SEEKING A CURE

There is a disease spreading among members of the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff, especially among the starters. It started with Jeff Suppan and quickly became contagious. Now it appears to have even spread to Yovani Gallardo.  The diagnosis is a chronic inflammation of the suck. There appears to be no quick cure for this.
 
Just in the past four series, the disease has caused a total collapse of an already infected body. The staff has allowed the average Atlanta Braves, the pathetic Washington Nationals and the woeful San Diego Padres their biggest number of hits in a game this year. Then last night, the fever hit Gallardo and by the time RJ Swindle was through, the Dodgers tallied 17 runs, their largest outburst at home in 30 years. When last seen, Swindle was on life support while Prince Fielder was looking to take out his frustration on Guillermo Mota who purposely hit him.  When Prince gets this mad, even Bigfoot hasn’t a chance. Do you think any Brewers pitcher had his back?

It’s gotten so bad that they have resorted to intentionally hitting batters thinking it’s better to plunk them than to be constantly giving up hits. It’s gotten so bad that even our ridiculously partial TV broadcasters could not come up with an excuse. It’s gotten so bad that the team ERA is a feverish 4.86, next to last in the NL. It’s gotten so bad that future opponents are circling the days on the calendar when they get to feast on Brewers pitching like a six-year old off a T-Ball.

The normal treatment for this inflammation is to seek extensive care of the psyche and avoid strenuous activity, like pitching during a game.  With so many pitchers afflicted, newcomers may have to be quarantined.
 
The disease is likely to last until late September long after any effective therapy is administered. By then, the inflammation may have spread to the whole team as they slowly and painfully sink to the sordid depths of the division.

Only rigorous off-season research to come up with an effective vaccine to ward off the symptoms will help. If this fails, the inflammation of the suck becomes worse than chronic. It becomes part of the anatomy of a losing team.
 

 

An Open Letter To Doug Melvin

Dear Mr. Melvin:
Thanks for nothing. I wasted the entire afternoon waiting for the move that never came. I guess this means that we are one and done. What was the reason you became paralyzed at the last minute and could not make a move so obvious?

I know we were all seduced by the C.C. acquisition last summer. It was a season that ended in euphoria. The fans were hoping for more than just a one year wonder and have poured into Miller Park this year at a record setting pace. Your marketing department has done such a good job that there are ad signs in every possible place in the stadium including between-inning promos. That doesn’t include the revenue generated by the broadcasts including ads between pitches!  The revenue is pouring in.

Could it be that you are burdened with salaries that have crimped the payroll? The $10 million you wasted on Gagne? The $8 million you will pay your once starting 3b who was just sent down? The money still being paid to last year’s manager? What about the albatross that is Jeff Suppan, the most overpriced starting pitcher in the game?

Doug, I know that being a GM today is extremely difficult and I wrote a previous piece defending your ability to make us a contender. But I think we deserved more than Claudio Vargas, a pitcher you jettisoned after he won 11 games in 2007. All of a sudden he’s the answer? I was so hoping the Washburn rumor was true, but I understand that you would not include Escobar or Gamel in any deal. Are they gold plated or what? Are you saving them like so much winter silage? When, in your opinion, are they going to be ready to help up here and who are they going to replace? You said that every team that you talked to wanted pitching, something that the club is woefully short of in the minors as well. That may be true. The Phillies sent three pitching prospects to the Indians for Cliff Lee and the White Sox four to San Diego for Jake Peavy. Who did you have to offer?
 
As a partial season ticket holder who drives more than 80 miles one way to each game, I feel cheated. In this economy, these tickets are a luxury.

This is a narrow window of opportunity.  After next year JJ Hardy can opt out. In two more years, Prince Fielder will be leaving. But with no reasonable options on the near horizon to fortify the rotation, I think it’s look out below.

The fans have been wildly supportive but as you know can be fickle which is why I’m sure the broadcast team is told not to say anything negative. Once the football season starts, the Miller Park sellouts will cease if the team keeps falling faster than a skydiver without a parachute.

Doug, it was nice while it lasted and this lack of movement to keep the team in contention is disappointing to all of us hard-core fans.

My seat is in Section 423, Row 4, Seat 1 if you ever want to stop over during a Sunday afternoon game to chat.

A lifelong baseball lover and loyal fan.

 

SIZING UP THE NL CENTRAL

The trading deadline is one week away and Roy Halladay is still a Blue Jay.

Odds are that by this time next week he won’t be. Will he be wearing a uniform from one of the NL Central teams? Milwaukee says they are interested and can afford him but at what price prospects? Will Doc want to play in Milwaukee? He has a no-trade clause. If he witnessed what happened when CC Sabathia became an overnight sensation last year he will know that the fans will immediately embrace him.

Other than the Brewers, the only other team in the division that appears interested are the Cardinals who also have the resources. The Cubs can’t make any moves right now since they are in the final process of being sold. The Astros could make an offer, but they are weighed down by hefty contracts for players like Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada and Lance Berkman.

The Reds are cash strapped and probably don’t have the prospects Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is looking for.

The Pirates abandoned ship long ago.

So who will take a division that as of this writing has four teams within 2 ½ games of each other.
 

Let’s go down the list from fourth to first.

Milwaukee Brewers  48-47     2 ½ out
The Brewers are in a quandary. Last year they rode CC Sabathia to the playoffs. GM Doug Melvin does not want to part with prospects Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel. Both are in the club’s plans in the near future. But, reportedly, that’s where talks begin and end with the Blue Jays. The Brewers will not make the playoffs with the rotation they have now and with only two players hitting (Braun and Fielder). Halladay can certainly add a few wins if acquired and that may be all that is needed in this up-for-grabs division. But last year, Sabathia was paired with All-Star Game starter Ben Sheets. Although Yovani Gallardo is close, there is no one to form a similar duo this year.

Houston Astros    49-46       1 ½ out
The Astros are surging and just now playing up to their capabilities. Wandy Rodriguez is finally showing he belongs and pairs nicely with Oswalt.
But like the Brewers there are questions at the back of the rotation. The team has been going with re-treads Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. Will their fragile arms and shoulders hold up?

The first half of the season featured Miguel Tejada and not much else. But since July 1st, Carlos Lee has been el fuego and Lance Berkman woke up his bat. Hunter Pence made the  All-Star team and Michael Bourn has blossomed. Still, while they will make a respectable run, they will miss out because they, like the Brewers, do not have enough pitching.

Chicago Cubs   48-45                  1 ½  out
OK, I’ll forego all of the shots it is so easy to take at this team, which has underachieved all year. At the plate, Alfonso Soriano looks lost and Milton Bradley was a colossal mistake. When Aramis Ramirez went down, nobody picked up the slack. Only Derrek Lee has been hitting.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent all year. Except for Ted Lilly no one else can be counted on. Carlos Zambrano has been hot and cold (ask the Gatorade machine). Rich Harden is struggling with his control and, not surprisingly his health, Ryan Dempster is on the DL but is due back any day.  The biggest surprise has been rookie righthander Randy Wells.
Meanwhile the jettisoned Jason Marquis leads the majors with 12 wins. Go figure.

The club is shackled from making any big trades due to the sale of the team. So unless the hitting picks up and Lou Piniella can sort out a troubling bullpen, look for the Cubs to yet again disappoint their long suffering fans.

St Louis Cardinals    52-46
The Cardinals sent a message to their rivals this week that they are serious about taking the division. They needed to fill two glaring holes and went out and did so, first by getting shortstop Julio Lugo who wore out his welcome in Boston, for Chris Duncan and then the stunning trade for Matt Holliday and cash for a handful of prospects. So let’s see, the A’s actually paid the Cardinals to take Holliday?
 
Shortstop has been a revolving door since Kahlil Greene’s unfortunate breakdown. The duo of Brian Barden and Brendan Ryan was not doing the job. Lugo will bring a better bat, solid defense and a veteran presence.

The trade for Holliday was a no-brainer. All year Albert Pujols was carrying the team on his incredible shoulders.  All year we have watched teams intentionally walk him or pitch around him to get to the next batter. Usually, that has been Ryan Ludwick who has only started to get going this week.

Now Manager Tony LaRussa has a legitimate cleanup hitter who will protect Pujols in the lineup. With the recent trade for Mark DeRosa, the Cardinals are solid at every position.

Their starting pitching boasts a trio that is incomparable to anyone else’s in the division in Carpenter, Wainwright and Piniero.
 
Ryan Franklin emerged so well as the closer that he made the All-Star team.

If they do get Halladay, it will almost certainly cinch the title.

My verdict: The Cardinals will win the division this year.

A BEAUTY FOR BUEHRLE
Mark Buehrle threw only the 18th perfect game in all of the glorious history of this great pastime. DeWayne Wise’s leaping catch over the wall in the 9th inning to protect it will go down as the seminal play.

An interesting stat was supplied by the Wall Street Journal. It appears that Buehrle’s perfecto was the second toughest to achieve among the eighteen. They used team OBP to rank them since this is a good indicator of how well a team gets on base by hit, walk or hit batter. The Rays ranked number two on the list with a .350 OBP.

Here is the top four of all time:
1. Charlie Robertson Chicago White Sox     1922 Detroit Tigers (.373)
2. Mark Buerhle        Chicago White Sox      2009 Tampa Bay Rays (.350)
3. Randy Johnson     Arizona D’Backs         2004 Atlanta Braves (.343)
4. Don Larsen           New York Yankees      1956 Brooklyn Dodgers (.342)

Of course, Larsen remains, some 53 years later, the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series.

MY ANNUAL ALL-STAR GAME RANT

I’m not going to get into who should or should not have been named to the All-Star teams. However, if managers continue to pick their own players over more  deserving ones, maybe the Commissioner’s Office should consider naming the substitutes instead. Case in point was Charlie Manual’s decision to pick Jayson Werth to replace the injured Carlos Beltran. Werth is having a solid season, but his .268 average hardly merits All-Star consideration. Carlos Lee and Matt Kemp are having better seasons. Now the entire Phillies outfield will be on the team after Shane Victorino was voted in by the fans as the “33rd” player.

And what about Ryan Howard? He’s hitting all of .253. How about Derrek Lee instead?

Joe Madden chose Nelson Cruz to replace the injured Torii Hunter. What about Jermaine Dye or Adam Lind both hitting much better than Cruz’ .262?

I have a hard time with endorsing .260 hitters as “All-Stars” especially when there are better players left off the team.

The biggest problem with the fans’ vote this year was choosing Josh Hamilton who has been out nearly two months.

It was good to see that they added another player to the rosters to make sure the teams do not run out of pitchers. But the player chosen should’ve have been a relief pitcher. With more and more dependence on the bullpens to determine outcomes of the games, those relief pitchers best able to hand a lead over to the closer deserve merit. There is even an official stat for this now – the hold. Under this idea, the two pitchers who should be named are the Giants Jeremy Affeldt and the Tigers Bobby Seay. Each have 18 holds, tops in either league. Affeldt has a sparkling 1.34 ERA while Seay is at a respectable 3.12.

This idea makes so much sense that it’s bound to be ignored for infinity.

Baseball still has the best All-Star game of all the major sports but it would be even better if more deserving players were named.
 
 

SOMETHING BREWING IN MILWAUKEE

Is now being a considered a legitimate pennant contender an excuse for the post Independence Day fireworks that have broken out in Milwaukee? Ryan Braun, self-proclaimed spokesman for the team called out the starting pitching during this weekend’s meltdown in Chicago and challenged General Manager Doug Melvin to do something about it.

“[The Cubs] starting pitching is a lot better than ours,” Braun said. “They threw the ball a lot better than our starters did. They certainly swung the bats better than we did. Clearly they were the better team. It’s nice to get the one win but they clearly outplayed us and outperformed us all series. No matter who is in there, we have to find a way to throw the ball better for us to have success,” Braun said Sunday. “I think when you’re constantly behind in games, it’s not easy and it’s not fun.”

Wow! This is being brutally honest. But a player criticizing teammates in this brunt fashion will not set well. Not in the clubhouse and not in Milwaukee.

Then he went further, he challenged Melvin. “We’re at the point right now where it would be important for us to go out there and acquire somebody,” Braun said.

So how did Milwaukee’s GM respond? Well, he didn’t exactly embrace Braun’s suggestion.  “It was inappropriate for him to say what he said, and I’m not happy about it,” Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday. “To make the statements he made and also get on his teammates like that, it was irresponsible on his part. It just ticked me off.”

So what to make of this? It’s the rambling of a young star whose ego got in the way of logic. Yes it has been frustrating to watch the starters get pounded more often than not (save Giovani Gallardo). But as a Brewers fan and a partial season ticket holder, I have been observing Braun’s gradual migration toward cockiness and excuse making. Just last week he was complaining about the glass panels above the first base grandstand as being a hindrance to tracking fly balls. Could it be instead that he plays out of position?

If Braun is the self-anointed face of the franchise he best better think before he speaks lest he face the wrath of the fans. This may go over well in New York or Chicago but not in Milwaukee. No matter how good or as honest you are.

IT’S JUST MILTON BEING MILTON

I never thought that I would come to the defense of Milton Bradley but the recent euphoria over the return of Manny Ramirez has me doing just that.
The ridiculous fawning over Ramirez is a nauseating reflection on today’s baseball fans and the media who choose to idolize a self-centered sham. I guess now that they no longer have Barry Bonds to ingratiate themselves with, Ramirez will do.
What is it nowadays that makes a self-centered cheat so popular? What exactly has he done recently to deserve such allegiance?
Let’s review:
1.    Last summer he quit on the Red Sox in the middle of the season because he was unhappy with the direction of contract negotiations. His bizarre behavior included spending time between Red Sox pitching changes inside the Green Monster doing God knows what.
2.    As a going away present, Ramirez cuffed a front office lackey in Houston because he had the misfortune of telling him he could not get all of the comp passes he requested.
3.    Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, he was immediately greeted as some sort of  matinee idol which, I suppose,  is only logical seeing that the city is a vast fantasy land.
4.    In the offseason he held out until he got a farcical contract.
5.    In April, he was caught using a banned substance leading to a 50 game suspension. Then he wanted everyone to believe that he was unaware that the substance was forbidden.

His return last Friday bordered on the bizarre. The media frenzy was akin to the paparazzi following some celebrity icon.  Every move was documented. Every swing, every at bat, every crotch scratching was photographed and reported on. “Here’s Manny picking his nose!”

What kind of example is being set for the kids that it’s OK to cheat?

Meanwhile Milton Bradley is also a target for the fans and media but for an entirely different reason. While Manny can’t do anything wrong, Bradley can’t to do anything right. I listened to Cubs’ fans constantly boo him this weekend. Why? He’s not living up to his lofty contract. Plus, he’s always expected to act like a Boy Scout because of his anger disorder. Any deviation from this results in a chorus of boos. Lose track of outs? Get booed. Pop out with runners on?  Get booed. Question an umpire’s call? Get booed. Have a confrontation with the manager? Get sent home!

Bradley is guilty only of not being able to control his emotions. While I’m not making excuses for his past incidents, he should not be held to a higher standard than Ramirez.

He goes to anger management meetings. He recognizes this is an issue. He admitted he was wrong with his face-to-face with Lou Piniella. He is a man aware of his shortcomings and trying to do something about it. Yet the media vilifies him.

Ramirez fits the twisted logic of getting a pass on his actions because he has been chosen as a cultural celebrity. Meanwhile, Bradley is booed because he has an emotional problem that he has admitted and is trying to treat. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE A PIRATE!

I’m sure that’s what Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge are thinking despite the fact they play for a worse team.

What in the name of Forbes Field is going on in Pittsburgh?

Now on its way to a record setting 17th straight losing season, the Pirates are like a shelter for wandering vagrants. It seems that every season near July 1st they begin their annual drive to expel players for what it seems like whatever they will get for them.

What’s so surprising this year is that the team is actually competitive in a tight NL Central race. Going into tonight’s game against the Cubs, the Pirates are in last place but with a respectable 35-41 record.

Let’s take a look at who’s been in and out through the revolving door since last July and what they’ve gotten in return.

Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss for Jason Bay
Andy LaRoche part of 3 team deal in order for the Dodgers to get Manny Ramirez
Steven Jackson for waiver price.
Evan Meek    Rule 5 draftee
Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady for Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and 2 minor leaguers
Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton and 3 minor leaguers
Ramon Vasquez   Free agent
Two minor leaguers for Eric Hinske
Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge for Nyger Morgan and Sean Burnett
.
As their current record indicates, these moves have been moderately successful.  But if you have been on this team for awhile like Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm or John Grabow, you can’t help but wonder if you’ll be next when the Grim Reaper comes calling. All indications are that Wilson will be gone before the trading deadline.
If you’ve been shown the door, you can’t help but be gleeful (Bay, Nady, McLouth, Hinske) with perhaps the exception of Morgan and Burnett who go from bad to worse.

But while trying to purge salary and “improve the team” these moves have sent dissension through the clubhouse and whatever die-hard Pirates fans are left have to be perplexed.  The others have abandoned ship without much hope of ever returning despite the ambience of one of the best new stadiums. After all, who can they hope to see and follow for more than a few years without their loyalty being crushed.

It’s not easy to be either a player or a fan in the slough that is Pittsburgh.