Don’t Blame Me, It Was All Zack Cozart’s Fault

by Kevin Kimmes

Baseball fans can sometimes be as superstitious and cowardly of a lot as the average criminal in a Batman comic book. Need proof? Take the case of the perfect game that did not come to be for Mike Fiers last night in Milwaukee.

Around the bottom of the fifth, I had taken to Twitter and Facebook to make folks aware that we had a perfect game in the making. Aside from a few likes on Facebook, no one said anything. Meanwhile, Brewers’ beat writer Tom Haudricourt joked on Twitter about how “I always laugh at those who are outraged when we note that pitchers have perfect games or no-hitters. We are reporters, not concealers.”

And so it would go until Zack Cozart, leading off for the Reds in the top of the 7th, would hit a double and put an end to Fiers’ bid at immortality. Ironically enough, this is the exact same spot where Ben Sheets’ bid for a perfect game ended on 9/13/06 at Pittsburgh when he gave up a hit to Chris Duffy in the 7th.

Then the blame began. My Facebook immediately lit up with “way to go”, “it’s all your fault” and my favorite “Never ever ever mention it while in progress.” So in honor of my superstitious friends and relatives, let’s look at some of my other favorite baseball superstitions:

– Purposely stepping on or avoiding stepping on the foul lines (Mets Turk Wendell and Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra) when entering the field of play

– Wade Boggs only ate chicken before games thus earning him the nickname “Chicken Man”.

– Not showering (or cleaning one’s uniform) after a win. Dusty Baker claimed to have worn the same underwear for 5 years in the minors where he only batted .250, leading to his disbelief in superstitions.

– Justin Verlander’s Taco Bell buffet (three crunchy taco supremes (no tomato), a cheesy gordita crunch and and a Mexican pizza (no tomato) before every start)

– Tapping the plate with the bat prior to taking your stance

– Drawing in the dirt of the batters box. Wade Boggs used to draw a chai, the Hebrew symbol for life, despite not being Jewish.

– Oh, and finally, who can forget Billy Sianis and his pet goat, Murphy. I’ll tell you who can’t, Cubs fans.

So there you have it, the weird, wild and wacky superstitions that fuel baseball lore. And if you need further proof of just how odd things can get, here’s a video of Doc Ellis explaining how he once threw a no hitter while high on LSD.

Ace(s) Up Our Sleeves: The Wonderful Dilemma of Having Two Staff Aces

By: Ryan Smith

While discussing the idea of this article with the Cream City Cables brain trust, the unavoidable question was finally asked:

How do we define “ace” in the baseball world?

There’s a number of different ways one could approach this term. The ace is the #1 starter in the rotation. The ace is the best pitcher on a given team. The ace is the guy who pitches on Opening Day.

Personally, while I think all of these definitions have some truth to them, they don’t say enough. All of these definitions imply that each team has a true ace while I feel that is not the case at all; I only have to point to my Pittsburgh Pirates preview to prove that not every team has an ace.

Before I go off on a tangent about how terrible the Pirates’ rotation is going to be, let’s go back to my initial thought. What is the definition for ace?

When I think of a staff’s ace, I think of the guy you would want on the mound in a must-win situation. That could mean that your team is in Game 7 of the NLCS, or it could mean you are on a four-game losing streak in May and need to stop the bleeding. Either way, you need to win. You want the ball in the hands of your ace.

Sabathia's run as Brewers' ace was short-lived, but it did end a 26-year playoff drought.

In the last decade or so, the Brewers have rarely been known for their pitching prowess. Ben Sheets was certainly ace-quality, but his best years were squandered on embarrassing squads. In 2008, GM Doug Melvin made a big splash by trading for CC Sabathia, an ace-for-hire who pitched the Brew Crew into the playoffs and then headed off to New York and the deep pockets of the Yankees.

Enough about the past; it’s 2012. A new season is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report soon. And the 2012 Brewers have two aces at the top of the rotation.

So I’m here to tackle a different question.

Yovani Gallardo or Zack Greinke: Who is the true ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers?

This is certainly unfamiliar territory for Brewers fans. A few years ago, the idea of having two dominant starters in the Brewers’ rotation only seemed possible in the video game world. Instead, thanks again to Melvin’s go-for-it attitude, here we are.

2011 was the first year that we saw the Greinke/Gallardo pairing, though we had to wait longer than expected because of a certain pitcher’s tendency to play pick-up games of basketball and then get hurt during said basketball games. But I digress.

For the most part, the first edition of Zack & Yo was a smashing success. Let’s take a look at their individual numbers from last season.

In 33 starts, Gallardo went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 207 and walked 59 over 207.1 innings pitched. That last part might be the most impressive stat that I mentioned thus far. Before 2011, Gallardo’s career-high for innings pitched was 185.2. It always seemed that he fell in love with the strikeout, driving his pitch count up in the early innings and forcing the bullpen into action before the 7th inning.

Taking a look at some of Gallardo’s advanced stats, you’ll see his K/9 was 8.99 – his lowest in three years. His 2.56 BB/9 was a career-best, as was his 3.19 xFIP. All of these stats basically support what I was alluding to in the previous paragraph; in 2011, Gallardo finally matured into the pitcher we had seen flashes over the previous few seasons.

While fans had to wait a little bit longer to see Greinke take the mound, he proved to be well worth the wait. In 28 starts, Greinke went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA. He struck out 201 while walking only 45 in 171.2 innings pitched.

The advanced stats get even more impressive for Greinke, who posted a career-high 10.54 K/9 while maintaining a 2.36 BB/9, which is right around his career norm. Finally, he posted an astounding 2.56 xFIP, which was the best in all of baseball.

So while Gallardo was having a coming-of-age season, Greinke reached back and pitched a lot like his 2009 Cy Young-winning self.

While the regular season seems to have been a dead-heat, the postseason paints a different picture.

In three 2011 postseason starts, Gallardo went 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He struck out 16 while walking eight in 19.0 innings pitched.

Greinke struggled a bit more in October. In his three 2011 postseason starts, Greinke also went 1-1, but he finished with a whopping 6.48 ERA. He struck out 13 while only walking four in 16.2 innings pitched.

So I’ve thrown a lot of stats out there, but I haven’t really addressed the question at hand. Who is our ace for 2012?

Well, while Gallardo has proved to be a consistent pitcher who seems to be getting better every year, Greinke is my choice for the ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers, and here’s why.

While I think Gallardo will continue to grow as a pitcher, I’m not sure we can expect him to improve on all of these career-best numbers while coming off of a season where he pitched 40 more innings than he ever had pitched before. It’s true that the Brewers defense should be improved (hello, Alex Gonzalez!) but I still can’t expect Gallardo to keep posting better numbers. Greinke, on the other hand, didn’t even have his best season last year. He had over 200 innings pitched in three consecutive seasons before 2011, so he won’t have to deal with the same growing pains that will face Gallardo.

With 2012 being a contract year, I predict that Greinke will pitch like the ace that he truly is.

And of course, there’s one other factor that I haven’t mentioned yet. 2012 will be a contract year for Mr. Greinke. History tends to show that players often rise to the occasion when they’re working for a new contract, and I don’t think Greinke will be any different.

Now, I know Greinke is currently representing himself, and some of you might argue that this could cause a distraction to him during the season. I don’t buy it. Greinke is a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. He knows that if he pitches up to his ability, he is going to have no shortage of teams vying for his services. And if you think he’s doing the whole “agentless” thing without any sort of advisor or consultant, you’re kidding yourself.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter which player is considered the ace of the staff. If the Brewers plan on contending this year, they are going to need both of these guys to bring their best every time they step on the mound.

So, instead of worrying about who the ace is, why don’t we just enjoy the fact that we have two of the best pitchers in baseball playing for our beloved Milwaukee Brewers?

Of course, I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic, so feel free to comment below, praising my selection or telling me to pull my head out of a certain orifice. Either way, I’d love to hear from some of my readers.

What Could Have Been

Rollie Fingers.jpg

I was stuck in traffic last night on highway 41 immediately prior to the Brewers game, the victim of one of several storm closures.  Put a guy at a standstill on a highway and the mind tends to wander.

The guys over at 1250 AM interviewed Rollie Fingers on their pregame show.  About halfway through the interview, Fingers got the inevitable question: “What was it like to have to watch the 1982 World Series from the bench, physically unable to contribute?” 

It, of course, was terrible for Fingers to watch his team play (and lose) the Series.  His torn arm muscle would cause him to miss the entire 1983 season.  “And every time I come back to Milwaukee,” he said, “I probably get asked twenty-five or thirty times, ‘Do you think we could have won the Series if you were healthy?'”  And just then, I thought of Ben Sheets.

Ben Sheets.jpgSheets, I think, gets a bad rap from Brewers fans.  Between 2005 and 2007, he was injured often and pitched only about 400 total innings, but had all-star stuff when he was able to go.  In fact, Sheets was a four-time all-star during his career in Milwaukee.  He places fifth on the franchise list of winning pitchers (86), third in ERA (3.72), and first in strikeouts (1,206).  He also holds the team record for most strikeouts in a single season (264). 

Sheets missed the 2008 postseason with a flexor tendon tear in his right elbow.  So, in the car, I found myself wondering; just what would have happened if Sheets had been able to start in the 2008 NLDS against the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies?

Truth be told, probably not much would have changed.  Sheets, not Yovani Gallardo, would likely have been the Game 1 pitcher; the postseason start was Gallardo’s first after tearing his ACL on May 1, 2008.  But pitching wasn’t the Brewers main problem in Game 1.  An error allowed three runs to score, and Cole Hamels blanked the Brewers over eight innings.  They finally got one in the ninth of closer Brad Lidge, but it was too little, too late.

We can assume Sabathia would have started Game 2 (another loss), pushing Gallardo back to Game 3 against Jamie Moyer.  But Game 3 was actually the lone win in the series for the Crew.  And it happened on the back of Dave Bush’s 5 1/3 inning of one-run ball.  Hard to imagine the recovering Gallardo forging a better line.

Maybe the difference would have come in Game 4, when Jeff Suppan was torched for five runs in three innings of work.  Could Dave Bush have done better?  Maybe, but there’s no guaranteeing Suppan wouldn’t have received the start in that game even if Sheets had been healthy; Suppan was, after all, signed to be the postseason veteran.  Offensively, the Brewers only mustered two runs in the game, which probably wouldn’t have been enough to secure a win anyway.

So even with a healthy Sheets, I can easily see the Brewers dropping that series.  Unlike Rollie Fingers in the close World Series loss to the Cardinals, I don’t think we can say that Sheets’ presence could have dramatically altered the Brewers’ first postseason appearance in 26 years.