as a Brewers fan, I’d like to see the speedy Corey Hart of old return to the basepaths.  That can’t happen unless he goes through the currently planned knee surgery, rests up, and then enjoys better flexibility and range of motion in his knee and foot thereby.  (I know the plantar fascia issues seem to have improved, but I won’t really know how Hart can run until he’s able to get to spring training and give it a shot.  Or get into rehabilitation, go to the minors and work his way up to the majors, whichever one is doable.)

That’s why I urge Hart to err on the side of caution with regards to this surgery.  I know it may mean a lesser payday in 2014 if he really can’t play until mid-May or later.  I know it may mean he’ll end up with a different team entirely if the Brewers are unwilling to give him a new contract (or an extension if he really burns it up upon his return).

But I want to see him healthy again, able to run the bases with greater abandon (and without knee and foot pain, natch) and to play at his full capacity.

As great as Hart’s 2013 season was (.270 average, 30 homers and 83 RBI), I believe he will feel a whole lot better once the surgery has been completed and the rehab done.  And once he feels much better, he’s likely to hit even better and maybe even make a few more All-Star teams.

Let’s just hope the Brewers have the sense to lock him up to a new multi-year deal before his stock dramatically rises, post-surgery.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 23, 2013 at 1:58 am

Brewers 1B Corey Hart to Have Knee Surgery, Miss Spring Training

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News broke Friday afternoon regarding Milwaukee Brewers first baseman/right fielder Corey Hart, as he’s slated to have knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus this upcoming Tuesday according to this article from the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports).

Tom Haudricourt, the long-time Brewers “beat writer” for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, interviewed Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash for his Friday article (and previous blog post on the same subject).  In both places, Ash said two things: one, the Brewers still have Mat Gamel on the roster.  This is significant because Gamel started 2012 as the starting first baseman for the team, and only vacated that role due to a knee injury he suffered while fielding a foul ball in San Diego in late April.  And two, it’s better for this injury to have happened now rather than right before the start of the season.

While both things are true — as is Corey Hart’s assertion that he’s a “fast healer,” considering how quickly Hart returned from surgery last season (he was supposed to miss some or all of April, but ended up starting Opening Day in right field just as he — and the Brewers — had planned) — this is still not a good thing.

I have nothing against Mat Gamel and think he will make a good everyday player if he’s given a chance.  Gamel’s fielding in the short stretch of games he had before hitting that pothole in San Diego due to inadequate field maintenance was quite good.  His hitting was acceptable for so early in the year (Gamel was batting .246).  And there’s every reason to believe Gamel would’ve done an adequate-to-better job at first base.

However, Corey Hart did an excellent job at first base after being moved there midway through the season.  His batting did not suffer, either, as he hit 30 home runs, drove in 83 RBI, and batted .270 (his average suffered somewhat in September due to playing on a sprained-or-worse plantar fascia, which brought his overall average down).  Hart is one of the “big three” on the Brewers and is counted on along with Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez to keep the Brewers in games.

(And did I mention that Hart is a two-time All-Star?  No?  My bad.)

The Brewers currently have a starting rotation with only one proven, dependable guy — Yovani Gallardo — which is why it’s imperative that all the strong bats the Brewers possess be in the lineup.  The other Brewers who could possibly be starting pitchers include last year’s “swingman” Marco Estrada, who filled in capably for the injured Chris Narveson; Narveson, who’s coming back from a serious arm injury and may be on a limited pitch count all year, which will limit his effectiveness as a starter; second-year starter Michael Fiers; and outright rookies Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg.  These six men will battle it out for the four remaining starting pitching positions, but it’s impossible to know how many — if any — will be successful.

Let’s just say that the possible starters for the Brewers, with the exception of Gallardo, don’t exactly scare anyone and leave it at that.

At any rate, Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan’s latest column on the Brewers (a preseason lookover written before the news about Hart’s injury broke) said that Ryan Braun’s big bat isn’t enough to overcome the lack of quality starters.  And that’s likely to be true.

My worry is this: How much difficulty are the Brewers likely to have scoring runs when Hart’s not in the lineup?  (Because before Gamel got hurt, Hart was playing every day in right field.  So it wasn’t like Gamel was taking Hart’s place — instead, after Gamel got injured, Hart moved over there and Norichika Aoki played in right field every day.)

My take?  Hart will come back strong, but I hope he doesn’t rush himself.  He’s in the final year of a three-year contract and will be a free agent at the end of 2013 unless the Brewers give him a contract extension, which is unlikely until he actually gets on the field and performs at a high level again.

If the Brewers do not have the sense to give Hart an extension, he needs to be at full strength in order to show the rest of the league just how good he is.

I really hope the Brewers will re-sign Hart, mind you.  But I’m very nervous, as I’m afraid the Brewers might be too short-sighted to realize just what they have in Hart until he’s gone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 19, 2013 at 4:20 am

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 End-of-the-season Wrap-up

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As promised, here’s my end-of-the-season assessment of the Milwaukee Brewers.

While most writers have concentrated on the Brewers’ pitchers major league-leading 29 blown saves (ouch!), or the many injuries to key players (first baseman Mat Gamel, pitcher Chris Narveson, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez suffered season-ending injuries early, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy and pitcher Shaun Marcum spent significant time on the disabled list), or the weak first-half performances by Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Aramis Ramirez as reasons why the Brewers finished third in the National League Central and missed the second Wild Card slot by four games, I’d rather focus on something else.

Put simply, the Brewers had an extremely inconsistent season.  Some months, the Brewers looked terrible.  Other months, the Brewers looked like world-beaters — with one of their best months being the month of September (which is why they were in Wild Card contention at all).

This is the main reason the Brewers could lead the league in positive categories like runs scored, home runs, and strikeouts (by pitchers), and also lead in such a horrible category as blown saves at the same time.

In other words, the 2012 season for the Brewers was one of some very high highs, some very low lows, and one of remarkably puzzling statistics.

That said, some players stood out more than others.

On the bad side:

Closer John Axford had the most inconsistent year of his young career.  While his stat line doesn’t look that bad — 35 saves in 44 chances, a 4.67 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, a 5-8 record and 93 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings — the fact remained that Axford’s ERA was much higher in 2012 than it was in 2011, when Axford posted a 1.95 mark along with 46 saves in 48 opportunities.  And of course Axford blew far too many saves, actually losing his job as a closer for a while before regaining it after a series of sparkling performances as a set-up man in July  (Axford posted three holds during that time).

But at least Axford was able to regain his form, as he looked much better toward the end of the year.  This bodes well for his future with the Brewers.

Backup closer/set-up man Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez had an even more inconsistent year than Axford; while K-Rod had 32 holds, by far the most on the club, K-Rod also had only three saves in 10 opportunities (seven blown saves, in short), a 2-7 record, and a 4.38 ERA in 72 innings of work.

As K-Rod had an $8M contract last season and vastly underperformed considering his talent and overall reputation, it’s obvious that unless K-Rod takes a serious pay cut, he’s likely headed to another team.

The rest of the Brewers bullpen (save only Jim Henderson): for whatever reason, most of the bullpen looked like deer caught in the headlights for the vast majority of the 2012 season.  There were reasons for this — for example, the death of Jeff Adcock the long-time assistant groundskeeper, who knew all of the relievers extremely well, certainly played a part in the Brewers’ overall inconsistency.

Even so, the performance of Kameron Loe (6-5 record with a 4.61 ERA in 61 1/3 innings with only seven holds and two saves out of seven opportunities, compared to his 2011 statistics of 4-7 record with a 3.50 ERA in 72 innings of work with 16 holds and one save out of eight opportunities) was perplexing; the performance of Manny Parra (2-3 record with a 5.06 ERA in 58 2/3 innings of work with nine holds and zero saves out of two chances, compared with his 2010 stats of 3-10 record with a 5.02 ERA in 122 innings of work, half as a starter and half as a reliever, with no holds and no saves) was merely irritating, and while Jose Veras’ stats look good (5-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 67 innings of work with 10 holds and one save in two opportunities), more was expected of him than this.

Now to the disappointing starter, Shaun Marcum.  Marcum spent two whole months on the disabled list, and ended up with a 7-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 124 innings of work, which looks OK.  But Marcum’s 2011 record of 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA in 200 and 2/3 innings of work showed that he’s capable of much more.

Marcum’s year was disappointing because of his injuries, not because of his talent.  But because he couldn’t pitch every fifth day for two months, the Brewers’ record suffered.  That is an undeniable fact.

And because of Marcum’s lengthy stint on the DL, the Brewers actually waived him late in the year, hoping someone else would pick him up.  When no one else did, it was obvious that the Brewers were less than pleased that Marcum was still on the roster.  That’s why it seems most unlikely that Marcum will remain a Brewer in 2013, especially as he’s now a free agent.

Then we get to perhaps the most disappointing player on the entire team — Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had a horrendously bad first half, as his .162 batting average on June 12, 2012, shows.  And while Weeks eventually did pull his hitting form together, as his ending line of a .230 BA with 21 home runs and 63 runs batted in shows, his fielding was atrocious: a .974 fielding percentage with 16 errors and perhaps the least range of any second baseman in major league baseball.

Weeks is thirty years of age.  This is significant because very few players improve their defense at this stage of the game (my favorite player, Vinny Rottino, is one of the few who demonstrably has, at least at the catcher position).  But Weeks shouldn’t have had this sort of precipitous decline in his range; the only possible excuse for it is the nasty injury he suffered in 2011 where his foot, at full extension, hit the first base bag at an odd angle, which put Weeks on the disabled list for a substantial length of time.

If that’s the case, Weeks’ range should improve again now that he’s fully healed.  But I’d still like to see the Brewers find Weeks a fielding mentor, as when Willie Randolph was the bench coach for the Brewers a few years ago, Weeks’ fielding improved markedly.

Now let’s get to the positives, some of which were quite surprising:

Reliever Jim Henderson came up from AAA, where he’d been the closer, and showed he has the talent and the moxie to pitch extremely well at the major league level.  Henderson posted a 1-3 record with a 3.52 ERA in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched, with 14 holds and three saves in seven opportunities.  Henderson was one of the few bright spots during the late July/early August part of the season, and he’s someone I’m rooting for in 2013 to cement his job as the primary set-up man for Axford.

Starter Yovani Gallardo improved from a 7-6 record at the All-Star break to finish at 16-9; his ERA was 3.66 in 204 innings.  Gallardo also had 204 Ks.

The main reason Gallardo’s late season dominance was important was due to the trade of pitcher Zack Greinke in late July.  Greinke had a 9-3 record with the Brewers in 123 innings of work; he also had 122 Ks, and was the undisputed ace of the staff.  That’s why Gallardo had to step up in the second half of the season — and step up he did.

Right fielder/first baseman Corey Hart was a revelation at first base; after being shifted mid-season, and after not playing first base since 2006 (that at the AAA level, and only part-time), Hart posted a .995 fielding percentage with only four errors.  And Hart’s hitting continued apace; Hart had a .270 average with 30 HRs and 83 RBI, which possibly would’ve been even better had he not been hobbled with a nasty injury to his plantar fascia late in the season.  (Hart hit only .254 in September due to that injury.)

Compare Hart’s fielding and excellent range with that of former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder in 2011 — the 5’10” Fielder had a .990 fielding percentage with 15 errors and a much smaller range than the 6’6″ Hart — and it’s clear that Hart has an excellent future ahead at first base.  Because if Hart could do this well after changing positions mid-season, how well is he going to do after he’s fully recovered from his injury to his foot and has a full Spring Training under his belt in 2013?

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez ended the season with a .300 BA, 27 HR, 105 RBI and 9 SBs in 11 attempts, which seemed nearly inconceivable on April 24. 2012, as Ramirez was in his characteristic season-starting slump and was hitting only .164 with only one HR and six RBI.  Ramirez’s fielding in 2012 was much better than it had been in 2011; he cut his errors in half (from 14 in ’11 to seven in ’12) and improved his fielding percentage (from .953 in ’11 to .977 in ’12) while increasing his range.

And when you consider that in 2011, the Brewers had Casey McGehee — whose .942 fielding percentage and 20 errors, along with a very small range, didn’t exactly inspire confidence — it’s obvious that Ramirez was an extremely bright spot for more than just his bat.

Right fielder Norichika Aoki hit well and improved his fielding as the season progressed; Aoki should be a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year award with his .288 BA, 30 stolen bases in 38 attempts, 10 HR and 50 RBI.

The Brewers’ young pitchers Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers all did extremely well as rookies.  Fiers’ record of 9-10 is deceptive as Fiers ran out of gas in the final three weeks of the season; still, his ERA of 3.74 in 127 and 2/3 innings of work was quite promising, and his 135 Ks (a better than one strikeout per inning ratio, which is excellent for a starter) shows his talent in full measure.  Rogers, who came up in August, posted a 3-1 record with a 3.92 ERA in 39 innings of work, and his 41 Ks (again, a better than one strikeout per inning ratio) bode well for Rogers’ future.  And Peralta, who was called up in September, looked so good with his 2-1 record and 2.48 ERA in 29 innings of work that both Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez said Peralta has all the makings of long-term starter in the major leagues.

But I’ve saved the best for last.

Put simply, Ryan Braun is in a class by himself.  Braun had perhaps his best overall season in 2012 (.319 BA, 41 HR, 112 RBI, and 30 SB in 37 attempts), easily equaling or improving upon his 2011 National League MVP effort (.332 BA, 33 HR, 111 RBI, and 33 SB in 39 attempts) despite losing teammate Prince Fielder to free agency and having to deal with clean-up man Ramirez starting off in a horrendous slump.  While Ramirez eventually got it together (by the All-Star break, Ramirez was hitting .272), the fact remained that Braun didn’t have much support in the first month or so of the season, which meant Braun could be pitched around.

And, of course, due to the whole performance-enhancing drug scandal (did he or didn’t he?  I believe he didn’t.), Braun was booed mercilessly in every ballpark save one: Miller Park in Milwaukee.  But this didn’t stop him, nor did the rancor of various sportswriters, nor did the ruination of his reputation — absolutely nothing stopped Braun from putting up MVP-like numbers and carrying the Brewers to their 83-79 record and missing out on the second Wild Card by only a few, short games.

Ultimately, though, the Brewers 2012 season will be remembered for its inconsistency — for its excellent late-August to mid-September run to the playoffs and an above-.500 record, yes, but also for the bullpen meltdowns of mid-June to mid-July.  For their excellent cadre of young starters, yes — but also for the two months of Shaun Marcum’s stint on the DL.  For John Axford regaining his form, yes — but also for his losing his form, and losing it badly, mid-season.

The next question is, whither 2013?  Well, a lot depends on things that can’t be known right now.  For example, how many of the 2012 relieving corps will come back next year?  How many injuries will the ’13 Brewers have to deal with?  Will Chris Narveson be able to regain his form as a starter, or will his post-surgical recovery limit him to shorter stints out of the bullpen?

But things do look promising despite the ’12 Brewers’ puzzling inconsistency, which is far better than I thought back in early August.  And that, most of all, is why I believe that the 2013 Brewers might surprise everyone and finally make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1982.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

September 16, 2012 — Brewers Back in Wild Card Chase; Corey Hart Status

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Folks, after all but writing the Milwaukee Brewers off a few months ago due to their bullpen meltdowns, the Brewers have quietly managed to get back into wild card contention.

Now, there are some qualifiers to consider, the first being that the Brewers are only contending for the second wild card spot, not the first — that is, if this were last year, the Brewers would not be in contention at this point as there was only one wild card available last year — and the second being that at 74-72, the Brewers are still two games over .500, which isn’t exactly a world-beating record.

However, this is much better than I thought the Brewers would be at considering it’s September 16, 2012 — they’re still in contention, they’re playing good baseball, and they’ve even taken the lead in strikeouts with 1,261 (by pitchers, not how many times the batters have struck out).  This is because rookies like Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, and the recently-called up Wily Peralta have done their jobs in addition to veteran and de facto ace Yovani Gallardo (who’s had a brilliant second half; his record is 15-8 with a 3.72 ERA and 188 Ks), and because the much-maligned relievers have quietly pulled it together, with John Axford in particular pitching much better in the past thirty-five days or so, converting on all eleven of his last save attempts (he now has 29 saves out of 38 attempts, a 5-7 record, and his ERA has fallen to 4.76).  Without all of these pitchers doing their best, the Brewers would still be way under .500 and have no chance of the second wild card spot.

Better yet, Ryan Braun’s outstanding year has continued apace, even though Corey Hart has been out of the line-up and Aramis Ramirez’s year took a while to get started (as Ramirez is a notoriously slow starter, this wasn’t much of a surprise), so teams could and did pitch around Braun much of this season.  Despite that, Braun is batting .312 with 40 home runs, 103 runs batted in, and 24 stolen bases in 31 attempts.  Braun also has 201 career home runs with the Brewers, which leaves him fifth on the all-time list, tied with Cecil Cooper; Braun’s the sixth Brewer to reach the 200 HR plateau, and the seventh to hit 40 HRs in a season.

All of this makes for an exciting end to the 2012 season, and as a long-time Brewers fan, I’m extremely glad to see it.  (Go Brewers!)

Now, let’s talk about Brewers first baseman/right fielder Corey Hart.  Hart, unfortunately, has been out for a week with a sprained ankle and a partial tear in his plantar fascia, according to Brewers.com beat writer Adam McCalvy.   That’s why he hasn’t pinch-hit; that’s why he’s not played the field; that’s why he’s had to rest and sit on the bench while having one of his better overall years despite his mid-season position switch from right field to first base (Hart’s stats stand with a .278 batting average, 27 HRs, 77 RBI, and 5 SBs in 5 attempts; as for his fielding stats, in 92 games played at first base, Hart has only 3 errors and a .996 fielding percentage).

Hart attempted to run the bases on Sunday and did not fare well according to McCalvy’s account.  Here’s a quote from that article:

“I’m definitely aiming for Tuesday, I just wish it would have felt better today than it did,” Hart said. “It’s a little frustrating. Today was the first day I tried to run the bases, and it didn’t go as planned.”

Running in a straight line was fine, but the trouble came when Hart ran along the arc along the outer edge of the infield dirt.

A bit later in the article, Hart said this:

“It’s tough, because I want to play,” Hart said. “I’ve played through a lot of injuries, but it’s one of those things where if I’m on first, I’m not going to be able to score on a double. If I’m on second, it’s going to be iffy to score on anything. Is it worth it to these guys? I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do everything I need to do.”

The last resort, Hart said, is an anti-inflammatory injection. The club’s medical officials on Sunday were mulling the pros and cons of that step.

Hart is extremely well-conditioned, a dedicated athlete, and a very good teammate, someone everyone on the Brewers, past or present, has liked — that’s not an easy feat, either, to be the guy everyone likes — and if he could get on the field, he’d be there, no questions asked.  But he’s obviously frustrated, as his quotes show . . . it’s not an easy thing to come up with a nasty injury toward the end of the season, especially when your team is still in the wild card chase.

My hope for Hart is that he heals quickly but doesn’t overstrain; even though the Brewers season is winding down and they do have a shot at the second wild card, the fact is that Hart is far more important to the Brewers in the long run, which is why he needs to put his long-term goals ahead of any short-term gains if those short-term gains will harm him.

Or to put it another way — I’d like to see Corey Hart play again this season, yes.  But only if he’s healthy.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm