2014 Position Preview: Carlos Gomez, Center Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the second of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: Catcher.

There was a time when Carlos Gomez looked like another failed high-profile prospect.  Minnesota washed their hands of him in late 2009 and shipped him to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who was himself coming off a terrible season.  Gomez was speedy, sure, but he could never manage to hit enough.  Owner of a .243/.291/.357 line between 2007 and 2011, it got so bad for Gomez that he found himself the right-handed component of a platoon with light-hitting lefty Nyjer Morgan.

gomezSomething clicked for Gomez in 2012, when he hit 14 second-half home runs with a .278/.321/.488 slash line.  Gomez attributes the turnaround to essentially ignoring the advice of his coaches, who were pressing Gomez to exercise better plate discipline and get on base more frequently to make use of his game-changing speed.  Instead, Gomez embraced his free-swinging attitude.  Even though he saw a dreadful 3.39 pitches per plate attempt in 2012, he set new career highs in virtually every offensive category.  The Brewers believed enough to sign Gomez in the offseason to a 3-year/$24M deal.

It was wise of them to do so.  With a full-time job in hand, in 2013 Gomez bested nearly every career offensive record he set in 2012.  He improved from 37 to 40 stolen bases, showcases the game-changing speed that has become his trademark.  But more than that, his final line of .284/.338/.506 shows marked improvement in his power and contact.  With a .344 BABIP, some of that may be luck, but it’s also reasonable to believe some of it was maturation.

In the field, Gomez is one of the best players in the game.  He won the Brewers’ first gold glove since 1982 last year for his exceptional play, and DRS says his defense saved 38(!) runs last season.  It’s more fun to watch them than talk about them, though, so here you have Gomez stealing a Joey Votto home run:

And that is how you put up a 7.6 WAR season.

2013 recap

590 pa, 80 r, 24 hr, 73 rbi, 40 sb, 6.3 bb%, 24.7 k%, .284/.338/.506, 130 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 623 pa, 73 r, 21 hr, 74 rbi, 32 sb, 6.1 bb%, 23.6 k%, .251/.305/.433, 101 wRC+

ZiPS:  491 pa, 69 r, 19 hr, 58 rbi, 32 sb, 5.7 bb%, 24.4 k%, .260/.313/.462, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 3-year/$24M contract in 2012; two years remaining.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

Sometimes, In An Arguement, Nobody Is Right: Dissecting The Braves/Brewers Dustup

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by Kevin Kimmes

I decided to sleep on last night’s game before writing about it at length. It seemed like the sensible thing to do in the wake of an altercation that escalated extremely quickly. Frankly, there was a lot to mull over and digest for something that lasted less than five minutes in total duration, and letting it all settle in, I now think I can discuss it sensibly.

Neither side was without fault in what happened on Wednesday night.

There, I said it. Despite what Atlanta’s fanbase wants to say (and boy were their fans ever speaking their minds on social media Wednesday), their boys are not some universal gate keepers who’ve been anointed with policing all that is right and good about the game of baseball (that’s St. Louis’ job, just ask them). Now, before I get bombarded with hundreds of expletive riddled comments and emails, let me also point out that Gomez’s handling of the situation was not without fault either. I think it’s best to break this down piece by piece.

June 23rd, 2013 (Miller Park) Bottom of the 1st, 2 outs, Braves lead 4-0

The origins of last night’s kerfuffle seem to stem from an incident that happened just over 3 months ago. With two men retired in the bottom of the 1st, Gomez steps to the plate to face Paul Maholm and gets hit by a pitch to the knee. Gomez takes his base and Lucroy steps to the plate.

Whether this is intentional or not appears unclear, however one has to wonder due to Maholm’s history of being with Pittsburgh during a period of time in which Milwaukee absolutely owned them. In his defense, pitching Gomez outside is a huge mistake as he has the power to turn on pitches that don’t make it far enough outside. Your safest bet as a pitcher? Pitch him inside, which this may just have been an off target attempt at.

Now on 1st, Gomez steals 2nd beating out a throw from Braves’ catcher Brian McCann. The reasoning for the steal is two fold: 1) move the runner into scoring postion and 2) test McCann’s ailing arm. At this point in the season, McCann (who had surgery on his throwing shoulder in October of 2012) was suffering from soreness which was impeding his ability to throw out runners at 2nd. The stolen base would be a moot point as Jonathan Lucroy would record the third out and we would move on to the top of the 2nd inning.

Breaking Down The Incident

Carlos’ major infraction in Wednesday’s game was what is commonly referred to as an “unwritten rule” of baseball, in this case spending too much time watching your ball leave the yard. The general feeling is that when you are at the dish, if you crush one, act like you’ve been there before, because if you don’t then it appears that you are trying to show up the pitcher.

In Jason Turbow and Michael Duca’s book The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, & Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime the authors frame up the violation as follows:

“Several code violations, however, are universally abhorred. At or near the top of any pitcher’s peeves is the home-run pimp, a hitter who lingers in the batter’s box as the ball soars over the wall.”

Normally the cause for retaliation, Gomez spun convention on it’s ear and used it as retaliation for getting plunked back in June. This, of course just threw gas on a fire that had been smoldering since the teams had last met, and sent Maholm into a tizzy.

“F@#king run, God d$%nit!”, Maholm screamed at Gomez as he lazily rounded the bases. His outrage, now growing as both McCann and Freddie Freeman joined in, was met by a chorus of boos from the sparse crowd in attendance. Not to be outdone, Gomez began chirping back. But it wasn’t over, McCann was about to light the fuse and blow this thing sky high.

Blocking the plate down the 3rd base line, McCann now stood between Gomez and homeplate making it impossible for him to touch the home and score the run. One can only assume that McCann was still thinking about Gomez stealing against him in the June contest and since the gauntlet had already been thrown down, he was going to get his vengeance as well.

Now nose to nose the tension became palpable and the benches cleared. Somewhere out of all this chaos, Reed Johnson found his way to the center of the scrum and threw a haymaker which hit Gomez in the face before he retreating back into the mob.

Johnson’s role in this seems random until you realize that teams commonly have a player that they will use as a dummy in situations such as this for this exact purpose. Johnson’s job, attack the opposition so that they get the message and no starters get served with a suspension or get injured in the process. In this case, Johnson delivered on his orders and got suspended along with Gomez for a game each earlier today.

Repercusions

In the course of the “unwritten rules” this matter should now be closed. So, if you were expecting to see more fireworks come the 2014 season opener, sorry my friend, but you are most likely out of luck. For one thing, McCann, who seemed to take the most offense to Gomez’s actions, is a free agent this offseason meaning he will most likely not be a Brave at the start of 2014 and thus no longer part of the equation.

Additionally, Milwaukee has historically not been a retaliatory organization. Don’t believe me? In 2012, Milwaukee batters were hit more times (90) than any other team in the major leagues. By comparison, Milwaukee pitchers hit the least number of batters (31), thus proving that they don’t believe in retaliation on the whole.

If I am the Braves management, I would be lighting up Maholm, Freeman and McCann for inciting a dangerous situation in a meaningless game. With the playoffs set to start in less than a week, teams have begun resting starters to protect them from accidentally getting injured and potentially damaging a teams run towards the World Series. What Maholm, Freeman and McCann did was selfishly put themselves right in harms way in a game that meant nothing.

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

Gomez settles down

By Nathan Petrashek

gomez

Carlos Gomez has decided to settle down, and not just at the plate.  While the buzz so far this spring has been his five walks and .529/.652/.765 triple slash line, the 27-year-old outfielder had another reason to smile on Wednesday.

The Brewers rewarded Gomez for last year’s strong second half with a 3-year, $24M extension.  According to Tom Haudricourt, the deal will pay Gomez $7 million in 2014, $8 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016.

Gomez’s hot streak in 2012 apparently played into Doug Melvin’s decision.  The GM said Gomez has recently “come into his own.”  That’s true at least offensively, but Gomez has always been a superior defender in center, and so long as he continues to roam the outfield, it look like he’ll be worth the money on defense alone.

Which brings an interesting point: why would Gomez, one year shy of free agency, decide to sign a below-market deal now? And make no mistake, it is below market.  B.J. Upton, with much better power but his own plate discipline problems, just inked a 5-year, $75M deal with the Braves.  Gomez was never going to command that much, but with another season like last year’s, a 3-year deal might well have topped $40M.  The move is uncharacteristic-to say the least-of Gomez’s agent, Scott Boras, who sure enjoys the bidding war that free agency sometimes brings.

One possibility is that Boras doesn’t necessarily buy in to Gomez’s second half, and wants to “sell high” while Gomez is also having a hot spring.  Or maybe the suggestion came directly from Gomez, who sees an opportunity for financial security and stability in Milwaukee.  Whatever the reason, the Brewers are getting a fairly good deal on a young middle defender.

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.

Zack Greinke: Beyond the Distractions

By: Ryan Smith

Zack Greinke is a really good pitcher.

The previous statement might seem like one of the most obvious statements I could write. Nevertheless, I thought I had to point out the obvious because his impressive 2012 is being overshadowed by Milwaukee’s day-to-day struggles and trade rumors surrounding the enigmatic right-hander.

Brewers fans might not be focusing enough on what Zack Greinke is doing this year.

The fact of the matter is that baseball, like any other professional sport, is more enjoyable to watch when you are watching the best players. At the plate, I’m not sure I enjoy watching anyone more than Ryan Braun, meticulously adjusting his batting gloves, doing that little double-elbow flick, and puffing out his cheeks as he exhales right before he steps in to the box. On the bases, Carlos Gomez is right up there with rookies Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as far as entertainment is concerned. When Gomez hits a ball out of the infield, magic happens. He turns singles into doubles, doubles into triples, and has been known to score from first on a bunt.

On the mound, Greinke is right at the top of my must-see list.

He has multiple pitches that he can consistently throw for strikes. He understands the importance of using his fastball early in games so he can bust out the breaking stuff later on. If he gets in a jam, you know he’s going to turn to his filthy curveball to make hitters look foolish. Greinke is a surgeon on the mound, methodically carving up opposing lineups almost every single time he steps out there.

That last paragraph still doesn’t do justice to the season that Greinke is currently having. Luckily, Fangraphs provides numerous statistical categories that allow us to take a deeper look into how Greinke is dominating on the mound in 2012.

First, let’s look at some of the traditional stats to help us evaluate how strongly Greinke has performed this year. In 16 starts, Greinke has compiled a 9-2 record. Those nine wins are tied for fourth-most in the majors this year. In the world of ERA lovers, 3.00 has long been considered the level expected and required from the league’s top starters. Greinke currently has an ERA of 2.82, which comes in well below that level. In 13 of his 16 starts, Greinke has pitched six or more innings. He has also given up three or less runs in 13 of his starts. Greinke is sporting a 1.17 WHIP, a 9.00 K/9, and a 1.94 BB/9. To the traditional stat-lover, Greinke is having a very impressive year.

In his 16 starts, Greinke has had two duds, giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings against Chicago and allowing seven runs in 2.1 innings against the Diamondbacks. In his other 14 starts, Greinke has pitched 96 innings, allowing 17 earned runs, striking out 94, and compiling a 9-0 record. Frankly, those numbers are ridiculous.

Now, if you’re a sabermetric nerd like me, those numbers just don’t tell you enough. If we take a look at some of Greinke’s advanced stats, we can get an even better idea of just how well he has been pitching this season.

For starters, FIP and xFIP are good indicators of the effectiveness of a pitcher based solely on what the pitcher can control. ERA, WHIP, and HR/9 can all be influenced by team defense, park variances, and official scoring difference. FIP and xFIP try to eliminate those factors, instead focusing as much as possible on the pitcher’s execution from the mound. These stats are also good indicators of what we can reasonably expect from a pitcher going forward. Greinke has an xFIP of 2.72, which is the second-best mark in the majors in 2012, while his 2.22 FIP is the top mark in baseball this year.

Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, is another advanced stat that can shed some light on Greinke’s performance this season. BABIP focuses on at-bats that result in pretty much anything other than a strikeout or a walk. The average pitcher will often have a BABIP between 2.90 and 3.00. If a pitcher has a number noticeably higher than that, it typically means that the pitcher in question has suffered from defensive lapses or general bad luck. Greinke’s BABIP of 3.29 is the ninth-highest total in baseball this year, which should come as no surprise considering the injury to Alex Gonzalez and the regression that seems to have overcome Rickie Weeks in 2012.

Finally, WAR simply takes a look at a player’s overall impact on team wins. While it is not a perfect stat, WAR at least tries to establish how many wins a player is worth to his team when compared to a league-average replacement-level player. A full-season WAR of 6.0 is considered to be MVP-level, and we are only approaching the halfway point of the season. As of right now, Greinke’s WAR of 3.6 is tied with Detroit’s Justin Verlander as the top mark among all pitchers.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it; right now, Zack Greinke is having one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball right now. That’s saying quite a bit considering that we are in the middle of a pitching renaissance.

Sadly, Brewers fans haven’t been able to truly enjoy Greinke’s artistry on the mound because the team has struggled to perform on the field. Instead of getting pumped up for every one of his starts, fans are too busy flooding twitter with updates about which team has scouts at the game to watch Greinke.

There’s a very strong possibility that Greinke finishes the year in another uniform. I, for one, feel that it would be in Milwaukee’s best interest to trade him sooner rather than later in order to get the best possible return for the pending free agent. Don’t get me wrong; I would love to see Greinke finish up the year in Milwaukee and then sign a long-term extension in the offseason. But I also have to be honest with myself. If Greinke was going to sign an extension with the team, I think it would already have happened.

As long as Greinke’s still in Milwaukee, Brewers fans should cherish every time he takes the mound.

In the mean time, let’s just enjoy what he brings to the mound pretty much every time he steps out there. Let’s cheer him on every time he gets two strikes on a hitter. Let’s ignore the struggles of the team every fifth game. Let’s tune out the trade rumors unless they become something more than just rumors.

Instead, let’s give our undivided attention to what Zack Greinke is doing in 2012.

After all, he deserves it.

Early Season Heroes

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s pretty incredible that two players who don’t see regular playing time are tied for the team lead in average, and yet that’s just where George Kottaras and Carlos Gomez find themselves with just one game to go in April.  Both have made game-changing contributions to the team in the early season that need to be recognized, and have made the case that they deserve more playing time.

Kottaras has plenty of late-inning heroics already.  On April 11, he delivered the team’s only runs on a two-run shot off Ryan Dempster in the seventh inning to deliver what remains Yovani Gallardo’s only win of the season.  Then on the 17th against the Dodgers, Kottaras plated the go-ahead run on a two-run double at the bottom of the ninth.  In 22 ABs, Kottaras is raking .318/.500/.773, with all but one at bat coming against righties.  It has been refreshing to see Kottaras used more in late-inning, high-leverage situations, but to really maximize his skills, the whole notion of using him as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher should be scrapped.  Kottaras, hitting just .182 for his career against lefties, should always cede the start to Jonathan Lucroy in that situation, freeing him up for additional starts against righties and pinch hit appearances.

Gomez has shown flashes early this season of developing into the player we have hoped he’d become for the last two years.  With appearances in 18 games, Gomez is slashing .318/.333/.545.  Gomez has walked just once, and his OBP leaves something to be desired but is nonetheless a dramatic improvement over last year’s .276.  Most people are familiar with Gomez’s speed, and he hasn’t disappointed this year, swiping five bags.  What has been really surprising, though, is Gomez’s plate discipline.  After ending about 28% of his at-bats last year via the K, Gomez has struck out just three times so far in 2012, about 7% of his at-bats.  In general, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone and fewer outside, and has been able to make contact at rates well above his career averages.  Only time will tell if the 26-year-old Gomez is one of those rare late bloomers, but he certainly looks like he’s finally put it all together in the early going.  And with CF platoon mate Nyjer Morgan batting just .176 a month in, Gomez’s production is certainly welcome.

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers Home Opener: A Running Diary

By: Ryan Smith

2012 would mark the second-consecutive season that I made it to the Milwaukee Brewers home opener. Now that I’m writing for Cream City Cables, I thought this would be a good opportunity for an article. After tossing around a few ideas, I decided that I wanted to tackle the day in the form of a running diary. I chose to take this approach for two reasons:

Reason #1: I’ve enjoyed the writing of Bill Simmons for over a decade now. I find his mix of sports content, opinion, pop culture and humor to be consistently entertaining to the point that I still look forward to his weekly articles on Grantland.com. Being a Bill Simmons fan, some of my favorite articles that he has written have taken on the running diary format.

Reason #2: I don’t remember the 2011 home opener. The game started at 1 pm. We were drinking outside of Miller Park by 8:30 am. We had jello shots with the tailgaters around us. Shots of whiskey and blackberry brandy were passed around generously. My cousin Zach brought beer margaritas – a concoction that is equal parts frozen limeade concentrate, citrus soda, beer, and tequila – and I feel that he was very liberal with his use of tequila. In our circle of friends, we call these “Flux Capacitors” because they tend to allow the consumer to travel through time, which is a nicer way of saying they make you black out. So yeah, I figured that a running diary would force me to stay coherent throughout this season’s home opener.

With all that being said, I woke up early on Friday, April 6th, grabbed a six-pack of Spotted Cow and a black coffee, and headed out to the apartment of Cream City Cables creator Nate Petrashek. It was finally time for some Brewers baseball. Let’s jump right into the action.

9:54 AM – I’m at the apartment of Mr. Petrashek. Nate’s girlfriend Sarah is ready, and Jason Stuewe has also arrived. My cousin Zach and his fiancé Michelle just parked outside. I’m checking to see where a few of our friends are. Our college friends Matt, Hof, and Pete are supposed to meet us at 10 AM so we can get to Miller Park by 10:30. Hof and Pete are historically known for being late. Nate says he spoke to them earlier and they were on pace to arrive ten minutes early, so I ask what time it is. Stuewe promptly replies “Six minutes early.” So much for that.

9:58 AM – Matt arrives with Hof and Pete. This might be the first time those two have ever been early. For anything. Time to load up the cars and head off to Miller Park.

10:27 AM – We stop at a Walgreens to meet up with some of Nate’s other friends. Everyone in our tailgating group packs into three cars. Now it’s REALLY time to get to Miller Park.

10:58 AM – We’ve officially arrived. The parking lot seems more cramped than last year, or what I remember of last year anyway. We quickly realize that the row of cars in front of us decided to set up their tailgate stations as far away from their cars as possible, putting them right at our bumpers. Luckily, they are willing to adjust their tailgating placement so we can all come together and spend the next four hours preparing for the home opener.

10:59 AM – Shots! Before the cars are even unpacked, Stuewe is passing around shots of Jack Daniels. Nate raises his solo cup and yells “Fuck the Redbirds!” I’ll drink to that.

11:09 AM – Apparently, there has been some more tailgate shifting going on, so we have extra room on the other end of our cars. We pack everything up and shift to the east. In the process, Nate drops the grill. Boo, Nate. Boo.

11:15 AM – Stuewe now passes out cigars in honor of opening day. I don’t smoke very often, but I feel this is an occasion worthy of lighting up. So let’s see, I have a beer in hand, I’ve taken a few shots, and now I’m smoking a cigar. 24-year-old me is loving this right now.  Cue obscure reference to Will Smith and a “victory dance.”

11:23 AM – I just have to say that this weather is absolutely gorgeous. Perfect opening day weather. Earlier in the week, it looked like we’d be dealing with a windy, 40-degree day. Instead, I see people putting on sunscreen. Where’s my bottle opener?

11:30 AM – Nate starts ranting, saying “You gotta win today! Set the tone!” He’s talking to no one in particular. This is actually pretty routine with him.

11:36 AM – Someone mentions the holiday weekend, to which Stuewe replies “Yeah, I keep hearing about that. What’s the holiday?” Umm, it’s Easter. Kind of a big one. Today isn’t called Good Friday just because of the home opener, buddy.

My odds of remembering Opening Day '12 are way better than this chick's.

11:43 AM – So far, I’m on my second beer and I’ve only had four shots. Right now, I think my chances of remember Opening Day ’12 are looking pretty good.

11:58 AM – Can someone make an air freshener that smells like brats on the grill? I don’t care about lavender, vanilla, or apple cinnamon, but I’d be perfectly fine if my apartment always had the scent of brats on the grill.

12:10 PM – Crisis averted. My bottle opener – the one I’ve had on my keychain since college – just broke. Luckily, it was a minor issue and I easily fixed it. Still, a close call.

12:18 PM – Just saw a guy walk by with a personalized jersey. Everyone is our group agrees that personalized jerseys suck. I love when we’re all on the same page.

12:28 PM – You know how you always hear about how Wisconsin has an obesity problem? If you ever doubt it, just come to opening day. Or any Brewer game. I’m looking around and I see fruit and pasta salads on tables all around us, completely untouched. It’s the thought that counts.

12:37 PM – Matt brought steak sandwiches for the grill this year. Bravo, Matt. Great choice.

12:50 PM – Another jersey rant: we all agree that it’s lazy to simply put tape over the name on your old jersey. Fielder is gone. Either accept it and wear his jersey with pride or buy a new one. And by the way, Ramirez isn’t #28.

12:51 PM – Nate is now heckling the guy who has “Ramirez” written on tape over Fielder’s name. The guy is absolutely clueless.

1:00 PM – Finally breaking the seal.

1:03 PM – There’s a fucking line at the men’s room, yet no wait at all for the women. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. A guy in line ahead of me says that it’s because “90 percent of the people here are dudes.” That seems a little high. Then again, so does he.

1:10 PM – First trip inside the men’s room of the 2012 season. I think all men assume that the women’s room is the complete opposite of the hell we visit. I figure that they have couches to sit on while they wait and the room smells of daisies and sunshine. Meanwhile, I’m waiting in line, surrounding by the scent of bad decisions.

1:21 PM – Nate returns from the restroom, and apparently I missed a fight. We all agree that it is not proper etiquette to enter the restroom through the exit door. Someone breaking this unwritten rule was then accused of being a Cubs fan for doing so. They proceeded to get into a shoving match while standing by the urinals. Nate left, saying “Nothing good could come from that situation.” Agreed.

Matt congratulates the Brothers Hof for trading in their Bud Lights. Andy appears less enthused.

1:32 PM – Hof goes to crack open another Bud Light until we question his loyalty to the Brewers. After all, can you really drink a Budweiser product when you are at Miller Park and the Brewers are about to play the Cardinals? Hof succumbs to peer pressure and trades the Bug Light for a Miller Lite.

1:36 PM – The blackberry brandy is making the rounds again. Hof initially refuses, but another dose of peer pressure gets him to take a swig. Peer pressure is Hof’s fatal flaw.

1:43 PM – The third game of “bag tag” just took place. For those that are unaware, “bag tag” is when one guy decides to backhand another guy in the genital region. This usually results in one participant sitting down for a few minutes. All the males in our group are on complete lockdown now.

1:44 PM – Right now, I’ve had five beers and 11 shots. Once again, 24-year-old me would be perfectly fine right now. I’m thinking that I should slow down. It’s hard not to get drunk when you tailgate for over four hours.

No tailgate party would be complete without someone trying to clandestinely grope a weiner.

1:54 PM – Nate is getting defensive. For no reason. I like when he gets like this. It’s really easy to get him to rant about pretty much anything.

2:12 PM – Team effort to create a human wall so Nate could avoid a trip to the dreaded men’s room. I love when we all come together to work towards a common goal. Mental note not to walk on the passenger side of Stuewe’s car.

2:31 PM – Time to head in to Miller Park. My official Opening Day 2012 Tailgate line looks like this: 1 brat, 1 burger, 1 hot dog, 1 steak sandwich, 8 beers, 15 shots.

2:48 PM – Today’s free giveaway: 2012 Brewers Magnet Schedule. I like giveaways that I won’t immediately throw in the garbage.

3:03 PM – Does anyone else really enjoy watching drunk people trying to act sober? I just watched a guy swipe at the railing four times before he just sat down on the steps.

3:08 PM – I love the first time that the team takes the field. Not just on opening day either. Every game.

3:10 PM – Gallardo takes the mound for his third opening day start in a row. I still think Greinke should have gotten the ball today, and that in no way is an insult to Gallardo.

3:20 PM – Gallardo gets through the 1st inning, allowing two walks and throwing 20 pitches. Not a great start, but he put a zero on the board.

3:24 PM – Weeks leads off the season with a base hit, followed by a Gomez triple! 1-0!

3:26 PM – Braun comes up for his first at-bat of the season. The ovation is ridiculous. I’m joining in on the “MVP!” chant.

3:27 PM – Braun lines out sharply to short.

3:28 PM – Ramirez grounds out to third but Gomez scores. That’s his first RBI as a Brewer. Welcome to Milwaukee, Aramis!

3:32 PM – Yadier Molina leads off the top of the 2nd with a solo homerun. I hate Molina. Hate him.

3:37 PM – It’s still the top of the 2nd and Hof is falling asleep. More on this in a moment.

3:38 PM – Did you know that the last concert Randy Wolf attended was to see the band Tool? I love in-between inning trivia.

3:39 PM – Hof heads out to get ice cream. I suggest a soda or coffee. Anything with caffeine, really. It’s a long game, Hof.

3:41 PM – Gamel’s first at-bat of the year and he flies out to center. I can already hear the doubters warming up.

3:46 PM – A woman loses the between-inning game, and the crowd proceeds to boo her. Stay classy.

3:48 PM – Gallardo serves up his second homerun. Tie ballgame.

I don't know what pitch this was, but odds are pretty good it ended up in the seats.

3:49 PM – Homerun #3…

3:51 PM - …and #4. It’s now 5-2. Hof yells “You suck, Gallardo!” Hof tends to do this at times. He quickly overreacts, only to retract his statement 20 minutes later. I’m surprised he’s not saying we should trade Yo at this point.

3:58 PM – Lucroy visits the mound for the third time this inning. That’s never a good sign.

4:00 PM – I also love when everyone complains about balls and strikes from the stands. We’re sitting on the third base side in the upper deck of Miller Park. I’m going to assume the umpire at home has a better angle than I do right now. It’s probably a ball; after all, most of the strikes thrown by Gallardo today have ended up in the stands.

4:10 PM – Pete: “Fucking Gallardo will probably give up four more this inning too!” I forgot to mention this, but Pete is Hof’s older brother. It must run in the family.

4:18 PM – Hof is dozing off once again, slowly leaning out into the aisle.

4:23 PM – Gallardo is done for the day. He only lasts 3 2/3 innings…not a great start to 2012.

4:30 PM – Hof is falling asleep for the third time. This is getting sad. Or funny. Yeah, I’m going to lean towards “funny” right now.

4:32 PM – Pete has put the rally cap on…in the 4th inning. I can’t blame him.

4:35 PM – Got the “Crazy Cap Shuffle” wrong. I used to own that game. I’m frazzled right now.

4:38 PM – And the Milwaukee Brewers have their first 1-2-3 inning of 2012! Too bad it’s the 5th inning.

4:40 PM – I swear, I can’t go anywhere without hearing “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. I hate that song. Damnit, Kelly!

4:48 PM – Runners on 1st and 3rd, no outs, and we don’t score. Fuuuuuuuu…

Somehow I didn't expect the biggest drama of the day to turn on whether Hot Dog got a two-second head start.

4:55 PM – We have one of those annoying fans behind us right now that cheer extra loud for their team when they are winning. If you were just cheering to cheer for your team, you wouldn’t be looking around and trying to make eye contact with all of the home fans. By doing that, you are no longer just a fan; you are a douche. Fuck you, douche.

5:01 PM – Sausage Race time! I always cheer for Guido. Sadly, Hot Dog gets away with an early start and Guido settles for 2nd place.

5:06 PM – Braun’s now 0-3. Let the steroid comments commence, haters.

5:32 PM – T-Plush pinch hits. His appearance wakes up the comatose crowd for a moment.

5:36 PM – Two on, no outs, and we fail to score again. Somebody pass the whiskey…

5:44 PM – I guessed the attendance wrong too. The jumbotron is owning me today.

By the seventh inning, Bernie was the only mascot still standing.

5:46 PM – They’re playing “Jump Around” right now. I think 12 people are actually jumping. Everyone else is too tired/full/depressed right now.

5:48 PM – And the rally cap is on!

5:53 PM – Braun and Ramirez are a combined 0-8 today…

6:02 PM – 10-2, top of the 9th…I should have had more to drink…

6:03 PM – Make that 11-2…

6:09 PM – They said the attendance was over 46,000 for today’s game. Right now, I doubt there’s more than 6,000 remaining.

6:15 PM – Lucroy gets hit by a pitch. Silver lining from today’s game is that Lucroy, Gamel, and Hart have all been on base three times.

6:17 PM – Pinch-hitter George Kottaras hits a 3-run shot, making it 11-5.

6:20 PM – I’m not completely certain, but I think Hof just said he shit his pants. I’m glad I’m driving separately.

6:22 PM – And Braun gets the final out, going 0-5 on the day.

6:23 PM – The Brewers fall on opening day, 11-5. Not a great start to the season, but I’m reminded that we started 0-4 last year. Things seemed to work out well for us then. Time to pack up and head home. I might try to do a few more of these throughout the course of the season. Until next time, Go Crew!

Trouble Brewing: What A “Broken” Hart Means For Milwaukee

by Kevin Kimmes

Well, the injury bug wasted no time in buying its ticket to Arizona this year as Brewers right fielder, Corey Hart, can attest to. For the 2nd straight year, Hart looks to start regular season play on the disabled list, this time due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The injury, which will require surgery later this week, will leave Hart sidelined for 3-4 weeks, making the timetable tight for a potential opening day start, and potentially throwing the Brewers opening day lineup (which skipper Ron Roenicke said earlier this week was set) into turmoil.

The announcement came about an hour into the Brewers first Cactus League appearance of the year, a 1-1 tie with the San Francisco Giants, which also found Rickie Weeks as a late scratch from the lineup. Weeks, who has been nursing a sore throwing shoulder, participated in throwing drills, but was scratched about 15 minutes before the first pitch along with Hart. According to Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, the Weeks injury is not considered to be serious.

The Hart injury does bring to light several questions which the Brewers will now need to answer in the next several weeks. For one, who will start in right field on opening day? As I have mentioned in previous articles, I fully anticipate that Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki will be able to transition and will be ready in time to take a starting role if needed. If this indeed proves to be true, I see this as the better option over starting center fielder Carlos Gomez in the vacant spot. Why, you ask? The simple answer is, his bat.

Last season, Gomez hit an unimpressive .225 in 231 at bats with an on base percentage of .276. Compare this to Hart’s 2011 line of .285 in 492 at bats and an on base percentage of .356, and its obvious that this is a dip in offense that the club can not afford to make. Hart, along with new third baseman Aramis Ramirez, will be relied upon to close the offensive gap left in the wake of Prince Fielder’s departure. As such, Hart’s replacement will need to produce better than what Gomez did last season, even if it is only for a short period of time.

As a two-time batting champion in Japan, Aoki has proven himself to be a threat at the plate as a contact hitter with an ability to aim the ball to all fields. With many claiming that he is the best pure hitter to come out of Japan since Ichiro, the door has now opened wide for Aoki to prove it. Also, should Aoki find his way into the starting lineup, expect Rickie Weeks to move from the number one slot in the batting order to the number 5 spot, thus beefing up the heart of the order. This could also see Nyjer Morgan slot in at number one, with Aoki in the two hole.

The other problem that Hart’s injury has exposed is Milwaukee’s lack of depth at first base. The initial plan was to have Hart back up first base hopeful Mat Gamel, but now with the injury the Brewers may need to rely on Travis Ishikawa for the time being. Ishikawa, who saw no playing time in the majors in 2011, was acquired from the San Francisco Giants where he batted .265 over 4 seasons. While this may be doable for the short-term, it again highlights the problem mentioned earlier: the offensive drop off created by not having Hart in the lineup.

Finally, for those that believe that Roenicke will rush Hart back early like he did in 2011 after the Nyjer Morgan injury, I will warn you to not be overly optimistic. Hart has a history of meniscus issues, meaning that the team will be overly cautious as this most recent injury is the most severe that he has sustained to this point.

If there is a silver lining to the injury, it is this: A huge opportunity to prove themselves has now been issued to Aoki, Gomez, Gamel, and Ishikawa. The question is, who will stand up and take the call?

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup: Now With More Braun

Is Gamel finally ready for an everyday assignment?

by Kevin Kimmes

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.

Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.

Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…

I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

Will Aoki be the x-factor that determines the opening day lineup?

Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the  hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.

Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?

Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.

With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:

1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher

In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.

Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.

With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.

My Cardboard Habit: Looking at What’s Brewing in Topps 2012 Series I Baseball

by Kevin Kimmes

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always viewed the launch of the Topps Baseball set as one of the earliest signs of spring. Prior to spring training, or even the groundhog seeing (or not seeing) his shadow, the set marks the first sign of hope that another season is on its way despite it’s release in the middle of winter’s icy cold grip.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve made collecting the entire 660 card set a yearly tradition. This year, I thought I would use the blog to share my love for these cardboard keepsakes and to specifically focus on what Brewers fans can expect to find in the first half (Series I is composed of cards 1-330) of this years set .

We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1!

For the second consecutive year, Brewers slugger and 2011 NL MVP, Ryan Braun finds himself on the first card of the set. While this honor is a great one (former Brewers 1st baseman Prince Fielder had graced this spot in 2010 with a photo of his infamous September 2009 walkoff celebration), this year is “doubly” special for Braun.

Why you ask? Well, this year Topps decided to change up their “chase” variants (short printed versions of some cards with alternate photos and lower print runs) which for the last several years had been reserved for the retired greats of seasons past. This year, the focus is on celebrations and off field hijinks, leading to Braun’s card having 2 separate versions. Shown above, is the standard version of Braun’s card depicting him doing what he does best, knocking the crap out of the ball. His alternate card (pictured to the left), features Braun doing his signature “boxing” home run celebration with Fielder.

For those looking for the short print, your best chance is to check with your local hobby shop or eBay as the estimated average of finding a short printed card (of which there are 22) is only 2 per hobby case.

So, Who Else Made The Cut?

Below is a list of the other players who can be found in the main set donning a Brewers uniform. For convenience sake, I’ve broken this down into 2 groups: those currently with the team and those no longer with the team.

Currently With The Team:

# 29 Active NL Wins Leaders (Wolf)
# 66 Nyjer Morgan
#143 George Kottaras
#146 Carlos Gomez
#181 2011 NL Batting Average Leaders (Braun)
#210 Zack Greinke
#262 Shaun Marcum
#272 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 (Morgan)
#294 John Axford

No Longer With The Team:

# 57 Yuniesky Betancourt
# 77 2011 NL Home Run Leaders (Fielder)
#136 Casey McGehee
#224 2011 NL Runs Batted In Leaders (Fielder)
#327 Mark Kotsay

Of all of the cards listed above, the two that I love the most are the Nyjer Morgan cards. First, his standard card (#66) is the same photo of him, Braun, and Fielder that graced the cover of the August 29, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated (shown on the left). Due to the national exposure that this photo got, this has become one of those instant classics and was a real surprise to me when I pulled it out of a pack.

The other card to feature Morgan is the 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 card (#272). Here we find Morgan in full “Beast Mode” as he celebrates his walk off single that sent the Crew to the NLCS for the first time in franchise history. I love this photo choice so much simply due to the fact that it just sums up the energy and the enthusiasm of the 2011 campaign so perfectly. It’s Brewers baseball, in the post season, and “T-Plush” is supplying the charge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Digging for Gold: The Inserts

Topps decided to go with a gold motif for this years inserts. This means everything from gold ring toppers, pins, coins and just plain old gold foil can be found in abundance in these subsets. Let’s look at which Brewers, and Brewers alum can be found here.

**Note – I have not included former Brewers below if the card they appear on shows them in another team’s uniform (sorry Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor), with the exception of cards featuring players on the Milwaukee Braves.**

Golden Moments

Golden moments is a 50 card set composed of cards celebrating historic moments in MLB history which were accomplished by not only those that have come before, but from today’s stars as well. Here we find two cards of interest: GM-10 which celebrates Prince Fielders “Wake Up, Walk Off” from this past season, as well as GM-15 which celebrates Ryan Braun’s passing of Robin Yount for the longest consecutive game on base streak in franchise history. An autographed version, relic version, an auto/relic variant, as well as a “24k gold infused” version numbered out of 5 pieces are also available for the Braun card.

Additionally, the following players each have relic cards in this subset:

GMR-CH Corey Hart
GMR-CM Casey McGehee
GMR-JA John Axford
GMR-JLU Jonathan Lucroy
GMR-PF Prince Fielder
GMR-PM Paul Molitor
GMR-SM Shaun Marcum
GMR-YG Yovani Gallardo

Golden Greats

This 75 card set celebrates the career highlights of 15 legends of the game (5 cards each). Brewers fans, or more specifically Milwaukee baseball fans, may be interested in checking out cards GG51-55 which feature none other than “Hammerin” Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave. As with the Braun card found in Golden Moments, the Hank Aaron cards found in this set also have autographed (numbered out of 10), relic (numbered out of 10), and auto/relic parallels (numbered out of just 5). Additionally, there is a Gold Coin variation which has a production number based on the player’s jersey number (in this case 44) and contains an actual gold coin with the players likeness on it.

Timeless Talents

These 25 dual-player cards statistically compare a hero of yesteryear to a modern day player. As with the main set, this subset again finds Ryan Braun in the lead-off spot teamed up with none other than “The Ignitor”, Paul Molitor. A dual autographed parallel of this card also exists.

1987 Topps Minis

Topps classic wood grain design from their 1987 set gets the mini treatment in celebration of the sets 25th anniversary. Braun (TM-1) again leads off this 50 card subset and is joined by Brewers ace Zack Greinke (TM-35).

In The Name Relics

You want something no one else has? How about the actual letters off of this past years All-Star warmup jerseys? That is what Topps is offering in this subset where each piece is numbered 1/1. Fielder (shown at left), Weeks, and Braun all appear here meaning that Brewers Nation will need to figure out how to sort out the 17 total pieces available between these three players.

Topps Silk Collection

100 of the base sets cards were  also printed as mini version on gold silk and numbered out of only 50 pieces each. Included in this subset are Ryan Braun (SC-1), Zack Greinke (SC-47), Shaun Marcum (SC-62), and John Axford (SC-81).

Base Set Paralells

Each of the 330 card in the base set features two different parallels: Platinum and Wood. The platinum cards are numbered out of 61 pieces in honor of this being Topps 61st set. These are identical to the base cards with the exception that they sport a platinum colored border. Like the platinum parallels, the wood parallels are also identical to their base cards except that these cards are a tribute to the 1962 set and are all numbered 1/1.

So there you have it, a thorough look at the Brewers cards in this years set so far. I’ll be back with a look at Series II after it is released in June. In the mean time, if you have any questions regarding this set, or card collecting in general feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @kevinkimmes. Happy collecting!