The Number 34: Is There More To Axford’s Number Than Meets The Eye?

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by Kevin Kimmes

“The circle is now complete.” – Darth Vader

In December of 1980, a deal was made between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals, a deal that would see future Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers join the Cardinals’ organization. Wait you say, “Rollie never played for the Cards.” Well, right you are, so let me explain what happened.

On December 8th 1980, the San Diego Padres worked out an eleven player trade with the Cardinals. This deal would see Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenace and a player to be named later (Bob Geren) traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Terry Kennedy, John Littlefield, Al Olmsted, Mike Phillips, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher and John Urrea. Fingers’ time in St. Louis would be brief, four days to be exact. You see, the very next day (December 9th) the Cards would acquire future Hall-of-Fame closer, Bruce Sutter from the Cubs.

On December 12th 1980, Fingers was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Milwaukee Brewers for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen. Milwaukee now held the contract for “Number 34″, a number that would be retired by Milwaukee in 1992, the same year he was inducted into the Professional Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

Flash forward to 2010 when a young reliever would join the Brewers ranks and immediately began drawing comparisons to Fingers. Some would say it was because of the way he pitched, others would say it was his domination in the closers role, but most would say it was his mustache. That man was John Axford.

“The Ax-Man” would set the Brewers bullpen on fire in 2010, setting a new franchise rookie saves mark of 24 saves which shattered the previous mark of 15 set by Doug Henry in 1991. 2011 would see more franchise records fall as he converted 46 of 48 possible save opportunities, including 43 in a row to end the season. His 2011 accomplishments included the following:

– Named Brewers Most Valuable Player by members of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America
- Named National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year (an accolade Fingers won as a Brewer in 1981 while playing in the AL)
- Co-winner (with the Reds’ Joey Votto) of the Tip O’Neill Award presented by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
- Tied for the National League saves lead with the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel
- Set a new single season franchise record with 46 saves (previous record was 44 set by Francisco Cordero in 2007)
- Set a new single season franchise record by converting 43 consecutive saves (previous record was 25 set by Doug Jones in 1997)

Despite these momentous accomplishments, struggles in 2012 (a season in which he led the MLB in blown saves with 9) and a 2013 campaign in which his closers role would be handed over to Jim Henderson would leave Axford exposed at the trade deadline. On August 30th 2013, the Brewers would say goodbye to “Number 59″ as Axford would say goodbye to the number as well.

In a deal with the division rival Cardinals, Axford’s services would be acquired for a player to be named later (that player would be revealed as Michael Blazek on September 1st). With his number 59 already on the back of new teammate Fernando Salas, Axford was in line to make a change whose significance seems to have been overlooked by most.

His new number? 34, Rollie’s number at the time of the 1980 deals that saw him traded from the Padres to the Cards and then the Cards to the Brewers in the course of 4 days.

Was this intentional or just a convenient coincidence? That is yet to be clear. What is clear, however, is that the Cards now has a mustachioed “Number 34″ on the roster 33 years after they dealt Fingers and Axford has seen a renaissance in St. Louis.

Since joining the Cards, Axford has posted a 1.93 ERA over 9.1 innings across 12 games. While he has yet to record a save, he does have a 1-0 win/loss record since the move.

Cream City Cables reached out to John Axford who could not be reached for comment regarding the origin of his new number at the time of publication.

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.

Breaking down three straight walks

By Nathan Petrashek

Yovani Gallardo clearly didn’t have his best stuff last night, but battled through 6.2 innings against a tough (sarcasm) San Diego offense.  Gallardo was in great shape heading into the seventh after throwing just 86 pitches.  He was aided by quick innings in the third, fourth and fifth, during which he threw just 32 pitches.  The sixth inning required a bit more effort thanks to Jedd Gyorko’s six-pitch flyout and Gallardo’s only two strikeouts of the night.  But it certainly looked like Gallardo had another inning in him.

He didn’t, and the seventh is where the wheels really fell off for Gallardo.  His night ended after walking three consecutive batters.  Here’s how Gallardo’s seventh inning went down:

1) Alexi Amarista grounds out.

Gallardo threw two outside curveballs to Amarista, not a bad strategy since Amarista has historically swung at nearly 40% of pitches out of the zone.  The first one flattened out and landed high and outside; not Yo’s finest work, but Amarista didn’t swing at it.  Oddly enough, he did swing at the second curve, which was even further outside and much lower.  The result: routine grounder for Jean Segura, and a two-pitch at-bat.

2) Everth Cabrera grounds out.

Gallardo 7th - 2nd batter

Gallardo retired Cabrera, but it obviously wasn’t pretty. The first two pitches, a fastball and slider, respectively, weren’t even close.  Then Gallardo hung a curveball that plenty of batters could have done something with, but not Cabrera the human groundout.  I call this at-bat “the beginning of the end,” even though it ended with a three-pitch out.

3) Will Venable walks.

picture_8This happened on six pitches.  Gallardo continued his wild streak by throwing a change at Venable’s feet to begin the at bat.  He followed with two more changeups low, but Venable hacked at them anyway, fouling off both.  Gallardo’s fourth pitch was a well-located cutter clearly intended to induce a swing.  But the next two pitches aren’t even close.  I see the strategy in changing eye level, but it works better when you’re at least in the vicinity of the zone.

4)
Chase Headley walks.

gallardo 7th - 4th batterI find the Headley sequence really fascinating.  Here the dugout finally gets the picture that Gallardo is done, and Tom Gorzelanny and Burke Badenhop start frantically warming up.  Meanwhile, Gallardo misses low with a first-pitch curve.  His next pitch, a fastball, hits plenty of the corner, but Gallardo has lost all credibility at this point.  Headley doesn’t offer, and umpire Gary Darling doesn’t give him the call.  Gallardo then shows that he can’t even command his fastball anymore, spiking one in the dirt before climbing the ladder a little too high.  Headley was taking all the way; a four-pitch walk.  Rick Kranitz goes out to talk to Gallardo, presumably to buy some time for the warming arms.

5) Carlos Quentin walks.

gallardo 7th - 5th batterGallardo starts Quentin off with a beautiful curve, but follows that up with a pitch in the dirt. Gallardo’s third pitch, a slider, isn’t well located at all, but Quentin isn’t able to pull his bat back in time.  Gallardo gets a cheap strike.

Ahead 1-2 in the count, you’d expect Gallardo to burn a pitch, but he bounces a curve about a foot in front of home plate.  Lucroy’s fast footwork keeps the runners from advancing, but it really doesn’t matter.  Gallardo busts a fastball and a couple sliders too far away, and Quentin takes his base on Gallardo’s third consecutive walk.

As for causation, there aren’t a lot of firm conclusions we can draw from this information.  Fatigue is a tough sell; Gallardo threw around 100 pitches in his first two starts, then scaled back to around 90 in his next two.  Maybe it was something more pervasive; Gallardo didn’t locate well all night, throwing just 58 of his 108 pitches for strikes.  But one thing I think this does illustrate is the psychological battle between hitter and pitcher.  When a pitcher is off, the hitters may alter their approaches to take advantage of that fact.  The Padres did just that on Tuesday, but ultimately weren’t disciplined or talented enough to really make it sting.

*All strikezone plots from Brooks Baseball.

Unlucky Number 4

by Kevin Kimmes

The number 4 seems to carry with it, a very vexing connotation in Wisconsin sports lore, and as of yesterday, the number has reared it’s ugly head again. With no disrespect to Paul Molitor, who’s number 4 was retired by the Brewers in 1999, the number is best known to carry hurt feelings over a former NFL quarterback named Burt something-or-another. However, as of last night, it has become the “Magic Number” for the St Louis Cardinals.

With Milwaukee’s’ loss to the Cincinnati Reds and St Louis’ win over the hapless Houston Astros,  it appears that the clock may be quickly approaching midnight on the Cinderella story that was the Brewers’ post season push. Now, is this to say that all hope is lost for the Crew? Absolutely not. Hell, it’s baseball, and if I’ve learned anything from watching the game over the years it is that just when things seem to be at their bleakest, the baseball gods have a funny way of throwing a 12-6 curveball that reshuffles the status quo.

If the Cardinals win today, again, DO NOT PANIC! They will pick up a win, maybe 2, over a lesser club like Houston. It’s just the way it is. The positive is that while Milwaukee may struggle with the Reds, they finish at home with 3 games each against the Astros and Padres, while St Louis will be at home taking on 2 teams that are contenders, the Nationals and Reds.

The Brewers can pull this out. It may however come down to sweeping these final 8 games to do it. Fans I ask one favor of you, don’t stop Brewlieving!

Homestand Heartbreak: Rattlers Drop Game 2 to TinCaps

20120913-181208.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Despite being delayed by an hour due to rain, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers managed to get Game 2 of their best of 5 series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps in on Thursday afternoon. The results however, were not exactly to their liking.

The Rattlers were downed by the TinCaps 5-1, and now must play the remaining games of the series in enemy territory. When asked about today’s loss, Chad Pierce said the following:

“If we score 4 runs, we can afford to give up 3. Today, we scored 1 run, so we needed to give up zero. You know, I battled, I just wish I had thrown better. That 2 run inning (top of the 5th) I was leaving balls up. Luckily, they were mishitting throughout the game.”

The lone run today came in the bottom of the bottom of the 4th when 1st baseman Nick Ramirez crushed a solo homer to center that bounced on the outfield walkway before disappearing over the parks exterior wall. Ramirez, who led the team in home runs during the regular season with 16, was unfazed by the task of having to win 2 games on the road in Fort Wayne:

“It’s just a game. It doesn’t make the game any tougher. We just have to go to their place and have an us against the world mentality. We’ve been pretty good on the road this year, so I don’t think it changes anything.”

If there is a silver lining to be found in today’s loss, it has to be that despite the offensive struggles the team has seen in the first 2 games (6 total hits in 2 games, with 2 runs in Game 1 coming off of wild pitches), the team is heading to Fort Wayne with a series split.

“There is definitely a belief that we can get this done,” Rattlers manager Matt Erickson stated in his post game press conference. “We’ve won a lot of series this year, and we’ve been alright on the road as well, and that’s what it boils down to. It’s a 3 game series now and we need to go on the road and take 2 out of 3. But, no, there is no loss of hope by any means just by losing this ballgame.”

Friday is a scheduled travel day for both teams, with the series resuming on Saturday evening in Fort Wayne with Game 3 scheduled for a 6:05 pm start.

King of the Road: Notes From Monday Night’s Brewers Game

by Kevin Kimmes

For those of you who didn’t stay up to catch last night’s game against the San Diego Padres, prepare to start kicking yourselves, as what you are about to read is the kind of thing no self respecting Brewers fan should have missed:

Ryan Braun went 4/5 with 3 homers and a triple (15 total bases, 6 RBI!)

With this performance, Braun now leads the team in 4 offensive categories:

- Batting Average (.294)
- Runs (16, tied with Hart)
- Homeruns (7)
- RBI (17)

Additionally, the performance carried some additional records with it:

- Braun is the first player, home or visitor, to have a 3 homerun game at Petco Park.

- This was Braun’s first 3 homerun game of his career.

- Braun is the firstplayer with 3 homeruns and a triple since Boston Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn accomplished the feat on June 18, 1975.

- The last major leaguer to have 15 total bases in a game was Dustin Pedroia on June 24, 2010.

- Braun has set anew Brewers franchise record with 15 total bases in a single game. The previous high was 14 by Richie Sexson in 2003.

We at Cream City Cables would like to extend our congratulations to Ryan on this monumental performance, and a great end to the 1st month of the season. And don’t forget you can follow Cream City Cables on Facebook as well as on Twitter (@kevinkimmes, @NPetrashek, and@ryanhenrysmith2) for all the latest Brewers (and Timber Rattler) news and opinions.