A Correction to Yesterday’s Article

by Kevin Kimmes

Yesterday, I incorrectly attributed comments to Brewers radio announcer Joe Block, which were actually uttered by Bob Uecker in the top of the 1st on Monday. The error was discovered while pouring over film of the Dodgers’ series this morning.

In an effort to only provide our readers with content that is factually accurate, I have pulled the article and would like to apologize for any confusion that the article may have caused.

Thank you.

Dealing with Loss

By Nathan Petrashek

Another day, another injury.  This time it’s Jonathan Lucroy, one of the few bright spots for a 2012 team that has seen expectations of a repeat division title slowly fade.  The team announced yesterday that Lucroy will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, the result of a dropped suitcase at the team hotel.  We’ll leave it to the television and radio folks to test the veracity of that claim. The rookie Martin Maldonado will handle primary catching duties for the time being.  It looks like those folks desperately hoping for a Kottaras trade won’t be getting their wish.

The evidence of loss is almost overwhelming.   Only half of the original starting infield remains.  At first base, the Brewers are fielding Corey Hart and Brooks Conrad (in his second go-around with the team this year) after Travis Ishikawa, who had been filling in admirably (or at least adequately) for Mat Gamel, was placed on the DL with an oblique strain.  The situation isn’t much better at shortstop.  Alex Gonzalez gave way to Cezar Izturis, who has now given way to Cody Ransom, a recent waiver claim from Arizona.  The only two members of the infield left standing are Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez, who is still shaking off the effects of a bruised elbow thanks to an errant pitch.  Weeks might as well be on the bench.  He hasn’t even performed at replacement level (.156/.290/.293), and we’re now two months into the season.

The injuries extend to the pitching side, too.  The Brewers started the year with some depth at SP, but that is almost entirely eroded thanks to a season-ending injury to Chris Narveson and a more temporary situation with his replacement, Marco Estrada.  This sets the stage for Michael Fiers’ first major-league start tonight against the Dodgers.

By my count, that’s three positions at which the Brewers are down to replacements of replacements.  People are starting to lose hope.  In the latest Brew Crew Ball tracking poll, only a slim majority of Brewers fans still think the Brewers have a shot at the playoffs.  Those are mostly fans, mind you.  More objective folks are probably less inclined to be optimistic.  This feeling of despair apparently knows no limits, and is starting to reflect on GM Doug Melvin, whose approval rating dropped significantly for the first time.

I’ve often thought that the most telling sign of a person’s character is how they react when bad things happen.  This is true in baseball too.  Doug Melvin can’t conjure up players to fill a baseball roster; not good ones, at least.  His options are limited.  He could go out and trade for some front-line talent, though most teams aren’t selling and the price tag even if they were would probably cause sticker shock.  He can sign one of the few remaining free agents out there, though there’s likely a reason they haven’t caught on yet – price (Roy Oswalt), injury (Ross Gload) and lack of reciprocal interest (Derrek Lee) being prime candidates.  Or – and this is the approach he has taken – he can rely on minor league talent to get by.

It’s worked before.  Jonathan Lucroy was a promising, though not exactly highly touted, prospect once.  He punched his big-league card straight from AA on the heels of an injury to every day catcher Gregg Zaun.  Two years later, he has blossomed into one of the most complete catchers in baseball.

By not trading the farm or dumping loads of salary in pursuit of an increasingly unlikely playoff berth, Melvin is taking a responsible approach to the injury plague.  He’s conserving resources while at the same time evaluating the players of the future, and making inexpensive, low risk tweaks – like adding Cody Ransom – where necessary.  We’ll see two new pieces of the puzzle tonight in Fiers and Maldonado.  Try not to expect too much from them; watch them for the promise they might hold for the future.

And don’t judge Melvin too harshly; he’s doing the best with what he has.  Whether than is also true of Ron Roenicke will be the subject of another post.

Addressing Milwaukee’s “Personal Catcher” Situation

By: Ryan Smith

The Brewers had just experienced a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins.  To make matters worse, the Crew only managed to score 10 runs over the course of those four games.  Some fans – myself included – couldn’t help but start to wonder if it was too early to be genuinely concerned about this season.  At that given moment, the Brewers were pathetic.

Pathetic.

Then last Sunday’s outburst happened.  The Brewer bats woke up to the tune of 16 runs.  Sure, a good portion of those runs came against the very mortal Jason Marquis, whose less-than-stellar performance that day forced him into unemployment.  Still, it was nice to see the team wake up at the plate.

For Brewers fans, Sunday’s game was a damn good time.

Helping to lead the charge on Sunday was The Jonathon Lucroy. (I’ve decided to refer to him as “The Jonathon Lucroy” because of the way he’s dominating at and behind the plate this season.)  Already having a breakout season, The Jonathon Lucroy continued his success at the plate with a monster performance, crushing two home runs and knocking in seven runs along the way.  I couldn’t help but think that Sunday might have been just what the doctor ordered: a game to build some confidence for our struggling lineup.

On Monday, my excitement would be put on hold.

Even animals are frustrated with the idea of a “personal catcher” in Milwaukee.

Randy Wolf was pitching.

Now let me point out that I am a fan of Randy Wolf.  I was never a big fan of Randy Wolf as the second guy in our rotation, but as our fourth?  Sign me up.

My problem with Randy Wolf is George Kottaras.

Let me point something else out: I like George Kottaras.  As a kid, I grew up cheering for Milwaukee and Boston, and I’ve continued to do so for quite some time, so I liked Kottaras well before most Brewers fans started using his name as a verb early this season.

My problem with George Kottaras is Randy Wolf.

I can buy into the idea of a pitcher having a “personal catcher” for a few reasons.  Tim Wakefield always had a specific catcher in Boston, and if you remember Jason Varitek trying to catch the knuckleballer in the ’04 playoffs, you completely understand why he has his own catcher.  I would understand if someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka had a personal catcher because he came to the big leagues with a rumored seven pitches.  I would even understand if someone like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay requested a personal catcher because, well, I’d give those guys whatever the hell they wanted.

But Randy Wolf?  As Tom Haudricourt tweeted during Monday’s game, Randy Wolf has exactly eight 1-2-3 innings this season.  He’s pitched 46.1 innings thus far.  That performance warrants a personal catcher?

Sorry.  I don’t buy it.

I’ve heard other arguments for this whole “personal catcher” situation that Wolf and Kottaras have going.  I get the idea that giving The Jonathon Lucroy an off-day every fifth game will help save his legs and keep him fresh into September.

But does the situation have to be so rigid?  Does it have to be every fifth game?  What about every seventh game?  Wouldn’t that still give him more off days than other top-tier catchers have throughout a given season?

Or if they insisted on giving him that fifth game off, couldn’t they juggle it around from starter to starter, based on the each game’s pitching matchup?

The Jonathon Lucroy has been in perpetual Beast Mode all season, especially against lefties.

Monday’s game against San Francisco was the perfect example of my last point.  The Giants were sending southpaw Madison Bumgarner to the mound.  The Jonathon Lucroy is, quite simply, hitting the crap out of the ball against lefties, sporting a line of .419/.455/.742 in 2012.

The left-handed George Kottaras, in limited at-bats, has a line of .167/.500/.167 against lefties this season.  So basically, he knows how to draw a walk against left-handed pitching but isn’t as gifted when it comes to actually swinging the bat in those same situations.

So I have to ask Ron Roenicke one thing: why?

Why take out a guy who is hitting the ball with reckless abandon regardless of where you put him in the batting order?  Why give him an off-day against a left-handed pitcher when he might be our most dangerous bat against lefties outside of Ryan Braun?  Why not wait and give Kottaras his turn in the lineup against Matt Cain on Tuesday?

Why?

Because it was Randy Wolf’s start.  And George Kottaras is Randy Wolf’s personal catcher.

Before the game, when asked about possibly changing this philosophy, Roenicke said, “I like them both out there. I think there should be some   times when I’d rather put ‘Luc’ in there catching Randy. Tonight would  be one of them. But we need to talk to them more about that if we decide   we’re going to go that way.”

Once again, sorry.  I don’t buy it.

Mr. Roenicke, I’m a fan of yours.  I like the style of game you preach to  the players.  I like your aggressiveness on the bases.  I love seeing a  suicide squeeze once a week.

But I also know that you’re the manager and they are your players.  It is your job to try and put out the lineup that gives us the best chance to win the game on any given night.  “We” don’t need to talk about anything if “we” are going to make a decision.

You need to make that decision.  The next time Randy Wolf is matched up against another lefty, you need to put out the best lineup possible.

You need to make sure you have The Jonathon Lucroy out there.  Because right now, The Jonathon Lucroy trumps any “personal catcher” system that you have in place.

Some thoughts on past greatness

by Nathan Petrashek

I am not a fan of golf.  I wouldn’t mind playing it, but it’s not an activity I’ve taken up yet.  And, as far as television sports go, it is easily the most uninteresting.  Yet I’m sure I’ve seen Tiger Woods play a hundred times or more.  He’s the Greatest Golfer Ever.  His last major win before the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year was in 2008, but he still draws people to the game and Forbes still ranks him as the #1 athlete.  His personal problems are well-documented, but it takes a lot for people to turn on success.

This applies on a smaller scale to Rickie Weeks, who for the first time since 2008 heard the crowd heavily boo his at-bats.  I’ll forgive my Milwaukee brothers and sisters for that.  Frustration needs to find expression, and the start of 2012 has been almost as frustrating for fans of the now 5th-place Brewers as it has been for Rickie Weeks.

And it has taken a lot for the crowd to turn on him.  If Milwaukee fans were not the patient type, they would have booed him at the end of April when he was batting just .186 and slugging a paltry .360.  It’s only been downhill from there.  A .154/.288/.287 slash line isn’t likely to endear you to the masses.  Or your manager, who dropped Weeks from lead-off to sixth in the order.  This is easily Weeks’ worst start since … well, ever. His 53 strikeouts lead the national league.  He’s been a liability in the field, too, with 3 errors on the young season and a -24.8(!) UZR/150.

Yesterday the anti-Weeks campaign reached critical mass.  That will happen after a day with zero hits in five at-bats and four more strikeouts.  Even though fans must know that his slump isn’t for lack of effort – did anyone see his face after his last strikeout? – sometimes we just have to vent.  Weeks is a convenient candidate for fan ire in a lineup that has, as a whole, consistently underperformed.

I don’t pretend to know what is wrong with Rickie offensively.  Statistical evidence suggests he’s been unlucky this year (.209 BABIP vs. career .287), but anyone who has seen him at the plate knows it’s much more than that.  Weeks has always been aggressive, but lately his bat appears stagnant or sluggish.  All I have is hope that Weeks can bust out of this slump in grand fashion at some point and generate some much-needed offense for this club.  If not … let’s just say Tiger Woods has a considerably longer leash with the public.  I still hear hushed talk of Weeks’ 2007 and 2008 campaigns; it’s as though we aren’t fully convinced that the last three years have been the real Rickie Weeks.  2012 is adding considerable fuel to that fire.

Worried Yet?

By: Ryan Smith

It appears that I haven’t written a post in quite some time.  While I may be lacking in the extra time that it takes to write consistent, quality posts, I certainly have not been lacking ideas for new columns.

After an opening weekend that saw Gallardo look like a batting practice pitcher one day, followed by Greinke absolutely shutting down that same St. Louis team the next day, I decided that I wanted to write an article reminding everyone that I said Greinke would be the team’s “ace” for this season.  Then Greinke had his start in Chicago with a chance for the sweep, and he proceeded to stink up the joint (which is not an easy thing to do considering Wrigley already reeks).  Too late for that column.

Two weeks into the season, I decided that I wanted to write an article about early season overreactions, pointing out some statements and thoughts that had been running through Brewer Nation.  I was going to write about how everyone needs to calm down and not promote George Kottaras ahead of Jonathon Lucroy based on a few long balls.  I was going to write about how we need to wait a bit for Aramis Ramirez to get his feet under him before all of Milwaukee called that signing a mistake.

But then, two weeks into the season became three weeks into the season which then became a month into the season.  Too late for that column.

If the Brewers don’t start improving soon, Bernie might be looking for the bottom of a mug more often in 2012.

After today’s extra-innings loss to the Twins, the Brewers find themselves at 16-24.  A 16-24 record means they’ve now played 40 games, which is roughly a quarter of the way through the season.  As I looked at the standings and pondered what I could write about, I realized something:

Much like my column ideas, it’s starting to appear like it may be too late for this Milwaukee Brewers team.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still 122 games left in the season, so they have plenty of time to turn things around.  But as I watch them play (which has been downright painful this past week), I have growing concerns about certain areas of this team.

And the fact that there are 122 games left doesn’t make me say that we have time to fix those concerns.  In actuality, it makes me fear that those concerns could only grow to more frightening levels as we make our way through summer.

So let’s take a look at some of my concerns at this early but not-so-early juncture of the 2012 season, shall we?

First, allow me to give you a hypothetical situation:

When Roenicke looks to the bullpen, it often appears like there aren’t many options.

You are Ron Roenicke and the Brewers are up 3-2 going into the 8th inning.  The starter has thrown 107 pitches, so he’s done for the night.  For some reason or another, Axford and Loe are not available for this particular game.  You need to select two guys to send to the mound to get the next six outs, and your options are Rodriguez, Veras, Dillard, Parra, and Chulk.  Who do you choose?

If you’re like me, you just got that disgusting vomit taste in your mouth.  With a few exceptions, Axford has been typical Axford, giving the fans close calls but usually coming through in the end.  Loe looks like a different guy than the one who was only appearing in low-leverage situations late last year.  But everyone else?  Let’s just say that if Roenicke goes through the entire season without having a late-inning heart attack, I’ll consider that a victory.

Luckily, bullpen improvements happen every year for contenders, either with organizational call-ups – Tyler Thornburg would fill this role nicely – or through trade deadline moves, like when we acquired K-Rod last season.  The only problem is if we keep losing like we have been, we won’t be contenders when July rolls around.

Like many Milwaukee hitters, Weeks can’t seem to find any answers at the plate.

Another issue I have with this team is at the plate.  More specifically, it pains me that a good portion of our hitters have the plate approach of a Little League team.  Braun has been Braun, leading the team in most statistical categories and providing a consistent, dangerous bat, and he hasn’t been alone.  I mean, who could have seen the type of season Lucroy is producing thus far?  Oh, that’s right – I said he could do this, as did Cream City Cables founder Nate Petrashek.  But beyond Braun and Lucroy and the occasional power surge from Hart, the early portion of this season has not seen a lot of consistency at the plate for this team.  Ramirez has started to look better in recent weeks, though that’s not saying much considering how terrible he was in April.  Perhaps my biggest concern with our hitters is Rickie Weeks.  It’s one thing to start slowly, but he’s not really showing any signs of improvement.  Needless to say, my confidence in Mr. Weeks is being challenged.

Finally, I can’t help but worry about all of the injuries that have hit Milwaukee in the first six weeks of the season.  Last year, the Brewers only had to use six starters throughout the course of the entire season.  Now, we’ve lost Narveson for the season, putting more pressure on the rest of our very talented rotation.  We lost new infield regulars Gamel and Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s defense was as advertised, so that isn’t something the team can just replace overnight.  And Gamel’s injury was heartbreaking.  The guy finally gets his everyday shot and, quite frankly, does well in that spot.  So of course he goes out for the season.  Travis Ishikawa has been a pleasant surprise, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to bring him off the bench on most nights as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.  In 2011, the Brewers had limited injuries that impacted the everyday roster.  This year, it seems like that run of good luck may have come to an end.

As I said earlier, I’m not giving up on this season.  It’s still too early to just start looking to next year (unless you’re a Cubs fan).  But if they don’t start turning things around soon, it might be too late for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers.

Talking to Tommy Toledo: Rattlers Reliever

by Kevin Kimmes

Before yesterday’s game, I had an opportunity to talk to Timber Rattlers relief pitcher Tommy Toledo about what it has been like seeing his childhood dreams come true, and the accident that almost derailed them.

CCC: Tommy, when did you first realize that you could make a living as a pitcher?

TT: I remember the draft was pretty exciting back in college. So for me and my family the ultimate goal was to play pro ball, so after I got drafted, I was really excited about it. That’s when I realized it was going to be a profession.

CCC: Speaking of family, your parents came to town for the game at Miller Park. What was that like?

TT: It was exciting. I flew them out for the two nights just for the Miller Park game. I didn’t really expect to pitch either, because I was in the relief club, but I got really lucky and was able to throw in front of them which was really cool.

CCC: I saw your dad the following day sitting behind home plate wearing the University of Toledo Sweatshirt.

TT: Yeah, my dad is a trip. He loves it.  He loves everything about baseball, so he’s been following everybody on the team.

CCC: As you mentioned, your current role is as a relief pitcher. Any aspirations of becoming a starter?

TT: I’m already living the dream right now, so whatever I can do to get on the mound is great. I have no problems coming on in relief, or starting. Any way that I can help out the team, anything at all, that’s up to them. It doesn’t bother me at all.

CCC: In college, you were involved in an accident that lead to you taking a line drive shot to the face. Can you tell me a little about that?

TT: It was a line drive right off the bat in college. I didn’t really get a chance to put a glove in front of it and it hit me pretty square in the face. I had a bunch of fractures and some plates. In total, I had 8 plates and 36 screws, so that’s all under my face right now. It was just one of those freak accidents, so you’ve just got to get over it.

CCC: So, when you take the mound, is there still any lingering apprehension that comes to mind from that incident?

TT: No, not at all. I remember the first day I had to come back. I just wanted to get back out there and throw again. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t think about it. I just wanted to play. I had sat out the year before, so I just wanted to get out and play again. That’s just what I wanted to do.

CCC: Now, with you being a Florida guy, how are you adjusting to the weather in Wisconsin?

TT: For the first month it was a little cold, I won’t lie, it was a  little chilly. It was cold for me, it was cold for everybody. Now, it’s starting to get nice. It’s really nice outside right now. So, it was a little adjustment made, but it’s over now, so we’ll see.

CCC: What players did you learn the most from watching growing up?

TT: As a little kid I grew up watching Cal Ripken Jr. and Mariano Rivera. He’s my favorite pitcher, so I was bummed to hear him get hurt a couple of days ago. I grew up watching those two guys, and I remember watching Greg Maddux. I loved watching him pitch. My dad helped me out when I was little. He coached me the whole time. So, it was just a bunch of different people.

CCC: Finally, what do you think it has taken to get you to where you are at right now?

TT: Hard work. Just trying to get out there every day, staying on a routine. A lot of it is God given. I’m just thankful that every day is another chance to get out there and play. My parents, my family and my friends have also been very supportive.

Tommy is currently 3-0 with 1 save and an ERA of 3.00 in 8 appearances. He can be found online at @TommyToledo13 on Twitter.

We at Cream City Cables wish Tommy all the best this season, and look forward to his continued success.

Melvin’s Gamble

by Nathan Petrashek

Shaun Marcum makes his sixth start of the season this afternoon against the Giants.  Though he has only one win, Marcum has been, for the second season, among the Brewers’ most consistent starters.  Marcum hasn’t given up more than three runs in any outing, and four of his five starts have been quality.  On the season, he’s sporting a nifty 3.19 ERA (best among team starters) over 31 innings.  Marcum is walking slightly more batters than you’d expect, but he’s also striking out more.  Small Sample Size rules certainly apply, but it doesn’t appear Marcum is experiencing a postseason hangover.

This is pretty much what I expected when I wrote this piece in late March.  My position then, as it is now, is that Marcum can help the Brewers win and deserves a contract extension.  At the time, Marcum made his desire to remain a Brewer beyond his final arbitration year well-known.  He was disappointed that Doug Melvin hadn’t approached him, and since then it has become clear that Melvin has no desire to negotiate deals with both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. While I understand the urgency to sign Greinke, this was the wrong approach to take.  In essence, Melvin gambled.  He gambled that Grienke would be amenable to a long-term agreement and that the team could come up with an adequate financial package.  He gambled that Marcum’s injury history-which is pretty light, save for a past Tommy John surgery that potential extension candidate John Axford has also had-and mechanics represent a real injury risk.  He gambled that Marcum would not take personally the lack of effort put forth by the front office to retain him.

So far, it looks like Melvin’s gamble has failed on every one of those fronts.  Todd Rosiak understated the matter when he said “the chances of the Brewers signing Zack Greinke to a long-term deal aren’t very high.”  After the Matt Cain contract fiasco, there is virtually no chance the team signs Greinke, who has put the brakes on further negotiations.  So far, Marcum hasn’t shown any side effects from the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him during spring training.  And though that says nothing about future injuries, the post-Tommy John Marcum has proven to be pretty durable, logging nearly 200 innings in each of the two years since his return.  Finally, there’s a good chance any discount that could have come from Marcum’s playoff failures or shoulder fatigue has evaporated.  After all, let’s be clear: the message from Marcum’s boss in spring training was that the team was better off letting him walk.  Would that make you more or less inclined to sign a team-friendly deal?

While I think the team can still find value in a Marcum deal, his quality start to the season is both a boon and a curse.  The team needs its quality pitching more than ever, but the price tag for a future extension keeps rising.  And if Marcum does for the whole season what he has done in the first month-plus, the Brewers will have missed out on a steal.

King of the Road: Notes From Monday Night’s Brewers Game

by Kevin Kimmes

For those of you who didn’t stay up to catch last night’s game against the San Diego Padres, prepare to start kicking yourselves, as what you are about to read is the kind of thing no self respecting Brewers fan should have missed:

Ryan Braun went 4/5 with 3 homers and a triple (15 total bases, 6 RBI!)

With this performance, Braun now leads the team in 4 offensive categories:

- Batting Average (.294)
– Runs (16, tied with Hart)
– Homeruns (7)
– RBI (17)

Additionally, the performance carried some additional records with it:

- Braun is the first player, home or visitor, to have a 3 homerun game at Petco Park.

- This was Braun’s first 3 homerun game of his career.

- Braun is the firstplayer with 3 homeruns and a triple since Boston Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn accomplished the feat on June 18, 1975.

- The last major leaguer to have 15 total bases in a game was Dustin Pedroia on June 24, 2010.

- Braun has set anew Brewers franchise record with 15 total bases in a single game. The previous high was 14 by Richie Sexson in 2003.

We at Cream City Cables would like to extend our congratulations to Ryan on this monumental performance, and a great end to the 1st month of the season. And don’t forget you can follow Cream City Cables on Facebook as well as on Twitter (@kevinkimmes, @NPetrashek, and@ryanhenrysmith2) for all the latest Brewers (and Timber Rattler) news and opinions.