The Kids Are All Right: Finding The Positives In The Brewers’ Lost Season

20130817-193406.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.

On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.

The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:

1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo

The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.

Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?

It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.

By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.

For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.

Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.

Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.

Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.

As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.

Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?

Khris Davis – #18 LF

Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.

Scooter Gennett – #2 2B

Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.

Tyler Thornburg – #63 P

Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.

It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.

So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.

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 and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

The Great Grindy Scooter Experiment: Day 24

By Nathan Petrashek

It has been 24 days since the Great Grindy Scooter Experiment began under the premise that he was somehow a more reliable option than Rickie Weeks.  What have we learned in 24 days?

Scooter is not even who we thought he was.

People who really liked batting average loved Scooter.  “He’s hitting .300 at Nashville! That’s like .150 points better than Rickie!” they said.  And he struck out less than Rickie, so Scooter was anointed the Second Baseman of the Future by these folks.

People who liked power, plate discipline, on-base percentage, and basically everything that keeps a player in the major leagues for ten years (has it been that long? Oh, Rickie, how time flies!) did not love Scooter.

But Scooter arrived anyway, and formed the left-handed component of a loose platoon at second base.  Here’s how Scooter and Rickie have fared in nearly equal playing time since June 3.

Scooter:  44 PA, .220/.256/.366, 3 XBH, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K

Rickie:  43 PA, .447/.512/.947, 8 XBH, 5 HR, 4 BB, 6 K

Scooter isn’t hitting anywhere near .300 in the bigs.  In fact, his batting average is even worse than Weeks’s now is for the season.  Gennett’s nearly 90% contact rate and .242 BABIP suggests that should rise, but the fact is he looks in over his head against major league pitching.  So he’s pretty much been even worse than we thought.

Neither is a good bench bat.

Off the bench, both players have been pretty much useless.  Shockingly, Weeks has only made seven appearances off the bench.  It seems like a lot more, but I could be recalling times I’ve been throwing things and yelling, “Bring in Weeks!”  And then imagining he hit a home run, like he has been for most of June.  But I digress.

Weeks has made only seven appearances off the bench, and he has a hit and a walk.  And he apparently needs to spend a lot of time in the cages to keep focused when he’s not starting.  But hey, might as well burn all those swings on the bench, right?  Fun fact, by the way:  Weeks is seeing 4.09 pitches per plate attempt this year.  Scooter? 3.43.

Actually, Scooter has been useless off the bench, too.  He doesn’t have a hit or a walk in 5 opportunities.

Neither is a good fielder.

Finally, neither player is good on defense.   Like I said, we’ve been watching Rickie for 10 years, so we know he comes with some pretty glaring defensive shortcomings.  A few nice plays aside, Gennett has been every bit the butcher Weeks is at the position.

Conclusion?

A player with all of Weeks’s flaws and none of his strengths has pretty much evenly split playing time with him over the last 24 days.

UPDATE: And after 24 days the Great Grindy Scooter Experiment ends.  Scoots was optioned to Nashville.  The second base gig is Rickie’s full time once again.

On Benching Rickie Weeks

By Nathan Petrashek

weeks1I did my weekly radio stint with Ollie Burrows on the Sports Den today (ESPN 100.5 in central Wisconsin), and it seems there’s a lot of concern with Rickie Weeks.

That’s not unwarranted.  Weeks is batting .189/.302/.297 on the young season, and his defensive lapses are well documented. So what gives? Why are the Brewers still starting this guy?

To help answer that, let’s take a look at a couple other guys struggling through May 7.

Player A: .208/.255/.296

Player B: .242/.293/.435

Player A is Josh Hamilton, a career .300/.359/.539 hitter.  Guess what? Hamilton’s still starting.  Player B is Adrian Beltre, who you probably saw tonight.  For his career, he’s at .279/.330/.475.  But they’re bums, right? Bench them all!

Historical performance plays a big role in determining how long a leash a struggling player gets.  Weeks isn’t Hamilton or Beltre, but he’s been a very solid offensive player during his career, slashing .249/.348/.425.  Fangraphs says he’s been worth 17.3 wins above replacement (Hamilton is at 23.5 over a slightly shorter period).  Point being: we know Weeks’ ceiling, and it’s pretty damn good, particularly at a position not ordinarily known for offensive prowess.

Of course, I doubt anyone would be complaining too forcibly if Weeks hadn’t had the worst year of his career last year.  And it got bad last year; really bad.  On May 31, 2012, Weeks was batting just .158/.292/.294.  And you know what? After that, he looked a lot like the familiar Rickie Weeks, slashing .260/.344/.445.

But even more compelling is the absence of an heir apparent at second base.  Scooter Gennett is doing just fine at AAA Nashville, but he’s a hit-first kid who doesn’t really play second well, doesn’t display much power, and doesn’t walk.  He’s also played just 24 games at AAA, and is a complete unknown at the major-league level.  Yuniesky Betancourt has done fine as an emergency fill-in at first and third bases, but he’s barely played any second base and his .306 OBP just barely tops Weeks’ .302.  Betancourt is also a career .260/.290/.395 hitter.  It’s all fun and games while he’s whacking home runs, but you’re nuts if you think he’s going to continue that kind of pace all year.

You can argue about where Weeks should be in the lineup right now, but there’s no question he should be in it for the time being.  Let’s have this conversation in June.

2013 Position Review & Preview: Second Base

Rickie Weeksby Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Since 2006, Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup has had one constant: Rickie Weeks at second base.

Review of 2012:

Projected by Baseball Info Solutions to carry a slash line of .262/.355/.453 in 2012, Weeks slow start to the season led to a career worst .230/.328/.400 over 157 games, but his season was really a tale of two halves. Coming into the All Star break, the 2011 NL All Star was batting just .199/.314/.343. With few options available for replacement, due to an already decimated infield, Ron Roenicke stuck with Weeks and was rewarded for his patience. Weeks batted .261/.343/.457 during the second half of the season (almost identical to his projected line).

If there is a silver lining to his dismal 2012 campaign, it has to be in regards to his plate discipline. Never know for being particularly patient at the plate, Weeks showed signs of improvement in this area walking 74 times in 677 plate appearances or roughly 1 in every 10 appearances.

Weeks two biggest shortcomings are his defense and his free swinging nature. This is where the unfortunate joke of “You can’t spell Weeks without 2 Es and a K” springs from.

Defensively, Weeks is detrimental to Milwaukee’s middle infield. Errors have plagued Weeks career in the majors, a downfall evident in the fact that Weeks has led the majors in errors by a second baseman 5 times in the past 8 seasons (’05, ’06, ’08, ’11, ’12), and taken 3rd twice (’07 and ’10). In 2009, an injury saw Weeks only appear in 37 games, thus not giving him enough “opportunities” for this dubious distinction.

Additionally, despite his newfound patience shown in the statistics above, Weeks still struck out 169 times in 2012. Based on 677 plate appearances, that’s 1 strikeout in every 4 appearances. Ouch!

Projected 2013 Stat Line (according to Baseball Info Solutions):

147/592 over 152 games, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 74 BB, 164 K, .248/.345/.429

Depth of Position:

So, what happens if Weeks struggles again this year, or goes down with an injury? Now that back up Eric Farris was acquired by the Seattle Mariners in this years Rule Five Draft, it appears that the next in line for the spot would be Scooter Gennett. Ranked 7th in the list of Milwaukee’s top 20 prospects, the undersized Gennett isn’t known for his power, but makes up for it in consistency. A career .300+ hitter in the minors, Gennett makes up for his lack of power with speed on the base paths and should be an adequate replacement should his services be required.

Come on back tomorrow for a review of the shortstop position and the return of a former Brewer to the fold.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

An Outlier in the 2012 Brewers Blogosphere Awards

By Nathan Petrashek

This will be the first year I’m participating in the Brewers Blogosphere awards, run by Jaymes Langrehr at Disciples of Uecker.  This sort of works like the team awards every year, with each writer allowed to make three selections in each category—team MVP, best pitcher, and the like.  The first selection is worth 5 points, the second 3, and the third 1.  The winner in each category is the player with the most points when the votes are tallied.

The results are tallied, and it seems I’m an outlier in a few categories.  You can find the results here.  My explanation for my votes is below.

TEAM MVP

1. Ryan Braun

There’s no real debate here.  Braun should be the National League’s MVP this year, so he’s an obvious choice for the top spot in team voting.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This one was a really difficult choice.  The WAR folks are going to hate this pick, as Yo was a 2.8 bWAR pitcher while Rami knocked the ball around to the tune of 5.4 wins above replacement.  Nonetheless, Gallardo was the only starter on the team to eclipse 150 IP.  He anchored a rotation that made a real run at the postseason even after its best pitcher was traded away, going 11-1 to finish the year while accumulating 76 K’s over 79 innings.  Most of all, Gallardo proved that his outstanding 2011 campaign was no fluke and gave the team confidence that Gallardo can hold serve as a viable ace in the future.

3. Aramis Ramirez

No way could Ramirez fall any lower than number three in MVP voting.  A .300/.360/.540 season was just what Doug Melvin ordered for the heart of the Brewers’ order after Prince Fielder departed last offseason.  Ramirez clubbed 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles, the latter challenging the franchise record of 53. Ramirez, never known for his defense, also flashed some serious leather at third base and even chipped in a career-best nine(!) steals.  Ramirez even bested our pretty optimistic projection for him in spring, though we nailed his HR and RBI totals.

BEST PITCHER

1. Zack Greinke

Grienke was flat-out ridiculous as a Brewer in 2012.  His home run rate plunged from 2011, as did his walks per nine, and somehow Greinke managed to maintain an outstanding 8.9 strikeouts per nine.  So pretty much the Zack Greinke we all know and love.

2. Marco Estrada

Quick: who was the only Brewers pitcher to top Greinke in K/BB ratio in 2012?  Yep, it was Marco Estrada, with 4.93.  It might seem strange to peg Estrada as a better pitcher than Gallardo given the MVP honor for Gallardo above, but let me explain.  Gallardo was a workhorse for the Brewers this year, tossing over 200 innings.  Estrada was a reliever for part of the season and missed a month, but, when pitching in the rotation, actually performed better than Gallardo. Though Estrada ended the season with a 5-7 record, his 3.54 ERA, 1.14 WHP, and 113 ERA+ all topped Gallardo (albeit narrowly in ERA and ERA+).  In essence, Estrada gets the nod at best pitcher for much better command, while for Gallardo gets credit at MVP for actually being on the field and in the rotation.

3. Yovani Gallardo

I don’t intend to take anything away from Gallardo’s excellent 2012 campaign, but let’s face it, walks will haunt.  Gallardo was an ace in every sense except one: his unacceptably high 3.6 BB/9, a significant regression from 2.6 BB/9 a year ago and a return to his erratic ways.  The frequent free passes elevated his pitch counts, a big reason Gallardo never made it out of the eighth inning this season.

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Aramis Ramirez

An easy choice given his strong season.

2. Norichika Aoki

Doug Melvin’s 2-year, $2.5M Ryan Braun insurance policy paid off even though Braun wasn’t suspended.  Aoki produced a .288/.355/.433 line mostly in right field, as Corey Hart shifted to first base.  Aoki was good for a 3.3 bWAR and was only paid $1M.  Though Aoki is a rookie of the year candidate, at age 30 his ceiling might be limited.  Still, I think there’s room for improvement, as Aoki played sparingly initially, and expecting anyone to fully adjust to MLB pitching in only a partial season is a tall order.

3. Wily Peralta

I’m probably Peralta’s biggest critic, but he piqued my interest in the majors after a pretty crappy year at AAA.  While Peralta had a good year in 2011, I was skeptical that he had put his command issues behind him.  They again reared their ugly head in 2012; over 146 AAA innings, Peralta walked 4.8 batters per nine and amassed a 1.58 WHIP.  Somehow – I’ve heard a minor mechanical tweak – Peralta again managed to contain his wild ways over 29 innings for the big league club at the end of the season.  We’ll see if it sticks.

UNSUNG HERO

1. Marco Estrada

Even though he’s been mentioned a lot, I think he would get more attention for his stellar 2012 if he weren’t Marco Estrada.  I get the sense that people feel Estrada is a known quantity, and they don’t get excited.

2. Shaun Marcum

This may be a bit of a homer pick, because I feel like I’m constantly on the defense about Marcum.  I know he came up short in the 2011 postseason, but you have to let it go.  124 innings of 3.70 ball this year, and the only time I’ve heard Marcum mentioned is when (1) he gets an injury timeout; or (2) people talk about dead arm.  Fact is, we paid a lot to get  him and he did reasonably well for us.  We shouldn’t be so quick to shove him out the door.

3. Carlos Gomez

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this pick, too.  Much has been made of his last-season surge in 2012, but he’s quietly put up consecutive 2+ bWAR seasons.

GOOD GUY

1. Rick Weeks

Worked through a severe slump to start the season with poise, never shifting responsibility or taking to Twitter to bash anyone (see #3 in this category).  By the end of the season, was pretty well back to the old Rickie.

2. Nyjer Morgan

We all kind of wanted to see him start trouble, but he managed to avoid it despite being benched.  Team player gets a vote.

3. Anyone but John Axford

New rule: No Twitter at least 48 hours after a blown save.

Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

The term “bandwagon fan” is one that carries a negative connotation. The bandwagon fan only starts to support a team when that team is having some level of success. If the team is a historically bad team or is a team that is experiencing tough times, the bandwagon fan is nowhere to be found. To be labeled a bandwagon fan is often meant as an insult. The “true fans” have a sort of animosity towards the bandwagon fans because, well, they’re bandwagon fans.

I grew up a fan of two teams: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox. I was a fan of the Brewers because I grew up in Wisconsin and was lucky enough to attend a game or two every year at County Stadium. I was a Red Sox fan because I actually got to see them play of television occasionally. I also wanted to be a pitcher when I was young, and Roger Clemens became my favorite pitcher for quite some time. When he bolted to Toronto, I stayed with Boston. To this day, I cheer for Milwaukee and Boston. It’s what I’ve always done, and while I may be more of a die-hard for Milwaukee as I attend more and more games each year, I assume I’ll always root for both teams.

Boston and Milwaukee. I’m not sure if there could be two more opposite markets outside of New York than those two. Red Sox Nation spreads far across the globe, with many lifers and bandwagon fans sporting Boston gear on a daily basis. Even when Boston struggles from time to time, they still sell out every game and do very well when it comes to merchandise sales. Frankly, Boston is such a large market naturally that the bandwagon fan does not make much of an impact to the day-to-day and season-to-season operations of the Red Sox front office.

I’m pointing all of this out because the Milwaukee Brewers are getting very close to the point where the bandwagon fans are going to disappear. And I have one message for Brewer Nation:

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

Without bandwagon fans, Miller Park might start looking like it did back in 2003.

It’s no secret that Milwaukee is the smallest of the small-market teams in Major League Baseball. From 2002-2006, the Brewers ranked no higher than 17th in total attendance in any of those seasons. In 2007, when Milwaukee finished above .500 for the first time since the ’92 season, Milwaukee’s attendance jumped to 12th in all of baseball. After that, the Crew finished 9th (2008), 9th (2009), 11th (2010), and 7th (2011). In 2012, the Brewers are currently sitting in 11th place once again.

It should be no surprise that as the Brewers started to find more success on the field, they also found more success at the ticket office. That’s how this whole system works. If the team is winning, the bandwagon fans will find their way to the ballpark. And when the team starts to struggle, the bandwagon fans will scatter.

Without the bandwagon fans, the front office might not spend the way they have in recent years.

But as those attendance numbers so clearly point out, those bandwagon fans are immensely important when it comes to stimulating the Milwaukee Brewers economy. And when the Brewers are selling more tickets, more jerseys, more concessions, more everything, the front office is going to be more inclined to spend some of that money they are making. When those attendance numbers drop, so will the payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here’s my point: the self-proclaimed “true fans” of the Milwaukee Brewers should not be so quick to vilify the bandwagoners when they jump ship because, unlike Boston, we need them.

The cold, hard truth is that the next few years could be very lean ones in Miller Park. Zack Greinke could (and should) be traded in the next few weeks. Shaun Marcum’s recent trip to the DL should be seen as a blessing to Doug Melvin, because Marcum was quickly pitching himself out of Milwaukee’s comfort zone as far as his next contract is concerned. Rickie Weeks hasn’t been Rickie Weeks ever since he legged out an infield single last July against the Cubs, spraining his ankle in the process. The farm system has some decent pieces, but there’s not a lot that’s ready to be harvested for a while yet. Outside of Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and The Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee doesn’t have a lot of long-term promise on the current roster.

And if the bandwagon fans don’t find their way to Miller Park every now and then, things might not get much better any time soon.

So, to the bandwagon fans out there, I would just like to remind you about the fun times we’ve had these last few years. Remember the Sabathia craze? Prince’s monster shots? Braun’s MVP? T-Plush and Beast Mode? The NLCS? The tailgating? Even though times are rough right now, that can’t erase all of those memories, can it?

And to the “true fans” out there, I just want to remind you to invite those bandwagon fans out when you go to catch the game at a local sports bar. And when you are planning a weekend trip to Miller Park, remember to include those same bandwagon fans in your evite or your Facebook event. Above all else, do whatever you can to keep those bandwagon fans from straying too far.

Bandwagon fans, don’t be strangers to Miller Park. On behalf of Brew Crew Nation, this die-hard member wants to let you know that you are always welcome here.

Some thoughts on past greatness

by Nathan Petrashek

I am not a fan of golf.  I wouldn’t mind playing it, but it’s not an activity I’ve taken up yet.  And, as far as television sports go, it is easily the most uninteresting.  Yet I’m sure I’ve seen Tiger Woods play a hundred times or more.  He’s the Greatest Golfer Ever.  His last major win before the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year was in 2008, but he still draws people to the game and Forbes still ranks him as the #1 athlete.  His personal problems are well-documented, but it takes a lot for people to turn on success.

This applies on a smaller scale to Rickie Weeks, who for the first time since 2008 heard the crowd heavily boo his at-bats.  I’ll forgive my Milwaukee brothers and sisters for that.  Frustration needs to find expression, and the start of 2012 has been almost as frustrating for fans of the now 5th-place Brewers as it has been for Rickie Weeks.

And it has taken a lot for the crowd to turn on him.  If Milwaukee fans were not the patient type, they would have booed him at the end of April when he was batting just .186 and slugging a paltry .360.  It’s only been downhill from there.  A .154/.288/.287 slash line isn’t likely to endear you to the masses.  Or your manager, who dropped Weeks from lead-off to sixth in the order.  This is easily Weeks’ worst start since … well, ever. His 53 strikeouts lead the national league.  He’s been a liability in the field, too, with 3 errors on the young season and a -24.8(!) UZR/150.

Yesterday the anti-Weeks campaign reached critical mass.  That will happen after a day with zero hits in five at-bats and four more strikeouts.  Even though fans must know that his slump isn’t for lack of effort – did anyone see his face after his last strikeout? – sometimes we just have to vent.  Weeks is a convenient candidate for fan ire in a lineup that has, as a whole, consistently underperformed.

I don’t pretend to know what is wrong with Rickie offensively.  Statistical evidence suggests he’s been unlucky this year (.209 BABIP vs. career .287), but anyone who has seen him at the plate knows it’s much more than that.  Weeks has always been aggressive, but lately his bat appears stagnant or sluggish.  All I have is hope that Weeks can bust out of this slump in grand fashion at some point and generate some much-needed offense for this club.  If not … let’s just say Tiger Woods has a considerably longer leash with the public.  I still hear hushed talk of Weeks’ 2007 and 2008 campaigns; it’s as though we aren’t fully convinced that the last three years have been the real Rickie Weeks.  2012 is adding considerable fuel to that fire.

Worried Yet?

By: Ryan Smith

It appears that I haven’t written a post in quite some time.  While I may be lacking in the extra time that it takes to write consistent, quality posts, I certainly have not been lacking ideas for new columns.

After an opening weekend that saw Gallardo look like a batting practice pitcher one day, followed by Greinke absolutely shutting down that same St. Louis team the next day, I decided that I wanted to write an article reminding everyone that I said Greinke would be the team’s “ace” for this season.  Then Greinke had his start in Chicago with a chance for the sweep, and he proceeded to stink up the joint (which is not an easy thing to do considering Wrigley already reeks).  Too late for that column.

Two weeks into the season, I decided that I wanted to write an article about early season overreactions, pointing out some statements and thoughts that had been running through Brewer Nation.  I was going to write about how everyone needs to calm down and not promote George Kottaras ahead of Jonathon Lucroy based on a few long balls.  I was going to write about how we need to wait a bit for Aramis Ramirez to get his feet under him before all of Milwaukee called that signing a mistake.

But then, two weeks into the season became three weeks into the season which then became a month into the season.  Too late for that column.

If the Brewers don’t start improving soon, Bernie might be looking for the bottom of a mug more often in 2012.

After today’s extra-innings loss to the Twins, the Brewers find themselves at 16-24.  A 16-24 record means they’ve now played 40 games, which is roughly a quarter of the way through the season.  As I looked at the standings and pondered what I could write about, I realized something:

Much like my column ideas, it’s starting to appear like it may be too late for this Milwaukee Brewers team.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still 122 games left in the season, so they have plenty of time to turn things around.  But as I watch them play (which has been downright painful this past week), I have growing concerns about certain areas of this team.

And the fact that there are 122 games left doesn’t make me say that we have time to fix those concerns.  In actuality, it makes me fear that those concerns could only grow to more frightening levels as we make our way through summer.

So let’s take a look at some of my concerns at this early but not-so-early juncture of the 2012 season, shall we?

First, allow me to give you a hypothetical situation:

When Roenicke looks to the bullpen, it often appears like there aren’t many options.

You are Ron Roenicke and the Brewers are up 3-2 going into the 8th inning.  The starter has thrown 107 pitches, so he’s done for the night.  For some reason or another, Axford and Loe are not available for this particular game.  You need to select two guys to send to the mound to get the next six outs, and your options are Rodriguez, Veras, Dillard, Parra, and Chulk.  Who do you choose?

If you’re like me, you just got that disgusting vomit taste in your mouth.  With a few exceptions, Axford has been typical Axford, giving the fans close calls but usually coming through in the end.  Loe looks like a different guy than the one who was only appearing in low-leverage situations late last year.  But everyone else?  Let’s just say that if Roenicke goes through the entire season without having a late-inning heart attack, I’ll consider that a victory.

Luckily, bullpen improvements happen every year for contenders, either with organizational call-ups – Tyler Thornburg would fill this role nicely – or through trade deadline moves, like when we acquired K-Rod last season.  The only problem is if we keep losing like we have been, we won’t be contenders when July rolls around.

Like many Milwaukee hitters, Weeks can’t seem to find any answers at the plate.

Another issue I have with this team is at the plate.  More specifically, it pains me that a good portion of our hitters have the plate approach of a Little League team.  Braun has been Braun, leading the team in most statistical categories and providing a consistent, dangerous bat, and he hasn’t been alone.  I mean, who could have seen the type of season Lucroy is producing thus far?  Oh, that’s right – I said he could do this, as did Cream City Cables founder Nate Petrashek.  But beyond Braun and Lucroy and the occasional power surge from Hart, the early portion of this season has not seen a lot of consistency at the plate for this team.  Ramirez has started to look better in recent weeks, though that’s not saying much considering how terrible he was in April.  Perhaps my biggest concern with our hitters is Rickie Weeks.  It’s one thing to start slowly, but he’s not really showing any signs of improvement.  Needless to say, my confidence in Mr. Weeks is being challenged.

Finally, I can’t help but worry about all of the injuries that have hit Milwaukee in the first six weeks of the season.  Last year, the Brewers only had to use six starters throughout the course of the entire season.  Now, we’ve lost Narveson for the season, putting more pressure on the rest of our very talented rotation.  We lost new infield regulars Gamel and Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s defense was as advertised, so that isn’t something the team can just replace overnight.  And Gamel’s injury was heartbreaking.  The guy finally gets his everyday shot and, quite frankly, does well in that spot.  So of course he goes out for the season.  Travis Ishikawa has been a pleasant surprise, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to bring him off the bench on most nights as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.  In 2011, the Brewers had limited injuries that impacted the everyday roster.  This year, it seems like that run of good luck may have come to an end.

As I said earlier, I’m not giving up on this season.  It’s still too early to just start looking to next year (unless you’re a Cubs fan).  But if they don’t start turning things around soon, it might be too late for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers.

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!

Abnormalities and Aberrations: The 2012 Brewers Spring Stats Thus Far

by Kevin Kimmes

The early weeks of spring training are a time of aberration and statistical abnormalities. Think about it, position players are trying to work the winter rust out of their strokes, while pitchers try to stretch out and oil up their arms in hopes that they will be limber enough to not only avoid injury this season, but also to still have something left should they find themselves pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. Combine those two approaches together and you get some statistics that defy explanation.

Today, we’ll look at what the Brewers have been doing from an offensive prospective, and I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the pitching so far. So, without further ado…

Jonathan Lucroy

I want you to take a second and mull over the following sentence: Jonathan Lucroy is the most feared hitter in the Brewers lineup.

Now that you’ve reread it, digested it, and yet still seem to be having trouble making sense of it, let me verify that the above is not a typo. Jonathan Lucroy, so far, possesses the most devastating bat in the entire Brewers camp.

Lucroy, who finished last season with a batting average of .265/.313/.391 has more than doubled his offensive output so far this spring. In 16 at bats in 6 games, Lucroy is currently hitting .563/.563/.938 which sets the bar for all Brewers batters who have more than 1 or 2 at bats. Additionally, it should be noted that 4 of his 9 hits so far have gone for extra bases (3 doubles and a homerun), proving that Lucroy has a little extra pop in his bat to go his keen eye at the plate.

Logan Schafer

Some guys just seem to thrive in the most adverse of situations. For your consideration, Logan Schafer.

Schafer, ranked #7 in the Brewers 2012 Prospects Watch, finds himself in an unenviable position, fighting for a spot at a position that is running over with veteran talent. So far this spring, Schafer is hitting .556/.579/.944 in 18 at bats in 10 games. Meanwhile, projected opening day starter Carlos Gomez is hitting an embarrassing .160/.222/.160 in 25 at bats over 9 games. Despite his untested status, you have to believe that if Schafer is able to maintain even a respectable pace for the rest of the spring, that Roenicke will need to stand up and potentially give Schafer some consideration, at the very least until Corey Hart comes back from injury and Nyjer Morgan slots back into center.

Alex Gonzalez

Prior to the start of spring training, there were many pundits who feared that the veteran Gonzalez would prove to be nothing more than another offensive weak spot at short. Well, apparently Gonzalez heard them loud and clear, and has decided to put on a hitting clinic for his critics.

So far, Gonzalez has put up a stat line of .476/.500/.762 in 21 at bats over 8 games. On an interesting side note, Gonzalez is currently the only Brewer to have collected a single, a double, a triple, a homerun, and a walk this so far this spring.

Rickie Weeks

Looking to capitalize on a 2011 in which he found himself as an All Star for the first time, Weeks has shown a quiet determination at the plate. His 7 walks leads all Brewers batters so far this spring, and his stat line of .385/.619/.769 in 13 at bats over 8 games is all about the extra base hit. Of his 5 hits thus far, all of them have been doubles.

Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa

All of the fear and trepidation coming out of the departure of Prince Fielder would seem to be just a bad case of nerves at this point, as Milwaukee appears to have two competent first basemen in camp this season.

So far, Gamel leads all Brewers in homeruns (3), runs scored (7), and RBIs (7). Additionally, he is tied with Carlos Gomez for the most stolen bases with 3 (also note he has not been caught stealing). His stat line of .318/.423/.773 in 22 at bats in 9 games is impressive for a player who many had doubts on.

Not to be out done, Travis Ishikawa is nipping at Gamels heels with a pretty equivalent stat line of his own. Ishikawa is .316/.409/.684 in 19 at bats in 9 games. His 2 homeruns this spring rank him second only to Gamel in the category.

So, there you have it, the wild, wonderful, and weird stats of spring training thus far. As the next several weeks go by, we should be able to get a better idea of which stats are actually founded in determination and focus, and which ones are simply the types of statistical anomalies that only spring training can provide.