Weight off the shoulders

So we can finally let out a sigh of relief; the Brewers have their first road win against the Reds, and – big surprise – it came on the back of Zack Greinke.

Greinke didn’t have his best stuff tonight, not by a long shot.  His three walks equaled the number of walks he’d given up collectively in his prior five starts, and he scattered six hits over six innings to boot.

Greinke hit it on the head in the postgame presser when he noted that his slider was the only thing really working, as demonstrated on Brooks Baseball’s strikezone plot (most of the swinging strikes are sliders):

But you can see Greinke also did a good job keeping the ball down, and managed a lot of called strikes/fouls with his fastballs, even if they were not very well located (not much around the corners, is there?).  And then there’s always the bottom line; although Greinke loaded the bases in the fourth, he allowed only two runs.  In other words, he battled and managed to give the Brewers just enough to pull through.

Tomorrow Shaun Marcum looks to build on his exceptional season (6-2, 2.80 ERA, 3.94 K/BB).  It’s a big game, if only because it gives the Crew a series win on the road and some momentum heading into a four-game series against the red-hot Marlins (30-22).

One last thing:  If you missed WTMJ’s interview with outfielder Nyjer Morgan, it was one for the ages.  Not only did he repeatedly refer to the top of the lineup as “tallywhackers,” but he reminded the audience that the “boys on the bottom can but a little tail too.”  He also claimed a voodoo doll was responsible for his repeated DL stints; sounds like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.  He’s been super productive in limited time (.341/.372/.512), so hopefully he manages to avoid any bad karma.

Road Woes

I’m not ready to say that the 2011 Brewers will be defined by their horrid road record (8-18, one of the worst in baseball), though they’ll certainly need to turn that around at some point.  But with the way the Brewers have been playing at home (at 21-7, they’re the first MLB team to 20 home wins), they don’t exactly have to play winning ball while away.  A .500 road record will probably get them in the dance.

But a step backward yesterday; a 3-7 loss to the Reds at Great American isn’t going to help.  Still, it isn’t quite the disaster some in the media make it out to be.  Yes, we dropped another game on the road.  Yes, it was to the division rival Reds.  And yes, the Brewers again had trouble putting runs across the plate.

Still, it’s not quite fair to put this Brewers team in the same box as the team that went 0-3 against the Reds to start the year.  We have Zack Greinke, apparent ace, back in the rotation, and he’s going to start tonight.  Shaun Marcum, who will go in game 3, is a totally different pitcher than he was during his disastrous first outing against the Reds.  We’ve got some new bats in Nyjer Morgan (who as a new Brewer went 1-2 in the first road series in 2 PA), Corey Hart (who was on the DL), and Josh Wilson (who was incognito as a Diamondback).

Add to that the fact that it was our number five, Chris Narveson, starting yesterday.  He’s been serviceable so far (1.2 WAR), but he’s still a number five, and that means you’re going to ask, like Ron Roenicke did, what he was thinking on an occasional pitch:

No, you can’t do that to [Jay Bruce]. And then he turned around and did it again on a 1-2 to Gomes. They had a lot of two strike hits today, and all of them bad pitches.

Narveson is going to get tossed around once in a while.  It was just bad luck that it happened yesterday, on the road, against the Reds.

So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t do much good to measure the Brewers effectiveness at Great American based on the results of the games so far.  I think the real test is going to come tonight and tomorrow, when they throw their best (Greinke and Marcum) up on the mound and see what happens.  If the Brewers drop the next two, then yeah, we can worry; the Brewers are sitting at 1-6 against the Reds so far this year, and I don’t see any way the Brewers win the central if they can’t figure Dusty Baker’s team out.

Epic pitching matchups

Last year, one of the best decisions I made was picking up tickets with some friends to see Yovani Gallardo take on Johan Santana.  It turned out to be every bit the pitching duel I thought it would, with Gallardo pitching a complete game shutout and Santana throwing eight scoreless innings. The Brewers scored their only runs after Santana was pulled for bullpen help, thanks to a Corey Hart walk-off blast with two outs in the ninth.  An instant classic.

Although most didn’t think of Shaun Marcum as a real number one starter before the season, he has certainly established himself as a top-tier talent coming into today’s matchup against the Giants.  Marcum (6-1) has a shiny 2.37 ERA and a little over 8.5 K/9.  He’s walking only 2 per 9, and stranding nearly 80% of baserunners.  And he’s not allowing a whole heck of a lot of guys to reach base to begin with (1.021 WHIP).

Marcum’s competition tonight?  Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who’s 4-4 but sporting an exceptional 2.06 ERA.  Lincecum already has 75 strikeouts, ringing up nearly 10 batters per nine innings.  He’s walking about one more batter per nine than Marcum, but his WHIP is similar (1.071).  That 4-4 start is more a condemnation of the Giants’ offense than anything else (all of his losses have been by three runs or less).  Oh, yeah, and Lincecum is coming off a complete game, three-hit shutout.

So if you like great pitching matchups, the one tonight has all the makings of one for the ages.  I know where I’m going to be at 7:10.

Zack Greinke and the 2011 Cy Young

Though it’s far too early to make any assessments about the NL Cy Young award (remember Ubaldo Jimenez last year?), I noted yesterday that certain of Zack Greinke’s numbers were actually better than they were at the end of his 2009 Cy Young season.  Taking into account his latest start, the numbers just got better, so I thought I’d expound on just how well he’s pitching.

Greinke had by far the best year of his young career in 2009, going 16-8 and ending with a 2.16 ERA, good for first in the American League.  He was also first in WHIP (1.07), third in K/9 (9.50), and second in strikeouts (242) , shutouts, and complete games.  Greinke walked only two batters per nine innings, gave up only .43 HR/9, and stranded nearly 80% of baserunners. His fielder-independent pitching (FIP) ERA, one measure of a pitcher’s true skill, was 2.33, higher than his standard ERA, which means his defense bailed him out a bit.

Greinke is again having great success this year, but the Brewers’ defense isn’t doing him any favors.  He’s rocking a 5.79 ERA, but his FIP is only 2.76.  Combine that with his unlucky batting average on balls in play (.348), and you can see why he’s not getting credit for being an elite pitcher yet.  But other peripheral stats say Greinke’s as good as he’s ever been.  He’s striking out more batters (12.54 K/9) and walking fewer (.96 BB/9) through five starts than he did throughout his 2009 season.

There are a few troubling stats.  In his four Miller Park starts, he’s given up four home runs, and through five he has a 1.61 HR/9 ratio, as opposed to 2009′s .43.  He’s also inducing about 5% fewer ground balls than he did in 2009, and 11% fewer than in his down 2010 season.

So, three things need to happen for Greinke to have a shot at another Cy Young, only one of them he can control:

  1. He has to keep the ball down, especially at Miller Park.
  2. The Brewers defense needs to pick it up behind him.
  3. He needs to have a little luck go his way.

But make no mistake, even though it might not look it from the surface stats, the Brewers are getting the Greinke we thought we were.

Greinke does it all

That’s Zack Greinke at left, and Jonathan Lucroy does not have his hand on Greinke’s rear end just because he fanned ten in seven innings of three-run ball (though Greinke also did that).  Nope, Lucroy is giving Greinke the gentleman’s pat because of his prowess at the plate; in the fifth inning, it was Greinke who racked up the go-ahead run on a solo shot to left.

It wasn’t a cheap shot, either.  Greinke got all of it and the only question was fair or foul.  Thankfully, it stayed fair, and BOOM!  Career home run number two.

On tonight’s Tony Bruno show, John Axford said he’s sure the bullpen will never hear the end of it. He’s probably right.  “They hear me talk about [my hitting skillz] all the time,” Greinke said.  “They’re all upset now because they think I’ll talk about it even more.”  Watch out for this guy, Yovani.

Of course, Greinke continued to dominate on the bump, too.  Actually, you might be surprised at how well he’s pitching.

You remember that Cy Young award Greinke won in 2009?  Well this year, Greinke is actually striking out more batters per nine innings (12.43) than he did in ’09 (9.50).  And he’s walking fewer batters per nine innings (2 vs. .86).  And although he’s giving up more home runs and his ERA isn’t stellar, he’s been the victim of the Brewers’ poor defense and a lot of bad luck (.370 BABIP). 

No joke; if Greinke continues to dominate on the mound like he has, and if his luck evens out as the season progresses, he still has the potential to put up Cy Young-type numbers.

But what’s really amazing?  Said Greinke, “I feel pretty good, but I can get better.”

Revenge is the theme

The Brewers are on a five-game winning streak and look to close out the series against Washington tomorrow with a sixth.  And the name of the game in this series is revenge.

Three straight devastating losses to the sub par (21-27) Washington team set the Brewers back in April, dropping them below .500 again after they regained their footing following four straight losses to open the season.

In an interview with 1250 WSSP, Jonathan Lucroy didn’t mince words when asked whether the team was playing with a chip on its shoulder.  “Absolutely.  We’re still pretty bitter about that.  We don’t like getting beat like we did when we went there … I want to give them a taste of their medicine.”

The Brewers are well on their way.  Cory Hart absolutely hammered Washington starter Tom Gorzelanny and reliever Doug Slaten yesterday, racking up 3 HR and 7 RBI en route to an 11-3 Brewers victory.  Ironically, Hart, the victim of an early season DL stint, wasn’t even around during the sweep in Washington.  But Lucroy played in two out of the three games, and chimed in with two hits and an RBI.

Tonight, the Brewers clawed and scraped to beat the Nationals, 7-6, in a much closer contest.  Starter Chris Narveson pitched himself into a big hole early in the game, giving up six runs between the second and fourth innings.  But timely hitting from the series’ usual suspects – Hart (2-4, HR, 2 RBI) and Lucroy (2-4, HR, 3 RBI) – helped put the Brewers on the board, and Weeks tacked on a 2-run shot in the 7th to cut the Nats lead to one.

That set up an epic play at the plate in the eighth to give the Brewers the lead.  With two outs, Brandon Boggs walked and Casey McGehee, who had reached on a single, moved over to second.  Lucroy again proved to be the hero, singling to right field.  And as Boggs challenged the throw, Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos missed the ball, allowing the go-ahead run to score.  Axford closed the door in the ninth.

Tomorrow, Zack Greinke gets the nod, and the opportunity to bring this cycle of vengeance full circle.

Please, Brewers marketing, stop the insanity

About three years ago, I was nearly arrested during a Sunday game at Miller Park.  My crime:  agreeing to pick up a second Ryan Braun bobblehead for my friend who couldn’t make it.  Apparently, there was some sort of rule against that kind of thing.  And while I ultimately made nice with the gentleman from event services who called the police over (now we greet each other every game), it also shows the kinds of problems inherent with team giveaways.  People who don’t get the (insert promotional item here; bobbleheads, t-shirts, or, in today’s case, Bernie Brewer lawn gnomes) want one, and people who do have one want more.

And I admit it; I really like the bobbleheads the Brewers give away.  Before 2007, I couldn’t give a rip, but that year they gave out what seemed like 30 bobbles.  Virtually every game you attended, you got a ceramic mass that vaguely resembled a player from 30 years ago (the official reason for the promotion was the Brewers’ silver anniversary of their 1982 World Series loss to the Cardinals).  And I attended a lot of games, so naturally I collected quite a few of these things.  And they just kept giving them out in subsequent years, and my collection grew.  Now, our group makes it a point to include the bobblehead games in our 20-game pack each year (well, all but those damn sausages).

But here’s the thing; if you’ve ever been to a bobblehead game at Miller Park, you’ll no doubt see some shell of a human walking around with a garbage bag full of them.  And if you manage to avoid that human tragedy, you’ll no doubt encounter another in what I like to call the “bobblehead gypsies,” who make their living buying bobbleheads outside the stadium for $3 and reselling them to poor schmucks on eBay for $15.

If you want an example of how perverse this has all gotten, look no further.  At this eBay page, you can pre-order your Craig Counsell bobblehead (more than 10 available), which will be given away in AUGUST, for the low price of $13.95 plus $6.95 shipping.

Today, though, we sunk to a new low.  1,400 140 lucky fans received Bernie Brewer lawn ornaments placed in parks around the state as part of a promotional giveaway sponsored by the Brewers.  Oh, sure, there were ultimately 1,400 gnomes placed, but as you can see from the picture below, and a simple eBay search, very few of them made it into the hands of real fans.

Yep, that’s a trunk full of Bernies.  Nice work, Milwaukee. If you want more on the hoarding here are some headlines and links:

1,400 Bernie statutes gone in minutes
Awful humanity ruins Brewers promotion
Brewers promo marred by statue stakeouts, hoarding
Spoilsports ruin the fun for Brewers’ ‘Where’s Bernie’ promotion
The day Bernie Brewer died: Picking up the pieces after ‘Gnomegate’
Bernie Brewer promotion turns ugly as fans get greedy

And so on and so forth.

And if you still want more, how about this gem:  twitter user @gocubsgogo (clearly a Brewer fan), who was apparently out and collecting at 2 a.m. (the contest started at 5) says that, at a sale price of $50, he will make over $1500 off free lawn gnomes.  You can do the math.  And if you didn’t get one because of his overindulgence?  Well, “Got to love all the losers whining because they were too lazy to get up early.”

All of this for goddamn lawn gnomes.

So, I’m making the call.  Just stop.  No more bobbleheads, no more lawn ornaments, no more anything.  Stop the fan giveaways.  The Brewers have a respectable team for the next few years that can sell itself.  As a city, we’re obviously not capable of elevating ourselves above Neanderthal when it comes to free stuff.

Believe it or not, people will come and see a good major league team without these trinkets.  And the experience will be enhanced for those of us there to see the main attraction: the team on the field.