I turn this week’s blog over to my baseball-obsessed daughter who expresses her opinions so well, she may end up replacing me…which would be no big loss.
Here are her ruminations about her favorite team regarding the upcoming season —
Hi! Kenn’s baseball-loving daughter
here, taking a much-needed break from thesis writing and job searching
to write my latest entry. My previous blogs have revolved around my
#2 team, the Yankees. Time for team #1 to take the spotlight!
Despite the fresh snow, it supposedly
is early spring in Wisconsin, and for the first time in ages the talk
of the local sports world is about the upcoming Brewers season–NOT
which prospects the Packers should go after in next month’s draft. (A
refreshing change for this baseball-crazy gal living a football-obsessed
state!) After the first postseason trip in 26 years, the excitement
in Milwaukee is palpable. Fans have high expectations for this team,
and tickets are selling at an unbelievable pace. My question is, when
this team isn’t performing the way they expected them to, will they
still fill the seats? Will Brewers Fever still be running hot when the
season ends, and the team is out the playoffs?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying
that WILL happen, and I certainly hope it doesn’t. At the same time,
fans need to be realistic. The Cubs (unfortunately) are better than
they were last season, essentially shoo-ins for the division title.
The Phillies too are stronger, and with the offseason moves made by
the Mets, the NL East will likely provide the Wild Card. The Brewers
certainly have the talent to compete, but they also have two huge concerns
that could make or break their season.
Concern #1: Pitching, Pitching,
& More Pitching
I don’t care who you are and what
your payroll is, NO team–Yankees, Red Sox, Royals, or Pirates–can
overcome losing TWO aces. The short but sweet time CC Sabathia
spent as a Brewer is truly legendary, if not one of the most dominating
half-seasons a pitcher has ever had. I consider myself fortunate to
have witnessed a majority of his starts in person, including the locally
infamous “one hit no-hitter” in Pittsburgh. He went above
and beyond when, in the home stretch of the season, he consistently
pitched on three days rest…voluntarily. Yip, CC was so good that a lot of people
seemed to forget about that other pitcher the Brewers had. I mean, all
Ben Sheets did was start for the NL in last year’s All-Star Game…Sheets,
not CC, is the Brewers’ biggest loss (OK, maybe not physically…).
When healthy, Sheets is as good as they come. I always felt he didn’t
get the credit or attention he deserved because he pitched for a lot
of lousy Brewers squads that couldn’t get him wins. Since making his
Brewers debut in 2001, Sheets garnered a record of 86-83 despite an
ERA of 3.72. He owns the team strikeout record, and had 11 games with
10+ K, including a staggering 18 K game against the Braves in 2004.
That season, he had an ERA of 2.70, 264 K, and a record of 12-14 thanks
to a lack of run support. Sheets never demanded a trade, never called
out his teammates, and willingly gave up his job as ace when the Brewers
got Sabathia. That’s a lot to be missed, on and off the field.
Losing a tandem like CC and Sheets
would send most front offices into widespread panic (as they should!).
How does Brewers administration respond? By doing absolutely nothing,
all the while assuring fans that things will be fine! (OK, to be fair,
they did sign Braden Looper…)They are leaving the
rotation to system products Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra. Gallardo
is a future star with Sheets-like stuff who suffered a gruesome season-ending
knee injury last April. Parra is the talented, crafty lefty who’s time
in the majors has been inconsistent to say the least. Both have endless
potential, but essentially no experience. Combined, they have 52 starts
and 294 K–30 more than Sheets alone recorded in 2004. The pressure
young pitchers face first breaking into the majors has to be heavy as
it is, and on top of that, the Brewers are expecting them to replace
CC and Sheets and carry the rotation? Yikes! In time, they will
be a fantastic 1-2 punch. Unfortunately, unless one has a debut season
like Lincecum, that time is probably not now. The rest of the rotation
consists of Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Looper/TBA. Hmm.
New manager Ken Macha recently confirmed
that because of his youth, Gallardo will not be the opening day starter
against the Giants, instead taking the #2 slot. He cites that he doesn’t
want Gallardo to have to consistently face the opponents’ #1 starters.
This would make sense if the Brewers had another viable option. Instead,
the Opening Day matchup will feature defending NL Cy Young winner Tim
Lincecum facing off against…Jeff Suppan. Suppan will continue to serve
as the #1 starter until at least the All-Star break, when Macha may
let Gallardo take over. I’m not sure what it says about your team
when Jeff Suppan is the #1 starter, but it can’t be good! Yes, Gallardo
is young and needs some seasoning, but at least at the moment, his talent
alone makes him the best #1 option. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case
if the front office had attempted to do something to address this issue.
Now that I think about it, the way
the Brewers front office handled the loss of Sabathia and Sheets is
eerily reminescent of a memorable scene from the timeless Hollywood
classic, “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”. While trying
to pass through the forest, King Arthur encounters the Black Knight.
A dual ensues, and Arthur cuts off the Black Knight’s arms. The Black
Knight’s response? “IT’S JUST A FLESH WOUND!” Now, to his
credit, the Black Knight continued to fight, but in the end he lost
his legs as well. Still believing he was invincible, Arthur pointed
out he was really a loony. Losing two aces? More than a flesh wound.
Not doing anything about it? Loony!
Concern #2: An Inconsistent
Lack of a consistent offense is a
problem that has plagued the Brewers for years. Certainly, a large part
of the problem is that over the last few seasons, several players have
had low averages (.250 or lower) and high strikeouts. Since the 2007
season, the Brewers offense has relied mainly on the production of four
everyday starters: Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, and Prince Fielder.
Over that span, all have averages of at least .280, and all have rightfully
been named an All-Star. One problem is that all they never seem to be
clicking at the same time, and all are prone to major slumps. The bigger
problem is that when they are slumping, no one else seems to be able
to make up for the loss. Last season, the team’s batting average was
.253, 25th out of 30 in MLB. Not good. Of this, Braun, Hart, Hardy,
and Fielder hit .278. The rest of the team? An anemic .234. Also not
good. This team cannot be carried on the backs of four players. Everyone
needs to contribute.
It seems that everyone approaches
the plate trying to swing for the fences. The result? Bad plate discipline,
few walks, and lots of Ks. The players seem to recognize this, and improving
plate discipline was a priority in Spring Training. Macha is hoping
to play more “small ball” this season. Traditionally, this
is a foreign concept to the power swinging Brewers organization, but
I think it is a very important transition to make. They need to recognize
that with a runner on base, they don’t have to hit the 420′ homer. Take
the walk. Hit a single to bring the runner in. Run the bases aggressively,
but smartly. It will be interesting to see how well this team can adapt
to this new sort of game. If the pitching leads to a 4 run deficit,
will the offense regress to the old mentality, panicking and trying
to hit a 5 run home run each time up? The potential to score 7+ runs
a game is there, and this season, they’ll have to work together to make
sure they come close to that.
I’ll never forget being at last season’s
finale, watching the Marlins recording the last out on Miller Park’s
videoboard, giving the Mets a loss and the Brewers the Wild Card. The
full stadium erupted in elation, blue and gold confetti raining down,
the team going crazy on the field. I hugged my friends and cried (yeah,
I’m a girl). Going to the playoff games provided memories that will
last a lifetime. Seeing the Brewers in the postseason for myself–I
was barely 2 the last time–was a dream come true. Hopefully, it won’t
be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Whether or not its relived this
season is unlikely, but not impossible. The 2009 Brewers could repeat
as Wild Card champ, provided they play up to they’re potential. Besides,
Brewers fans, stay positive! The Mets can certainly choke again.
These are the 25 players I would break camp with:
Jason Kendall #18 r/r 34
Mike Rivera #11 r/r 32
Comment: Angel Salome is ready but would not play regularly enough with Kendall demanding most of the games. So he is better off going to AAA and playing every day.
Craig Counsell #30 l/r 38
Prince Fielder #28 l/r 24
Bill Hall #2 r/r 29
JJ Hardy #7 r/r 26
Mike Lamb #20 l/r 33
Casey McGehee #52 r/r 26
Rickie Weeks #23 r/r 26
Comment: Thought that Alcides Escobar would make the club but he is struggling mightily at the plate and it looks like he will need to find his bat at AAA.
McGehee, a FA pickup from the Cubs is having a super spring and is versatile enough to play 3 positions -of/1b/3b. Lamb is a stopgap until Mat Gamel is ready. Hall and Counsell are good utility players who can also play multiple positions. Will this be Weeks’ last chance?
Ryan Braun #8 r/r 25
Mike Cameron #25 r/r 36
Corey Hart #1 r/r 27
Brad Nelson #27 l/r 26
Comment: Nelson makes the club as the reserve outfielder over Chris Duffy for one primary reason – he can backup at 1b. Besides he came through the system with Hart and Hardy and deserves his chance. Hall, assuming he will be ready on opening day, can also play of if needed.
David Bush #31 r 29
Yovani Gallardo #49 r 23
Braden Looper #41 r 34
Manny Parra #26 l 26
Jeff Suppan #37 r 34
Comment: With all of the off days in April, Looper will probably break camp while he continues to rehab his pulled muscle. Bush has looked solid this spring while Suppan, with an ERA over 7, looks terrible. But GM Doug Melvin will not release him because the Brewers do not eat salaries and Suppan will make over $12 million this year. This is the area of the squad that will make or break this season. Making Gallardo the ace at age 23 is putting much pressure on him. But he has the same winning makeup as Hamels, Linceum and David Price.
Todd Coffey #60 r 28
Tim Dillard #48 r 25
Seth McClung #73 r 28
David Riske #54 r 34
Mitch Stetter #57 l 28
Carlos Villanueva #12 r 25
Trevor Hoffman #51 r 41
Comment: Despite GM Doug Melvin bringing in a plethora of pitchers from other clubs to compete for spots, it appears that the only new face in the bullpen will be the all-time saves leader. Hoffman has not given up a run this spring. Here’s hoping that he has one more good year in his arm. McClung has been getting lit up and is vulnerable if another pitcher who can both spot start and relieve steps up. Riske, recovering from an injury is also shaky but his experience will probably be enough to keep his spot. Dillard and Coffey have both looked good this spring and Stetter will take over Brian Shouse’s role for a lot less money. Villanueva will be groomed to eventually take over the closer’s role.
Will this team have enough to make the playoffs again? The starting pitching needs to be strong all year and the offense needs to do more than hit homers and strike out. I’m not confident for two reasons: The NL Central is the toughest division and,on paper, the Mets look better. But we know what has happened the past two years.
Even though I’m absorbed in college basketball right now, I can’t wait for the season to start.