Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

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

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

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

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

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers Home Opener: A Running Diary

By: Ryan Smith

2012 would mark the second-consecutive season that I made it to the Milwaukee Brewers home opener. Now that I’m writing for Cream City Cables, I thought this would be a good opportunity for an article. After tossing around a few ideas, I decided that I wanted to tackle the day in the form of a running diary. I chose to take this approach for two reasons:

Reason #1: I’ve enjoyed the writing of Bill Simmons for over a decade now. I find his mix of sports content, opinion, pop culture and humor to be consistently entertaining to the point that I still look forward to his weekly articles on Grantland.com. Being a Bill Simmons fan, some of my favorite articles that he has written have taken on the running diary format.

Reason #2: I don’t remember the 2011 home opener. The game started at 1 pm. We were drinking outside of Miller Park by 8:30 am. We had jello shots with the tailgaters around us. Shots of whiskey and blackberry brandy were passed around generously. My cousin Zach brought beer margaritas – a concoction that is equal parts frozen limeade concentrate, citrus soda, beer, and tequila – and I feel that he was very liberal with his use of tequila. In our circle of friends, we call these “Flux Capacitors” because they tend to allow the consumer to travel through time, which is a nicer way of saying they make you black out. So yeah, I figured that a running diary would force me to stay coherent throughout this season’s home opener.

With all that being said, I woke up early on Friday, April 6th, grabbed a six-pack of Spotted Cow and a black coffee, and headed out to the apartment of Cream City Cables creator Nate Petrashek. It was finally time for some Brewers baseball. Let’s jump right into the action.

9:54 AM – I’m at the apartment of Mr. Petrashek. Nate’s girlfriend Sarah is ready, and Jason Stuewe has also arrived. My cousin Zach and his fiancé Michelle just parked outside. I’m checking to see where a few of our friends are. Our college friends Matt, Hof, and Pete are supposed to meet us at 10 AM so we can get to Miller Park by 10:30. Hof and Pete are historically known for being late. Nate says he spoke to them earlier and they were on pace to arrive ten minutes early, so I ask what time it is. Stuewe promptly replies “Six minutes early.” So much for that.

9:58 AM – Matt arrives with Hof and Pete. This might be the first time those two have ever been early. For anything. Time to load up the cars and head off to Miller Park.

10:27 AM – We stop at a Walgreens to meet up with some of Nate’s other friends. Everyone in our tailgating group packs into three cars. Now it’s REALLY time to get to Miller Park.

10:58 AM – We’ve officially arrived. The parking lot seems more cramped than last year, or what I remember of last year anyway. We quickly realize that the row of cars in front of us decided to set up their tailgate stations as far away from their cars as possible, putting them right at our bumpers. Luckily, they are willing to adjust their tailgating placement so we can all come together and spend the next four hours preparing for the home opener.

10:59 AM – Shots! Before the cars are even unpacked, Stuewe is passing around shots of Jack Daniels. Nate raises his solo cup and yells “Fuck the Redbirds!” I’ll drink to that.

11:09 AM – Apparently, there has been some more tailgate shifting going on, so we have extra room on the other end of our cars. We pack everything up and shift to the east. In the process, Nate drops the grill. Boo, Nate. Boo.

11:15 AM – Stuewe now passes out cigars in honor of opening day. I don’t smoke very often, but I feel this is an occasion worthy of lighting up. So let’s see, I have a beer in hand, I’ve taken a few shots, and now I’m smoking a cigar. 24-year-old me is loving this right now.  Cue obscure reference to Will Smith and a “victory dance.”

11:23 AM – I just have to say that this weather is absolutely gorgeous. Perfect opening day weather. Earlier in the week, it looked like we’d be dealing with a windy, 40-degree day. Instead, I see people putting on sunscreen. Where’s my bottle opener?

11:30 AM – Nate starts ranting, saying “You gotta win today! Set the tone!” He’s talking to no one in particular. This is actually pretty routine with him.

11:36 AM – Someone mentions the holiday weekend, to which Stuewe replies “Yeah, I keep hearing about that. What’s the holiday?” Umm, it’s Easter. Kind of a big one. Today isn’t called Good Friday just because of the home opener, buddy.

My odds of remembering Opening Day '12 are way better than this chick's.

11:43 AM – So far, I’m on my second beer and I’ve only had four shots. Right now, I think my chances of remember Opening Day ’12 are looking pretty good.

11:58 AM – Can someone make an air freshener that smells like brats on the grill? I don’t care about lavender, vanilla, or apple cinnamon, but I’d be perfectly fine if my apartment always had the scent of brats on the grill.

12:10 PM – Crisis averted. My bottle opener – the one I’ve had on my keychain since college – just broke. Luckily, it was a minor issue and I easily fixed it. Still, a close call.

12:18 PM – Just saw a guy walk by with a personalized jersey. Everyone is our group agrees that personalized jerseys suck. I love when we’re all on the same page.

12:28 PM – You know how you always hear about how Wisconsin has an obesity problem? If you ever doubt it, just come to opening day. Or any Brewer game. I’m looking around and I see fruit and pasta salads on tables all around us, completely untouched. It’s the thought that counts.

12:37 PM – Matt brought steak sandwiches for the grill this year. Bravo, Matt. Great choice.

12:50 PM – Another jersey rant: we all agree that it’s lazy to simply put tape over the name on your old jersey. Fielder is gone. Either accept it and wear his jersey with pride or buy a new one. And by the way, Ramirez isn’t #28.

12:51 PM – Nate is now heckling the guy who has “Ramirez” written on tape over Fielder’s name. The guy is absolutely clueless.

1:00 PM – Finally breaking the seal.

1:03 PM – There’s a fucking line at the men’s room, yet no wait at all for the women. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. A guy in line ahead of me says that it’s because “90 percent of the people here are dudes.” That seems a little high. Then again, so does he.

1:10 PM – First trip inside the men’s room of the 2012 season. I think all men assume that the women’s room is the complete opposite of the hell we visit. I figure that they have couches to sit on while they wait and the room smells of daisies and sunshine. Meanwhile, I’m waiting in line, surrounding by the scent of bad decisions.

1:21 PM – Nate returns from the restroom, and apparently I missed a fight. We all agree that it is not proper etiquette to enter the restroom through the exit door. Someone breaking this unwritten rule was then accused of being a Cubs fan for doing so. They proceeded to get into a shoving match while standing by the urinals. Nate left, saying “Nothing good could come from that situation.” Agreed.

Matt congratulates the Brothers Hof for trading in their Bud Lights. Andy appears less enthused.

1:32 PM – Hof goes to crack open another Bud Light until we question his loyalty to the Brewers. After all, can you really drink a Budweiser product when you are at Miller Park and the Brewers are about to play the Cardinals? Hof succumbs to peer pressure and trades the Bug Light for a Miller Lite.

1:36 PM – The blackberry brandy is making the rounds again. Hof initially refuses, but another dose of peer pressure gets him to take a swig. Peer pressure is Hof’s fatal flaw.

1:43 PM – The third game of “bag tag” just took place. For those that are unaware, “bag tag” is when one guy decides to backhand another guy in the genital region. This usually results in one participant sitting down for a few minutes. All the males in our group are on complete lockdown now.

1:44 PM – Right now, I’ve had five beers and 11 shots. Once again, 24-year-old me would be perfectly fine right now. I’m thinking that I should slow down. It’s hard not to get drunk when you tailgate for over four hours.

No tailgate party would be complete without someone trying to clandestinely grope a weiner.

1:54 PM – Nate is getting defensive. For no reason. I like when he gets like this. It’s really easy to get him to rant about pretty much anything.

2:12 PM – Team effort to create a human wall so Nate could avoid a trip to the dreaded men’s room. I love when we all come together to work towards a common goal. Mental note not to walk on the passenger side of Stuewe’s car.

2:31 PM – Time to head in to Miller Park. My official Opening Day 2012 Tailgate line looks like this: 1 brat, 1 burger, 1 hot dog, 1 steak sandwich, 8 beers, 15 shots.

2:48 PM – Today’s free giveaway: 2012 Brewers Magnet Schedule. I like giveaways that I won’t immediately throw in the garbage.

3:03 PM – Does anyone else really enjoy watching drunk people trying to act sober? I just watched a guy swipe at the railing four times before he just sat down on the steps.

3:08 PM – I love the first time that the team takes the field. Not just on opening day either. Every game.

3:10 PM – Gallardo takes the mound for his third opening day start in a row. I still think Greinke should have gotten the ball today, and that in no way is an insult to Gallardo.

3:20 PM – Gallardo gets through the 1st inning, allowing two walks and throwing 20 pitches. Not a great start, but he put a zero on the board.

3:24 PM – Weeks leads off the season with a base hit, followed by a Gomez triple! 1-0!

3:26 PM – Braun comes up for his first at-bat of the season. The ovation is ridiculous. I’m joining in on the “MVP!” chant.

3:27 PM – Braun lines out sharply to short.

3:28 PM – Ramirez grounds out to third but Gomez scores. That’s his first RBI as a Brewer. Welcome to Milwaukee, Aramis!

3:32 PM – Yadier Molina leads off the top of the 2nd with a solo homerun. I hate Molina. Hate him.

3:37 PM – It’s still the top of the 2nd and Hof is falling asleep. More on this in a moment.

3:38 PM – Did you know that the last concert Randy Wolf attended was to see the band Tool? I love in-between inning trivia.

3:39 PM – Hof heads out to get ice cream. I suggest a soda or coffee. Anything with caffeine, really. It’s a long game, Hof.

3:41 PM – Gamel’s first at-bat of the year and he flies out to center. I can already hear the doubters warming up.

3:46 PM – A woman loses the between-inning game, and the crowd proceeds to boo her. Stay classy.

3:48 PM – Gallardo serves up his second homerun. Tie ballgame.

I don't know what pitch this was, but odds are pretty good it ended up in the seats.

3:49 PM – Homerun #3…

3:51 PM – …and #4. It’s now 5-2. Hof yells “You suck, Gallardo!” Hof tends to do this at times. He quickly overreacts, only to retract his statement 20 minutes later. I’m surprised he’s not saying we should trade Yo at this point.

3:58 PM – Lucroy visits the mound for the third time this inning. That’s never a good sign.

4:00 PM – I also love when everyone complains about balls and strikes from the stands. We’re sitting on the third base side in the upper deck of Miller Park. I’m going to assume the umpire at home has a better angle than I do right now. It’s probably a ball; after all, most of the strikes thrown by Gallardo today have ended up in the stands.

4:10 PM – Pete: “Fucking Gallardo will probably give up four more this inning too!” I forgot to mention this, but Pete is Hof’s older brother. It must run in the family.

4:18 PM – Hof is dozing off once again, slowly leaning out into the aisle.

4:23 PM – Gallardo is done for the day. He only lasts 3 2/3 innings…not a great start to 2012.

4:30 PM – Hof is falling asleep for the third time. This is getting sad. Or funny. Yeah, I’m going to lean towards “funny” right now.

4:32 PM – Pete has put the rally cap on…in the 4th inning. I can’t blame him.

4:35 PM – Got the “Crazy Cap Shuffle” wrong. I used to own that game. I’m frazzled right now.

4:38 PM – And the Milwaukee Brewers have their first 1-2-3 inning of 2012! Too bad it’s the 5th inning.

4:40 PM – I swear, I can’t go anywhere without hearing “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. I hate that song. Damnit, Kelly!

4:48 PM – Runners on 1st and 3rd, no outs, and we don’t score. Fuuuuuuuu…

Somehow I didn't expect the biggest drama of the day to turn on whether Hot Dog got a two-second head start.

4:55 PM – We have one of those annoying fans behind us right now that cheer extra loud for their team when they are winning. If you were just cheering to cheer for your team, you wouldn’t be looking around and trying to make eye contact with all of the home fans. By doing that, you are no longer just a fan; you are a douche. Fuck you, douche.

5:01 PM – Sausage Race time! I always cheer for Guido. Sadly, Hot Dog gets away with an early start and Guido settles for 2nd place.

5:06 PM – Braun’s now 0-3. Let the steroid comments commence, haters.

5:32 PM – T-Plush pinch hits. His appearance wakes up the comatose crowd for a moment.

5:36 PM – Two on, no outs, and we fail to score again. Somebody pass the whiskey…

5:44 PM – I guessed the attendance wrong too. The jumbotron is owning me today.

By the seventh inning, Bernie was the only mascot still standing.

5:46 PM – They’re playing “Jump Around” right now. I think 12 people are actually jumping. Everyone else is too tired/full/depressed right now.

5:48 PM – And the rally cap is on!

5:53 PM – Braun and Ramirez are a combined 0-8 today…

6:02 PM – 10-2, top of the 9th…I should have had more to drink…

6:03 PM – Make that 11-2…

6:09 PM – They said the attendance was over 46,000 for today’s game. Right now, I doubt there’s more than 6,000 remaining.

6:15 PM – Lucroy gets hit by a pitch. Silver lining from today’s game is that Lucroy, Gamel, and Hart have all been on base three times.

6:17 PM – Pinch-hitter George Kottaras hits a 3-run shot, making it 11-5.

6:20 PM – I’m not completely certain, but I think Hof just said he shit his pants. I’m glad I’m driving separately.

6:22 PM – And Braun gets the final out, going 0-5 on the day.

6:23 PM – The Brewers fall on opening day, 11-5. Not a great start to the season, but I’m reminded that we started 0-4 last year. Things seemed to work out well for us then. Time to pack up and head home. I might try to do a few more of these throughout the course of the season. Until next time, Go Crew!

Making Sense of the Zack Greinke Agent Situation

By: Ryan Smith

A few weeks back, I wrote an article that compared Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. In that article, I mentioned that Zack Greinke will be a free agent after the 2012 season and he was currently planning on entering the season without an agent.

Well, now it appears that Greinke has had a change of heart.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported on Monday that Greinke was now planning on hiring an agent to handle contract negotiations for the talented right-hander. Bowden writes:

“On Sunday, Greinke said he’s changed his mind and decided to hire an agent. He is expected to consider several of the top agents in the business including Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, Casey Close formerly of CAA, Adam Katz from Wasserman and Seth Levinson from ACES.”

So what are we to make of this new development with Greinke?

Let me begin by saying that I think this could be a step in the right direction.

I’ve read a few reports and numerous comments about how the Brewers missed their opportunity to get Greinke at a discount. After all, if he would have signed without an agent, there would have been no commission paid out, which would mean Greinke might sign for less. Some people also argued that negotiating one-on-one with Greinke would have given the Brewers a major advantage because, as intelligent as Greinke is, he’s not trained to be an agent.

To those arguments, I’d have to respectfully disagree.

First of all, who can say what Greinke would have demanded if he handled his own negotiations? I’m quite certain Greinke would have been well-prepared for that process, comparing his numbers and achievements with other pitchers who had ventured into free agency. He probably would have used the contracts they signed as a basis for his own potential deal. But why should we assume that he would have accepted a discount since his contract would be commission-free?

On top of that, I viewed Greinke’s lack of an agent as a detriment to the Brewers’ desires to sign him to a long-term deal before he would reach free agency. Basically, without an agent, I just didn’t see it happening once pitchers and catchers reported. At that point, I figured Greinke would be focused on getting ready for 2012, not worrying about 2013 and beyond.

Now, if Greinke signs with one of those previously-mentioned agents, negotiations can continue even while the Brewers’ co-ace gets ready for the regular season.

But why, after so recently stating that he planned to enter free agency sans-agent, do we suddenly find Greinke changing his mind?

I could be completely wrong here (which would not be the first time), but I think this can be viewed as a positive sign for Milwaukee.

If Greinke does indeed hire an agent, we could get used to seeing him take the mound for years to come.

Greinke has not tried to hide the fact that he has enjoyed his time in Milwaukee. And what’s not to like? He’s playing on a team that seems to genuinely enjoy the game of baseball. He has the reigning MVP putting runs on the board. He is greeted with a rousing ovation every time he takes the mound because this rabid fan base loves him.

The way I see it, maybe Greinke isn’t just paying lip service when he says he wants to stay in Milwaukee. Maybe he really does want to stay here. If that is the case, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to handle negotiations now that Spring Training has arrived, what would be the most logical thing for him to do?

Hire an agent to take care of that for him.

Look, I’m not saying this is a sign that Greinke is definitely read to commit long-term to the Brewers. It’s just not that simple when you’re talking about a guy who is going to be making somewhere between $80-100 million over the next stage of his career. I’ve mentioned that Greinke might be one of the smartest players in Major League Baseball, so maybe he just realized that it wasn’t in his best interests to go into this season without representation.

Still, I can’t help but look at this in a glass-half-full sort of way. Greinke doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who acts impulsively. In fact, he seems more like the kind of guy who would look at any decision from every possible angle before he acts. I think Greinke looked at his options, weighed the pros and cons of hiring an agent, and thought long and hard about what was best for him.

Once Spring Training started, I would have guessed that an agent-free Zack Greinke might be packing his bags next season.

Now? Well, let’s just say I think this is a step in the right direction for the Brew Crew. Even though he may not hire an agent until the end of the season anyway, at least he’s looking long-term and won’t be rushed through the process. He’ll have someone looking out for his best interests, and you can be sure 2012 will be a year that Milwaukee uses to promote the future of the franchise and Greinke’s beneficial role in that future.

And that means that we might be able to have the Greinke/Gallardo discussion for many years to come.

Cheers to that.

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup: Now With More Braun

Is Gamel finally ready for an everyday assignment?

by Kevin Kimmes

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.

Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.

Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…

I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

Will Aoki be the x-factor that determines the opening day lineup?

Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the  hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.

Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?

Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.

With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:

1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher

In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.

Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.

With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.

Pocket Aces, But Gallardo Is the Spade

by Nathan Petrashek

I decided Yovani Gallardo was our ace last year before Zack Greinke had thrown even one pitch for the Brewers.  The day was April 5, 2011, just five days after the start of the season.  The Brewers were already sliding, having lost every single one of their first four games.  But there was hope.  Gallardo, having been forced to watch his bullpen blow a three-run lead on opening day, would once again toe the rubber.  What he gave us was a two-hit complete game shutout, and the first Brewers victory of the 2011 season.

Take your pick of what was most impressive that night.  Gallardo walked two batters and allowed only two hits.  Two of those four base runners were eliminated by double plays, while a third was caught stealing.  In all, Gallardo induced 16 ground balls, one off his season-high of 17, which came in a 1-run, 7-inning lockdown performance on June 25.

Perhaps my declaration was incredibly foolish.  It was quite possible that Zack Greinke would return to his dominant 2009 form.  Fellow writer Ryan Smith makes the case that Zack Greinke’s peripherals indicate Greinke was every bit as good as he was during his 2009 Cy Young campaign.  In general, that’s a true statement, and Greinke deserves much more credit than he gets from many Brewers fans, as I laid out here and here and here.  But if you’re forcing me to make a completely subjective choice about which is the “ace” of the staff, my vote goes without hesitation to Gallardo.

Gallardo was the best we’ve yet seen last year.  He reduced his K/9 for the third consecutive season (from 9.89 in 2009 to 8.99 in 2011), which allowed him to pitch deeper into games (career-high 207 IP in 2011).  He induced more weak contact and ground balls than he has at virtually any other time in his career.  And his durability can’t be questioned; 2011 marked his third consecutive season starting 30 or more games. Gallardo shows up when it counts, too; he’s 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 4 postseason starts.  While Ryan believes 2012 represents, at least in some aspects, Gallardo’s ceiling, I see it as a baseline for his continuing growth.

Ultimately, Ryan is right about this:  it doesn’t really matter who you consider the ace. This whole exercise is really a luxury, having two guys you can go either way on.  I fully expect that in 2012 Greinke’s traditional stats will reflect his excellent peripherals, but I also expect Gallardo will easily log another 200 IP/200 K season.  I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to watching this friendly competition play out, because the real winners are the Brewers and their fans.

Oh, but before I go, did I mention that Gallardo had a career-low 2.56 BB/9 last year?

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.

My Cardboard Habit: Looking at What’s Brewing in Topps 2012 Series I Baseball

by Kevin Kimmes

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always viewed the launch of the Topps Baseball set as one of the earliest signs of spring. Prior to spring training, or even the groundhog seeing (or not seeing) his shadow, the set marks the first sign of hope that another season is on its way despite it’s release in the middle of winter’s icy cold grip.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve made collecting the entire 660 card set a yearly tradition. This year, I thought I would use the blog to share my love for these cardboard keepsakes and to specifically focus on what Brewers fans can expect to find in the first half (Series I is composed of cards 1-330) of this years set .

We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1!

For the second consecutive year, Brewers slugger and 2011 NL MVP, Ryan Braun finds himself on the first card of the set. While this honor is a great one (former Brewers 1st baseman Prince Fielder had graced this spot in 2010 with a photo of his infamous September 2009 walkoff celebration), this year is “doubly” special for Braun.

Why you ask? Well, this year Topps decided to change up their “chase” variants (short printed versions of some cards with alternate photos and lower print runs) which for the last several years had been reserved for the retired greats of seasons past. This year, the focus is on celebrations and off field hijinks, leading to Braun’s card having 2 separate versions. Shown above, is the standard version of Braun’s card depicting him doing what he does best, knocking the crap out of the ball. His alternate card (pictured to the left), features Braun doing his signature “boxing” home run celebration with Fielder.

For those looking for the short print, your best chance is to check with your local hobby shop or eBay as the estimated average of finding a short printed card (of which there are 22) is only 2 per hobby case.

So, Who Else Made The Cut?

Below is a list of the other players who can be found in the main set donning a Brewers uniform. For convenience sake, I’ve broken this down into 2 groups: those currently with the team and those no longer with the team.

Currently With The Team:

# 29 Active NL Wins Leaders (Wolf)
# 66 Nyjer Morgan
#143 George Kottaras
#146 Carlos Gomez
#181 2011 NL Batting Average Leaders (Braun)
#210 Zack Greinke
#262 Shaun Marcum
#272 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 (Morgan)
#294 John Axford

No Longer With The Team:

# 57 Yuniesky Betancourt
# 77 2011 NL Home Run Leaders (Fielder)
#136 Casey McGehee
#224 2011 NL Runs Batted In Leaders (Fielder)
#327 Mark Kotsay

Of all of the cards listed above, the two that I love the most are the Nyjer Morgan cards. First, his standard card (#66) is the same photo of him, Braun, and Fielder that graced the cover of the August 29, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated (shown on the left). Due to the national exposure that this photo got, this has become one of those instant classics and was a real surprise to me when I pulled it out of a pack.

The other card to feature Morgan is the 2011 NLDS Brewers Game 5 card (#272). Here we find Morgan in full “Beast Mode” as he celebrates his walk off single that sent the Crew to the NLCS for the first time in franchise history. I love this photo choice so much simply due to the fact that it just sums up the energy and the enthusiasm of the 2011 campaign so perfectly. It’s Brewers baseball, in the post season, and “T-Plush” is supplying the charge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Digging for Gold: The Inserts

Topps decided to go with a gold motif for this years inserts. This means everything from gold ring toppers, pins, coins and just plain old gold foil can be found in abundance in these subsets. Let’s look at which Brewers, and Brewers alum can be found here.

**Note – I have not included former Brewers below if the card they appear on shows them in another team’s uniform (sorry Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor), with the exception of cards featuring players on the Milwaukee Braves.**

Golden Moments

Golden moments is a 50 card set composed of cards celebrating historic moments in MLB history which were accomplished by not only those that have come before, but from today’s stars as well. Here we find two cards of interest: GM-10 which celebrates Prince Fielders “Wake Up, Walk Off” from this past season, as well as GM-15 which celebrates Ryan Braun’s passing of Robin Yount for the longest consecutive game on base streak in franchise history. An autographed version, relic version, an auto/relic variant, as well as a “24k gold infused” version numbered out of 5 pieces are also available for the Braun card.

Additionally, the following players each have relic cards in this subset:

GMR-CH Corey Hart
GMR-CM Casey McGehee
GMR-JA John Axford
GMR-JLU Jonathan Lucroy
GMR-PF Prince Fielder
GMR-PM Paul Molitor
GMR-SM Shaun Marcum
GMR-YG Yovani Gallardo

Golden Greats

This 75 card set celebrates the career highlights of 15 legends of the game (5 cards each). Brewers fans, or more specifically Milwaukee baseball fans, may be interested in checking out cards GG51-55 which feature none other than “Hammerin” Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave. As with the Braun card found in Golden Moments, the Hank Aaron cards found in this set also have autographed (numbered out of 10), relic (numbered out of 10), and auto/relic parallels (numbered out of just 5). Additionally, there is a Gold Coin variation which has a production number based on the player’s jersey number (in this case 44) and contains an actual gold coin with the players likeness on it.

Timeless Talents

These 25 dual-player cards statistically compare a hero of yesteryear to a modern day player. As with the main set, this subset again finds Ryan Braun in the lead-off spot teamed up with none other than “The Ignitor”, Paul Molitor. A dual autographed parallel of this card also exists.

1987 Topps Minis

Topps classic wood grain design from their 1987 set gets the mini treatment in celebration of the sets 25th anniversary. Braun (TM-1) again leads off this 50 card subset and is joined by Brewers ace Zack Greinke (TM-35).

In The Name Relics

You want something no one else has? How about the actual letters off of this past years All-Star warmup jerseys? That is what Topps is offering in this subset where each piece is numbered 1/1. Fielder (shown at left), Weeks, and Braun all appear here meaning that Brewers Nation will need to figure out how to sort out the 17 total pieces available between these three players.

Topps Silk Collection

100 of the base sets cards were  also printed as mini version on gold silk and numbered out of only 50 pieces each. Included in this subset are Ryan Braun (SC-1), Zack Greinke (SC-47), Shaun Marcum (SC-62), and John Axford (SC-81).

Base Set Paralells

Each of the 330 card in the base set features two different parallels: Platinum and Wood. The platinum cards are numbered out of 61 pieces in honor of this being Topps 61st set. These are identical to the base cards with the exception that they sport a platinum colored border. Like the platinum parallels, the wood parallels are also identical to their base cards except that these cards are a tribute to the 1962 set and are all numbered 1/1.

So there you have it, a thorough look at the Brewers cards in this years set so far. I’ll be back with a look at Series II after it is released in June. In the mean time, if you have any questions regarding this set, or card collecting in general feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @kevinkimmes. Happy collecting!