Archive for the ‘milwaukee brewers’ Category

Nats Swept In Milwaukee

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The Washington Nationals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 on Sunday, a game that marked their third loss in a row — giving the Brew Crew a sweep of the series and a 4-2 edge in the season match-up. As now seems common with every Nationals loss, the team was victimized by unwanted errors, poor starting pitching and a lack of timely hitting. The game featured the long-awaited return of lefty Ross Detwiler, who was sidelined by a hip injury. Detwiler’s  2010 debut was marred early on, when Willie Harris — subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third — failed to handle a ground shot off the bat of Alcides Escobar. The error kept the Brewers alive in the inning and led to the plating of two unearned runs. A fourth inning error by rookie shortstop Ian Desmond also proved to be costly. “We have to play a lot cleaner baseball. It’s ridiculous,” Harris said after the game. “We have to catch the ball and throw the ball. We have to take the pressure off our pitchers. We need to do a better job.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Radio play-by-play guru and semi-legend Bob Uecker is the perfect announcer for the Brew Crew — with patented deadpan humor and self-deprecating remarks that dodge the seemingly endless semi-lectures that mark the Nats’ television broadcasts. His cornball comments play well in Wisconsin’s polka (that’s polka, not poker) parlors, where third generation Polish Americans sip German beer and wonder when the mill will reopen. “I inherited a castoff computer,” Uecker announced in the midst of the Brewers Saturday broadcast. “It’s so old there’s a guy under my desk with a crank . . .” (gales of laughter) . . . Uecker tends to use the word “folks” alot, but his we’re-all-in-this-together approach (which would surely flop in Washington), works well with Wisconsin’s diehard Packers, Bucks, Badgers and Brewers fans. When Ryan Braun homered on Saturday, Uecker retailed his common long-ball excitement — “get out, get out, get outta here and gone” (with a slight hesitation before his next I’m-from-the-middle-of-the-country utterance) — “Wow!” And then this: “Let me tellya folks, you go around baseball and you ask anyone about Ryan Braun they”ll tellya one thing. The guy can hit.” Through it all you’d never guess that the Brewers were struggling to stay alive in the N.L. Central, that their pitching staff is a shambles, and that their marquee player is headed out of town . . .

The 75-year-old Uecker had heart surgery on April 30 and his return to the announcing booth in Milwaukee was much anticipated. But during this weekend’s Nats series, Uecker downplayed his health problems and seemed even a little embarrassed when his doctor’s were tapped to throw out the first pitch on Friday — the beginning of the Nats’ series. “It’s good to see these guys without white smocks on,” he said. “Especially when the last time I saw them the smocks were smeared with my blood . . . ” (gales of laughter). On Sunday he noted that his doctor’s might have “done something wrong” during the operation. “They tied up something inside there and, frankly, I think it’s a little off,” he deadpanned. “Now when I raise my left leg my right arm shoots into the air. When I walk down the street people think I want to shake their hand.” But Uecker’s humor masks this blunt truth: he’s a sophisticated announcer with a talent for parsing baseball’s inner game. He presents it in blunt Americanisms– curves aren’t “curves” they’re “benders,” hitters don’t hit, they “smack” or “nurse” the “sphericals” and relievers never “struggle,” they’re “wobbly.” If there’s another way to describe someone as big or small Uecker will find it, as he did in describing Adam Dunn. “How do you not hear this guy coming?” he asked. Then later: “He loves to fish. So I’m going to strap a 9 horse on him and shove him out into the lake. We can stand on him when we fish.” Uecker likes Dunn, whose visit to him on Saturday has occasioned some comment in D.C. Uecker gave it just the right touch. “We had to put another battery in the elevator just to get him up here,” he said.

Nats Fall To Seligs

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Nats bench bat and right fielder Michael Morse slammed two home runs and drove in four, but the Washington Nationals fell to the Milwaukee Brewers 7-5 on Friday night. The game might well have come down to one play: with two outs in the fifth inning (and with Craig Stammen providing a solid outing), shortstop Ian Desmond failed to throw out a sprinting Alcides Escobar at first. Escobar then took second and scored on an up-the-middle single from pitcher Chris Narveson. The Escobar single shifted the game’s momentum, with Narveson eventually scoring on a Jim Edmonds’ single. The Desmond play, had it been made, would have ended the fifth with a Nats’s lead of 5-1 and left Stammen cruising into the sixth. “I think Desmond made a great play to get to the ball,” Jim Riggleman later said. “Escobar hit it sharp. Desmond may have had a little more time. Escobar runs well. That’s baseball. It’s still two outs, man on first and the pitcher is hitting. We have to put that inning away.”

But the Nats didn’t put the inning away — and the Brewers rallied for two runs against Tyler Clippard in the sixth before Edmonds lofted a home run against Sean Burnett in the seventh. The bullpen collapse is particularly worrisome, as it repeats a pattern that has seen Tyler Clippard struggling to find the form that made him one of the best middle relievers in the season’s first three months. “It’s about the third time we have gone through that with Clippard,” Riggleman said after the loss. “We give him a couple of games and boy, here he goes again. He is looking good. Today, he had great momentum striking out Fielder. I felt, ‘OK , that’s huge,’ but [then] he walked Casey McGehee. Again, that gives them the opportunity to think, ‘Hey, we are one swing away.'” Clippard’s ERA continues to slip: he is now at 3.45 for the season. At the end of June, Clippard’s ERA stood at 2.20.

The Team That Bud Built: While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is a much derided figure among large numbers of baseball fans, it’s hard to find anyone in Milwaukee who openly criticizes him. For good reason: there wouldn’t be baseball in Milwaukee if it weren’t for Selig, whose loyalty to the city assured that it would retain its big league tradition. Selig was a minority owner in the Milwaukee Braves and fought a lonely, but losing battle to keep them from moving to Atlanta, then virtually blackmailed baseball to keep a team in the city by inducing the Chicago White Sox to play twenty games in the abandoned Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968 and 1969. The threat was clear: if the White Sox didn’t start drawing on the south side, Selig would buy them and move them north. But Selig’s bid to buy the Pale Hose in 1969 was blocked by the American League, which was committed to keeping two teams in Chicago. Selig got the booby prize when the league allowed him to purchase the no-account (and bankrupt) Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million and move them east.

Selig’s conviction that baseball could thrive in Milwaukee was much like a second marriage: it was a triumph of hope over experience. The Braves never drew well after their late 1950s success and the city seemed only marginally interested in supporting a major league team in the 1970s. Milwaukee was hit hard by the successive rust belt recessions that stripped jobs from the city’s machine tool and heavy engine manufacturing industries. Thousands of jobs were lost at Milwaukee’s largest plants — Allis-Chalmers, Evinrude, Briggs and Stratton, and Harley-Davidson. The city’s breweries started disappearing in the late 1960s and into the 1970s as Schlitz (“the beer that made Milwaukee famous”), Blatz (“it’s draft brewed Blatz beer, wherever you go”) and Pabst (“it won the blue ribbon”) closed or merged with larger brewers. While Milwaukee’s beer brands have been revived, the old scions of the industry (named for Milwaukee’s most famous German-American families) are gone, gone, gone. By the late 1970s, the miles upon miles of Polish, German and African-American working class neighborhoods were either disappearing or being gentrified.

Selig ignored the evidence, gambling that the city would survive and support a team. It was a lousy gamble, but it has paid off. While the team limped along in the 1970s, Selig (the inheritor of his father’s successful car leasing business), not only inaugurated a marketing program that brought fans into the city from northern Wisconsin, he built a scouting and development team that identified young talent (Robin Yount and Paul Molitor) — mixing them with Milwaukee legends (the Brewers brought Hank Aaron back to Milwaukee for the 1975 and 1976 seasons), that boosted attendance and solidified the Brewers’ identity in the city. While the Brewers were busy winning MLB Organization of the Year awards (seven in all), Selig was becoming an increasingly important figure in the game itself — leading an owners’ revolt against baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and heading up the powerful MLB Executive Council. When Selig replaced Vincent he ceded ownership of the Brewers to his daughter Wendy and in 1994 the team was sold to Mark Attanasio, an out-of-state investment management mogul, for a measly $224 million.

You have to be impressed with “The Team That Bud Built.” While the franchise has never won a World Series, it has consistently outperformed baseball’s expectations, fielding small market boppers like Prince Fielder and filling the seats by building a team that focuses on a mix of Milwaukee’s working class history and Old Europe traditions — from the Archie Bunker-like downscale “wallbangers” to the puzzlingly popular sausage races. It has helped that the Brewers were able to plan and build Miller Park, with a fan shaped convertible roof. Not surprisingly, the Miller Park brand (which runs to 2020 and costs the brewing company $40 million) comes from one of the remaining great (and financially successful) brewing companies of Milwaukee, founded by German immigrant Frank Miller in 1855 and sold by his granddaughter (a temperance advocate) in 1966 — to an international conglomerate. The opening of Miller Park was the last piece of the puzzle for Selig’s plan to make baseball a permanent Milwaukee tradition: the Brewers brought over 3 million fans into the park in 2009 in an urban area that is half the size of Washington.

Facing The Rockies

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The Nats took two of three from the Brewers, and might have swept the series — but for the Nat’s starting pitching. Even so, trailing by ten after the first inning in their third game match-up, the Nats made a contest of it on Sunday, pressing the Brewers’ relief corps and sending Milwaukee reeling into Pittsburgh (which, considering the resurgence of the Ahoys, is not necessarily good news). The Nats might not fare so well against the Colorado Rockies, who send Aaron Cook to the mound tonight at Nationals Park to face off against Washington starter Craig Stammen.

The Rockers are one of the four elite teams of the National League — on the same level as the Phillies, McCoveys and Red Birds. There’s a reason for that: they’re just plumb full of pitching. The talent doesn’t stop with no-hitter hero Ubaldo Jimenez. Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel and Greg Smith round out a solid rotation, which can only get better. If Jeff Francis successfully completes a rehab of his left shoulder, the Rockies could have the best pitching staff in the game. Indeed, there was a time when first sacker and slugger Todd Helton defined the team, but no more. The face of the Colorado franchise is now a bevy of solid starters capable of shutting down any NL team. So, just think how good they’ll be if Jeff Francis returns.

Of course that’s a huge “if.” The Rockies have been hit hard by pitching injuries: in addition to Francis (who, for a time, might have been considered one of the best starters in the game), the Rockies are missing savvy closer Huston Street (the pay-off Oakland made for giving up Matt Holliday), who is on the 15 day DL with a tweeky right shoulder. The Rockies need Street; closer-designate Franklin Morales has blown back-to-back saves, the most recent a heart-wrenching 4-3 loss at Atlanta that followed a dramatic last-inning loss to the (gulp) Mets. If the Rockies don’t have Street (and Colorado bloggers — like Purple Row — have been speculating that he might be down for more than April), they’re in trouble. But given his return, and the overpowering front-line of Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and the emotional, if effective, Jorge De La Rosa (whose last half of ’09 was stunning), the Rockies are the team-to-beat in the NL West. And that’s true despite the out-of-body fear that most teams face when they play Tim Lincecum’s Giants.

Crew: Cut

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Livan Hernandez pitched a complete game four-hit shutout that helped secure another win for the surging Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Saturday. The masterful Hernandez was backed by eight runs and ten hits from what had been a slumping lineup. While Adam Dunn continued to struggle at the plate (going 0-4), Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham and Ivan Rodriguez all contributed, combining for a total of nine hits on the day. The biggest blast of the day came off the bat of Justin Maxwell, who drove in three runs. But the story of the game was Hernandez. The aging but wily righty faced 33 Milwaukee batters, throwing 112 pitches — 66 of them for strikes. The Nats’ ace was never in danger, with the heart of the Brewers’ line-up accounting for only three hits in 16 at-bats. The 8-0 drubbing of The Crew put the Nationals one game over .500 — at 6-5. The Nats go for the series sweep tomorrow at Nationals Park — before weighing in against the Colorado Rockies.

Kennedy Slap Shot Sinks Brewers

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

The Washington Nationals rallied for their second game in a row, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-3, behind Adam Kennedy’s eighth inning single. Kennedy’s hit went just under the outstretched glove of Brewer Prince Fielder, chasing across two runs and sealing the game. Matt Capps came on in the ninth for his fifth save in five attempts. The Nats are now an unlikely 5-5 on the season. “It’s coming together a little bit, slowly,” Riggleman said. “Piece by piece, it’s coming together. But I really feel that certainly we’re not playing at the top of our games by any means. I’m just really glad the way they’re scrapping and getting after it.”

Kennedy’s clutch at-bat came in a game where the Nats were missing two of their key pieces: Adam Dunn was ejected in the first inning for throwing his helmut on a called third strike by the third base ump, and Ryan Zimmerman remained sidelined by a sore hamstring. But the Nats, using their new-found team speed and their hitting-for-singles approach, were able to squeeze out the victory.”When you can win games and you haven’t played great, it’s a really good sign,” Kennedy said. “It should be a fun year.” Kennedy, who’s been struggling at the plate in the early going, raised his average to .214, providing needed defense at third and first. When Dunn was ejected, Riggleman shuffled his defense, putting the Nats’ newest super utilityman Alberto Gonzalez at third.

While starter John Lannan did not register the win, he was effective for the first time in three season outings. Lannan pitched a full seven innings, scattering seven hits while striking out five. The lefty was able to work through the middle of the Brewers’ order, feasting off the light-hitting lumber at the bottom of Milwaukee’s line-up. Milwaukee’s sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth hitters went a combined 0-12 against the lefty. “It shows we have a lot of depth,” Lannan said. “We’ve been able to win games. I don’t think we’ve hit our stride. We’re just building off each win.” Washington’s victim was Brewers’ reliever LeTroy Hawkins, who appeared in his second consecutive poor outing. Hawkins signed a two-year $7.5 million deal in the off-season, but has been a disappointment.

The Worst Free Agent Contract In The Majors? There are rumors that the Chicago Cubs are actually considering unloading the atmospheric contract of left fielder Alfonso Soriano — by releasing him. The rumors apparently began when baseball beat reporter David Brown circulated an update on the Cubs’ frustrations over Soriano’s lack of defense — and detailed the options the Cubs might have in dealing with their flighty star. Rob Neyer repeated and expanded on these concerns, highlighting Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella’s growing anger at Soriano’s inability to play an even average left field: Soriano dropped a fly ball against the Reds last Sunday and misplayed two others against the Brewers. Soriano’s free agent contract is among the most bloated in baseball: he’s due to get paid $18 million a season until 2014.

Reporter David Horowitz is one of Soriano’s most outspoken critics, channeling (in Bleacher Report), what has to be considered an authoritative inside-the-clubhouse judgment: “What does this guy do? If he can’t hit, he’s worthless. And he’s not hitting. Even when he does hit, at least in the past, he would get in streaks where you couldn’t get him out and he could carry a team. That’s why he got that contract,” Horowitz wrote last week. “But when he wasn’t hot, you would be better off with that little leaguer at the plate, because he’s a sure out. He has no plate discipline and he tries to pull everything. He has no plan when he steps up to the plate other than praying that the pitcher will throw him a fastball in his zone.” The Arlington Heights Daily Herald, a sometime-source on the North Side Drama Queens, headlined the Soriano reports — “Break out or you sit out!”

But could the Cubs actually release Soriano? It’s not as if they don’t have options: Xavier Nady is better defensively and is starting to hit, and the Sluggies have what some observers dub a Joe Dimaggio-in-waiting — future superstar Tyler Colvin, who’s hot Spring bat won him a place on the club and the support of the legion of Cubs’ rooters nationwide. The Cubs brain trust, meanwhile, is carefully adding wood to the bonfire — perhaps as a way of sending the tone deaf Soriano a message. Lou Piniella expressed confidence in Soriano, but he then replaced him in the outfield with Colvin on the day following Soriano’s embarrassing left field gaffe. Cubs GM Jim Hendry was not nearly so careful: he denied that the Cubs were thinking about releasing Soriano, but only after pointedly saying that playing time “will not be determined by salary.” Hendry’s got it right, of course: the Ricketts’ family might be rich — but they’re not that rich.

Alfonso Soriano

Playing The “Brew Crew”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman

Down 4-2 to the hard-hitting Phillies in the eighth inning, Adam Dunn hit his first home run of the season and the next batter, Ivan Rodriguez was walked. Ryan Zimmerman then came to the plate as a pinch hitter and put a floater  from Phillies’ reliever Danys Baez into the right field seats. Zimmerman’s clutch pinch hit homer stunned Baez and led the Nationals to a thrilling and much-needed come-from-behind victory in Philadelphia. The win brought the Nats to 3-3 on their road trip to New York and Philadelphia and set up a key series against the Brewers at Nats Park beginning on Friday. Baez took the loss, but was philosophical after the game in explaining how he pitched the Nats’ silver slugger: “I was trying to stay away on him,” he said. “I’ve faced him a lot of times. I always stay in, in, in. He’s coming off the bench and hasn’t played for a couple days, so I was trying to stay on him. He hit the ball and it went out of the ballpark. I didn’t hear good contact. I was surprised [the ball went out], myself.”

The win against the Phillies broke an eight game losing streak for the Nats in Philadelphia.”They are tough no matter where you play them,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman commented after the victory. “They are very comfortable here. They are just hard to beat all the way through the lineup. It was a great challenge for our ballclub, and we met the challenge pretty good.” Dunn’s homer seemed to signal something new for the Nats: a hope that the club can shake off its early season slump and begin hitting the ball. Dunn talked about his at-bat against Baez: “I basically ambushed him,” he said. “I haven’t been swinging at the first pitch. The other day, he walked me on four straight pitches leading off the eighth. I knew he was going to try to get ahead. I just closed my eyes and swung.”

El Siguiente: The Brewers are what they’ve always been — a power hitting team that struggles on the mound. The Brewers tried to change that over the winter, shipping power hitting but disappointing shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Carlos Gomez. The trade of the popular Hardy was a head-scratcher for a lot of Beer Town fans, but the Milwaukee front office was frustrated by Hardy’s inconsistency (he was sent down to Triple-A while suffering through a killer slump in August), and weren’t thrilled to pay him to hit in the low .200s. Most important of all, the Brewers’ brain trust (such as it is) wanted to make room for “El Siguiente” — “The Next One.” Rookie Alcides Escobar has an all-world glove, can steal bases and has a potent Punch-and-Judy bat: he stole 42 bases in Nashville and won the Venezuelan winter league batting title.

The problem is still pitching. While the Brewers signed headline ace Yovani Gallardo to a five year $30 million extension just last week, the second act to the hard-throwing righty is more than a little troublesome. The Brewers’ rotation features a group of knee-knockers, including lefty slinger Manny Parra (a 6.36 ERA last year), former Cardinal also-ran Jeff Suppan (with a knee-buckling four year $42 million contract), aging bad-boy and former Trolley Randy Wolf (who’s always right around .500), and the imposing (6-4, 215) Doug Davis — who sometimes pitches like he’s five-foot-three. That might not be so bad, but bound-for-the-hall closer Trevor Hoffman is obviously on his last legs (he sports a head-spinning 12.60 ERA so far this year) and well-traveled set-up man LeTroy Hawkins hasn’t been able to find the strike zone for the last three years.


The good news, at least for the Brewers, is that opposing pitchers have to face Prince Fielder four times a game. Fielder, one of baseball’s good guys, can hit the ball a ton — and is worth the price of admission. Yeah, well — even so, I’d rather pierce my eyeballs with needles than to watch this guy swing his bat against the Nats. To help Fielder, the Brewers added Jim Edmonds over the winter. Edmonds is a heckler’s paradise: he left his wife to marry a Hooters’ waitress when he was a Red Bird and Cubs fans were all over him (“Hey Jim, where’s my chicken wings?”) — until, that is, he actually became a Cub. Then they thought he was the second coming. With Edmonds, super bopper Ryan Braun and Fielder in the middle of the line-up, this team can hit. Oh yeah, and the Brewers still have all-world nifty-glove-super-sub Craig Counsell sitting on the bench, and pennants just seem to follow him around. The Brewers are doing okay — they’re 4-5 coming into Washington and just in back of the Cardinals, Bakers and Cubs, but ahead of Houston and the Ahoys. Too bad for Brew Crew fans: that’s where they’re likely to stay.

Perception and Reality — In Chicago

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

The Nationals roll out of Washington after suffering a signal defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers — another “might-have-been” in a home stand of might-have-beens, with the brewmeisters’ winning a 7-1, a veritable sudzing of the Anacostia Nine at Nats Park on Monday afternoon. In many ways this was a typical outing for Collin Balester: that is to say, it was not good. Balester was only marginally better than during his previous outing (when he couldn’t get out of the second inning versus the Rockies), because last night he actually lasted into the sixth against the Brewers. When headed for the third time throught the crew’s line-up, Balester fell apart — with the scorebook telling the tale (in order): double, home run, single (wild pitch), walk, walk, single (relieved by Bergman), single, single (relieved by Villone), fielder’s choice, strike out, strike out. The butcher’s bill? Six runs, seven hits (including a home run), two walks and a wild pitch.

It was difficult for Jim Riggleman to put flinty light on such an embarrassment, so he didn’t try: “If I had a crystal ball, I would not have sent him out there for the sixth inning,” he said. But the Nats’ bats were also to blame: the team left twenty-one on base over the course of nine (that’s more than two an inning, for those of you who are counting) and couldn’t take advantage of a less-than impressive Yovani Gallardo, who seemed (at times) almost indifferent to his fate. The big blast for the Brewers came off the bat of Ryan Braun, whose soaring 6th inning tumbler landed six rows from the plaza up in the left field stands. Excepting for that up-in-the-zone pitch, the Nats seemed to master the smooth swinging Braun, who registered three strike outs. That Nats are now off to “the city of the big shoulders, the hog butcher of the world,” where they face the other worldly Cubs, owner of an embarrassingly high salary structure to go with their embarrassing won-loss record.


The headline of the Cubs website reads: “Zambrano returns to kick off critical homestand.” Yeah, it’s critical alright. It’s critical for those who want to have a future in Chicago next year. For the rest of us, the question of whether the Cubs will have a place in the post-season has already been answered — and the answer is “no.” When the Cubs have needed to produce the most they have flopped: they are 5-10 over the last fifteen and most recently lost an embarrassing three of four in Los Angeles. To those stinking Dodgers no less. When they most needed to gain ground on the Cardinals (and if not that, to gain ground in the wild card race) the Cubs actually lost ground — with the rest of the league racing away from them. They are eight games behind the Redbirds, and 7.5 behind the Colorado Streaks in the wild card. Their recent road trip was a disaster: they were pathetic against Colorado, horrible against San Diego (as in the San Diego Padres), and outclassed against the Trolleys. It actually looked, in the city of dreams, as if the slugs had thrown in the towel. One Cubbie’s blog notes: they now have as much chance of making the post-season as O.J. Simpson does of being a useful member of society.

After spending the last twenty-four hours pouring over Cubs’ statistics, we here at CFG have come to the following conclusion: the Cubs are just not very good. The problem starts not on the field, but in the dugout: Carlos Zambrano spends most of the time fighting himself, Milton Bradley is a whiner, the front office decided to trade away Mark de Rosa (who was only the key to the team), Rich Harden’s reputation as “the sore armed Harden” is well-earned and the lovable free-swinging Alfonso Soriano is not so lovable when he goes into a pout and hits .194 in 67 games. Fans of the North Side Drama Queens have reacted accordingly: their blogs are filled with stories about new movies, recommendations that the front office participate in the “cash for clunkers” program and they now run tutorials on why Mark Prior is a symbol of why Cubs fans are left to wallow in their own despair. Remember Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance? Well, my friends, it’s time to relive those halcyon days.

This isn’t a ball club, it’s a novel.

So here (“Chicagoland fans”) is whatyaoughtado, but it’s painful: you clear the decks and you start over. Not like the Nats! We weren’t slow and old, but we started over anyway. That’s not true for your team. The Cubs are slow and old and they need to get young and fast. Carlos Zambrano could be a very good pitcher, but he’s worn out his welcome. He has to go. The best pitcher on the Cubs staff is Ted Lilly and he’s a gamer. Sadly, he’s 33. So he stays. But I would trade Harden. In spite of his enormous value, he’s one bad pitch from a blown shoulder and I would also cast a jaundiced eye on Ryan Dempster. He hasn’t proved he can pitch in the big games and he’ll never again be as good as he was last year. Aramis Ramirez must stay, of course, but you have to wonder if the injury he suffered this year will recur with increasing frequency. So you think I’m wrong? Well I’m not. You think you have a pitching staff? Really? Well, you don’t: you have episodes from “As The World Turns.”

Now then, on to the infield. Mike Fontenot is a good second sacker, he really is, but he’s not a .300 hitter and never will be. The Cubs need one, to team with shortstop Ryan Theriot — who’s the heart of the club. The Riot is the Cubs future. Fontenot isn’t and neither is Zambrano. Stop talking about how they teamed up at LSU. This isn’t LSU. It’s the majors. And get rid of Derrick Lee. Derrick Lee is a good hitter, but not a great hitter, no matter what you Cubs fans say, and he’s 33. He’s lost a step. Sooner or later (and probably sooner) he’s on his way to the junior circuit where fans can ooh and ahh about his value as a DH. “Oh Derrick, oh Derrick.” Listen, Derrick would look terrific in an Oriole uniform. They love guys like Derrick in Baltimore. And trading Derrick to Baltimore would clear the way for Micah Hoffpauer at first base — and it’s about time. Aramis Ramirez stays at third, of course, because when he’s hitting the Cubs win. But Aramis needs to stay healthy. Cross your fingers.

Let’s see, that leaves Kosuke Fukudome, who’s a hell of a ballplayer. Of course, when he didn’t turn into Mickey Mantle the Chicago press dumped all over him. But when you compare him with, say, this guy, you realize what you have. And fine, you can keep Soriano, so long as you realize who he is (and who, after all, would take his contract?), but understand that he only has about three holes in his swing (an outside slider, an inside slider, a high fastball). I would trade Bradley (if you can), despite the paltry return he’s likely to bring on the market — because the last thing any team needs is a head case.

And that’s the biggest problem with the Cubs. No fan, anywhere, wants to believe that their team doesn’t give a damn. And certainly that’s not the case with the Cubs. Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano want to win as much as the next guy — maybe even more. But that’s not the perception among a lot of Cubs fans, and it’s not the perception among fans of the game outside of Chicago. The Cubs-as-headcase has come to define the franchise. That’s the truth. And there’s only one way to change that perception. Clear the deck, get rid of the deadwood, the old, the slow, the head cases — and to keep the team’s youngest, toughest and most highly motivated players. No matter what their statistics. That means changing the franchise face from Milton Bradley to Sam Fuld. It means keeping a .283 hitter with no pop and no experience  — and trading a grizzled veteran with a high OBP. Because sometimes perception is reality – the kid who gives a damn is a hell of a lot more valuable than the veteran who doesn’t. And that’s always true. No matter what the stats say.

Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld

A “Wheezing” Nation . . . And Some Nuggets

Monday, August 24th, 2009

DWilly’s piece yesterday about the Red Sox was right on the money: their age is showing. I’ve been looking for a word that describes their play since the All Star break and I’ve had a difficult time coming up with just the right moniker. Then, this morning, I read a piece in the New York Times on the Sox newest Japanese import Junichi Tazawa and there it was: “wheezing.”  Perfect. Their batting averages show it precisely. The Red Sox top four guys are hitting .297, .300, .292 and .308.  After that the averages fall off, with their eight- and nine-slotted guys (Varitek and Gonzalez) not hitting their weight — at .222 and .210 respectively. Combine that with a two man rotation and you get what you get.

It is a truism that this not the ’04 ball club. There is no “Cowboy Up” talk and no emotional sparkplug. There is no Kevin Millar. The oldest guy in the Sox lineup that year was third baseman Bill Mueller, who was 33.  Today Varitek is 37, third sacker Mike Lowell is 35 (both, shown below, in the ’07 series) and two other guys are 33. Not the geriatric ward but no spring chickens either. But there is one similarity with the ’04 club. Today the Sox are 70 – 52, 6.5 games behind the Yanks. On this day five years ago they were in a similar position: 70 – 53, 6.5 games behind the Empire. The Sox finished the ’04 campaign with 98 wins, which is .700 baseball.  But without a bottom half of the lineup and a beat up pitching staff it’ll be quite a feat to match their ’04 glory.

Varitek and Lowell: old then, older now

Diamond Nuggets: Twins catcher Joe Mauer leads the majors with a .378 batting average. As surprising as it is for a catcher to be a league hitting leader it’s even more surprising to see what he’s done in the heat of August.  Over the last 30 days he’s been on a .427 clip with 10 dingers and 26 RBI. With his four year, $33 million contract up for renewal at the end of the 2010 season he’s a lock for a mid-year trade next year. I hope Theo Epstein is paying attention . . . My dislike of the Nationals TV broadcast team continues to deepen. Messers Dibble and Carpenter should be renamed drivel and . . . and . . . well . . . nothing rhymes with Carpenter — but you get the point. The inane stuff that passes for light banter is incredible. Yesterday it was a discussion of Frank Howard doing his laundry on road trips. Really. I toggled over to the Birds’ broadcast and listened intently while Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne talked about pitch counts and game situations. Music to my ears. Actually it felt like I pulled that stick out of my eye. I encourage you all to repeat my Nats/O’s toggle and listen to the differences in the broadcasts. Today was not the first time I’ve switched away from the pablum that passes for entertaining discussion on the Nats telecasts . . .
2007 was thought to be Prince Fielder’s break out year. He had 50 home runs that season along with 119 RBI, 354 total bases and he hit. 288.  But this year might be the one in which he becomes a more complete player. He won’t reach 50 homers (33 so far is nothing to sneeze at), but he’ll have more RBIs (he leads the majors with 110), his OBP is up 19 points over two seasons ago – and he’s hitting 15 points above his average that year. Plus, he’s much more patient at the plate and will probably have 100 walks this year — pretty good for a guy with a power swing. His fielding has also improved. He’s on pace to cut his errors in half from last year’s total of 17 and his fielding percentage is .995.  No wonder they love this guy in Milwaukee.

Nats End Skid, Tame Wallbangers

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Craig Stammen pitched 6.1 innings and the Nats rapped out ten hits — including three home runs — to take the third game of the four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on Sunday, 8-3. Stammen was not brilliant, but in firm control of the strike zone, moving his fastball in and out against a baffled Milwaukee line-up. Stammen, who has had several good outings of late, threw 97 pitches, 60 of them for strikes. Stammen consistently moved players off the plate by throwing his fastball inside on hitters. “My No. 1 goal is to pitch six or seven innings and throw a quality start,” he said after the game. “But it was really important today to save the bullpen, give some of the guys a couple of days of rest and pitch late into the game so we could win.” Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard pitched in relief and were able to close out the game.

Craig Stammen Three

As was the case in the previous two contests, the Nats’ bats came alive, but this time the effort was in a winning cause. And the wallbangers in this case were not from Milwaukee. Home runs by Cristian Guzman (number 6), Adam Dunn (his 33rd) and Ryan Zimmerman (his 26th) paced the ballclub. The club was even able to pull off a suicide squeeze, with Nyjer Morgan laying down a perfect bunt in the second inning to score a sprinting Mike Morse. “It was one of those plays where we had to get that run in and put a little more pressure on them,” Morgan said. “We got it down and executed the play. I was trying not to show the bunt too early. It worked out in our favor.” Morse started in right field, his first major league start for the club since coming over from the Mariners.

Some People Call It A Kaiser Blade, I Call It A Sling Blade: Ronnie Belliard has been hitting the ball well lately, stroking a grand slam homer in a losing cause to the Brewers on Saturday. He’s raised his batting average by twenty points in the last week and had a key hit on Sunday. So, despite our constant criticism of Ronnnneeeeee here at CFG, we’re all happy for him. In fact, we’re so fracking ecstatic we’re wetting our pants. A young guy who can hit .300 and field his position? Who won’t get picked off first? Who won’t boot a ball at a key point in the game? Fogeddaboudit  . . . we want Ronnie. That said, don’t ya think it’s a little much when Bob Carpenter described Ronnie as “a really good hitter” during the Sunday broadcast? 

The game of the week took place after the Nats-Brewers match-up today, but before the Red Sox battled the Yankees in Boston. Out in Colorado, the Rockies faced off against the Giants in a tussle of NL West contenders vying for a wild card spot. And, at least at first, it seemed a cinch that the McCoveys would stifle the Rockies’ bats. Tim Lincecum was dominant: he pitched seven innings of three hit ball and struck out seven. He had a no hitter through five. He was overpowering. In comparison, Ubaldo Jimenez looked merely average — giving up two runs to Frisco in the top of the second. But in the seventh, Lincecum left a change-up out over the plate and Rockies’ Seth Smith put it in the seats. The Rockies went on to win the game, 4-2, saddling Lincecum (now 12-4) with the loss. Jimenez, whose win might well have put a very large post hole in the “let’s give Lincecum another Cy Young” bandwagon, is now 12-9 with a 3.36 ERA. Coors Field was filled to capacity (47,704). The Rockies are now three up on the Giants in the wild card race, and only 3.5 back of the fading Trolleys, who lost to the North Side Drama Queens. This was one hell of a game.

Would you like some Coors Light with that Whine? The announcers on FSN Rocky Mountain were going on a bit today about how “those guys out on the east coast” (I’m not kidding) are ignoring just how good the pitching is out in the west, and how good the Rockies and Giants are. Yeah, there’s a little of that. I’ve even mentioned it here in the well-read and highly influential pages of CFG. But you know, they went on and on. And on. And on. It would help, of course, if major league baseball didn’t schedule the Giants-Rockies dust-up for a mid-afternoon in August. But, really, who knew? Then too, it’s hard to see how ESPN could have guessed that, during the third week of August, the most important game being played in baseball would be between the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. Then too, the comment is just not accurate: it’s not as if Tim Lincecum hasn’t been celebrated.  Yeah, sure. We oughta pay a little more attention to the Rockies. But ignored? Give me a break.

Our Of Thin Air

Nats Nipped In Slugfest

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

The Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals banged out a total of 21 runs with 26 hits on Saturday, but the Nats ended up on the losing end of one of the team’s more depressing slugfests. Worse yet, Washington ace John Lannan was forced out of the game in the second frame, with Milwaukee leading 6-0. The D.C. bullpen proved no better, though Washington hitters tied the game at 8 in the bottom of the fourth. Every Washington reliever, with the exception of Mike “Heart Attack” MacDougal gave up at least one hit and one run. The Nationals are now 17-19 under interim skipper Jim Riggleman, who was tossed in the third frame for arguing balls and strikes. Strangely, particularly for a game like this, Washington’s biggest bats were silent — Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes were a combined 0-11. The highlight of the game was a Ronnie Belliard grand slam in the third off of Brewers’ starter Mike Burns. Belliard accounted for four RBIs.

Lopez is hitting .315 for the Crew

Lopez is hitting .315 for the Crew

Milwaukee second baseman and former Nats, Felipe Lopez — who had harsh words to say about the Nats after being released by the team last year — was 4-6 with two RBIs. Lopez, who came to Milwaukee from Arizona, raised his season BA to .315. MASN announcer Bob Carpenter commented on Lopez that “when he’s motivated” he plays well, another way of saying that Lopez looked terrible in Washington last year, when his play around second was indifferent and his poor at-bats (.234 and two home runs in exactly 100 games) made him expendable. Lopez looked like a player transformed on Saturday — and he continues to hit well for Milwaukee. Lopez is now with his sixth major league team, having begun his career with Toronto in 2001.