Tempering Expectations

Milwaukee’s Season Hinges on the Rotation

 By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

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

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

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

Then the first 12 games happened.

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

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

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

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

And then the Cardinals came to town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Notes From Timber Rattlers’ Media Day

by Kevin Kimmes
20140401-200355.jpg
Here are some quick notes from today’s media day:

- The 2014 Timber Rattlers are shaping up to be one of the youngest teams in the Matt Erickson era. The youngest player, David Denson, was born 1/17/95 (19 years old). The elder statesman of the group is 25 year old Lance Roenicke (born 6/8/1988), son of Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke.

- While on the topic of Lance Roenicke, this year Lance will be taking on the role of player/coach with a focus on coaching 1st base. However, if you ask him, it sounds like it will be 100% coaching as his playing days are most likely a thing of the past:

“…it’ll be pretty much entirely coaching unless, I mean, we have guys dropping down with the flu or something like that. Hopefully I’ll just be staying out there at 1st base and working with guys as far as leads and all that goes. As far as my playing career goes, that’s behind me right now.”

- Rattlers’ skipper Matt Erickson announced that Taylor Williams will be the Rattlers’ Opening Day starter when they kick off the season on Thursday night at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. Williams, a 4th round selection for the Brewers in the 2013 draft, spent his 2013 season with Milwaukee’s Rookie League affiliate Helena. When asked about his feelings regarding the forecast for Thursday night’s opener, Williams had the following to say:

“…I’m pretty used to the cold weather. I’m from the northwest. I played a little bit of college ball in Ohio so the cold weather, I don’t think it’s going to effect me too much. I’m not too worried about it.”

- One 2014 Rattler made a name for himself this past weekend in Milwaukee’s scrimmage against the Kansas City Royals. That player is Michael Ratterree.

In Saturday’s Spring Training finale, Ratterree was given an opportunity to bat in the 7th and took full advantage, homering to center.

“It felt amazing. Honestly, when I was running around the bases it felt like a dream, it didn’t feel real. It was just awesome, running into the dugout, getting high fives from everybody. It was just an unreal experience for me.”

- Returning to the Rattlers this season is catcher Clint Coulter. Coulter, who began the season in Appleton in 2013 before being moved down to Rookie level Helena, is taking it all in stride:

“You know, you never want to get demoted, but I didn’t take it as a demotion. I was really privileged to be up here. There’s not a lot of high school catchers that get a chance at full season ball their 1st year.”

The Timber Rattlers kick off the 2014 season this Thursday evening when they take on the Peoria Chiefs at 6:35 pm in game 1 of a 4 game home stand. Home stand highlights will include bobble head give aways on both Thursday and Saturday as well as a special appearance by Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers on Sunday afternoon.

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

A Quick Opening Day Rundown, Or Why My Monday Was Probably Better Than Yours

by Kevin Kimmes

20140331-210958.jpg

Please don’t take the title of this article too seriously. I just really love Opening Day. So here’s a quick rundown of my highlights from Miller Park.

Win a ticket to Opening Day:

A big thank you goes out to The Brewer Nation for running the contest that netted me a ticket to today’s game.

Here I am accepting the ticket outside the home plate gates:

Get to see Hank in person for the 1st time:

20140331-211315.jpg

I know there are a lot of people who are groaning at this, but I really don’t care. It’s a feel good story and I’m a dog person. ‘Nuff said.

Eat my 1st brat of the season:

Fact: Brats are best eaten with kraut and brown mustard. Stadium sauce is an acceptable alternative. Never ketchup. EVER!!!

Watch Gallardo move up to 2nd place on the Brewers all-time strikeout list:

Yo entered the game today in 3rd place with 1,080 Ks (just 1 K short of Teddy Higuera). It took until the 2nd inning to tie and the 3rd inning to move into sole possession of 2nd place. Congrats Yo!

Experience the standing ovation that the Brewer faithful welcomed Ryan Braun back with:

I seriously got goosebumps when Braun came to the plate in the 1st inning. The fans welcomed him back with a standing ovation which was the classy thing to do. I’m proud of you Milwaukee.

Watch the Brewers pick up the W:

1 down, 161 to go.

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

2014 Position Preview: Jean Segura, Shortstop

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, center field, left field, and right field.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

If Jean Segura’s 2013 season can be summed up as a Charles Dickens’ novel, it would be “A Tale of Two Halves”. A quick glance at the numbers and you’ll see what I mean:

1st Half: .325/.363/.487, 121 H, 54 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 27 SB

2nd Half: .241/.268/.315, 52 H, 20 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 SB

Now before I get accused of trying to cook the books regarding Segura’s numbers, I fully realize that injuries in the 2nd half of the season limited the number of games that he appeared in (92 in the 1st half compared to 54 in the 2nd). That said, here are how some of the above stats adjust accordingly on a per game basis:

1st Half (per game): 1.315 H, 0.587 R, 0.120 HR, 0.391 RBI, 0.293 SB

2nd Half (per game): 0.963 H, 0.370 R, 0.018 HR, 0.241 RBI, 0.315 SB

Across the board, Segura’s production is markedly depleted in the 2nd half with the exception of a slight increase in stolen base numbers. Some of this can be attributed to a young player playing in his first 162 game season. As time goes on, the body becomes fatigued and production begins to slow. This seems to be the situation with Segura.

Heading into 2014, many have wondered if Segura would be healthy enough to go when the Brewers take on the Braves in the season opener at Miller Park tomorrow. Lingering pain in his throwing shoulder has limited his spring, however that pain seems to be subsiding in recent days. As of right now, expect Segura to appear as the Opening Day shortstop.

So, which version of Segura can we expect to see this season? I’m going to go with neither. I believe what we will see is a more balanced Segura and the experts seem to agree:

2013 Recap

623 PA, 74 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB, 4.0 BB%, 13.5 K%, .294/.329/.423, 107 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 611 PA, 71 R, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 33 SB, 5.1 BB%, 12.8 K%, .278/.320/.404, 98 wRC+

ZiPs: 580 PA, 70 R, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 35 SB, 4.7 BB%, 14.1 K%, .284/.322/.422, 103 wRC+

Contact Status

2014-15: Pre-arb. Eligible, 2016-18: Arb. Eligible, 2019: Free Agent

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

You Gotta Have Heart: What Being a Small Market Fan Means to Me

You gotta have heart, but a great mustache doesn’t hurt either.

by Kevin Kimmes

Yes, today’s title (well part of it) is taken from the musical “Damn Yankees”.

Already I can hear some of you saying, “A musical? That’s girl stuff!”, but in this case, oh how wrong you would be. See “Damn Yankees” is the story of a devoted Washington Senators fan named Joe Boyd who sells his soul to the devil so that the Senators can acquire a “long ball hitter” and finally beat the “damn Yankees”. It’s a story about unflinching devotion to your team even when you know that the outcomes will probably just break your heart.

Now replace Senators with Brewers, and Yankee’s with Cardinals, and you have a story that most Milwaukee fans can identify with because we, much like Joe, have seen our fair share of suffering over the years. It’s part of what being a small market fan means to me.

It means having the odds stacked against you:

From 1998 to 2012, Milwaukee played in the NL Central, the only division in all of baseball that was composed of 6 teams. So what, you say? Well, due to the fact that the division contained 1 more team than most (2 more than the AL West), Milwaukee’s chances of winning the division in any given year were a meager 16.67%. That’s 3.33% lower than most MLB teams.

It means being thankful for what you have:

When the Braves pulled up stakes and headed south to Atlanta, Milwaukee was left with a gaping hole where baseball had once resided. To their credit, the White Sox did try and remedy this to some extent by playing some games each year at County Stadium, but it just wasn’t the same as having a team to call our own. For this reason alone, I will always respect Bud Selig, not for being commission, but for returning baseball to a city that truly loves the game.

If you need further proof of this point, consider that Milwaukee ranked 11th in overall attendance last year despite being the team with the smallest market.

It means taking the highs with the lows:

My experiences at Miller Park have included being on hand the night that Milwaukee clinched the NL Central title for the first time and the day that they were officially eliminated from the 2012 playoff hunt. You learn to love the highs and accept the lows. It’s all part of loving the game.

It means staying true to your team, even when all hope is lost:

I ended the 2012 season by catching 3 out of the last 4 Brewers home games at Miller Park. Milwaukee was mathematically eliminated from the Wild Card hunt after losing the 1st of the 4 games, but I went to the remaining games anyway. Why? Because, you never know what you might see. In fact, for my troubles I got to see Martin Maldonado hit his first career grand slam, and Kameron Loe and Manny Parra pitch for the last time as Brewers.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an applicant for the 2013 MLB Fan Cave. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Overhauling the Midsummer Classic

By: Ryan Smith

Most sports fans would agree that, when it comes to all-star games and the festivities associated with them, Major League Baseball puts the other professional sports leagues to shame.

But that’s not saying much.

When you break it down, the other leagues aren’t doing a whole lot to overtake MLB in this category.

The NFL’s Pro Bowl is a joke. If it’s before the Super Bowl, you are missing the best players from the league’s two best teams. If it’s after the Super Bowl, no one cares because, well, it’s after the Super Bowl. Hell, they almost cancelled the damn game in the last few months!

The NBA used to have an impressive All-Star Weekend. Used to. I remember when the Slam Dunk Contest had the league’s best players competing year-in and year-out. These guys wanted to win. Back before Vince Carter was a salary-cap albatross, he absolutely tore the place down. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan also found the time to compete – and win – this once-wonderful competition. Now, the contest is filled with a bunch of bench players who can jump but can’t actually play a lick of basketball. And, believe it or not, the All-Star Game itself features less defense than a typical regular season NBA game.

The NHL’s All-Star Game is…well, to be honest, I can’t stand hockey. When they went on strike, I realized I didn’t miss the NHL. Maybe the NHL has an amazing All-Star Weekend. Who cares? It’s hockey.

That brings us to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. As I said before, this is the best All-Star Game in professional sports. But it could be better.

With that being said, here are a few suggestions that, in my opinion, would make MLB’s Midsummer Classic even better:

1) Make the Futures Game a bigger part of the festivities.

This little four-day break from the grind of the regular season is supposed to be an exhibition – a time to celebrate the season thus far and a chance to showcase the best of the best…and Pablo Sandoval. Well, if it’s an exhibition and a showcase, then why not shine a little more light on this game, which selects the best players from all minor league levels? First of all, this game draws the short straw by being broadcast on the Sunday before the ASG, when there are still major league games being played. If you were lucky enough to tune in to the dominating performance by Team USA on Sunday night, you were able to see some of the pitchers and hitters that will soon become household names. I know this will never replace the Homerun Derby as the biggest event before the game itself, but it is by far the best display of actual baseball talent before the game.

2) Fix the Homerun Derby.

Hamilton didn’t win the Homerun Derby in 2008, but he should have.

First of all, no captains. That’s just stupid. Especially when one of the captains has been on the DL for a good chunk of the season and cannot even participate in the ASG itself. Instead, why not just take the top four homerun hitters from each league’s roster? Taking the guys who have hit the most homeruns in that given year seems to make sense, right? Right. So let’s move on. Next, the winner should be the guy who hits the most homeruns over the course of the entire contest. A few years ago, Justin Morneau “won” the Derby, but no one remembers that. Everyone remembers Josh Hamilton hitting 28 homers in the first round. Maybe Hamilton tired himself out with that first round. Should he have stopped at 15 and saved something for the final round? No! The Homerun Derby is supposed to be entertaining, so let’s do whatever we can to keep it that way. Finally, why not add a little twist to the Derby? College baseball’s homerun derby features a bonus ball (similar to the last ball in each rack of the NBA’s Three-Point Shootout), so why not add that? Or maybe they could have special “zones” that are worth two homeruns? When Sammy Sosa was wowing the crowd at Miller Park in 2002 with his shots off of Bernie’s slide or when Prince was knocking them into the fountain in K.C., why not give them a bonus? I’m sure I could think of more changes for the Derby, but I’ll move on for now.

3) Change the roster selection process.

I think this year’s roster fiasco proved that fans just don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes, the managers struggle with this, too. I know the fan vote will never be taken away, but it should be. Derek Jeter wouldn’t have been good enough to start in the Futures Game, let alone the ASG. And don’t even get me started on Kung Fu Sandoval. Anyway, since the fan vote has no chance of changing, let’s look at the other elements of the roster selection process. Personally, I think the players might do the best job in selecting the most-deserving participants for the ASG. So why do they need to vote by the end of May? When the players selected Lance Lynn as an all-star this year, he was still pitching really well. In that pesky month after the players voted, the wheels fell off for Lynn, yet he still made it ahead of Zack Greinke. So let’s push back the deadline for the players to vote so their selections accurately reflect as much of the season as possible. Also, instead of just having the manager of each All-Star Team select players, why not have all of the managers in each league vote? It just makes sense to include as many voices as possible in this process.

4) Bring in some fun announcers.

Uke would make the All-Star game infinitely more entertaining.

I’m stealing this one from Manny Parra (@MannyParra26), who tweeted that the ASG should have All-Star announcers. I completely agree. Now, I must admit that I may be a bit biased for two reasons. One: I hate Joe Buck. Always have. Always will. Two: If we’re talking about All-Star announcers, don’t you think our very own Bob Uecker would be in the running? As Parra tweeted, “Anyone else think that the All-Star game should be announced by Uecker, and Skully? Would make sense…All-Star Announcers.” Bob Uecker and Vin Scully announcing the ASG together? Sign me up, please.

5) The Managers should be from this season’s best team in each league.

If the game is supposed to matter, then why do we have the managers from last year’s World Series? This makes absolutely no sense to me. And this year, it has gone to new levels with the retired Tony LaRussa taking the reigns for the NL. (Ed. Note: I know the National League won 8-0, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that a retired guy is managing in a game that is supposed to matter.) Why in the world is a guy who is no longer managing having an impact on home-field advantage for the World Series? This doesn’t seem like a tough change, so make it happen, Bud.

6) Quit having the game determine home-field advantage for the World Series.

This is the biggest change that needs to be made. There is no way that a game being played in July should have a direct impact on the World Series. Remember, this rule was put into place because the 2002 ASG ended in a tie. Because we couldn’t live in a world where the ASG ended in a tie, Bud Selig decided that he would take this exhibition game and have it play a pivotal role in the freaking World Series! In that very game that ended in a tie, I remember Torii Hunter making a leaping catch at the wall to rob Barry Bonds of a homerun. For the most part, the players were always trying, so why change it? Seriously, this needs to stop. Let’s just let this exhibition game remain an exhibition.

These are only a few changes that I think would help the overall All-Star experience for Major League Baseball. As is, the MLB All-Star Game is the best of the best in professional sports. But that doesn’t mean that they should stand pat.

With a few simple changes, Major League Baseball could make the Midsummer Classic a true classic.