A Clunker for Gallardo

By Nathan Petrashek

Back in February, fellow CCC writer Ryan Smith and I wrote dueling articles examining Milwaukee’s pair of aces, Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke.  My choice, if you’re twisting my arm, was Gallardo, in part based on his historical performance in clutch games – for example, his first home start of 2011, a complete game shutout, and three outstanding postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011 (we’ll give him a pass on his first-inning blowup in the NLCS).

Gallardo lived up to that reputation in Milwaukee’s improbable run in August and September.  Over 65 innings and 10 starts before last night, Gallardo pitched to a 2.91 era with 66 strikeouts, going 7-0. Gallardo tossed at least 7 innings in all of his August starts, dropping his era to a season-best 3.52 at the end of the month.  After faltering in his first September start, Gallardo pitched quality starts in his next three games, and narrowly missed his fourth by an inning.  The Brewers won all 10 of Gallardo’s August and September starts, so Gallardo was crucial to their 33-20 record in those months.

Unfortunately, the Brewers’ backs were to the wall last night.  After dropping games in Washington and Cincinnati and pushing themselves four games back of the final wild card slot, the team was no doubt looking forward to coming home for a three-game set against cellar-dwelling Houston.  For Gallardo, there was no bigger stage in 2012 than last night’s romp under the Miller Park lights.

And Gallardo finally faltered in the clutch.

Things started off shaky, with Gallardo working around a walk and needing 22 pitches to get out of the first inning.  Another walk would come around to score in the second.  Gallardo’s defense – specifically shortstop Jean Segura – failed him in the fourth, but Gallardo had no one to blame for the back-to-back dingers he served up in the fifth.  Gallardo’s final line: 6 ip, 8 h, 3 bb, 5 r (4 er), and perhaps the most significant “L” of the season.

Unlucky Number 4

by Kevin Kimmes

The number 4 seems to carry with it, a very vexing connotation in Wisconsin sports lore, and as of yesterday, the number has reared it’s ugly head again. With no disrespect to Paul Molitor, who’s number 4 was retired by the Brewers in 1999, the number is best known to carry hurt feelings over a former NFL quarterback named Burt something-or-another. However, as of last night, it has become the “Magic Number” for the St Louis Cardinals.

With Milwaukee’s’ loss to the Cincinnati Reds and St Louis’ win over the hapless Houston Astros,  it appears that the clock may be quickly approaching midnight on the Cinderella story that was the Brewers’ post season push. Now, is this to say that all hope is lost for the Crew? Absolutely not. Hell, it’s baseball, and if I’ve learned anything from watching the game over the years it is that just when things seem to be at their bleakest, the baseball gods have a funny way of throwing a 12-6 curveball that reshuffles the status quo.

If the Cardinals win today, again, DO NOT PANIC! They will pick up a win, maybe 2, over a lesser club like Houston. It’s just the way it is. The positive is that while Milwaukee may struggle with the Reds, they finish at home with 3 games each against the Astros and Padres, while St Louis will be at home taking on 2 teams that are contenders, the Nationals and Reds.

The Brewers can pull this out. It may however come down to sweeping these final 8 games to do it. Fans I ask one favor of you, don’t stop Brewlieving!

Toucherception

By Nathan Petrashek

We don’t often cross over into the world of football here at Cream City Cables, but the controversy over the final play of Monday Night Football has some pretty significant lessons for baseball, too.

In case you’ve been stranded out in the desert with no telecommunications equipment for the past 48 hours, let me explain.  Or, well, we’ll just the NFL do it:

In Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.

Naturally, you’re going to have a lot of defensive backs in the end zone on a hail mary play.  Golden Tate was surrounded by gold helmets, including corner Sam Shields in front of him.  The NFL’s statement continues:

While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.

The NFL concedes there should have been a penalty on the play.  Had there been a penalty, the play would have been negated and, as time was expired, the game would have been over.  But what’s next is really shocking, and relevant for baseball purposes.  As the players came down, the side judge signaled touchdown.  The back judge signaled timeout.  The referee did not bother to ask them what they saw; the call on the field was apparently a touchdown by simultaneous possession (though no one has been able to point to me where that call was actually made on the field).

But that’s okay!  We have replay.  Here’s what happened next:

Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.

Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.

The result of the game is final.

And that’s that.

The NFL’s statement even, quite helpfully, gives us the rule on simultaneous possession:

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.

Remember, a valid catch requires a player to secure and maintain control of the ball, even while going to the ground.  You might recall the Calvin Johnson rule from a few years ago:

The NFL concluded that was not a catch.

Now, back to Monday night.  We’re going to conduct our own little replay review.  Here are some photos of the play on Monday night as it progressed:

The ball, incoming. Clearly M.D. Jennings has elevated himself above Golden Tate.

M.D. Jennings catches the ball. Golden Tate’s hand isn’t even on it.

Yep, that’s an interception.

The only thing Golden Tate caught is M.D. Jennings.

The infamous conflicting signals from referees. M.D. Jennings still clearly has possession of the ball. Tate clearly does not, making this an obvious interception.

Just in case you needed more proof.

There you have it.  If Calvin Johnson’s catch was not a touchdown, there is no possible way that Golden Tate can be found to have caught the ball and maintained possession.  There was no simultaneous catch.

One thing to keep in mind is that the replacement referee is not the only one who blew this call.  The NFL has officials – real NFL employees, not replacement referees – assisting with the administration of rules.  According to the NFL, one such official, Howard Slavin, was assisting with the review.  He got it wrong.  And apparently the entire NFL Officiating Department blew the call, too, because there is no way – simply no way! – you can review that game footage and determine that Golden Tate had possession of the ball at any point, let alone that he maintained control through the fall to the ground.

The obvious implication for baseball is that the blown call undermines much of the case for expanded review or automation.  The Commissioner has taken a very careful approach to replay in baseball, first permitting it for borderline home runs calls in 2008.   It will be expanded to fair-or-foul calls and trapped balls, but the system has so far resisted calls for further expansion (for example, on baserunning calls).

What is plain from Monday night’s fiasco is that replay review is not an infallible system.  Review officials will still get calls wrong.  Teams and players will still get screwed.  Error is inherent in any system in which human judgment comes into play (a scary thought when you consider that there are approximately 154,000 U.S. jury trials per year).

What’s more, a replay system is not a system without costs.  There are monetary costs, though one can argue these are not unacceptably high; the Bengals purchased equipment last year for $300,000, plus, of course, the additional cost of review officials and operations staff.  In baseball, the more troubling cost is time.  Every game requires one team to produce at least 27 outs, and baseball is the only major team sport in the United States without a clock.  As of 2010, the average length of a nine-inning game was just under three hours, and that because of dedicated efforts by the Commissioner to speed up the game.  Compare that to 1970s, where the average regulation game lasted under two and one-half hours.

Any expansive replay system is going to impose time costs.  NFL games, after expanding replay review to all scoring plays last season, and all turnovers this season, are lasting longer and longer in 2012, and it isn’t all due to replacement refs.  Expanded replay slows the game down.  It also takes the emotion out of a game when you’re not really sure if your guy just scored a touchdown or hit a home run until five minutes after it happened.

I am not opposed to replay, but I must be persuaded that the benefits outweigh the significant costs.  When the NFL Officiating Department can reach such absurd conclusions even after careful video study, it undermines the case for replay in every sport.

UPDATE

In today’s Ask Vic segement on Packers.com, Vic Ketchman reaches much the same conclusion about replay review:

Norm from Orange Park, FL

I think you have been present to witness two of the most controversial plays in NFL history, one in Pittsburgh and the one on Monday night.

Replay review was used for one and wasn’t available to be used for the other, but Monday’s play and the Immaculate Reception have one thing in common: Replay review was meaningless for both. Forty years later, replay of the Immaculate Reception still can’t confirm whether it was Frenchy Fuqua or Jack Tatum who deflected the ball to Franco Harris. It makes me wonder why we even use replay review if it can’t render a verdict on plays such as these. Aren’t these the plays for which the creation of the system is intended to be used? These weren’t low-profile games. One was a playoff game and the other was a Monday night game, national telecasts with a horde of cameras positioned throughout the stadium, and TV couldn’t produce one angle to help make the call. The thing I don’t like about replay review is that we’ve come to rely on it to correct mistakes, and that’s created an attitude among fans that we no longer have to live with mistakes. The bottom line is mistakes still happen and we still have to live with them.

On the Comeback Trail

By Nathan Petrashek

Sometimes, you have to wonder whether some form of divine intervention has occurred for the Brewers.

Shaun Marcum gets the starting nod tonight against the Nationals.  He could just as easily be starting for the Dodgers right now.  The Brewers placed him on waivers just before the trade deadline in late August.  Having pitched in only one game since returning from the disabled list on August 25 from an elbow injury, Marcum didn’t have any suitable takers.

That could be a blessing in disguise.

With the Brewers now just two games out of the wild card, the rotation looks nothing like it did in spring training.  Ace Zack Greinke has departed for Los Angeles, Randy Wolf was released for ineffectiveness, and Chris Narveson was lost for the season early on.  Anchored by Yovani Gallardo, the rotation now features rookies Wily Peralta and Michael Fiers, as well as swingman Marco Estrada.  If the team has serious playoff aspirations, Marcum will be a key part of it – maybe the key.

When healthy, Marcum is as reliable as they come.  Last year, he pitched at least six innings in twenty-five starts.  Over 200 innings, he compiled a 3.54 era, striking out over 8 batters per 9.  There is consistency here to hang your hat on.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what most are going to remember about Marcum’s dominant 2011 season.  The wheels came off in the postseason, where Marcum lost each start and gave up 16 runs over 9.2 innings.  He started the final game of the NLCS, putting the Brewers in a 4-run hole before he departed.

The Brewers will have to hope Marcum has put the puzzle pieces together.  Because of his injury, Marcum has logged just over 100 innings this year, about half the load he put on it during 2011.  That should help keep him fresh for the stretch.

Even though Marcum has caught a lot of flack for his injury history, that just might push the Brewers into the playoffs.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Win Midwest League Championship

20120917-110332.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Despite leaving Appleton on Thursday tied at a game a piece, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers were able to overcome the hostile environment of playing on the road and took games 3 and 4 in Fort Wayne in order to win their first Midwest League pennant. The win was the cherry on the sunday of what was an amazing season for Milwaukee’s Low-A affiliate. So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the highlights.

8 Timber Rattlers Take Part in the Midwest League All-Star Game

The following players took part in this years All-Star Game held at Kane County:

Greg Hopkins
Seth Harvey
Drew Gagnon
Rafael Neda
Jason Rogers
Tommy Toledo
Mark Williams
Yadiel Rivera.

7 Players Promoted to High-A Brevard County

Jason Rogers
John Dishon
Seth Harvey
Parker Berberet
Tommy Toledo
Drew Gagnon
Andy Moye

Rehab Starts A Plenty

The following Brewers each spent some time on the Appleton Roster this year:

Carlos Gomez
Jonathan Lucroy
Shaun Marcum

For the Record

Brandon Macias set a dubious team record becoming the most hit batsman in team history. Macias was hit 21 times this season, breaking the old record of 18 times held by Luis Tinoco.

Chadwin Stang’s 19 game hitting streak was the 3rd longest in team history behind Luis Tinoco (27 in 1996) and Josh Womack (22 in 2005).

Ben McMahan became only the 2nd player in team history to record double digits in doubles, triples and home runs in a season with 21/11/15. The only other player to complete this accomplishment was Chris Colton in 2004.

The following players had multi-homer games this season:

Tyler Roberts
Max Walla
Cameron Garfield
Greg Hopkins (x2)

Cream City Cables would like to not only congratulate the players, coaches, and staff for all they did to make this championship possible, but also would like to thank the organization for providing us access to the team and players throughout the season. I can’t wait to get the 2013 season started to see what the team does in defense of the title.

Homestand Heartbreak: Rattlers Drop Game 2 to TinCaps

20120913-181208.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Despite being delayed by an hour due to rain, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers managed to get Game 2 of their best of 5 series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps in on Thursday afternoon. The results however, were not exactly to their liking.

The Rattlers were downed by the TinCaps 5-1, and now must play the remaining games of the series in enemy territory. When asked about today’s loss, Chad Pierce said the following:

“If we score 4 runs, we can afford to give up 3. Today, we scored 1 run, so we needed to give up zero. You know, I battled, I just wish I had thrown better. That 2 run inning (top of the 5th) I was leaving balls up. Luckily, they were mishitting throughout the game.”

The lone run today came in the bottom of the bottom of the 4th when 1st baseman Nick Ramirez crushed a solo homer to center that bounced on the outfield walkway before disappearing over the parks exterior wall. Ramirez, who led the team in home runs during the regular season with 16, was unfazed by the task of having to win 2 games on the road in Fort Wayne:

“It’s just a game. It doesn’t make the game any tougher. We just have to go to their place and have an us against the world mentality. We’ve been pretty good on the road this year, so I don’t think it changes anything.”

If there is a silver lining to be found in today’s loss, it has to be that despite the offensive struggles the team has seen in the first 2 games (6 total hits in 2 games, with 2 runs in Game 1 coming off of wild pitches), the team is heading to Fort Wayne with a series split.

“There is definitely a belief that we can get this done,” Rattlers manager Matt Erickson stated in his post game press conference. “We’ve won a lot of series this year, and we’ve been alright on the road as well, and that’s what it boils down to. It’s a 3 game series now and we need to go on the road and take 2 out of 3. But, no, there is no loss of hope by any means just by losing this ballgame.”

Friday is a scheduled travel day for both teams, with the series resuming on Saturday evening in Fort Wayne with Game 3 scheduled for a 6:05 pm start.

1 Down, 2 To Go: A Quick Interview With Timber Rattlers Catcher Rafael Neda

20120913-105433.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Last night in Game 1 of the best of 5 Midwest League Championship series, Timber Rattlers catcher Rafael Neda scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th to give the team a walk-off win and a 1-0 advantage over the Fort Wayne Tin Caps. This morning I took a few moments to talk with Rafael about last night’s performance and what it means to him to be this far into the playoffs.

CCC: Last night in Game 1 of the Championship series, you had 2 hits and drove in a run. You then scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th to win the game for the Rattlers. What was going through your mind as you watched the pitch go wild?

RN: I was just expecting something out of the catchers reach and I was going to score no matter what.

CCC: With your offense factoring heavily in last night’s win, you drove in Max Walla in the 4th and then started the rally in the 10th, are you approaching your at bats differently in the post season, or are you just looking for good pitches and taking advantage of what you see?

RN: Not at all. I’m just trying to put the ball in play and that’s it. I’m not doing anything different, anything special, I’m just trying to put the ball in play, that’s it.

CCC: Finally, what does it mean to you to have gone this far into the playoffs and what is different about this years squad compared to last years?

RN: It’s been really, really fun so far, and of course, we don’t want this to end. Of course, we still have to win two more games, and we’re just going to keep working hard to win those games. It’s been really, really fun so far, long year, but really, really fun.

The Timber Rattlers are scheduled to play Game 2 today at 12:05 pm. Follow me on Twitter (@kevinkimmes) to get updates as the Timber Rattlers press ever closer to the Midwest League Championship.