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.

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The Chase: What You Need to Know About The Timber Rattlers Run At The Post Season

T-Rats Logoby Kevin Kimmes

Optimism. That’s what Timber Rattlers’ coaches, players and fans are feeling right now. Optimism for a return to the postseason and another attempt at the Midwest League championship which they currently defend. If you had asked these same people about the Playoffs last week, you would have gotten a Jim Mora-esque reply. But, that was then, and this is a very bright now.

Streaking To The Finish Line

Since last Thursday, the Timber Rattlers are 5 for their last 6 games and still very much in the hunt for their second postseason bid in as many years. The streak, ironically enough began against their top rival for the 2nd half Wild Card, the Clinton LumberKings. Clinton, who is winless during this same period, has allowed the Rattlers to pull within a game of them in the standings with 6 games remaining. As if this didn’t make for a good enough storyline, let’s look at some other reasons to head on out to Fox Cities Stadium over the next 3 days.

The Dynamic Duo

Milwaukee has had some great duos on it’s rosters over the years including Molitor/Yount and Braun/Fielder. But, what if I told you that the duo of the future is playing right now in Appleton? Left fielder Victor Roache and his partner in crime, center fielder Tyrone Taylor, bring a youthful exuberance to the game that is frankly contagious. Making up the 3-4 punch in the Rattlers order, Roache (.249/.325/.443) and Taylor (.282/.346/.412) are showing experience beyond their years (21 and 19 respectively) while making the game fun to watch for young and old alike.

The Hunt For 23

Speaking of Victor Roache, did you know that Victor is just 2 homeruns away from breaking former Timber Rattler, and current Brewers left fielder, Khris Davis’ single season franchise homerun record? The power hitting Roache currently stands at 21 homeruns on the season and should either tie, or break, Davis’ single season record some time this week. It’s a good sign for a Brewers farm system which is often maligned by the national media for not having much to offer, while simultaneously giving fans the opportunity to see Timber Rattlers history remade.

On The Bobble

Thursday night is the final bobble head giveaway of the year. This time, the subject of the head knocker is none other than Milwaukee’s 2012 1st round draft pick Clint Coulter. Fans will want to head out to the ballpark early on Thursday as this giveaway is limited to just the first 1,000 fans through the gates.

So, while the 2013 Brewers campaign may have been less than what fans were hoping for, let the farmhands again come to the fans rescue by playing some inspired ball down the stretch and possibly making this another September to remember. See you at the ballpark!

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 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 Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous: 1909 T-206 Newt Randall

by Kevin Kimmes

Welcome to the 3rd 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 third 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.

T-206 RandallNewt Randall:

Newton John Randall (February 3, 1880 – May 3, 1955) played outfield for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers from 1908 through 1915. Prior to his tenure in Milwaukee, Randall had already spent six seasons playing professional ball:  five in the minors and one season (1907) in the majors, in which he batted just .211 and split time between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Doves. (1) (2)

In 1909, Randall would lead the team in hitting (.279 average), at bats (620), hits (173), total bases (216) and would come in 2nd in slugging (.348). (3) He would also lead all American Association hitters with 92 runs scored. (4)

Randall would continue to be a constant producer on offense leading the team in at bats (from 1910-12 and again in ’14), hits (in 1910, ’12 and ’14), doubles (from 1910-12),  total bases (from 1910-12) and tying for homers (in 1910 and ’11). He would again lead the team in hitting in 1914 with an average of .321 (a career high with Milwaukee).

Newt would make 2 more appearances in the minors before leaving the game behind. In 1916, he would appear in 5 games with the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks hitting a paltry .091 (a career worst). He stepped inside the box for the last time in 1923 as a member of the North Dakota League’s Bizmark Capitals where he recorded 43 hits in 171 at bats (.251 average).

Randall is the only Brewer to appear in the T-206 card set and play for any of Milwaukee’s early championship teams (playing on both the ’13 and ’14 squads).

Newt Randall passed away on May 3, 1955 in Duluth, MN at the age of 75.

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://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=randal001new

(2) http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/randane01.shtml

(3) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=e8f8478c

(4) Hamann, Rex & Koehler, Bob (2004) The American Association Milwaukee BrewersCharleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing

A few answers (but more questions) on in-stadium replay

By Nathan Petrashek

Miller-Park-scoreboard_display_imageWe’re tardy by a couple weeks on this, but earlier this month, @akschaaf from Ron Roenicke Stole My Baseball got busy handicapping a JSOnline chat with Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt. It’s always fun to watch a trainwreck, and especially fun to watch it with the RRSMB guys, so make sure you check out their continuing series of posts.   But one question in particular caught my eye.  Steve in Cedarburg wanted to know who’s in charge of replay at Miller Park, and complains that there’s “never a replay of a close play-ever!” And he wants to know if this is because the Brewers are just stingy, or part of some MLB-imposed mandate to obscure the truth.

A few years ago, Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger (then Executive Vice President of Business Operations) addressed this topic at a Marquette University Law School forum (video here).  It’s a long interview, but there’s some fantastic inside baseball stuff there.  Anyway, at the time, the Brewers were getting ready to debut their shiny new 5,940 square-foot marvel of a scoreboard, and Schlesinger was asked about replay:

Q: When you’re talking about the scoreboard and instant replay, having gone to Bucks and Packers games, you can always see controversial plays on their scoreboard, but you can’t for the Brewers. I’m guessing that’s the umpire’s union?

A:  That’s one of the areas where I think Major League Baseball rules are antiquated, and behind the times, and need drastic reform.  Think about it, you go to another sporting event and you can see replays of controversial plays. You go to a baseball game, and because of MLB regulations, very restrictive guidelines about what we can show, we’re not allowed to show controversial plays where the umpires made the wrong call.  It’s really a vestige of the old “Kill the Ump!” mentality, which I think expired in 1947 or 1948 but still exists in the minds of some of those in baseball.

The other thing I find somewhat funny is that you have people at the game watching our game feed; if there’s a bad call by the umpires, you’re seeing it 7 or 8 times on replay on Fox Sports Wisconsin, whether you’re in your seat on a handheld device,* or in a suite, or in the concourses.  So you already have a segment of our market in the ballpark, seeing what other people can’t see, and now I have this 5,940 square feet of high definition scoreboard, and we’re restricted with what we can show.  I have talked to the Commissioner, and I know other teams have as well.  There’s sensitivity because of the umpires, but I think technology doesn’t really care about sensitivities, and I expect those rules to be reformed. I’ve also told our people candidly that we can push the envelope.  I mean, we want to play by the rules, we’re in Milwaukee two miles from the Commissioner’s office, and I don’t want to get fined, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sort of go right up to the edge of what’s allowed.  And if we get a warning letter from MLB that we’re being a little too aggressive with replay, well … okay.  So I totally agree with you, I would love to change the rules.  It will happen, it’s just not happening as fast as I would like.

Naturally, you might be asking, “What are those rules?”  Truth be told, we don’t know.  According to Schlesinger, they’re not for public consumption, but he told me they try to balance the “fans’ interest in seeing replays of close plays while protecting the safety of the umpires and avoiding inciting arguments on the field.”  Don Walker from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel appears to have gotten his hands on the MLB rules in 2010, but it’s not clear if this is the official guidance given to clubs or if these rules are still current.  In any case, he wrote:

The Brewers rely on MLB policy, which states, “Clubs must continue to use good judgment not to ‘show up’ the umpires, incite the crowd or distract players, but this admonition does not preclude showing close plays. Close plays may be shown, using good judgment and all plays must be reviewed by the scoreboard operator prior to being replayed on the scoreboard (and video monitors).”

Additionally, MLB won’t allow certain plays. They are: replays showing called balls or strikes from the current game or series; brushback pitches; or any instance where an umpire has clearly made an incorrect call.

Close plays can only be shown once and no close plays may be shown in slow motion or freeze frame.

If that is official MLB policy, it seems to leave plenty of wiggle room to show controversial plays at Miller Park.  The universe of absolutely prohibited replays is pretty small.  No balls and strikes, no pitches designed to move the batter off the plate, and no replays where the umpire has “clearly” made an incorrect call.  But “clearly” implies discretion and should be read hand-in-hand with the directive that a replay only be shown once and at game speed.  Say, for example, the runner is called out on a close play at first.  The scoreboard operator could replay if, at game speed, it appears the catch arrived simultaneously with the runner – even if super slow motion would show the runner beating the catch by a hair.

So, are the Brewers just stingy, or is it a massive MLB cover-up?  The answer seems to be “both.”  MLB doesn’t want fans at the game to see what *really* happened because they’re afraid of fan (or perhaps even player or manager) retaliation. But despite Schlesinger’s calls for increased latitude, the team just doesn’t seem interested in pushing the envelope as far as they could.  Based on my own personal experience, as an attendee of a good 30+ games every year, any play that could reasonably be called controversial seems to be off-limits at Miller Park.  Of course, without some system to compare the use of in-stadium replay to the television feed, it’s impossible to evaluate whether the team is appropriately blocking bad calls or taking a more expensive view of the rule.  Then again, if the team only refused to replay clearly incorrect calls, it’d be pretty obvious when there was an umpshow.

Even if the Brewers could do more within current policy, though, the underlying justification for the policy in the first place seems to have eroded.  Perhaps the rule made sense when there was a real fear of fan retaliation.  But as anyone who checks John Axford’s Twitter timeline can tell you, today’s fan is just as likely to be incited by a blown save as a blown call.  Yet I don’t see anyone lining up to prohibit road teams from hitting walk-off home runs.  Hell, I barely see anyone brave security to have their 30-second run on the field anymore.  Games are a very tightly controlled environment and fans just aren’t likely to risk their own well-being to physically engage an umpire or player.

But more than that, today’s high definition world values more information.  What fans won’t get at the game, they can get on TV or online instantly – and why would any team want to make attending a game less attractive?  Everyone knows umpires are not infallible, and most fans will understand (if not forgive) an occasional lapse in judgment as long as the umpire shows some sign of humility.  That’s exactly the trait Jim Joyce demonstrated when he apologized for blowing one of the biggest calls in history a few years ago, depriving Armando Galarraga of a perfect game with one out remaining.

So what is MLB really protecting with its restrictive replay policy?  Nothing more than the right of the umpire to be wrong and arrogant.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of those types already in baseball.  Let’s not encourage them to remain that way.

*Mr. Schlesinger was perhaps unaware of MLB.tv’s draconian blackout policy.

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.

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!