Matt Erickson Becomes The Winningest Skipper In Timber Rattlers’ History

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by Kevin Kimmes

Cream City Cables would like to send a heartfelt congratulations out to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ manager Matt Erickson on the occasion of his 216th win as their skipper. The previous franchise wins mark by a manager (215) was held by former Rattlers’ skipper Gary Thurman who coached the Rattlers from 2000-2002.

Regarding the win, Erickson had this to say in his post-game interview:

“We have a young team and we talk about body language and trying to move onto the next pitch when negative things happen and trying to stay upbeat. I had to lose a lot of games to win 216, so we got a good chuckle out of that. I feel fortunate, obviously, to be in the situation that I’m in. To get to do this in my home town and for the Brewers, a team I grew up watching and got to play for. It’s a neat experience, humbling.”

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Straight Outta Compton: An Interview With Timber Rattlers’ Speedster Johnny Davis

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by Kevin Kimmes

If I told you there was a player on this year’s Timber Rattlers roster with only one year of baseball experience, could you pick him out? While you might think it would be easy to spot, inexperience showing at the plate or in the field, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Meet Johnny Davis.

The Compton, CA native, who’s walkup is the apropos “Straight Outta Compton” by rap legends N.W.A., is a speed demon on the base paths and a hitter’s nightmare in center field. Drawing comparisons to current Brewers’ center fielder Carlos Gomez or the fictional Willie Mays Hayes, Davis was the fastest player in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft according to Baseball America.

Cream City Cables: Prior to 2013 you had never played organized baseball. You played football, you ran track, so what made you decide that baseball was the path you wanted to take?

Johnny Davis: I always knew when I was a kid that I wanted to be a professional athlete and a scout saw me working out baseball with my little brother and told me I could get drafted. So, I thought, might as well do it, might as well get it done.

He told me he wanted to sign me right then and there but by me being in college he couldn’t, he had to wait until the draft. So I went to college, played baseball and got drafted.

CCC: Your speed in the outfield and on the base paths has drawn comparisons to players like Carlos Gomez and the fictional Willy Mays Hayes. As you continue to learn the game, what has been your biggest focus thus far?

JD: My biggest focus is trying to learn to get good jumps, trying not to get picked off by pitchers. Those things are tough, especially when they know I’m running. Sometimes a pitcher will pick at me more times than he’ll throw pitches, so it’s really tough getting a jump, it’s really tough stealing bases. It’s easy for someone who’s an average runner to steal bases, but someone who’s a plus runner it’s very hard to steal bases, very hard.

CCC: From a hitting perspective, early in the season you were trying to kill every ball you saw, but lately we’re seeing more slap hitting from you. What kind of adjustments have you had to make to bring your average up to .300?

JD: Just thinking about knowing my role and putting the ball in play. That’s what I need to do and that’s why I changed my approach and started putting the ball in play.

CCC: From a defensive perspective in the outfield we’ve watched you lay out for some balls that frankly looked like “Top 10 Plays”. What’s your mental approach to playing defense?

JD: Taking base hits from the opponent and helping my pitchers anyway I can. That’s my main focus when I’m on defense. I want the ball hit to be hit to me, I want it to be hit in the gap. I pride myself on my defense and I want to layout for balls and things like that.

CCC: Anything else we should know about Johnny Davis?

JD: Toughest competitor you’ll ever meet…EVER!

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Thinking of better days (Yovani Gallardo edition)

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

yoYovani Gallardo is slated to toe the rubber today in St. Louis.  Gallardo has been nothing short of dazzling so far in 2014 and currently sports a 1.42 ERA over 31.2 innings.  He’s getting a groundball rate of over 50% and has done a spectacular job of keeping the ball in the park.  But the Cardinals, as any Brewers fan knows, present a different kind of challenge.

It’s not worth it to rehash how historically awful Gallardo has pitched against the Cardinals.  Don’t look, it’ll just depress you.  Especially the 2011 NLCS start where he gave up four runs in the first inning.  The Cardinals have pretty much destroyed him.  Let’s just leave it at that.

But we’re not going to dwell on those many, many, many terrible games.  Nope, today we’re thinking only positive thoughts, which brings me to Yovani’s start on May 25, 2009.

At Miller Park, before a crowd of 43,000, Gallardo spun eight shutout innings.  It took 126 pitches, the most Gallado threw in any single game that year, as he walked four batters.  Still, he allowed just two hits and fanned six, amazing considering Gallardo benefited from just nine swinging strikes the entire game.  It’s easy to look at the lineup and note the absence of Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick, but Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina were in there, so it wasn’t exactly a AAA squad.

Despite Yo’s brilliant start, the Brewers couldn’t muster even a single run in regulation.  They finally broke it open in the 10th on an RBI single from, of all people, Bill Hall.

It’s Brewers vs. Cardinals in St. Louis tonight at 7:15.  If you’re a Brewers fan, here’s hoping that made you slightly more optimistic.

Nothing happened yesterday

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Well, yesterday was pretty ho-hum around Milwaukee.  I mean, pretty much nothing of any significance at all happened, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

It’s not like suspensions from the Easter massacre were announced.  Martin Maldonado didn’t receive a five-game suspension and begin serving it immediately.  Carlos Gomez wasn’t slapped with three games pending his appeal.  On the Pirates side, it wasn’t two games for Travis Snider and one game for Russell Martin.  And Gerritt Cole, who instigated the fracas, didn’t get anything.  Wait a minute …

As for Johnny Hellweg, he’s going to be fine.  Sure, the Brewers’ number four prospect (Baseball America) has a torn ulnar collateral ligament, but who doesn’t now days?  I’m sure the second opinion he’s getting from noted Tommy John doc James Andrews will show he’ll be good as new with rest and Advil.

And the Brewers certainly didn’t play an extra-innings affair which they lost to the Padres, 2-1, in the 12th.  Hopefully tonight a stymied Brewers offense will be among other stuff that doesn’t happen.  It’s Kyle Lohse versus Tyson Ross at 7:10.

 

Podcast: Season 1, Episode 2

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Jason KendallEpisode 2 of the Cream City Cables podcast is now available! You can listen to it on this page or download using the links below.  It’s the only podcast I know of in which you’re likely to hear the names Angel Salome, Gregg Zaun, and Jason Kendall!  But we’re not just talking catchers of ages past, we’re also covering the Brewers hot start, the shutdown bullpen, and we’re previewing the remaining April schedule.  That and much, much more!

As always, we’re interested in any feedback you have, so find Ryan and I on Twitter at @ryanhenrysmith2 and @npetrashek, respectively.

NOTE: This podcast was recorded late last week.

S01E02 Podcast

Matt Erickson Post-Game Interview 4/19/2014

by Kevin Kimmes

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Cream City Cables: So, after dropping a close one last night…

Matt Erickson: The last two nights…

CCC: …you guys come back and put together a pretty nice win today. What were the keys to the game to get that win for you?

ME: Before the game we talked as a group, the position players, about how we haven’t been very good with runners in scoring position. We’ve done a nice job in setting the table and getting some of our leadoff guys on and creating some havoc on the bases, but just chasing out of the zone and trying to do a bit too much with runners in scoring position. Today we got a couple big knocks, the biggest one coming to mind being (Jose) Pena’s 2 out, 2 RBI single.

That was nice to see, but more importantly than that I think up and down the line we had 17 two strike at bats today. We put the ball in play on 15 of them and only struck out 2 times. When you can do that with the type of speed we have throughout our lineup, we can put some pressure on them.

CCC: Speaking of speed, let’s talk a little bit about Johnny Davis. We’re seeing it both on offense and on defense right now. He’s laying out for stuff in center field and he’s stealing bags for you on the base paths.

ME: Yeah, it’s fun to see him grow up. As far as a baseball player, he’s obviously a special talent when it comes to movement. He can fly and he’s learning the game day by day. There’s so much for him to learn that he doesn’t know, and he’ll tell you that himself. What’s fun about him is his passion to learn and to play and compete and when you have a guy like that’s willing to do those things, he can get better in a hurry and he can make some plays. Like you said, he not only creates some scoring opportunities with his feet on offense, but he also takes away runs on defense.

CCC: Today, we watched him get into the pitcher’s head, kind of shifting back and forth on 2nd. It has got to be outstanding knowing that you have that extra weapon there messing up the pitcher a little bit.

ME: Yeah, and it’s not just him. (Francisco) Castillo can run a little bit, (Chris) McFarland at the top of the lineup, (Omar) Garcia can run a little bit and some of our bigger guys. You know (Clint) Coulter and (David) Denson are looking to take extra bases. So, when it comes to Johnny he’s just, well I haven’t seen anybody quite that fast in a T-Rat uniform and he’s getting some decent swings.

I like his approach at the plate, he’s understanding who he is, not taking really big swings anymore, and if he does, he’s making the adjustment quicker and today he had some nice swings. You know, he brings them in with his short game and then he slaps the ball around hitting a line drive to the hole to left field. If he can do that consistantly, he’s going to be tough to deal with.

CCC: Switching over to the pitching for today, Harvey Martin had two really nice innings to end out the game for you. He had 4 strike outs. You’ve got to be happy with what you saw out there today.

ME: Yeah, he’s going to get more stop gap opportunities. Alvin and I were talking about how we need to get him, he’s got a little experience in this league, and he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet, but he’s got a little attitude to him when he steps on the mound, and it’s fun, another competitor and you can’t teach that stuff. Some of those things are inside people and he wants to compete, he wants the ball every day and he seems to have the arm to do that.

When you are running tandems and you’ve got developmental stuff, that’s usually not the case, but he’s a guy we’re not afraid to give the ball to in that situation.

CCC: With the off day tomorrow, you guys move on to Burlington starting on Monday, any adjustments you will be looking to make to the lineups heading into that series?

ME: No, not really. I like the lineup we threw out there today, some speed at the top and some of our thumpers in middle and then we have a little speed at the bottom of the lineup. As far as the lineup is conserned, we’ll mix them all in, nobody’s going to rot away on the bench here, everybody’s going to get an opportunity and whoever is performing is going to get a bit more opportunity.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

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.