The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous: 1909 T-206 Newt Randall

by Kevin Kimmes

Welcome to the 3rd installment of The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous in which we try and shine the light of discovery on the players who were once household names in the Cream City. This series is dedicated to looking at Milwaukee’s baseball history through it’s cardboard representations: baseball cards.

Today we will continue on with the third of four players who played for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers in 1909 and appear in the T-206 card set. For more information on the American Association Brewers or the T-206 card set, click here.

T-206 RandallNewt Randall:

Newton John Randall (February 3, 1880 – May 3, 1955) played outfield for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers from 1908 through 1915. Prior to his tenure in Milwaukee, Randall had already spent six seasons playing professional ball:  five in the minors and one season (1907) in the majors, in which he batted just .211 and split time between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Doves. (1) (2)

In 1909, Randall would lead the team in hitting (.279 average), at bats (620), hits (173), total bases (216) and would come in 2nd in slugging (.348). (3) He would also lead all American Association hitters with 92 runs scored. (4)

Randall would continue to be a constant producer on offense leading the team in at bats (from 1910-12 and again in ’14), hits (in 1910, ’12 and ’14), doubles (from 1910-12),  total bases (from 1910-12) and tying for homers (in 1910 and ’11). He would again lead the team in hitting in 1914 with an average of .321 (a career high with Milwaukee).

Newt would make 2 more appearances in the minors before leaving the game behind. In 1916, he would appear in 5 games with the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks hitting a paltry .091 (a career worst). He stepped inside the box for the last time in 1923 as a member of the North Dakota League’s Bizmark Capitals where he recorded 43 hits in 171 at bats (.251 average).

Randall is the only Brewer to appear in the T-206 card set and play for any of Milwaukee’s early championship teams (playing on both the ’13 and ’14 squads).

Newt Randall passed away on May 3, 1955 in Duluth, MN at the age of 75.

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.

References:

(1) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=randal001new

(2) http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/randane01.shtml

(3) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=e8f8478c

(4) Hamann, Rex & Koehler, Bob (2004) The American Association Milwaukee BrewersCharleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing

The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous: 1909 T-206 Shad Barry

by Kevin Kimmes

Welcome to the 2nd installment of The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous in which we try and shine the light of discovery on the players who were once household names in the Cream City. This series is dedicated to looking at Milwaukee’s baseball history through it’s cardboard representations: baseball cards.

Today we will continue on with the second of four players who played for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers in 1909 and appear in the T-206 card set. For more information on the American Association Brewers or the T-206 card set, click here.

From the author's personal collection.

From the author’s personal collection.

Shad Barry:

John C. “Shad” Barry (October 27, 1878 – November 27, 1936) was a regular in Milwaukee’s lineups from 1909 through 1910. Barry, who began his 10 year major league career at the age of 20 with the Washington Senators in 1899 would find himself playing at many different positions with many different teams during his major league tenure. Major league clubs that Barry played on include The Boston Beaneaters (1900-1901), The Philadelphia Phillies (1901-1904), The Chicago Cubs (1904-1905), The Cincinnati Reds (1905-1906), The St. Louis Cardinals (1906-1908) and the New York Giants (1908). (1)

In 1909, Barry would join the American Association Brewers for his first of two seasons in Milwaukee, hitting .235 as an outfielder. Barry would improve his hitting in his final year with the Brewers, recording a .252 average (3rd best on the team). (2)

Barry would leave the American Association for the Pacific Coast League in 1910, where he would see his batting average dive to a career low .193 with the Portland Beavers. He would remain in the minors for 2 more seasons, in 1912 as a player/coach for the Northwestern League’s Seattle Giants and in 1913 as a member of the New York State League’s Troy Trojans. (3)

Barry passed away at the age of 58 on November 27, 1936 in Los Angeles, CA.

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.

References:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shad_Barry

(2) Hamann, Rex & Koehler, Bob (2004) The American Association Milwaukee Brewers Charleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing

(3) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=barry-002joh

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

Some Thoughts on Ryan Dempster

By Nathan Petrashek

Atlanta Braves v Chicago CubsI get the sense that Doug Melvin is one of those newfangled GMs that love advanced baseball statistics but also reserves a place for old-school baseball judgment.  Given that, and his past history with veterans like Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf, it doesn’t exactly surprise me that he’s interested in Ryan Dempster.  Dempster has always dominated the Brewers at Miller Park, throwing over 100 innings of 2.66 ERA ball while holding opposing batters to a .221 average and striking out 8.6 per nine.  MLB Trade Rumors reported today that the sides had mutual interest, although the Suppan and Wolf experiments no doubt convinced Melvin that three or more years on aging pitchers is too great a risk.

Dempster, age 35, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2012.  Everything about that should scream “red flag.”  His other really good seasons came in 2000 and 2008, but sandwiched between them, he pitched just 790 innings over 7 years (an average of about 113 innings per season).  His fastball has been slowly but steadily losing velocity.  Dempster compensated by throwing fewer of them (which seems to have increased the effectiveness of those he does throw); he’s also developed a pretty good split-finger and, just this past year, a cutter (which was pretty awful).  There’s no sense in diminishing how well he pitched for the Cubs in 2012 (2.25 ERA over 104 IP and a career-low 2.3 BB/9), but Dempster fans also have to acknowledge how poorly he pitched after being traded to the Texas Rangers (69 IP, 5.09 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).  This looks for all the world like a guy at the end of his career who is going to cash in on one more big contract.

And make no mistake, someone is going to give him three years.  Once you get past Zack Grienke, the free agent market is stocked with risky plays like Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, and Carl Pavano.  Dempster, particularly after his strong year, looks like a pretty good candidate when stacked up against the field.  Someone will overpay.  Someone always does.

This is not to say that Dempster is a bad pitcher; he’s really not.  But he’s not nearly as good as his 2012 season would suggest, and anyone signing him should expect more modest returns.  The Brewers are wise to limit their risk with him at two years.  I haven’t seen specifics regarding Dempster’s desired contract, but you can be sure that given the way the pitching market has developed the past few years, he’ll be looking at an average annual value exceeding what he earned with the Cubs in 2012 ($14M).  Given the Brewers stated desire to return to an $80M payroll in 2013, that would likely place him outside the Brewers’ price range.

If so, the team might well dodge a bullet.

“A double for Aramis Ramirez … maybe …. no.”

by Nathan Petrashek

Brian Anderson uttered those words in the fifth inning of yesterday’s game.  They were immediately followed by something like “Ramirez does not run well.”  That would be an understatement.

That the third baseman hasn’t come close to filling departed slugger Prince Fielder’s shoes is a big problem, but the bigger problem may be his attitude.  In 2011, like the previous five years, Brewers fans had the pleasure of watching Fielder leg out every ball in play, regardless of whether it was a ground ball or popup.  He may have let the bat do most of his talking, but Fielder always looked like hewanted to play, and loved every minute of it.

The shift from Fielder to Ramirez has not been as smooth as most Brewers fans had hoped.  His quiet bat (.256/.329/.452) has only amplified his failure to hustle.  I can’t count how many times I have watched Ramirez jog to first.

To be sure, this isn’t a new problem with Ramirez.  Cubs fans often complained of Ramirez’s lack of effort everywhere but at the plate.  But it isn’t any more acceptable simply because the Brewers knew what they were getting.  It is incumbent on Ramirez, particularly 2012′s light-hitting version, to at least act as though he gives a damn.  If he really wants to impress his new club, that would be the way to do it.  A lack of effort is something not even a .356 average could mask.

Bringing It All Back Home – Rattlers Win Game 1 Of 7 Game Homestand

by Kevin Kimmes

On a day that saw the Brewers get shut out by the Chicago Cubs 8-0, the Timber Rattlers found themselves in the position to seek a little redemption for their parent club as they took on Cubs affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, in the first game of a 4 game series. Under clear skies and with a game-time temp of 57 degrees, the 740 fans in attendance at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium were in for a great night of April baseball.

The Rattlers struck first in the bottom of the 1st inning when Jason Rogers (playing in left field) connected on a pitch from Chiefs’ starter PJ Francescon (0-1, 3.48) and took it 377 ft for his second homerun of the week. The blast gave the Timber Rattlers an early 1-0 lead.

Rattlers’ starter Drew Gagnon (0-0, 2.00) would keep the lead alive into the 5th, striking out 6 in 4.2 innings of work, when with two outs in the 5th, Cheifs third baseman, Brad Zapenas, singled, stole his way to second, and eventually scored on left fielder Pin-Chieh Chen’s single to tie the game a 1-1. Gagnon would finish the game with a total of 7 Ks in 5 innings of work.

Not content to be tied for long, the Timber Rattlers opened up the bottom of the 6th inning with a solo homer from Chadwin Stang (also his second of the week) which put the team back out front 2-1. But the Rattlers weren’t done yet. Designated hitter Brandon Macias would follow the Stang homer with a single, advancing to 2nd on a wild pitch, and eventually scoring on a single from first baseman Parker Berberet to bring the score to 3-1.

The Chiefs tried to close the gap in the 8th inning when Zapenas drew a walk off of Rattlers reliever Tommy Toledo (1-0, 3.86), advanced to second on a wild pitch, and eventually scored on a single from catcher Rafael Lopez. The single would mark the end of Toledo’s night as the Rattlers would call on Seth Harvey (0.00) to pick up the save.

The Timber Rattlers would make Harvey’s job easier thanks to Stang drawing a walk to start off the bottom of the 8th. Stang would advance to 2nd on a Macias sacrifice bunt, and eventually score as a wild pitch would move him to third followed by a throwing error from the catcher, Lopez, which would plate him for the second time of the night and bring the score to 4-2.

Now, with a two run advantage, Harvey would work through the top of the 9th only giving up a single to Reggie Golden who collapsed in a heap as he touched 1st base. Zeke DeVoss would be brought in to pinch run, but would never be given an opportunity to advance.

The win brings the Rattlers record to 3-4, tied with Peoria, Kane County, and Beloit.

The Rattlers are back in action at Time Warner Cable Field tonight for game two of this four game series. Start time is 6:35 pm. The Timber Rattlers are scheduled to send Mark Williams (0-1, 4.50) to the mound while the Chiefs will counter with  Jose Rosario (0-0, 1.93).

Game at a glance:

Player of the game: Chadwin Stang: 1/1 – 2 runs – 1 hit (HR) – 1 RBI – 1 BB – .304

WP: Tommy Toledo (1-0)
LP: PJ Francescon (0-1)
Save: Seth Harvey (1)

Time: 2:34
Attendance: 740

All You Need Is Love – What I Love About The Game of Baseball

by Kevin Kimmes

With today being Valentines Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the things I love most about baseball. And while I’m on the subject of love, I would like to dedicate this article to my fiance, Abigail Bellehumeur, who has shown unwavering patience despite having to share me with the “other woman” who she claims has the initials “M. L. B.”, and to my mom, Sandy Kimmes, whose birthday it is today. I love you both very much!

I Love The Brewers

I know, that should go without saying, but it’s important, I think, to start here. Through thick and through thin (and there has been a lot of the later and a lot less of the prior), the Brewers have been, and will always be, my home team. Throughout the years, I’ve tried to cheer for other teams, but much like wearing someone else’s clothes, I never felt comfortable sporting another teams colors.

I think we fall in love with the team that we have the greatest connection to as children. For me, I remember going to my grandparents and spending time sitting in the garage with my grandfather as he listened to Bob Uecker call the games on the radio, a warm summer breeze blowing in through the open garage door. For me, these were some of my first experiences with the game, and will always be cherished memories that I carry with me throughout my life.

I Love The History Of The Game

The fact that we as fans celebrate the teams, and players, of yesteryear just as much, if not more so, than the players of today says something about the game as a whole. Despite changes to the game throughout the years, baseball is fundamentally the same game it was over 100 years ago. This allows for easy comparison of today’s teams and players with those from the past, allowing us to have a better understanding of those who we never had a chance to see play.

Need proof? Every year we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day and award the best pitchers with the Cy Young Award. Our favorite teams wear throwback uniforms to remind us of where they came from, and to pay homage to those that paved the way (the Negro Leagues). And, millions take the pilgrimage to Cooperstown each year to not only view history with their own eyes, but to wish congratulations to that years Hall of Fame induction class.

I Love That The Game Is Allowed To Move At Its Own Pace

Baseball is that rare sport that we allow to take as much (or as little) time as needed. We express patience and hang on each moment with the wonder of what may come next. We do not hold the game to a time limit, like we do with football, basketball, hockey, etc. As long as a team can avoid the final out in the 9th, we give them as much time as they need to mount a comeback, no matter how improbable.

This to me is beautiful in the sense that it allows hope and optimism to bloom even when things look their darkest, something that we can take away from the game and use in our daily lives.

I Love Bud Selig

This has nothing to do with his work as commissioner, no, this has to do with the fact that he was the man who brought Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves walked out after the 1965 season. Having been born in the late seventies, if Bud hadn’t purchased the ailing Seattle Pilots and relocated them to Milwaukee, there is a strong possibility that I would never have known the joy of cheering for my home team. I would have still found the game through the school yard or Cable TV, but would have probably wound up a Twins fan,  a White Sox Fan, a Tigers fan, or (gasp) a Cubs fan!

I Love The Emotion That A Game (Or Moment) Can Create

While I have been wowed by spectacular plays and angered by bonehead on field buffoonery over the years, the strongest emotional reaction I have ever felt during a game transpired on September 23, 2011. Seated 4 rows up off of the 1st baseline between Fielder and Hart, Abby and I saw the Brewer win the NL Central Division title for the first time in franchise history.

When we had first received the tickets in July, I had joked that it looked like we would probably be going to a AAA game that night, as this was the final series at home for the year and the Brewers were on pace to have the division locked up prior to the game transpiring. As the weeks went by, and the Brewers pace slowed, the likelihood began to become more and more real that we may be on hand to see history. However, it was a Cardinals loss the previous evening to the Mets that finally cemented the scenario.

As we sat in our seats that night, our eyes kept shifting from the play on the field to the wall in left field where the score from the Cardinals/Cubs game was occasionally displayed. In the top of the 9th, with 2 men out, and the batter in a 1-1 count, we saw what we were waiting for. Alfonso Soriano had just gone yard putting the Cubs ahead. In his post game interview that night John Axford was asked if he knew what was going on when the crowd erupted, saying that he assumed he knew, but hadn’t turned around to confirm his suspicions. One player who did though was Ryan Braun, who checked the score over his shoulder, then returned to his defensive position with a huge grin on his face.

With two innings to go in the Cardinals/Cubs contest, no one moved as 44,000 fans, plus the team, turned to the outfield video wall to await history. As the Cardinals game went final and the image on the screen changed to the NL Central Champions graphic, I turned to Abby as I fought back tears, only to find that she was crying. I pulled her close and hugged her tight, kissing her cheek in the process, as confetti rained down around us. That’s what I mean by emotion, and that is why I truly love this game.

Happy Valentines Day!

2012 NL Central Division Preview: Chicago Cubs

By: Ryan Smith

You can usually predict the type of season a team is going to have based on that team’s biggest offseason move. The Angels? They signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, so they’re going to push Texas to the brink for the AL West crown. The Tigers? Signing Prince Fielder pretty much puts them in the driver’s seat in the AL Central. The Marlins? Bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell indicates that they’re going to push for a playoff spot this season.

That brings us to the Cubs; a team whose biggest offseason move didn’t involve adding anyone to their 40-man roster. After years of bloated contracts to past-their-prime players, GM Jim Hendry was finally shown the door.

Epstein and Hoyer bring a feeling of hope to the Cubs and their fans.

The Cubs decided to follow the model laid out in 2002 by another thought-to-be-cursed franchise, hiring wunderkind Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as new General Manager.

So what can we make of that type of offseason move?

Well, for the first time in a few years, Cubs fans have cause to be optimistic. Just not about this year.

Epstein and Hoyer have already started to work on some of the shortcomings of the previous regime, sending Carlos Zambrano to Miami and bringing in potential first basemen-of-the-future Anthony Rizzo from San Diego. They also snagged beloved Dale Sveum from the Crew to become their new manager.

With Epstein and Hoyer in place, you can expect the Cubs’ farm system to improve dramatically, as both men place a strong emphasis on building from within. The days of the drastically overpaid veteran might be over as well. Sorry, Alfonso Soriano.

But enough about the promising future of the Cubs. This article is about what to expect on the field in 2012. And 2012 could get ugly down in Wrigleyville.

(All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com)

2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup

Infield – 1B Bryan LaHair, 2B Darwin Barney, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Ian Stewart

Analysis – LaHair put up impressive numbers over the last two years in AAA. His 2011 line of .331/.405/.664, as well as his .443 wOBA, can give fans a reason for hope that the Cubs will finally have found their replacement for Derrek Lee. Still, Epstein and Hoyer trading for star prospect Anthony Rizzo should be proof enough that they don’t fully believe in the future potential LaHair. 2012 will be a season-long audition for LaHair, who might have to be looking over his shoulder the entire time…Barney seemed to win the favor of Cubs fans last season. His decent glove (5.8 UZR/150) and overall helpfulness to the club (2.2 WAR) surely led to that endearment with the fans. The problem is, while he doesn’t take much off the table, he doesn’t bring that much to it either. He’s really nothing more than pedestrian at second base…Castro is the unquestioned star of this team. While he has his struggles in the field (-8.8 UZR/150), he knows how to handle himself at the plate, as suggested by his .307 batting average. I’m sure the Cubs would like to see a little more power out of his bat, but he’s only had two full seasons with the big league club. He’s going to keep getting better in 2012…Stewart gets the unenviable task of replacing Aramis Ramirez, who now calls Miller Park home. Stewart never tore the cover off the ball during his tenure in Colorado, but last year was just abysmal. Between AAA and the big league club, Stewart played in less than 100 games. While with the Rockies, he posted a pathetic .156/.243/.221 line. He’s going to have to learn how to hit again, and soon, or Cubs fans will be calling for his replacement pretty quickly.

Outfield – LF Alfonso Soriano, CF Marlon Byrd, RF David DeJesus

Analysis – It seems like everyone knows about the issues with Soriano. He has three years remaining on his contract at $18 million annually. He doesn’t bring speed to the base paths like he used to (only 2 stolen bases last year). He strikes out too much (22.2% K Rate). He doesn’t get on base at a respectable clip anymore (.289 OBP). Problem is, the Cubs don’t have any better options in their system at this point…Byrd will start in center on opening day, but he most likely won’t be with the Cubs by the end of the year. Prospect Brett Jackson seems destined to finally get his shot with the Cubbies in 2012, which means Byrd may be spending the first few months of the season auditioning for his role as trade bait…DeJesus spent last season in Oakland, and if you are at all familiar with Oakland’s reputation on offense, you should know that he won’t be adding a lot of value at the plate (.240/.323/.376). However, he does seem to know his way around right field, as shown by his UZR/150 mark of 14.2.

Rotation – RHP Matt Garza, RHP Ryan Dempster, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Randy Wells, RHP Chris Volstad

Carlos Zambrano will take his particular brand of crazy to Miami, which should sound wonderful to the Cubs.

Analysis –
Garza has had an interesting offseason. His name has been dangled as a potential trade piece in more than a few rumors. For the moment, he’s still with the Cubs, which gives them a pretty good arm at the top of the rotation. Garza’s 10-10 record in 2011 is deceiving; he pitched much better than his record indicates. He posted a 3.19 xFIP, and his BABIP of .306 was slightly above league average, meaning that a poor supporting cast and some bad luck were more to blame for his win-loss record than Garza’s actual pitching…Dempster, much like Garza, was a victim of the lack of talent around him more than his own pitching, as his 10-14 record doesn’t seem justified with a 3.70 xFIP. His BB/9 did continue to rise in 2011 and he was also rather unlucky with a .324 BABIP. Still, as a Brewers fan, I wouldn’t mind seeing this Brewer-killer’s bad luck continue in 2012…Maholm stays within the division, coming over from Pittsburgh. He doesn’t blow hitters away (5.38 K/9) but doesn’t give up free passes too much either (2.77 BB/9). The drop-off after the top two in the rotation is noticeable…Wells posted a below average xFIP of 4.45 and gave up the long-ball too much (1.53 HR/9), yet he finished with a winning record in 2011 (7-6). Wells reminds me of Dave Bush during his last few seasons with the Brewers; you don’t hate having him on the mound but don’t expect him to carry the load too often…Volstad comes to the Windy City from the Marlins in the Zambrano trade. In 29 starts last season, Volstad only pitched 165.2 innings, while posting a 3.64 xFIP. He was a little unlucky (.310 BABIP) but he also was below average when he had runners on base, with a 68.9 LOB%. Even if he has some struggles at Wrigley, I think Volstad will be an example of addition-by-subtraction, because the circus known as Carlos Zambrano won’t be distracting the team on a seemingly daily basis.

Catcher – Geovany Soto

Analysis – Soto has been a picture of consistency for the Cubs over the last few years. And by saying that, I mean he’s been consistently inconsistent. In the last four years, his batting average has gone from .285 to .218 to .280 to .228. So, the good news for Cubs fans is that Soto is due for another good season at the plate. His .987 fielding percentage last season was well below his typically impressive average, so he’s going to have to figure out what went wrong in 2011. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which Soto the Cubs get in 2012; he’s one of the few players on this team who doesn’t have to worry about someone taking his spot in the lineup.

Epstein and Hoyer already succeeded in acquiring first baseman-of-the-future Anthony Rizzo.

Bench/Bullpen Analysis – Carlos Marmol had 35 Saves last season, but he’s also responsible for raising the collective blood pressure of Cubs fans every time he steps onto the mound…Kerry Wood isn’t who he used to be; he’s simply a decent arm that will have his good days and his bad days. Basically, he’s your typical over-30 bullpen arm…Jeff Samardzija is another arm that simply isn’t consistent enough to count on every day. You don’t typically want to bring a guy in to a high-pressure situation when he posts a 5.11 BB/9…I mentioned Brett Jackson before. The centerfielder is ranked #89 on Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects List, and he’ll soon be patrolling out by the ivy…Anthony Rizzo is back with the guy who initially drafted him (Epstein in Boston) and the guy who first traded for him (Hoyer in San Diego). Rizzo shows up on Law’s list at #36, and while he struggled while with the Padres last year (.141/.281/.242 in 49 games), he absolutely crushed the ball in AAA (.331/.404/.652, 26 homeruns in 93 games). Oh, he can also play some defense too (10.2 UZR/150). And it’s also important to remember that this guy is still only 22 years old, and he pretty much missed all of 2008 when he battled with Hodgkin lymphoma. Acquiring guys like this is one of the reasons that, as a Brewer fan, I’m not thrilled that Epstein and Hoyer now call Chicago home.

Overall Analysis – As I stated at the beginning of this article, the future looks bright for Chicago, if only because Epstein and Hoyer are going to bring in a much-need culture change. Epstein’s success in Boston is well-noted, but Hoyer also left San Diego with the top-ranked farm system, according to ESPN’s Keith Law. There is no quick fix for the Cubbies, but bringing in the guys who know how to turn an entire system around is a damn good first step.

2012 will be filled with more than a few headaches, and there will be times when Cubs fans will find themselves just hoping to stay ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings. The Cubs just simply won’t contend for anything worthwhile this year, but with Epstein and Hoyer calling the shots, things could get interesting when the trade deadline approaches. Byrd, Garza, and Dempster are just a few guys who could find themselves in new locations by August, if the right trade package is presented.

My advice for Cubs fans is this: be patient. 2013 and beyond look bright. For now, you’ll all have to adopt an all-too-familiar slogan for this season.

2012: Maybe Next Year.

Prediction: 75-87, 4th Place in the NL Central

Next Up: 2012 Cincinnati Reds Preview

Wheel of Fielder

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s game show time here at Cream City Cables, and here’s today’s contestant, Prince Fielder.  Step right up, Prince, spin the wheel, and let’s see where your baseball destiny lies!

Texas Rangers.  I’m sorry, Prince, today just isn’t your day.  You see, while the Rangers could certainly use a power-hitting 1B or DH (Mitch Moreland and Michael Young, respectively, will probably fill those roles), today the Rangers announced that they had signed young Japanese righty Yu Darvish for $112MM ($52MM for negotiating rights plus a 6-year, $60MM contract).  Rangers GM Josh Daniels was reportedly “cornered” after the press conference, whereupon he announced that a Fielder deal was “unlikely,” adding, “I don’t expect we’ll do anything really big the rest of the winter.”

Seattle Mariners.  If you wish, you can reunite here with Jack Zduriencik, the man responsible for your drafting way back in 2002.  Unfortunately, those memories of past greatness are probably all you’ll accumulate in Seattle, as the team doesn’t look poised for competition for quite some time with the powerhouse Rangers and Angels in their division.  And not only that, the Mariners are said to have money limits (that’s code for “We can’t afford you”), so you’ll have to take less dough to not win.  Doesn’t sound like Charlie Sheen would be a fan of this arrangement.

Chicago Cubs.  I’m sure you weren’t thrilled to see Theo Epstein’s blockbuster trade involving future 1B Anthony Rizzo.  After all, teams don’t usually trade for an major-league ready first baseman prospect just so they can go out and sign a monster deal with a slugger at the same position.  Sure, the Cubs might be interested at the right price.  But then again, you’d have a lot of suitors if you lowered your demands.

Washington Nationals.  Would you like to buy a “W?”  Washington seems like a good fit:  they’re interested, their close to contending in the NL East, and they’re probably the only team that loves your agent (and by throwing oodles of cash at his clients, I’m sure the feeling is mutual). But word is they only want to go six years, possibly seven, a few shy of what you were looking for.  And what would Washington be without a little political intrigue?  The Nationals were closely watching the Darvish deal; now that another suitor has dropped out, the Nats know they hold all the cards.  Prepare for a tough negotiation here, Prince.

***

Well, Prince, the wheel is just about done spinning and the big black tile is headed your way.  You could have solved the puzzle; the Brewers dangled that 6-year, $120 million contract in front of you a few years ago, but you didn’t want any part of that.  And who could blame you; that $200 million space seemed so big, just tempting you to spin again.  But now that the  megadeal contract you’ve not-so-subtly yearned for (Remember when you changed your at-bat music to Pink Floyd’s “Money?”) doesn’t seem to be materializing, if you could do it all over again, would you trade the comfort the Brewers offered for this agonizing waiting game?