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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

Milwaukee Brewers Place Shaun Marcum on Waivers

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Folks, I really don’t understand the Milwaukee Brewers front office moves these days.  Case in point, today’s move — placing right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.19 ERA) on waivers.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s story by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

The Milwaukee Brewers placed right-hander Shaun Marcum on trade waivers Tuesday, thinking strategically as the deadline for setting postseason rosters looms at midnight Friday ET.

Skipping down a few paragraphs, Rosenthal says:

If Marcum is claimed, the Brewers will have nearly 36 hours to negotiate a trade with the claiming team. If he clears, they will have the same amount of time to discuss Marcum with multiple clubs, possibly enabling them to get a stronger return.

Now, as to why I think this move is inexplicable?  Marcum is only thirty years old — thirty.   Up until the  2011 postseason, Marcum pitched very well for the Brewers (13-7, 3.54 ERA).  A strong case could be made that without Marcum, the Brewers wouldn’t have made the postseason at all, as Marcum was one of the cornerstones of the vaunted Brewers pitching staff.

So here’s a proven veteran who isn’t considered “too old” by most baseball people, who likely will snap back next year after significant arm problems in 2012 — and who pitched quite credibly a few days ago on August 26, when he gave up zero earned runs in a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh.  (In fact, the Boston Herald called Marcum’s return “solid” in their story.)

And the Brewers waive him?  Why?**

Apparently it’s because the Brewers front office has decided not to offer Marcum a contract for next year, and rather than keep Marcum around, they’d rather he catch on elsewhere so maybe the Brewers won’t have to pay him so much.

Typical Brewers penny-pinching nonsense, which I thought owner Mark Attanasio was going to do away with . . . yet he hasn’t.  (Strange, that.)

This is the second move in the past week that I haven’t totally understood (after the release of left-hander Randy Wolf).  And because it’s being bruited about that the Brewers front office is being “smart” about waiving (and/or releasing) pitchers that obviously aren’t in their plans, I figured I’d mention the human side — which really does matter, even in major league baseball.

To wit: after seeing the Brewers front office cold-heartedly cut Wolf on his thirty-sixth birthday, then waive Marcum a few short days after Marcum did all he could to help the Brewers win a ballgame (not Marcum’s fault he got an undeserved loss there, as he pitched well but the Brewers defense let him down), why would any pitcher want to sign here?  For any money?

Look.  The Brewers have a “player’s manager,” Ron Roenicke; I have my differences with him, but one thing I will say for him is that he treats people with respect.  And that’s a good thing.

But the Brewers do not have a “player’s front office.”  And everyone in the league knows it.

As I’ve been saying all season long, if I’d have been Randy Wolf — who pitched far better than his record or ERA shows (Wolf was ahead in eight games when he left, then the Brewers bullpen blew the win, or he’d be 11-10 right now) — I’d never have come back here.  And if I were Shaun Marcum, even before this nonsense, I’d not want to come back here, either, for the same reasons (Marcum, like every pitcher on the staff, has been victimized either by poor defense or blown saves from the bullpen).

Now, the Brewers front office has given every pitcher in the league yet another reason to think twice.  And even for a league that’s far more concerned with performance on the field than they are with high character, highly-motivated people, the Brewers front office has shown itself to have very little class, and even less respect for starting pitchers, than most of the rest of the league.

And while it’s understandable that on-the-field performance would be the determining factor, some things need to be taken into account (such as the Brewers often-poor defense and the real problems in the bullpen this year, that I and every other commentator in “Brewers Nation” have noted).  These things were not taken into account in Wolf’s case, and they certainly haven’t been taken into account in Marcum’s, either.

So my point remains: if you were a free agent starting pitcher, why on Earth would you want to come to Milwaukee?  Because sooner or later, the Brewers front office will treat you this way, too — and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no amount of money that will make up for bad treatment.


** Unless Marcum wants to be waived, this move is inexplicable.  My assessment of the cold-bloodedness of the front office staff with regards to these two moves stands.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Brewers Win, 3-2, over Dodgers; Lucroy to DL

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These days, even when the Milwaukee Brewers win a tough baseball game, they still manage to lose out.  Take today’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example; the Brewers played a good game in all aspects (especially defensively) and won, 3-2.  Shaun Marcum pitched well; so far this year, he’s been the Brewers’ most consistent pitcher.  John Axford picked up his 8th save, while catcher George Kottaras, never known for his defense, played exceptionally well behind the plate despite being hobbled by a hamstring injury.  Shortstop Cody Ransom, a recent addition to the Brewers (claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks), third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and first baseman Corey Hart all had good defensive games as well.

But despite tonight’s win, yet another player must go to the disabled list (DL).  This time, it’s starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who broke a bone in his right hand by a freak off-the-field injury (his wife dropped a suitcase on his hand); the Brewers will officially place Lucroy on the DL tomorrow.  Lucroy is expected to be out four to six weeks.  This is particularly damaging to the Brewers because Lucroy has been hitting a ton thus far (.345 batting average with 30 RBI), and has also been steady behind the plate.

According to Fox Sports Wisconsin’s “Brewers Live” program, the Brewers will call up catcher Martin Maldonado from AAA Nashville along with pitcher Mike Fiers.  Both Maldonado and Fiers will start on Tuesday despite the fact that if the Brewers were not so badly injured, neither one of them would’ve seen a whiff of the majors.  (Fiers, while not terrible, has a 1-3 record with a 4.41 ERA; here’s the rest of his minor league stats.)

Here’s Maldonado’s current minor league offensive stats; as you can see, Maldonado isn’t hitting very well at only .198.  But the Brewers don’t have any other options; had Lucroy not injured himself, Kottaras was probably headed to the DL.  Now, Kottaras is going to have to be like several other Brewers who are playing through injuries — Ramirez (hit on the elbow last Friday by the D-backs), Ryan Braun  (injured his Achilles a few weeks ago, hasn’t been able to rest it long enough for it to heal), Carlos Gomez (isn’t running well since he’s come off the DL due to a hamstring strain), and Kameron Loe (elbow tightness) — because the Brewers just can’t put any of these guys on the DL even if they normally would go there because the team is just too banged up.

This is why Hart is playing first base despite preferring right field.  This is why Ransom is even on the team (the two shortstops the Brewers had on the roster to start the year were Alex Gonzalez, out for the year with a torn ACL, and Izturis, who’s on the DL with a hamstring strain).  And this is one of the main reasons why Rickie Weeks, who’s hitting in the .150s (you read that right), hasn’t been sat down, either — he seems healthy, so he’s still playing even though he’s not been hitting well all season long.  And that doesn’t even get into first baseman-outfielder Travis Ishikawa’s problem, who was put on the DL yesterday with an oblique strain!

Right now, the Brewers have seven guys on the DL (once Lucroy is added), and have three more who probably should be there (Kottaras, Braun, and Gomez) or should’ve been left on the DL longer (in the case of Gomez).  The Brewers have fewer than six position players who aren’t playing with some sort of issue, and of those six, one isn’t hitting (Weeks) and one is playing out of position (Hart). 

Despite that, the Brewers won a tough game today over the Dodgers.  But as a Brewers fan, I can’t help but wonder which domino (that is, which player) is going to fall next?

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm

2012 Brewers Pluses, Minuses, and Oddities thus far

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Folks, so far 2012 is shaping up to be a very strange year for the Milwaukee Brewers.

For example, if I had to grade the starters right now, I’d say they’re a net minus for the team.  (This when they were expected to be a major strength.) 

Consider, please, that the ace of the staff right now is #4 starter Shaun Marcum.  Marcum’s current ERA is 3.46, his record is 1-1, he’s pitched 13 innings thus far and he has 12 strikeouts.  The aces we’re supposed to be able to depend on, Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, have each had one good game and one bad game thus far — they, too, are 1-1, and Greinke has 12 Ks right along with Marcum to lead the team thus far.   But it gets murky after that — Gallardo’s ERA is 5.91 while Greinke’s is even worse at 6.75.  Both have pitched exactly 10 2/3 innings, while Gallardo has somehow walked 7 men thus far (Greinke has only walked 1, but that’s not much of a comfort when almost every other statistic he has is abysmal).

And as for #3 starter Randy Wolf, he’s has had two bad outings thus far, which is why his ERA is a whopping 10.61 in only 9 1/3 innings.  Wolf said he “stunk” a few days ago, and that he will do better; he’s a proud man, and I’m well aware that no professional baseball player ever goes out on to the field and wants to do so poorly — especially to start the season.  But this just isn’t good.

And #5 starter Chris Narveson, who pitched so well in his first start, pitched poorly today; he now stands with an ERA of 7.00 with 9 innings pitched, 5 Ks and 4 walks.  While he’s not expected to be a shining light (as he is the #5 starter), he is expected to be competent; Narveson most likely will improve right along with Wolf and the others, but this is a most inauspicious start to the 2012 for the entire starting rotation.

As for the relief pitching, here we’re looking at oddities instead; while there are some minuses (John Axford’s had two bad outings, though he does have two saves, while Francisco Rodriguez has had one bad outing), there are two big pluses thus far — the pitching of Manny Parra, coming back after being out all last season with back and arm issues, and the pitching of Kameron Loe.  Both of them have sub-3 ERAs; Loe has consistently gotten the ground-ball outs he needs to get to be a successful pitcher, while Parra has 8 Ks thus far (better than some of the starters).

And the rest of the relievers have been pretty good, too; Jose Veras has pitched well thus far, as has Marco Estrada; even Tim Dillard has done surprisingly well (don’t let his ERA of 7.11 fool you, as that’s due to one, bad outing).  So the guys expected to do well — Axford and K-Rod — mostly haven’t, but the rest of ’em have.  I’d rank that an oddity.

Now, we get to the fielding, which is just plain awful and is a huge net minus for the team.  Ryan Braun, who’s hitting pretty well, has already made an unusual throwing error (he was off-balance the other day against Atlanta, threw to third base, was off the mark, and a run scored), while Carlos Gomez, probably the best fielding outfielder on the team, has already made two errors.

But the infielders have been by far worse; Alex Gonzales, who’s supposed to be such a good defender, has three errors already (though one wasn’t his fault as Mat Gamel wasn’t where he was supposed to be; really, Gonzales shouldn’t have had to be charged with that as that’s where the “team error” stat should come into play — which is why MLB needs to adopt that rule, stat).  Rickie Weeks at second base has one, while Mat Gamel has two . . . and Aramis Ramirez has one.

So the team defense so far has lacked quite a bit.

As for the hitting, only one regular player is doing very well and being productive, and that’s Corey Hart.  He’s hitting .321 thus far with 4 homers, 8 RBI, and 3 doubles.  Ryan Braun has done the best otherwise, as he’s hitting .343 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 stolen bases and 4 doubles. 

The biggest net plus when it comes to this team thus far is the catching tandem of Jonathan Lucroy and George Kottaras.  Lucroy is hitting .364 with 2 HR and 6 RBI, while Kottaras is also hitting .364 (a statistical anomaly, that) with 3 HR and 6 RBI.

But there’s still some real problems with the hitting; the team as a whole is only batting .228, while Weeks and Ramirez are batting below .200.  (Ramirez in particular has been terrible, as he’s batting only .114.)

This is why I call the hitting an oddity thus far; there are some people hitting, a few you’d expect to do well (Hart and Braun), a few you wouldn’t who are doing well (the catchers), and a few you expect to do well who aren’t (Weeks and Ramirez.

All of this adds up to a 4-6 record and a highly unpredictable and frustrating season thus far.

Milwaukee Brewers 2012: Off to Another Slow Start

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The Milwaukee Brewers, 2012 edition, do not seem to be firing upon all thrusters.

Now, you might be wondering, “Why say that, Barb?  After all, there’s only three games in the books, and yesterday’s game was excellent!”

Indeed, it was; Zack Greinke pitched brilliantly, then the Brewers bullpen shut the Cardinals down for a 6-0 win.

But Opening Day — Friday — was a bust; Yovani Gallardo didn’t have it, gave up six earned runs (mostly because manager Ron Roenicke didn’t take him out soon enough), including four home runs, in only 3 2/3 innings.  This is the main reason the Brewers lost, 11-5; the only reason the score looks even that good is because George Kottaras hit a 3-run pinch-hit HR in the bottom of the 9th.

And then, what about today?  The Brewers lost again, 9-3; HRs by Corey Hart (who’s off to a fast start with 3 HRs already) and Braun weren’t able to do anything except perhaps salvage a teensy bit of pride for the hitters, as Randy Wolf, the game’s starter, didn’t have it, and neither did any of his replacements from the bullpen.

Tomorrow, the Brewers play the Chicago Cubs, managed by ex-Brewer Dale Sveum.  It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen at Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs), mostly because records mean very little this early (my carping aside).  Usually, these games devolve into a slugfest of one sort or another, but as off as the Brewers have looked thus far, perhaps this year I should prepare for a pitcher’s duel.

Mind you, this is a bit of a stretch as the Brewers will start Shaun Marcum; he hasn’t looked very good thus far.  But you never know in baseball, which is why it’s so endlessly entertaining.

See you at the game.  (Or at least in front of the TV.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Brewers Start Marcum, Lose Big; Cardinals Advance to World Series

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The Milwaukee Brewers, to be blunt, laid a big, fat, juicy egg last night against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.  They did so because of one thing — Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke making a “rookie mistake” and insisting upon starting Shaun Marcum when Marcum had at least six bad outings prior to last night and had shown nothing at all in his last two starts that led me — or anyone else — to believe that Marcum would do better in Game 6.

That the Cardinals won the game, 12-6, and thus advanced to the World Series, is almost an afterthought due to Roenicke’s horrible managerial decisions.  Roenicke could’ve gone with Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo (who last pitched on Wednesday, so he’d have had about the right amount of rest between starts) as Game 6 was do-or-die for the Brewers — Gallardo is the Brewers best pitcher by a lot these days, and with Gallardo on the mound, the Brewers had at least a chance to tie the series up again and go to Game 7.  Note that other managers in similar positions have done things like this before, most recently Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers — he pitched his ace, Justin Verlander (who went 24-5 in the regular season), in game 5 as that was Detroit’s first “elimination game” — and Verlander delivered, staving off elimination for another night.

But Roenicke, in his post-game press conference carried by the Brewers Radio Network, insisted that he made the “right call” in sending the struggling Marcum to the mound.

I beg to differ.

Marcum went out there and struggled from the get-go.  (There were some questionable balls/strikes calls from the home plate umpire, yes.  But if you’re a good pitcher, you get beyond that.)  He didn’t have his best stuff, or even his most mediocre-but-still-can-get-guys-out stuff — instead, he ended up giving up four runs in the first inning, and the Brewers were in an immediate hole.

There were some good hits by the Brewers in this game.  Corey Hart led off the first inning with a towering home run — not a cheap job, either, as it bounced off the scoreboard in right-center field.  Rickie Weeks hit a nice, long HR.  Jonathan Lucroy hit a 2-run HR that brought the game as close as it ever was — 5-4, still in favor of the Cardinals — but really, that was all the Brewers were able to muster as far as heroics went.

What was worse even than Marcum’s pitching performance (and total lack of understanding afterward that his arm is tired, he needs rest, he never should’ve started the game in the first place and for all I know, may have a hairline tear or other arm problem that needs to be addressed, pronto) was the Brewers defense.  Hart made an awful play in right field — one that was caused by thinking he had the ball in his glove when he didn’t, and might’ve been caused by him trying too hard — in the fourth.  Then Jerry Hairston had a double-error play — yes, two errors on one, single play — which put the Brewers out of reach as the Cardinals scored several more runs off the ground ball Kameron Loe had been brought in to induce.  (Loe had to be frustrated, though he was as impassive as ever out on the mound.  Loe’s professional demeanor would unnerve me as a hitter, for sure.)

Anyway, there were a few other positives aside from Loe doing what he was asked to do — get outs (not his fault that Hairston misplayed the ball, then made a bad throw for that double-error play).  Takashi Saito pitched two really fine innings for the Brewers to hold the Cardinals (for those innings) to “only” eleven runs.  Francisco Rodriguez gave up a solo HR, but compared to most of the rest of the pitchers, was OK — and I don’t blame him for that at all.  While John Axford pitched his usual scoreless 9th . . . oh, if Roenicke had just used the brain he was born with and started Gallardo, then done anything except start Marcum in game 7 (providing we’d have managed to win Game 6 with Gallardo pitching instead), I’d have had a far better experience watching my 2011 Brewers compete in the post-season.

But as it stood, we had bad pitching (Marcum, and then Chris Narveson, who wasn’t as bad as Marcum in that at least Narveson got some Ks, but gave up 5 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings as opposed to Marcum’s 4 earned runs in 1 inning), bad fielding (Marcum, Hart, some plays Rickie Weeks should’ve made but couldn’t due to his injured ankle, a missed cutoff man/throw to the wrong base made by Nyjer Morgan early in the game that allowed two extra Cardinals runners to move up and eventually score, and of course the boneheaded Jerry Hairston’s double-error play), and a lack of timely hitting, combined with a few really bad calls here and there (the low, outside strike was called for the Cardinals, while it wasn’t called for the Brewers; Braun was safe at first on an attempted infield hit, but the ump called him out due to Albert Pujols getting injured on the play and all the costernation over the strawberry Pujols had on his right arm; a home plate call that could’ve gone either way went the way of the Cardinals).

All that said, I’m still glad the Brewers made it so far in the post-season.  I’m proud of their efforts — yes, even Marcum’s, even as bad as Marcum has looked in the past six weeks, I know he tried his best (it’s not his fault that his manager put him out there, either) — I’m proud of the 2011 team, and I hope that the 2012 team will be able to compete more effectively (maybe with better starting pitching and defense?) down the road.

Also, one more time — kudos to Randy Wolf, for pitching the only “quality start” in the entire NLCS.  Your professionalism, poise, and competence was something that I will always remember from the 2011 post-season.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2011 at 3:09 am

Brewers, Cards tied 1-1; also, DWTS info

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Last night’s Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals game wasn’t worth much as the Cardinals won easily, 12-3 .  Brewers starting pitcher Shaun Marcum again didn’t have it (this was at least the seventh game in a row where Marcum has looked awful), the Cardinals went up 3-0 in the first inning and the Brewers were unable to battle back.

Now, there was a blown call by the first base umpire in the fifth inning, as Rickie Weeks was called out (the second half of an inning-ending double play) when he should’ve been safe.  And there were some defensive lapses in center field by Brewers OF Nyjer Morgan; at least twice, Morgan misplayed the ball (a third time, where he nearly made a great catch after “laying out” with his glove in front of him, was a very fine attempt) and that, too, revised the score upward for the Cardinals (while the blown umpire call definitely revised the Brewers’ score downward because if Weeks had been called safe as he should’ve been, a run would’ve scored in the bottom of the fifth).

So, a brief tally here with that umpire’s blown call revised and Morgan not running the wrong way in the outfield twice would’ve possibly changed the score to something like 7-4 (or 7-5) Cardinals if everything else had been the same.  Which would’ve still been a loss, of course — it just would’ve been a loss that Brewers fans would’ve felt better about.

That Brewers manager Ron Roenicke agrees with Marcum’s self-assessment that Marcum “isn’t pitching that badly” is absurd.  While Marcum has had a number of bloop hits and really light hits fall in lately, he’s also been hit really hard by Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.  It’s also blindingly obvious that  Marcum has missed many of his spots (you don’t want to throw pitches high in the strike zone to Pujols unless you want him to hit .750 against you, yet that’s exactly where Marcum was throwing; later on, Marcum said on the radio post-game show that he “didn’t miss his spot by much.”  What?) and doesn’t look good — instead, he looks like his arm is too tired for him to get any decent pitches over the plate.

Anyway, game 3, which will be played in St. Louis’s home park, Busch Stadium, will be tomorrow night.  The pitching matchup will be Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo, who’s been great in the post-season thus far, and Chris Carpenter, who’s had one bad game and one outstanding game (the outstanding game, of course, was his complete game shutout effort in game 5 in the NLDS versus the Philadelphia Phillies).  This game should be a much closer affair, and will be likely to be determined by how well the two starters pitch rather than how many runs the Cardinals and Brewers can get off two errant starters (as in the previous two games).

Finally, in tonight’s “Dancing with the Stars” results show, Chynna Phillips was voted off.  Phillips was paired with professional partner Tony Dovolani, and the two were a very entertaining pairing; however, on Monday night’s show, Phillips completely forgot her routine and Dovolani had to talk her through it.  This is a real shame, because as I’ve said before, there are a few stars who aren’t as good as Phillips who are still there, including Nancy Grace, Carson Kressley, and as much as I hate to admit it, Chaz Bono.

Now, I vote on the basis of entertainment, improvement, and whether or not I really like the professional dancer (as the longer the pro’s “star” stays on, the more the pro ends up getting paid as I understand it).  Bono, thus far, has shown the most improvement, while of the three I mentioned, Kressley has been the most entertaining.  Lacey Schwimmer, Bono’s pro, is by far my favorite pro dancer on the show, so between the two things — Bono having shown improvement, and Lacey being my favorite pro — they continue to get my votes week after week.  (Mind you, I don’t really know Nancy Grace’s pro dancer, Tristan MacManus, though MacManus seems like a really nice guy and he’s certainly doing his best with Grace.)

The two good “star” dancers on the show, J.R. Martinez and Ricki Lake, are light-years beyond Bono, Grace and Kressley.  But Phillips at her best wasn’t that far behind either Martinez or Lake, which is why it’s such a shame she had an off night and ended up being eliminated.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 11, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Brewers losing in fifth inning

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Folks, I am so frustrated with Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke right now that I want to scream.

Remember my earlier blog post, where I said that Shaun Marcum, tonight’s starting pitcher, didn’t look really good?  (I said he was OK.  Not awful, but not great, and that I fully expected Marcum to be gone early.)

Well, apparently Roenicke has a whole lot more faith in Marcum than I do despite Marcum’s last four outings, where he compiled a 6.66 ERA.  When Marcum started to falter, quite predictably, in the fifth inning, Roenicke didn’t even have anyone warming up in the bullpen.

Just a few minutes ago, Paul Goldschmidt, a rather unheralded first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit a grand slam HR off Marcum to put the D-backs ahead 7-1.  Marcum, finally and mercifully, was lifted; just like his last start, Marcum lasted only 4 2/3 innings and looked, at best, like he has a tired arm.  (Or, quite possibly, that there may be some problem with Marcum’s arm — he hasn’t looked like the same pitcher for a month.)

Now Kameron Loe has been brought in, and another run has scored.  The Brewers are now down 8-1.

This happens in baseball, as it’s rare in the postseason to win all games (“sweep the series”) because both teams, demonstrably, are good ones that have played well all season long.  And a good team that’s finally managed to get a home game, like the D-backs, usually manages to win at least one game (the 2008 Brewers, vastly overmatched by the Philadelphia Phillies, won their first home game in ’08 behind then-Brewers pitcher Dave Bush), so the D-backs doing well tonight is not a surprise.

As of right now, it looks like it’ll be up to Brewers left-handed starting pitcher Randy Wolf tomorrow night to lock this series down for the Brewers unless there’s a major rally in store from the Brewers big bats.  I’m confident that, providing the Brewers cannot rally tonight, Wolf will pitch well tomorrow and the Brewers will close out the series in four games.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm

DWTS Results; Brewers Game in Progress

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After a few hours worth of editing, I turned to two of my favorite things to do: watch “Dancing with the Stars,” and continue to follow the Milwaukee Brewers in their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Thus far, the Brewers are leading the series 2-0, and with Shaun Marcum pitching tonight, there’s a good chance that the Brewers can wrap things up this evening if all goes well.

In tonight’s game so far, Marcum gave up two runs in the first inning but has otherwise been OK.  (Not great, but not bad, either.)  And Corey Hart hit a home run in the top of the third to cut the lead to 2-1, which is where the game stands as it enters the bottom of the third inning.  My estimate as of now would be that the Brewers bullpen should be ready to go early, perhaps as early as the fourth inning if Marcum doesn’t regain any momentum; this game will definitely be up to the bullpen to win as it stands.

As for DWTS, the results show was one of the more unusual ones in recent memory because Kristin Cavallari — one of this season’s better dancers — went home rather than Chaz Bono (called safe early), the lowest scorer, Nancy Grace, who despite her name is far less than graceful, and David Arquette, who got scores that were much better than he deserved last night.  Note that both Bono and Arquette danced the rhumba, while Grace danced the waltz; Cavallari had the demanding samba, and was the only dancer last night who had to perform that difficult dance.

Now, what probably sent Cavallari home early is her lack of name recognition.  She’s best-known for being Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler’s ex-fiancée and for her stint playing herself on “The Hills,” and her very first words on DWTS were something to the effect of how she’s really not “the b-word” (as this is a family-friendly blog, I won’t quote the word she did say that rhymes with witch) and that she hoped people would give her a chance.

Though I am no fan of Mark Ballas (he annoys me, and has for several seasons, most noticeably with former partner Bristol Palin and their “gorilla dance,” where both danced in gorilla masks and outfits), he actually toned it down this season and I was able to see his partner’s potential.   So while I wasn’t on board the “Kristin train” (as Mary Murphy of “So You Think You Can Dance” would most likely put it), I definitely wasn’t against her and enjoyed watching her dance.

What I think happened is exactly what DWTS host Tom Bergeron suggested; voters assumed Cavallari would be safe and voted for those they felt would be in jeopardy, such as Bono (the night’s lowest scorer), Arquette (he’d been in the bottom two the week before, so people knew he needed help) and Grace (though I honestly don’t know who’s voting for her, I can see where people might think she needed help).  Also, the clips from last night’s show for Bono, Arquette, and Grace were all much more stirring than Cavallari’s, and that, too, might’ve been a factor in how people voted.  (To sum up: Bono danced to a song his father Sonny Bono wrote called “Laugh at Me,” which resonated with the crowd due to Bono’s overall likeability; Arquette confessed to his battle with alcoholism and laid the blame for his marital problems solely on his own shoulders; Grace nearly died in childbirth with her twins.  While Cavallari hasn’t had that level of drama in her life by a mile; she’s only twenty-four, while Bono, Arquette and Grace are all at least forty years old.)

At any rate, the important thing to know is that Cavallari is out, though if someone else gets injured or withdraws, she might be called back as she was definitely a favorite of the judges.  She also might be asked to dance with her partner, Ballas, on the results show just to show some more of her developing skills — this has happened before with someone who was truly eliminated too soon.  Or something else good may come of this for all I know, as last night Cutler was in the DWTS audience and there was a photograph of the pair this morning, holding hands; perhaps this experience will help the pair down the road.

As I have been voting for Bono and Lacey Schwimmer (Bono’s professional partner) from the beginning (I will continue to do so as long as Bono lasts, partly because I like him but mostly because I really enjoy Schwimmer’s dancing as she is my favorite DWTS pro), I would’ve been unlikely to vote for Cavallari because I knew Bono and Schwimmer would need a lot of help.  Maybe many people were like me, and wanted to see Bono’s journey because he’s so likeable, and because we can tell how hard he’s working, and because his pro, Schwimmer, is also quite likeable as well.

All that being said, the people I had firmly expected to be in the B2 this week were Grace and Arquette, with Grace going home.  When those two were called safe, I was shocked — but really, it’s the judges fault for not putting those two far lower as they both were (I’m sorry to say) awful.  And had the judges given those two, Arquette and Grace, the low scores they truly deserved as they should’ve been right down there with Bono, it’s quite possible one of them would’ve gone home and we’d have Cavallari’s performance and showmanship skills to look forward to next week rather than two more insipid performances by Grace and Arquette.

Brewers Play Giants; My Thoughts

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My late husband Michael was a San Francisco Giants fan.

Of course, this isn’t surprising, considering he was a long-time San Francisco resident.  That his father and mother both supported the Giants, as did his brother and sister . . . well, that probably helped a little, though Michael wasn’t the type to join in just for the sake of joining.

Nope.  He loved baseball because it was — and is — a game that can be measured.  Baseball statistics make sense, to the degree that different eras can be compared and contrasted, as are various players, their situations and their teams.

Michael loved his Giants.  Which is why me watching my Milwaukee Brewers team play them is ever so slightly bittersweet.

I keep thinking about how Michael would enjoy this year’s Giants team as much as he would’ve enjoyed last year’s — the 2011 Giants once again have stellar pitching, defense, and play well as a team, all things Michael appreciated as a long-time baseball fan.  But, of course, it’s my Brewers playing the Giants — the Brewers, who mostly live and die by the long ball.  By the big inning.  Who aren’t exactly known for their skills at base-stealing, small ball, or for any of their starting pitchers.

I mean, think about it.  Who do you know on the Giants pitching staff that’s a big name?  Tim Lincecum.  Matt Cain, who’s pitching tonight.  Barry Zito, though he’s not done well this year and hasn’t justified the huge amount of money the Giants spent on him a few years ago.  Jonathan Sanchez, perhaps the best #5 pitcher in baseball.  And previously-unknown Ryan Vogelsong, perhaps the best story in baseball this year as he went from getting his outright release in 2010 to having the best ERA in baseball — 2.02 — in 2011, with a 7-1 record in fifteen starts.

Whereas the Brewers have two pitchers who’ve pitched reasonably well throughout — Shaun Marcum, who’s pitching tonight, and Randy Wolf.  Then, we have two wildly inconsistent pitchers who can be either really good or really bad — Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo.  And, finally, we have Chris Narveson, a guy who is better known for his bat than his pitching, though he’s had a decent year thus far.  And let’s not even start about the Brewers defense, as I could go all day about how many ways the infield in particular needs improvement (only Rickie Weeks is relatively solid at second, though he does not have great range; Casey McGehee has had some good moments but mostly isn’t known for his glove; Prince Fielder’s fielding has regressed this season, so he’s once again a well below average first baseman who holds his position due to his fearsome bat; and, of course, Yuniesky Betancourt, who hits better than he fields, but doesn’t exactly hit a ton considering his overall .250 batting average coming into tonight’s game).

I have mixed feelings here, because I see how the Giants are by far the superior team.  The Giants have pitching, defense, and overall team chemistry, even if they don’t hit particularly well . . . their pitching makes up for a great deal, which is how they win games.  While the Brewers have hitting, hitting, and more hitting, with some good outfield defense (Corey Hart in RF is good, Ryan Braun has really improved in LF but hasn’t been healthy recently, while Nyjer Morgan plays a decent center field and has speed — mind, losing Carlos Gomez due to a broken collarbone hasn’t helped), some good to better pitching amidst massive inconsistency, and more hitting.

So it’s a battle of two different styles of baseball being played out tonight in this Brewers-Giants game (currently, as I write this, the Brewers lead 3-1 in the top of the sixth).   Good to excellent hitting versus good to excellent pitching and outstanding defense.  A worthy game, one which I’ll enjoy as best I can, wishing all the while that my wonderful husband were still alive to share it with me.

Still.  I am here, and I see at least some of what Michael would’ve seen in the Giants, as I’m also a long-time baseball fan who appreciates excellent pitching and defense.   I can’t recreate a conversation which didn’t have a chance to happen, though I know what sorts of comments Michael made when he and I watched his Giants play in 2002, 2003 and 2004 . . . I suppose because I’m thinking so much about what he would’ve seen had he been here to observe it, at least a small part of Michael has survived.

And that, at least, is a good thing.  As is the enjoyment I get from watching my Brewers and Michael’s Giants.