Rattled: Peoria Brutalizes Wisconsin on Opening Day Despite Dazzling Effort by Williams

by Kevin Kimmes
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33 degrees. It’s not exactly what most folks would consider to be ideal baseball weather, but when you are playing spring ball in the Midwest League these things can pretty much be expected.

Today is Opening Day for the MiLB (Minor League Baseball for the uninitiated) and in Appleton, WI the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are facing the Peoria Chiefs to start the season for the 6th time since 1995. While the brave souls in the seats are sparse, I’m told that the club level overhead is packed to near capacity. As I said before, it is 33 degrees at game time.

Most of the players on the Opening Day roster have never faced these kinds of conditions before, a fact that Clint Coulter expounded upon:

“…we have a lot of guys who hadn’t played in anything like this and then also this is their first full season, first time they’ve really played in front of a crowd like we’ve got here.”

The Rattlers manage to strike first blood in the 3rd inning after Rafael Neda singles and is driven home on a triple by Omar Garcia. Garcia, who made a spectacular diving grab in the top half of the inning, brought his A-game with him showing skills on both offense and defense.

Wisconsin starter Taylor Williams was dazzling on the mound for the Rattlers striking out 7 in 5 innings of work. “I just tried to go out there and command my fastball, command my zone, and give the defense behind me a chance to make plays,” Taylor said post game.

“Dominant,” was how Rattlers skipper Matt Erickson described Williams performance. “He was pounding the zone early and obviously he was putting away people too. He gave us a great chance early in that ballgame to win that game.”

However, the tides began to turn when the ball was turned over to Williams’ tandem partner, Tyler Alexander.

In the 6th Alexander would yield a run, tying the game at 1. The Rattlers would take the lead back in the bottom of the inning (2-1), but that lead would be short lived.

The top of the 7th would become what can only be described as a massacre. Alexander would load the bases with only 1 out leading to his removal. His replacement, Chris Razo, would fair no better. By the time the dust cleared the Chiefs had batted around and the Rattlers found themselves on the losing end of a 7-2 score.

Wisconsin would battle back in the bottom of the 7th when a Michael Ratterree triple would be driven home on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Taylor Brennan. It would be the only run for the Rattlers in the inning, it’s relevance erased when the Chiefs would tally yet another run in the top of the 8th bringing the score to 8-3.

A Clint Coulter homerun in the bottom of the 9th would bring the score to 8-4, however it would be all the offense the Rattlers could muster.

The Rattlers return to action Friday night at 6:35 PM for game 2 of this 4 game Opening Week matchup.

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.

Timber Rattlers 2014 Opening Day Pre-Game Notes

by Kevin Kimmes
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Tonight, the Timber Rattlers kick off the 2014 season at home against the Peoria Chiefs. Here’s what you need to know if you are heading out to the ballpark tonight (game time is set for 6:35 PM).

- Back for his 4th season as the skipper of the Timber Rattlers, Matt Erickson (204-209) is just 12 wins shy of passing Gary Thurman (215-198) for the most wins by a Wisconsin manager in franchise history.

- 6 former Rattlers have made the 2014 Opening Day roster. They are: pitchers Preston Gainey, Harvey Martin and Chris Razo; catchers Clint Coulter and Rafael Neda; and infielder Chris McFarland.

- The Brewers made 2 roster moves in order to reach tonight’s 25-player limit. Those moves find Rodolfo Fernandez (P) and Paul Eshleman (C) placed on the disabled list.

- If tonight’s matchup seems like ” It’s deja vu all over again”, that’s because it is. Tonight marks the 6th time these two teams have faced off to start a Midwest League season. Wisconsin holds a 3-2 advantage in the previous 5 matchups.

- The all time series between Wisconsin and Peoria (which dates back to 1995) finds the Rattlers in the drivers seat. The Rattlers are 148-142, with a 69-84 record here at Neuroscience Group Field.

- This year marks the Chiefs 2nd season as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Chiefs had the Rattlers number in 2013 winning 11 of their 17 head to head contests.

Can’t make it out to the game tonight, you can still catch all the action on TWC Sports WI, 1280 WNAM, and on MiLB.TV.

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.

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.

Axford departs

By Nathan Petrashek

play_g_axford1_sy_576John Axford is the only Brewers player I’ve booed.  I don’t remember when exactly it was, but I suspect it was some time in June or July of 2012, when his every other outing seemed to end in a (BS).  I’ve felt kind of guilty about that for a while now, because I’m usually a guy that likes to back up good players during their struggles.  Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Axford was traded to the Cardinals today, so his time as a Brewer appears about over.  The trade for a player to be named later was really more about finances than anything else.  Axford was pretty good trending to okay, but he was making $5M this year and has three years of arbitration eligibility left.

The money would have been easy to swallow if Axford was still pitching like it was 2011.  In the year that brought the Brewers to the brink of another World Series, Axford delivered a microscopic 1.95 ERA over 73 innings, all while striking out better than a batter per inning.  He placed 17th in the MVP vote, a showing that I didn’t (and still don’t) think truly represented just how absolutely crucial he was to winning the division that year.  It was one of the most memorable season-long pitching performances I’ve seen.  To say Axford was a lockdown closer that year doesn’t give him half the credit he deserves.

But Axford has his share of fleas too, and that’s why I’m fully on board with jettisoning him.  We kind of suspected it at the time, but 2011 looks increasingly like a well-timed aberration.  Where Axford once had three brilliant pitches, only his slider ranks as above average this year (and just barely).  And though he hasn’t really lost much velocity on his fastball, Axford’s biggest bugaboo is the same today as it was when he took over for Trevor Hoffman in 2010: command.  2011 aside, Axford has always allowed too many batters to reach via the walk, which is a real problem when you have a propensity for giving up the long ball.

And then there were the character issues.  Much of the time, Axford was fun, easygoing, and entertaining, and he usually owned it after he blew a save.  But man, when that guy took to Twitter, he could troll with the best of them, often responding in kind to neanderthal tweets.  To his credit, he’s scaled back on that a lot this year.

For me, John Axford does not leave a complicated legacy.  I’m going to carry those memories of 2011 fondly, one of the greatest relief seasons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person.  But today, Axford is just a guy who makes too much money.   That (and the lack of a long-term contract) makes him expendable.  Though I wish Axford well with the evil empire, the Brewers made the right move.

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 Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous: 1909 T-206 Dan McGann

by Kevin Kimmes

Ask your average 20/30-something Brewers’ fan about the history of Milwaukee baseball and they will probably mention the 1982 AL Champion Brewers, maybe even telling you something about the Braves once residing in County Stadium. Probe any further and you will find that the overall history of Milwaukee baseball becomes sort of a hazy, ghostly thing. A phantom past that seems to be lost in the dust of years gone by.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you consider that Milwaukee has been supporting professional baseball for over 100 years. This series will focus on the cardboard history of Milwaukee baseball, with an emphasis on Topps in years where multiple producers were making sets. By doing this, it’s my hope that I can help shine the light of discovery on the players who were once household names in the Cream City.

So, let’s start with Milwaukee’s earliest appearance on cardboard.

T-206 McGann BackT-206 (1909-1911):

Most famously known for containing among it’s 523 total cards what is commonly known as the “holy grail” of baseball cards, the T-206 Honus Wagner, this set contains 4 American Association Milwaukee Brewers among it’s subjects. These cards were an insert in 16 different brands of cigarettes and loose tobacco between 1909 and 1911. Each company emblazoned the backs of their cards with their own branding, leading to variants in many of the subjects. (1)

The American Association Milwaukee Brewers:

Established in 1902, this incarnation of Milwaukee Brewers called Athletic Park on the city’s near north side home. Later renamed Borchert Field (after owner Otto Borchert who died unexpectedly in 1927), the Brewers would play 51 seasons in Milwaukee, collecting championships in ’13, ’14, ’36, ’44, ’51 and ’52. The team would serve as a farm team for MLB franchises beginning in 1932, eventually becoming a Boston Braves minor league club in 1947 and paving the way for the Braves arrival in 1953.

The team’s history even includes the names of several baseball/sporting notables including on the field contributions from world famous Native American athlete Jim Thorpe (who led the league in stolen bases in 1916) and future MLB Hall-of-Famers Rogers Hornsby and George Sisler in 1928, and off the field contributions from managers Charlie Grimm and Casey Stengel. Even “The P.T. Barnum of baseball”, Bill Veeck, would ply his trade in Milwaukee, purchasing the franchise in 1941 and bringing with him promotional tactics the likes of which the city had never before seen.

For those seeking further information on the American Association Brewers, I suggest reading Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler’s The American Association Milwaukee Brewers (ISBN 978-0-7385-3275-2) as well as Baseball in Beertown: America’s Pastime in Milwaukee by Todd Mishler (ISBN 1-879483-94-7).

From the author's personal collection.

From the author’s personal collection.

Dan McGann:

Dennis Lawrence “Cap” McGann (July 15, 1871 – December 13, 1910) covered 1st base for Milwaukee from 1909 to 1910, the final 2 years of his professional baseball career. A former major leaguer, McGann began his professional career in the minors in 1895, but quickly advanced to the MLB’s Boston Beaneaters in 1896. He would also record time in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1898, the Brooklyn Superbas and Washington Senators in 1899, St. Louis Cardinals from 1900 to 1901 and Baltimore Orioles 1902. He would eventually settle in with the New York Giants where he would play from 1902 through 1907 and become a World Series champion in 1905. His final stop in the majors would be in 1908 as a Boston Dove. (2)

Dennis would use his brothers name, Dan, for his 2 years of service to Milwaukee. In 160 appearances for Milwaukee in 1909, McGann would record 137 hits in 559 at-bats (.245 average). (3) While not spectacular by today’s standards, it should be noted that this was during what is commonly known as the “deadball era” during which batting averages as a whole were lower across the board.

McGann’s production would dip in his final season, recording just 117 hits in 520 at-bats (.225 average) across 151 games. On Tuesday December 13th, 1910 McGann was found dead in a Louisville hotel room, the victim of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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.

Sources:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T206

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_McGann

(3) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=mcgann001den

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

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.

The Numbers Game: 1 is the Loneliest Number

ray_oyler_autographby Kevin Kimmes

Loyal readers, welcome to 2013!

With today being the first day of the new year, and with just about 6 weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report, I thought it would be the perfect time to roll out a new daily column looking at jersey numbers throughout the years. Each day I will tackle a new number and try to share a little bit of information about each player that has worn it throughout the years as either a Seattle Pilot or Milwaukee Brewer.

So, without further ado, lets look at who was/is number 1.

1969 Seattle Pilots:

- Ray Oyler: The Pilots Opening Day shortstop, Oyler was a player whose career existed well below what is now known as the Mendoza Line. In 106 games with the Pilots in 1969, Oyler recorded 255 at-bats resulting in 42 hits, 31 walks and a meager batting average of .165.

1970-71 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Ted Kubiak: The number 1 remained with the shortstop position in 1970 despite a change in venue and a new player at the position. Kubiak played in 158 games (most on team) for Milwaukee in their inaugural season splitting time between shortstop and 2nd base. He finished 2nd in both hits (136) and walks (72).

Kubiak is best known for setting the Brewers record for most RBIs in a single game by a single player which he set with 7 on July 18th, 1970. The record has been tied three times since moving to the NL, once by Jose Hernandez (April 12th, 2001), just over a year to the day later by Richie Sexson (April 18th, 2002), and most recently by the man who currently wears jersey number 1, Corey Hart (May 23rd, 2011).

1971 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Jose Cardenal: Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals (with Dick Schofield and Bob Reynolds) in a trade for Kubiak, Cardenal recorded the most RBIs of his carrier (80) between both clubs in 1971. Following the ’71 season, Cardenal was traded by Milwaukee to the Chicago Cubs for Brock Davis, Jim Colborn and Earl Stephenson.

1972-1976: Unissued

1977-78 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Tim Johnson: Johnson, who had been with Milwaukee since 1973, had previously worn number 4, but changed to number 1 in 1977 as 4 was passed on to Mike Hegan. Johnson, who had lost his starting shortstop position to Robin Yount, appeared in 33 games as a utility infielder between ’77 and ’78. During this time, Johnson showed batting ineptitude that makes Ray Oyler look like a batting champion (.061 in ’77, .000 in ’78) before being traded to Toronto during the ’78 season for our next entrant.

1978-79 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Tim Nordbrook: Out of all of today’s players, Nordbrook’s contribution to Brewers lore is the least. Nordbrook only appeared in 4 total games as a Brewer (2 per year) recording 1 whopping hit in 7 total at bats.

1980-84: Unissued

1985-1988 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Ernest “Earnie” Riles: Riles debuted mid-season in 1985 and got his career off to a promising start, finishing 3rd in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Unfortunately, Milwaukee would never see Riles reach his full potential as a series of injuries kept him off the field. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Jeffrey Leonard in mid-1988.

1988-1989 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Gary Sheffield: The only man on today’s list who could be considered “locker-room cancer”, Sheffield was brought up from the minors when rosters expanded in 1988. He would go on to famously claim that the Brewers organization was racist for moving him from short to third and filling the vacancy with the white Billy Spiers instead of owning up to his own drop in production coupled with injury concerns possibly being responsible for the move.

1990-92: Unissued

Side-note: While no one was assigned the number 1 in 1992, Franklin Stubbs was assigned the number “0″. He would wear the “goose egg” on his back for only 1 season.

1993-94 Milwaukee Brewers:

Alex Dias: In three seasons with Milwaukee, Dias was a solid, yet unremarkable, outfielder. He batted .264 in 133 games and 256 plate appearances as a Brewer, and recorded only 1 home run during this time. Dias wore the number 18 in 1992 before changing to 1 in 1993.

1995-99 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Fernando Vina: The good: As a Brewer, Vina was a National League All-Star in 1998. The bad: Vina was mentioned in The Mitchell Report for having purchased HGH from Derek Sprang several times between 2000 and 2005. He would eventually come clean about his steroid use on an episode of Sports Center.

2000-02 Milwaukee Brewers:

- Luis Lopez: Acquired in a trade with the Mets for Bill Pulsipher prior to the 2000 season, Lopez batted .262 in 176 games for Milwaukee before being released on June 7th, 2002. After his release, the number was re-assigned to Keith Ginter who would switch to number 6 for the 2003 campaign.

2003-04: Unissued

2005-Present Milwaukee Brewers:

- Corey Hart: The final owner of jersey number 1 is none other than current Brewers 1st baseman Corey Hart. Hart, who moved to 1st in 2012 after injuries to Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa ended each of their respective seasons.

Hart is a two time NL All-Star, and as mentioned earlier is one of four players who are all tied for the single game team RBI mark.

Check back tomorrow for a look at the men who’ve worn number 2 over the years.

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.

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!