Tempering Expectations

Milwaukee’s Season Hinges on the Rotation

 By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

After a rough 2013 season for the Milwaukee Brewers – one that saw the suspension of Ryan Braun, the continued decline of Rickie Weeks, a regression in Yovani Gallardo’s performance, and a litany of injuries – it would have been understandable for Brewer Nation to approach the 2014 campaign with apprehension.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

Then the first 12 games happened.

A 10-2 record, best in Major League Baseball.

A nine-game winning streak, including sweeps over the reigning World Series champion Red Sox and 2013 playoff participant Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cue the grand speculation.  There was some warranted attention being focused on Milwaukee, reminding fans that this team is not far removed from one that seriously contended for the National League pennant.  Sports writers from national sources and local publications were very quick to point out that this roster was not simply a flash in the pan, but instead was built for sustained success throughout the season.

Needless to say, expectations were running high.  The pitching staff – both starters and the bullpen – was lights out on the mound.  The lineup was providing timely hitting.  10-2.

And then the Cardinals came to town.

Not only did St. Louis stop the winning streak that had the entire state abuzz, they did so in a very Cardinals-y way, shutting out the Brewers at Miller Park, 4-0.  That was followed up with a 6-1 loss to the hated Cardinals.

All the “happy” feelings that went along with the nine-game winning streak had been wiped out in a 28-hour span at the hands of the team that seems to have Milwaukee’s number more than anyone else.

So where does that leave this Milwaukee squad?  Are they the team that started 10-2 with a pitching staff that could hang with anyone?  Or are they the team that gets crushed by St. Louis every time they play?

The fact of that matter is that they are probably somewhere in between.

Lohse's leadership has been as important as his consistency.

Lohse’s leadership has been as important as his consistency.

As of right now, the Brewers stand at 11-5, a win percentage of .688 through 16 games.  The early season success that the Brewers have experienced begins and ends with the pitching staff.  The starting rotation of Gallardo, Lohse, Garza, Estrada, and Peralta has an ERA of 2.55 with a 3.66 FIP.  Over 102.1 innings, they have recorded 85 strikeouts and only 29 walks.  The bullpen has been just as good, posting a 3.16 ERA with an impressive 3.28 FIP over 42.2 innings.

I’m not delusional; I don’t expect the pitching staff to keep this up over the course of the season.  In Thursday night’s 11-2 loss to the Pirates, we saw the first real implosion by the bullpen, taking over a tie ballgame and giving up nine runs over two innings.  The numbers that Brewers pitchers were putting up are simply not sustainable over a full season.

That does not mean that they can’t continue to be a point of strength for this team for the remainder of the year.  Yovani Gallardo has shown flashes of being a staff ace before, so while his 1.46 ERA and 2.89 FIP won’t be as impressive in July, he could still very well be leading the way for a dominant staff.  Kyle Lohse has continued to be one of the most reliable starters in  Brewer uniform for the second-straight year.  Perhaps more than anything else, Lohse’s leadership has been key in helping turn this staff around.  If Garza can stay healthy and Estrada maintains the progression that he’s made over the last few seasons, Milwaukee will have a pretty formidable one-through-four in the rotation.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

That brings me to Wily Peralta.  I’ve been a fan of Peralta for quite some time; I always saw the potential that he brought to the mound.  He just had the pitching ability that the Milwaukee farm system seemed to lack ever since Gallardo was promoted.  His early returns have been mixed; he showed admirable durability in starting 32 games last year, but his 4.37 ERA and 4.30 FIP left something to be desired.

Through three starts this season, Peralta has shown improvement in some important areas.  He has lowered his BB/9 by over a full walk while posting similar K/9 numbers, and his ERA is a spectacular 1.96.  However, his 4.58 FIP and .222 BABIP seem to indicate that his success thus far is a product of a good amount of luck.

As the number five starter in the rotation, Peralta doesn’t need to have a sub-2.00 ERA; he doesn’t need to pitch like the staff ace.  Frankly, if Peralta can bring his FIP down closer to 4.00 and keep his ERA in the 3.75-range, Brewers fans should be thrilled.  If our number five is pitching like a three, we’re going to be trouble for the rest of the National League.

I could go on and break down the bullpen arms a little more, or I could discuss the possibility that Aramis Ramirez loves batting with runners in scoring position.  But, in all honesty, I think the hopes of a playoff run for the ‘14 Milwaukee Brewers begins and ends with the rotation.

If they can find a way to continue to produce quality starts even after the supposed lucky numbers stop going their way, the Brewers are going to force themselves into the playoff conversation, along with other National League contenders.

But, if Garza gets hurt, or Gallardo has his past issues creep up, or Peralta steps back to his ‘13 version, Milwaukee will be in trouble.  If the rotation struggles for prolonged periods of time, the bullpen will get taxed and start to break down.  If the pitching staff begins to implode, the curious struggles of the lineup will be magnified.

For the record, I think this Brewers team will challenge for a playoff spot.  I think they are capable of winning 88-90 games in 2014.

But any sustained success begins and ends with the rotation.  If that domino falls, Miller Park will be in for a long summer.

The Cream City Cables 2013 NL Central Division Preview: Taking a Look at Milwaukee’s Competition

By: Ryan Smith

pitchers and catchersLet’s be honest: if you’re reading this article, you’re either a close friend of mine or you get slightly turned on by these four words: Pitchers and catchers report.

Perhaps baseball, more than any other sport, allows fan bases all over North America to look forward to the next season and think that this could be our year.

Think about it for a second.

In the NBA, it’s basically LeBron and everybody else. If you don’t have a stable of genuine stars, you’re basically playing for a second-round exit from the playoffs.

In the NFL, there are typically a few “surprise” teams. But in the end, the Super Bowl often comes down to teams that have already been there or teams that were previously on the cusp of greatness. Even this year, the Super Bowl pitted the two teams who lost in their conference championship games the year before.

In the NHL…who knows? I hate hockey.

But baseball? Baseball has teams that stay consistently dominant, teams that slowly build through the minors and eventually reach their greatness, and teams that seem to turn it all around in a few short months. Going into a new season, everyone has a shot.

Well, everyone except Houston.

This brings me to the topic of this article: the National League Central Division.

AL-West-gets-a-present-from-the-NL-Central2013 will be the first season with Houston-less NL Central. With their move to the American League, Houston has opened up a spot in the cellar of the division. To figure out who will claim their rightful position in the division’s basement, I thought I’d take a look at the four remaining non-Milwaukee teams in the NL Central.

I’ll take a look at the teams in the order I believe they will finish in the division standings, going from worst to first. My Brewers preview will be coming in the next few weeks. After all, I want to wait until I have an idea of who might be playing first on Opening Day.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

(All stats courtesy of Fangraphs)

Chicago Cubs
2012 Record: 61-101
2012 Division Finish: 5th

Before I start, let me make one thing clear: I think Theo Epstein is doing a pretty impressive job in turning around the Cubbies. Perhaps the most intelligent thing he is doing is avoiding knee-jerk reactions, passing up opportunities to make pointless signings simply to make a splash. Instead, he seems to be focusing on slowly building up the organization’s farm system while also waiting for those albatross contracts to finally come off the books.

Epstein's is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

Epstein’s is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

That’s the good news for Cubs fans. The bad news? They still have to play the 2013 season, and this time they don’t have Houston as a cellar-buffer.

At this point, I think the Cubs have gotten used to bad news during the season. They didn’t even have to wait for Spring Training games to start for their first bit of bad news this year, with reports of Matt Garza’s strained lat coming in recent days. Garza’s health may be the most important item to focus on in Chicago this season. It’s not that Garza could help Chicago contend; they might not truly contend until 2015. With Garza, the Cubs own one of the most intriguing trade chips in all of baseball. If Garza is healthy, Epstein could use him to drive a mid-season trade that could bring more young talent to Wrigley, much like how the Brewers were able to get Jean Segura in exchange for Zack Greinke, a player who seemed to already have his bags packed. If Garza is not healthy, the Cubs simply have a player of little-to-no value.

The rest of the Chicago rotation lacks the punch needed to survive an NL Central that features three rather dangerous lineups. Jeff Samardzija was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Cubs last season, proving to be a more-than-capable starter. While I don’t think he will duplicate his 2012 numbers (9.27 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 3.38 xFIP), I do think he’ll continue to be a reliable starter who gives Cub fans a reason to hope.

The lineup for the Cubs looks pretty similar to the 2012 version that finished with 101 losses. Anthony Rizzo had a nice debut with the Cubs last season, producing a .285/.342/.463 line in 87 games with the big-league club. As far as additions go, Ian Stewart will be a new face at third, Nate Schierholtz will line up in the outfield, and Wilington Castillo looks to be in line to replace Geovany Soto behind the plate. While none of those names are going to sell any tickets outside of their immediate families, they do prove my earlier point that Epstein is taking the slow and steady approach, which should help Chicago in the long run.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle mightily this year. It looks to be another brutal year for the Cubbies.

Predicted 2013 Record: 65-97
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 5th

Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Record: 79-83
2012 Division Finish: 4th

For two years now, the Pirates have taunted their fans with flashes of improvement, even hinting at genuine contention, only to crush their fan base with massive second-half collapses. I do have some good news for any Pirates fans reading this article:

There will be no second-half collapse.

However, I only say this because I don’t see the Pirates having the hot start they had in each of the last two seasons.

The Pirates’ rotation appears to be one of the few non-Andrew McCutchen bright spots for Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett appears to have found a comfort zone in Pittsburgh, providing the Pirates with a very respectable arm at the top of their rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is a recognizable name in the #2 slot, but last year was a substantial step back for the former Astro. He saw his K/9 dip to 6.08 while producing a 4.09 xFIP. James McDonald surprised some people last year by proving to be a capable and relatively consistent starter. After that, the Pirates have Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, and Francisco Liriano fighting for two rotation spots. I personally think Liriano is a name-only pitcher at this point, a guy who can provide a gem for five innings and then disappear for two months. Too much inconsistency for my taste.

mccutchenThe lineup? Well, there’s superstar Andrew McCutchen, one of the four or five best players in baseball today. After that? Starling Marte has potential to be an above-average regular in their lineup. Russell Martin provides an offensive upgrade from Rod Barajas at catcher, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The addition of Travis Snider could prove to be a pleasant surprise for the Pirates; I’ve always thought he could be a good player if he was given a real shot, which he should get in Pittsburgh.

In the end, Pirates fans will be in for yet another losing season in 2013. There is some help on the way in the farm system, but bringing up any of their really valuable prospects this season would only be rushing them. For now, enjoy that beautiful stadium and the joy that is watching Andrew McCutchen on a nightly basis.

Predicted 2013 Record: 75-87
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 4th

Cincinnati Reds
2012 Record: 97-65
2012 Division Finish: 1st

Chapman's conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

Chapman’s conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

I’ll be honest. Picking the bottom teams in the division was a relatively easy task for me. I just don’t see Chicago and Pittsburgh being in the same conversation as the other three teams in the NL Central. And frankly, I think the Brewers are firmly entrenched in the middle of this top-heavy division. The real debate for me was deciding who would come out on top between the Reds and the Cardinals. Last year, I correctly picked the Reds to win the division. This year, as much as it pains me to say it, I have a feeling St. Louis finishes in first, with the Reds following in a very close second-place.

The aspect of the Reds that makes them a really dangerous team is that they really don’t have a glaring weakness in their lineup. By adding Shin-Soo Choo in their trade with Cleveland, the Reds added a legitimate top-of-the-order bat. Choo is followed by Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, and Jay Bruce. By the time you are to #6-hitter Todd Frazier, you may already be making a visit to the mound. A team is rarely going to stop the Reds from scoring; instead, teams are going to need to spray hits to the outfield, where Cincinnati does appear to have a less-than-stellar defensive outfield, lacking a true centerfielder with the departure of Drew Stubbs.

As far as pitching goes, the Reds have a couple of strong arms at the top of their rotation. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos give the Reds one of the more imposing 1-2 punches in baseball. Bronson Arroyo is what he is at this point; an innings eater who will sport a mid-4.00 ERA. Homer Bailey doesn’t do much for me, but he’s proven to be reliable over the last few seasons. The arrival of Aroldis Chapman in the rotation is the real wild card here. If he can successfully convert to full-time starter, the Reds could end up walking away with the division. If he struggles, which I think he will, the Reds will not only have a question mark in the rotation; they will also have to fill the gap that Chapman created in their bullpen. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I’ve seen too many examples of lights-out bullpen arms struggle in their transition to a larger workload in the regular rotation.

As I stated at the beginning of this section, I am torn between picking the Reds and the Cardinals. Cincinnati has such a dangerous lineup and some starting pitching to back it up, and I’m not even looking at their potential mid-season call-ups, such as speedster Billy Hamilton. Still, I just feel like St. Louis will figure out a way to steal the division from the Reds. However, I still see the Reds getting into the playoffs and making some noise in October.

Predicted 2013 Record: 94-68
Predicted Division Finish: 2nd

St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Record: 88-74
2012 Division Finish: 2nd

This is painful for me to write. If you know me, you know that I hate the Cardinals. I hated Tony LaRussa. I hate Chris Carpenter. I really hate Yadier Molina.

But even with all of that hatred, I can’t help but think that the Cardinals are the best team in the NL Central, and they will win the division in 2013.

First, let’s look at reasons why the Cardinals could finish behind the Reds at the end of the season. Chris Carpenter’s season-ending (and possibly career-ending) injury has to be at the top of the list. I can’t say I was saddened upon hearing this news. I don’t care if that makes me a bad person. I already stated that I hate Carpenter. This injury is definitely a blow to the Cardinals this season and beyond. But keep in mind, Carpenter missed almost all of last season as well. Quite frankly, the Cardinals have gotten used to not having a pitching staff at full-strength over the last few seasons. The Cardinals rotation also got a bit weaker after losing Kyle Lohse to free agency in the offseason. At least, it appears that they got weaker on the surface. The fact of the matter is that Lohse is still a free agent. I’ve never been a big fan of him, and apparently all of the teams in Major League Baseball share that feeling, at least at whatever his asking price is.

Now on to the good news. Last time I checked, Adam Wainwright is still at the top of the rotation, and he remains one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. His curveball still makes hitters look foolish quite frequently. Jaime Garcia has elite stuff but durability issues. When those issues arose last season, Joe Kelly stepped in proved to be a very useful arm. Lance Lynn’s transition to the starting rotation worked out quite well. And 2-13 will mark the first full-season look at top-prospect Shelby Miller. Even without Carpenter and Lohse, that is still a very strong rotation.

As much as I hate him, I can't deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball's best catcher in Yadier Molina.

As much as I hate him, I can’t deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball’s best catcher in Yadier Molina.

I believe the Cardinals also improved their lineup in the offseason, if only by moving on from Lance Berkman, who came back down to earth in 2012 (.259/.381/.444) after a very impressive 2011 (.301/.412/.547). Rafael Furcal enters the final year of his contract, which is good for two reasons for St. Louis. First, we all know how players seem to step up their game in contract years. Second, it means they can move on from the aging Furcal after 2013. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and the previously mentioned Molina provide a dangerous middle of the order for the Cardinals. Allen Craig had an abbreviated coming-out party last year, putting up impressive numbers in 119 games, including 22 homeruns and 35 doubles. If he can stay healthy all season, that makes a dangerous 2-6 in the lineup, and then David Freese comes to the plate. Much like the Reds, this St. Louis lineup just doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

In the end, I think St. Louis’s deeper rotation, superior farm system, and better game management will lead them to the division title in 2013. In a race this close, a mid-season trade or call-up could prove to be the difference, but as it stands now, I think St. Louis will be finishing on top.

Predicted 2013 Record: 96-66
Predicted Division Finish: 1st

Getting the Scoop on the New Guys

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

Now that things have died down a bit after the Zack Greinke trade, I thought it would be a good idea to try and get a better idea of who the Brewers acquired last Friday. In my immediate reaction piece of Friday, I did take a look at what these three players have done thus far this season. But statistics can only tell us so much about these players.

In order to get a better idea of what types of players they are, I knew I needed to talk to someone who had some first-hand experience with each player. Thanks to the beauty that is the Twitterverse, I got in touch with Phil Elson, who for 12 seasons has been the radio broadcaster with the Arkansas Travelers, the AA affiliate for the Angels. Phil agreed to take part in a Twitter-based interview to discuss the package that Milwaukee received for Greinke. Here’s what transpired:

RS: Since you’ve had the pleasure of watching Segura, Hellweg, and Pena all season, what was your initial reaction when you heard about the package of players that were being sent to Milwaukee’s organization for Zack Greinke?

PE: Any reaction is split into 2 categories. 1) How it affects the club I cover in Little Rock. 2) How it affect the Angels on the field. For the Travelers it’s devastating because that’s 2/5 of a very strong starting rotation and our starting SS. Segura was probably going to be returning to Little Rock over the next week to 2 weeks. For the Angels…it’s a tremendous trade in the sense they didn’t give up Richards or Bourjos and got an ace like Greinke.

RS: Let’s discuss Segura, the top prospect in the Angels system at the time. What kind of player did the Brewers acquire in Segura?

PE: Segura is amazingly athletic. Rifle arm. Very quick and fast. Power potential. Very strong in the core, hips, legs. Learning to be a more patient hitter and it showed in the last 5-6 weeks.

RS: That’s good to hear. Even though I’m not a huge fan of player comps, does his style of play remind you of any current or former major leaguer? If so, how?

PE: I’m not big on the player comps either to be honest. It’s not fair to the minor leaguer usually. Think of Segura as a guy who can play SS/2B. Give you the ability to get on base and hit for a solid OPS with some pop.

RS: I think we can live with that. Based on what you’ve seen from him this year, what do you consider to be Segura’s greatest strengths on the diamond?

PE: Quickness. Gets to a lot of balls on the infield. Has the chance to be a special baserunner. And I do think he can hit for some pop too.

RS: Segura has faced injury issues in the past. Were there any organizational concerns that durability might be a concern with him?

PE: Yes, but he’s been fine this year.

RS: There have been some concerns with his ability to stay at shortstop. In his time with the Travelers, how do you think he’s handled short? Is it inevitable that he’ll have to move to 2B or do you feel that he could be a long-term SS?

PE: I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable, but it’s possible for sure.

RS: Moving on to Hellweg, can you give any insight about his repertoire of pitches? What does he bring to the mound?

PE: Johnny has a great FB in the mid 90s. He can get it up to 100, but that’s not all the time. Very good 11-7 curve with bite and improving changeup. He’s a legit 6 foot 9. Tall and lanky. Room to grow. He’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: Most reports on Hellweg talk about his command issues. What have you noticed about this? Is it a case of him trying to pick the corners too much or does he go through those phases when it seems like he just can’t throw it over the plate?

PE: Over the last 2 months, for the most part, he commanded just fine. Troubles early, but he started to figure it out. He’s not a nibbler, that’s for sure. Competitive and hard working. A great guy and teammate.

RS: With tall guys like Hellweg, one of the common problems is repeating the delivery consistently. Can you talk about his delivery at all?

PE: Johnny talked about that being an issue throughout his career, especially since he’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: You’ve been able to see Hellweg start 21 games this year for the Travelers. Gut feeling: starter or reliever?

PE: Good question Ryan. I think he should be a starter right now. If the command issues creep up later on he might have to convert.

Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena will get a chance to show Brewers fans what they can do with AA Huntsville.

RS: Finally, let’s talk about Ariel Pena. Same question as with Hellweg: what does Pena bring to the mound? What are his go-to pitches?

PE: 3 very good pitches. 4-seam FB low-to-mid 90’s. Hard slider that he can slow down. Outstanding change up. Big and strong.

RS: Looking through Pena’s stats for this year, his .264 BABIP jumps out at me. Does he generate a lot of groundballs or has he been on the receiving end of some luck, leading to his impressive 2.99 ERA?

PE: Our home ballpark is an extreme pitcher’s park. Could be part of that. He does leave stuff up a bit much sometimes.

RS: My only experience watching Pena was in the Futures Game this year, where he struggled, to say the least. After that disappointing performance, how did he bounce back in his next few starts for the Travelers?

PE: He was mostly fantastic after the Futures Game. He was all smiles the next day. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. He shouldn’t have been left in that long in the Futures Game.

RS: I agree on you there. Not really fair to him at all. And it’s not like the other World pitchers were blowing away the competition. With Pena, do you think he can stick as a starter or do you feel he might be more of a reliever in the long run?

PE: Starter. He’s always been a starter.

RS: So would you describe this trade as a win-win between these two organizations?

PE: Not yet I wouldn’t. You can’t make any comparisons until this season is over and see how Greinke did. But I think the Angels must resign him because they have no depth of starting pitching in the minors.

RS: Well, they’ve shown that they are willing to spend if they are winning, and I would assume they are confident they can get a deal done. That’s all I have – I’ll let you get ready for today’s game. Thanks again for doing this. We here at Cream City Cables really appreciate it.

PE: My pleasure.

It’s nice to get a little insight on the newest members of the Milwaukee Brewers organization. We here at Cream City Cables would like to once again thank Phil Elson (@ARTravs, @ElsonPhil) for helping us out with this.

Brewers Keep Making Moves; Trade Kottaras to Oakland

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

And just like that, the Brewers have continued in their role as a trade deadline seller.

Recent reports state that the Brewers have come to an agreement to send catcher George Kottaras to Oakland. Kottaras had been recently designated for assignment (DFA) because of the emergence of Martin Maldonado and the return of The Jonathan Lucroy.

Sorry, ladies: Gorgeous George is heading to Oakland.

A career backup, Kottaras became a fan favorite in Milwaukee this year with his late-game heroics, coming through multiple times to help the Brewers claim victories. His ability to come through in clutch situations even created a buzz around Miller Park and on Twitter, with the verb “Kottaras” being introduced into our lexicon. After a game-winning hit, some fans could be heard saying “You’ve been Kottarased!”

As Kottaras came back to Earth after his hot start to the season, Lucroy started to dominate on a nightly basis. When Lucroy broke his hand, many thought it would be a great opportunity for Kottaras to showcase what he brings to the team. But Kottaras ran into an injury bug as well, and Martin Maldonado was called up. From there, Maldonado impressed everyone with his ability to handle the bat while also providing solid defense from the catcher position. It was only a matter of time before Lucroy would return from his injury, and it became apparent that Kottaras was going to be the odd man out.

When he was DFA, Kottaras was told to remain in Milwaukee, as GM Doug Melvin planned on trying to trade the catcher to another team so he could remain in the majors. Oakland, needing help at the catcher position and currently only 4.5 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, proved to be the destination Melvin was looking for.

As the backup catcher for Milwaukee over the last three seasons, Kottaras appeared in 174 games, hitting 17 homeruns with 55 runs batted in and 49 runs scored. Over the last few years, Kottaras received a majority of his playing time serving as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher, guaranteeing Kottaras a start every fifth game. In 49 games last season, Kottaras really showed what he could do by producing a line of .252/.311/.459. This season, his numbers dropped a bit, with a line of .209/.409/.360, which is still an upgrade over what Oakland catchers have combined to do on the year (.198/.250/.269). Oakland’s primary catcher, Kurt Suzuki, bats right-handed, so the left-handed Kottaras could create a natural platoon with him.

As of right now, there has been no report as to what Milwaukee will receive in exchange for Kottaras, and Melvin has stated that he doesn’t believe the deal will be finalized until Sunday. Considering Kottaras is a 29-year-old career backup who was recently DFA, I would not expect much in return. The Brewers probably will receive a low-level project prospect or two. This trade was most likely more about Doug Melvin doing Kottaras a favor by sending him to a team that will keep him in the majors.

Check back with Cream City Cables as the Brewers continue to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

Immediate Analysis of the Zack Greinke Trade

By: Ryan Smith

It finally happened.

Farewell, Zack Greinke. We will certainly miss you.

After weeks of speculation, including some pretty crazy rumors over the last few days, the Milwaukee Brewers finally traded Zack Greinke.

After watching his stock take a hit with a rough July start followed by a mysterious “shutdown” by Manager Ron Roenicke, the enigmatic right-hander quieted his critics with a truly dominant performance on Tuesday night.

Yes, in only 87 pitches, Greinke put to rest any concerns about his health and his ability, instead causing opposing scouts and GMs to bull rush Doug Melvin’s office door.

The winning bid came from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team that beat out AL West rival Texas for the services of Mr. Greinke.

With the move Greinke will join an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren, creating a foursome as dangerous as any in Major League Baseball.

In return, the Brewers will receive three of the Angels top ten organizational prospects, including current top-prospect Jean Segura. Along with Segura, Milwaukee will also receive RHP John Hellweg and RHP Ariel Pena.

SS Jean Segura

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article looking at possible trade packages that Melvin would consider in a trade for Greinke. Then, I wrote that a package centered around Segura and Hellweg would have to be considered. Landing another one of Los Angeles’s top prospects apparently put the deal over the top for Melvin, who was using the rivalry between the Angels and the Rangers to up the asking price for the former Cy Young winner.

There were reports that Melvin was looking to land a top shortstop prospect in any deal involving Greinke, and Segura fits that bill. Segura had recently been called up to the big league club for the Angels, but he only appeared in one game at that level. In 94 AA games this season, Segura produced a line of .292/.346/.404 with 7 homeruns and 50 runs scored to go along with 33 stolen bases. While he would be an immediate upgrade over the current shortstop situation in Milwaukee, I would assume the organization would start with at AA Huntsville, at least for a few weeks.

RHP John Hellweg

Hellweg and Pena also spent all of this season thus far in AA. Hellweg started 21 games, compiling a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA, walking 60 while striking out 88. In his first full season as a starter, Hellweg was producing a 6.62 K/9, but he also had a 4.51 BB/9, showing once again that his biggest concern is his command. Standing at 6’9”, Hellweg has some natural downhill plane on his powerful fastball, which typically sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. While he’s still a work in progress – especially with his secondary pitches – Hellweg still represents a welcome addition to the Milwaukee farm system.

RHP Ariel Pena

In 19 starts this season, Pena was 6-6 with a 2.99 ERA, walking 42 while striking out 111. Pena has some more success with the command of his pitches, resulting in a 3.31 BB/9 and an 8.74 K/9. Pena also has a lively fastball, which is reported to sit around 95 MPH with some movement. His slider is also said to be a hard slider that tends to fall off the table, allowing it to miss some bats. His changeup will need some work, as it can tend to be a BP-fastball if he doesn’t control it well. While Pena’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as Hellweg’s, he seems to have a higher floor, especially considering his ability to control his premium pitches at this point in his career.

Overall, I think GM Doug Melvin did what we wanted him to do – he got the best possible return that he could for Greinke. Texas had already stated that top-prospect SS Jurickson Profar was off-limits, and they recently made it clear that 3B Mike Olt would not be available for a two-month rental. Instead of playing a dangerous waiting game with Texas, he used their interest to get the Angels to give up three actual prospects in order to acquire Greinke. As I said before, Segura could step into the everyday lineup for Milwaukee today and be an immediate upgrade, providing Melvin with the shortstop-of-the-future that he was looking for. Hellweg and Pena give the Brewers two very talented arms to work with, and you can never have enough pitching in baseball.

To Zack Greinke, I say this: Good luck. It was a blast having you in Milwaukee.

To Doug Melvin, I say this: Good job. You did what you had to do and brought back a real package that could help this team in the long run.

To the newest Milwaukee Brewers, I say this: Welcome! You’re going to love it here. I hope you like beer.

Who am I kidding – who doesn’t like beer?

History in the Making?

By: Ryan Smith

I remember watching Monday’s game against the Phillies fearing that a win would once again convince GM Doug Melvin that this year’s Milwaukee Brewers could be contenders. It didn’t matter that the Phillies currently reside in the cellar of the National League East; a win against Roy Halladay could have been just the type of win that Melvin and Manager Ron Roenicke would have used to say that the team was still in it, even though the Brewers just got swept in their “do-or-die” series over the weekend.

Then Roenicke went to the bullpen.

Roenicke has had to make too many trips to the mound this year because the relievers have not done their jobs.

You know the rest. One lead blown. Then another. Then another. With the bullpen for this year’s Milwaukee Brewers, no lead is safe.

After Tuesday’s debacle of a bullpen appearance, many Brewers fans started flooding Twitter and Facebook with claims that this had to be the worst bullpen ever.

This got me to thinking: where exactly does this bullpen rank among other historically bad bullpens?

There’s not really one stat that you can look at to figure this out. Some people would argue that Blown Saves would be the place to start, but that isn’t fair to the terrible bullpens on terrible teams. It also doesn’t take a look at the entire picture because the Save didn’t even become an official stat until 1969. You could look at ERA, but that is oftentimes quite dependent on team defense as well as pitcher performance. I’m sure most Brewer fans would make a case for BB/9 because that seems to be the Achilles heel for this year’s squad.

So since there’s no single stat to tell the story, I decided to look at all of them.

Let’s start by looking at Blown Saves. The Major League record for Blown Saves in an entire season is 34 by the 2004 Colorado Rockies, followed by the 2002 Texas Rangers with 33. As of right now, the Brewers have 18 official Blown Saves on the season, three behind this year’s Rockies. The Crew is on pace for 30 Blown Saves over the span of 162 games, which would be tied for seventh all-time. So in the Blown Saves category, the Brewers are up there, but they are not the worst bullpen ever.

Next, I had to take a look at walks and BB/9 because it seems like Milwaukee relievers can’t take the mound without issuing a free pass or three. On the year, Milwaukee relievers have issued 145 walks, which is the third-highest total in baseball. All-time, the most walks ever issued by a bullpen in a season was 347 by the 1996 Detroit Tigers, with the 2000 Pittsburgh Pirates coming in second with 343. in case you were wondering, the 2012 Brewers are on pace for roughly 242 walks, which wouldn’t even be in the top-30 for most walks ever in a season.

If I look at BB/9, I have to adjust what I’m looking at a bit. If you go all the way back to 1871, the 1908 Brooklyn Superbas (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) had a 108.00 BB/9. Of course, if you look closer, you’ll see that the Brooklyn Superbas only had one pitcher make a relief appearance. That pitcher was Pembroke Finlayson, and he walked four batters in one-third of an inning.

Manny Parra is just one of the guys who issues far too many walks.

If you don’t go back any further than 1970, you would find the 1971 Chicago White Sox with a 6.89 BB/9 and the 2000 Pirates with a 5.92 BB/9. Right now, the Brewers have a 4.39 BB/9, which is the second-highest mark in the league behind the Cubs at 5.00 BB/9. So you can see that, while they are one of the worst bullpens this season when it comes to issuing walks, they are nowhere near the worst bullpen ever in this area.

Finally, I had to look at ERA and True Runs Allowed (tERA) to gauge where this Brewers bullpen ranks among the most ineffective units in the history of the game. This year, the Brewers have the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 4.76. Once again, I had to limit my research to no later than 1970 because the highest 100 ERAs of all-time all occurred before 1970. Using a more modern-day comparison, the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a 6.16 bullpen ERA, which easily beat out the ’96 Tigers (5.97). Once again, this year’s Brewers bullpen is bad, but they are not historically bad when it comes to ERA.

The sample-size for tERA is even smaller because this stat wasn’t even calculated until 2002. Even with this smaller window, you can see that Milwaukee’s tERA of 4.79 is only the fourth-worst mark in baseball in 2012. Historically, the ’12 Crew is no match for the Rockies of 2003 (6.37) and ’02 (6.32).

I do want to point out that at no point during this article was I defending the performance of the Brewers bullpen this year. I spent a good chunk of the early months of the season coming to the defense of John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, telling fans to give them time, to have faith.

All too often, Roenicke finds himself without the answers during postgame press conferences.

And now, here I am, feeling like a damn fool.

The harsh truth is that we’re more than likely stuck with these guys for the rest of the season. Whatever trade value Rodriguez had going into this last series was pretty much left for dead in Philadelphia. John Axford has looked better as of late, but I’ll believe he’s figured it out when I see it. Manny Parra can’t find a strike zone big enough to hit consistently. Hell, I’m actually happy when Roenicke calls Livan Hernandez on in relief. Frankly, it’s not pretty out there.

The entire purpose of this article was to point out that, while 2012 has been a frustrating year for the Brewers bullpen, it has not been the worst season ever. Maybe Brewers fans were just spoiled by the 2011 ‘pen that always seemed to come through. LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito, and Rodriguez locked down innings six through eight, and we all know how dominant Axford was last season. This year has just been one of those years where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it seems that much worse after a year of complete domination.

But let’s slow down the talk of the 2012 Milwaukee bullpen being the worst bullpen ever. Those other squads have quite a lead on our guys.

Then again, if there’s one thing these guys can consistently do, it’s make a lead disappear.

Examining the Zack Greinke Trade Market

By: Ryan Smith

Now that the All-Star Game has come and gone, it’s time to get back to the grind for the Milwaukee Brewers.

For the players, that means doing whatever they can to get into the mix for the NL Central race, or at least positioning themselves to make a run at one of the Wild Card spots.

As the trade deadline approaches, Doug Melvin faces the unenviable task of deciding whether or not to trade Zack Greinke.

For Doug Melvin, the grind is a completely different animal. For Doug Melvin, the All-Star Game provided no such break. Instead, while Ryan Braun was participating in the All-Star Game and other players were using the four-day break to spend time with their families, Doug Melvin was still wrestling with one of the biggest questions in Major League Baseball right now:

Should the Milwaukee Brewers trade Zack Greinke?

Personally, I am torn on this subject. The diehard fan in me wants to see Zack Greinke pitch as many games as possible in a Milwaukee uniform. That part of me would love to see him stay with the team through the rest of this season and lead us into the playoffs.

But then there’s the realistic side of me. As much as I would love to see Greinke remain a Brewer for the rest of 2012, I have admitted before that I think the smartest move would be to trade the star right-hander.

Now, as recently as today, there have been some rumors that Milwaukee could surprise many baseball experts and sign Greinke to an extension before he hits free agency this offseason. Jon Heyman of CBS reported that the Brewers are ready to offer Greinke a 5-year, $100 million deal to stay in Milwaukee beyond 2012. But in his report, Heyman quotes Doug Melvin as saying that “players at that level who get this close to free agency do tend to test the market.”

So while the Brewers are willing to make one final push at keeping Greinke, it seems more than likely that the front office could move him to a contender.

Teams will be lining up for the services of the former Cy Young winner.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at what the Brewers could be looking at as far as prospects from some interested teams. Technically, you could say that any team would be interested in acquiring a top-of-the-rotation arm like Greinke. But I thought I’d focus on a few teams that have been reported multiple times as having interest in meeting Milwaukee’s demands for Greinke: the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers, and the Baltimore Orioles.

While I plan on mentioning a few potential prospects that could join the Milwaukee organization from each of these teams, it is important to note that I’m not saying we would need to receive all of these players to make the trade happen. I also am not placing a ton of weight on being position-specific when it comes to these prospects. Yes, it would be nice to add another arm to our farm system or potentially find our shortstop of the future, but when trading for top-tier prospects, you get whatever talent you can. If you have a surplus of talent at one position, then you can figure it out when you get there. Frankly, too much talent is a wonderful problem to have.

In breaking down these potential trade partners, I thought I’d rank them based on which team I thought could offer the best realistic package to Milwaukee for Greinke. Without further ado, let’s start off with…

#4 – Baltimore Orioles

Coming into the season, not many people expected Baltimore to potentially compete for any sort of playoff spot. Even after they started out 29-17, most experts figured they would come back down to Earth. While they did start to struggle a little more as the season went on, they still find themselves at 45-40, well in the thick of the American League Wild Card race. When I look at this Orioles team, I can’t help but feel a certain familiarity. Baltimore is an organization with a relatively new and impressive ballpark, a loyal fan base, and a long, recent history of losing. Sounds a lot like the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers.

In 2008, desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, Milwaukee traded away multiple prospects – including the organization’s top prospect in Matt LaPorta – to add CC Sabathia to the top of our rotation. The rest is history.

Could Zack Greinke be Baltimore’s Sabathia?

Unlike Milwaukee in 2008, I don’t think there’s any chance that Baltimore parts with either of its top prospects, RHP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado. ESPN’s Keith Law has those two guys and the second-and-third overall prospects in all of baseball. While I’d love to land one of those guys in a Greinke trade, I said earlier that I wanted these to be realistic trade scenarios.

However, one of the perks of being one of the league’s worst teams over the last decade is that you have the chance to acquire a lot of talent in the draft. While Bundy and Machado are all but untouchable, I think Doug Melvin would at least have to listen to an offer that included 2B/3B Jonathan Schoop. Schoop probably won’t be a defensive star in the league, but he does have the arm to play third. More importantly, his bat certainly profiles there. The guy can flat-out hit. Not only that, but he has also shown the ability to make adjustments when he has been promoted to a more challenging level. 1B/3B Nick Delmonico would also be a decent player to acquire, though he is not on the same level as Schoop. As far as pitching is concerned, I would like to see the Brewers obtain either LHP Eduardo Rodriguez or RHP Parker Bridwell.

Like I said, Baltimore has talent in their farm system. But if Schoop isn’t part of any deal, Doug Melvin should just hang up.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for 2B/3B Jonathan Schoop, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, multiple other minor league prospects

#3 – Los Angeles Angels

The Angels’ farm system graduated its top prospect this season when Mike Trout was promoted to the big league club. All he’s done since then is make the All-Star Game and head to the front of the line for the AL MVP.

With Trout out of the system, 2B/SS Jean Segura becomes the top prospect that the Angels have to offer. In AA this season, Segura has produced a .286/.332/.398 line. He’s not going to tear the cover off the ball, but he is a hitter who has the ability to spray line drives all over the field while providing solid defense up the middle.

RHP Garrett Richards has split his time this year between AAA and the big leagues. He hasn’t necessarily had the success you’d like to see, struggling with his location (4.71 BB/9) at times. Still, he’s a good player with a fastball that stays 94-98 late into games. RHP John Hellweg is another pitcher with a powerful fastball, but he also struggles with his command (4.88 BB/9). However, he’s only in AA and has some time to work on those command issues.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for 2B/SS Jean Segura, RHP John Hellweg, multiple other minor league prospects

#2 – Atlanta Braves

The rest of the teams on this list are not in the same boat as Baltimore. All three of these teams have had recent success. They aren’t going to be making a deal for Greinke just to make the playoffs. If these teams try to acquire the right-hander, it is because they think he could be the final piece to their World Series puzzle. Atlanta is a team that almost needs to do something because the division title is well within their reach. Philadelphia has fallen off drastically, Miami lacks consistency, New York seems to be winning with two players (Dickey and Wright) doing most of the work, and Washington will soon be faced with an innings limit on their ace.

If Atlanta ends up being the team to land Greinke, Milwaukee should expect to receive multiple pitching prospects in return. Atlanta seems to have quite a bit of pitching talent in their system, while they seem to lack position players that can hit consistently.

Atlanta’s top prospect, RHP Julio Teheran, has had some difficulties this season with the long-ball (1.68 HR/9), but his xFIP of 3.47 suggests that the rest of his stuff has been pretty effective. He’s only 21 and playing in AAA, and he has a decent fastball-changeup combo that he can throw for strikes.

After Teheran, there is a bit of a drop-off. Arodys Vizcaino would have been a guy to target, but he underwent Tommy John Surgery in March. Randall Delgado is an arm that would be nice to add to your system, but he has been pitching at the major league level this season and hasn’t exactly been blowing anyone away, which leads me to believe he might be a bullpen arm waiting to happen. Christian Bethancourt might be the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues. He calls a good game and has the arm to shut down any team’s running game. I’m not sure if Atlanta would part with him, but I wouldn’t blame Melvin for holding out for both Teheren and Bethancourt. After all, Greinke is the best arm on the market.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for RHP Julio Teheren and C Christian Bethancourt

#1 – Texas Rangers

I’ll admit that the Atlanta deal would be one I could live with. But I’ve been saying for quite some time now that if we are going to trade Greinke, I want Texas to be on the receiving end. Texas is in a unique situation because they have appeared in the World Series the last two seasons while still producing one of the top farm systems in Major League Baseball. In fact, Keith Law ranked the Rangers as having the seventh-best farm system in all of baseball.

Making it to two straight World Series is pretty impressive, but the Rangers failed to win it all each year. They also watched their top pitchers in each season (Cliff Lee in ’10, C.J. Wilson in ’11) walk away at season’s end. They added Yu Darvish to the top of their rotation before the start of the season, and then they signed Roy Oswalt to strengthen that rotation. Still, finding a way to acquire Greinke’s arm could certainly put them in the driver’s seat to be the AL’s World Series representative for the third consecutive year.

I mentioned earlier that Baltimore had two of the top three prospects in all of baseball. Texas has the other. SS Jurickson Profar is everything you’d want in a baseball player. He hits for average, hits for some power, plays excellent defense, and keeps improving even as he reaches more challenging levels. Profar would be even more hands-off than either of Baltimore’s top prospects.

Now, I know this isn’t likely because they are using him this season, but wouldn’t Profar’s excellence make current SS Elvis Andrus an interesting trade chip? Andrus is an excellent defender who also seems to be able to hit for a consistent average. I know I said that position wouldn’t play a role in these scenarios, but the Brewers certainly lack that shortstop of the future. Hell, the Brewers lack a shortstop of the present. Andrus would be a nice find for Milwaukee.

As far as other prospects go, I’ve been a fan of 3B Mike Olt for the last year or so. He’s a slick-fielding third baseman who can swing the bat as well. This year in AA, he’s produced a line of .292/.403/.574. Sound like a nice guy to add to Milwaukee’s system? I thought so.

As far as pitching is concerned, Texas did promote LHP Martin Perez up from AAA this year, but he’d still be a nice guy to add that could help fill the spot Greinke would leave behind. RHP Neil Ramirez would be another guy that would add some depth and talent to our farm system. But the pitcher I would most like to snag in a Greinke deal would be RHP Cody Buckel. He just turned 20 this year and he really seems to be figuring it out. He seems to be striking guys out (7.25 K/9) while not allowing the long ball (0.81 HR/9) in AA.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for SS Elvis Andrus, 3B Mike Olt, and RHP Cody Buckel

Maybe I’m aiming too high with that last deal. Maybe Texas wouldn’t give up all of that for a two or three month rental of Greinke.

Then again, maybe getting to the World Series isn’t enough for this team. Maybe getting there two years in a row only to walk away empty-handed has pushed them to a point where they are willing to sacrifice some of their future talent to win it all now.

And Zack Greinke could certainly help them win it all now.

Yes, it would be painful to see Greinke go. But at the same time, I hated seeing Prince Fielder leave. I hated the fact that we got a late first-round draft pick in return for him.

If Greinke is going to go, let’s make the most of it. Let’s restock our farm system.

Instead of letting the franchise start a freefall, let’s set it up for a quick rebound.