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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

At Century’s End, a Glimmer of Hope

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For weeks the Brewers were treading water, never able to get higher than eight games below .500 and watching the Cardinals and Reds monopolize the division race. When the Observers chatted by phone last Thursday (with Frank still immersed in Yankee Land) the Brewers had just seen three starting pitchers in four games give up 10 or more runs—two of them against the lowly Pirates.

But when Frank checked in again Sunday, he found Artie almost giddy with optimism. The Brewers used a home series against Washington to build a four-game winning streak and hit the 100-game mark at 47-53. Not quite a playoff omen, but you never know.

Frank: I’m just back from Yankee Stadium, where I saw two hours of baseball and 45 minutes of monsoon before hitting the subway. When I got back to Long Island, they were only in the seventh inning because the storm stopped things for 2 1/2 hours overall.

Artie: At least you didn’t miss Home Run No. 600 by A-Rod, tainted though it would have been.

Frank: I’d much rather be on hand for Derek Jeter’s Hit No. 3,000, which may well come next year. Anyway, A-Rod didn't come close Sunday and got drilled in his final at-bat.

Artie: Good for him; if Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder can get drilled every other day, A-Rod should too.

Frank: Hey, how about Rickie’s beaning Saturday night? It looked mighty scary.

Artie: I had visions of Mike Matheny a few years back, spitting out blood. But Rickie is a real gamer; he was down for a few seconds, then got up and calmly went to first—no glaring at the pitcher. And he played Sunday and hit his 20th homer.

Frank: How about Corey Hart? I saw he jammed a wrist making a play in right field.

Artie: He didn’t play Sunday but was available for pinch running. Word is he should be OK. By the way, has Doug Melvin contacted you about financing an extension of your East Coast stay? In your absence the Brew Crew went into this week riding a six-game winning streak at home. You’ve inherited that nickname of “The Cooler” from me!

Frank: I seem to have put the Big Chill on the Yankees, too.

Artie: How's that? They’re in first place as usual, ain'a?

Frank: I mean the Ultimate Big Chill. I hit Long Island on the 9th and two days later Bob Sheppard, the Yankee Stadium announcer for almost 60 years, died. Two days later George Steinbrenner followed. And last week Ralph Houk, who won three pennants and two World Series as the Yanks' manager in the ’60s, joined them.

Artie: Yikes! Cooler, hell. You're the Undertaker! How's Whitey Ford's health?

Frank: He looked OK at Old Timers' Day on the 17th, but Yogi Berra missed it because he fractured a foot in a fall.

Artie: Wow, you better leave the Big Apple soon. Bob Turley, watch your butt! Hey, maybe the Brewers would pay for you to visit St. Louis and Cincinnati in August.

Frank: Wow, I’m sure hearing a different tone from last week. You do realize that the four-game streak came against Pittsburgh and Washington?

Artie: You gotta start somewhere. I’m just here to express the hope of fans. Don’t cancel the contingency plan for printing playoff tickets yet!

Frank: It’ll help if they can win the home series this week against Cincinnati.

Artie: Indeed, but after that there’s a totally make-or-break stretch starting the 30th—on the road for three games in Houston and three at Wrigley Field, then home for three more with the Astros and four with the Diamondbacks. Maybe a very lucky 13 straight against losing teams.

Frank: After that it’s tougher with 11 against Colorado, St. Louis, San Diego and Los Angeles. So yes, they better dominate the losers—which did not happen last year after the All-Star break.

Artie: It’s true I’ve been disappointed before. But I’m encouraged that Manny Parra and Dave Bush, who pitched two of those double-digit disasters last week, bounced back nicely over the weekend.

(As did Randy Wolf on Monday night against Cincinnati, when the streak reached five. Frank was back in town and at the game—without any coolant.)

Frank: Two of the disasters were in Pittsburgh, inspiring you to claim the Pirates were stealing the Brewers’ signs.

Artie: Why not? They’re Pirates, aren’t they?

Point, Counterpoint

Frank: The New York papers didn’t say much about the Bucks’ signing of a backup point guard. And I needed help; I’m not familiar with the name.

Artie: Keyon Dooling, 30, out of Missouri, played his first four NBA seasons with the Clippers…

Frank: No wonder I hadn’t heard of him.

Artie: Then Miami, Orlando and the last two with New Jersey. He’s 6-foot-3, bigger than Brandon Jennings, a good defender and has some speed. He’s averaged about 7 points and 2 assists, and I think he’ll be fine in that backup role. And the Bucks made another move I like, trading end-of-the-bench power forward Darnell Jackson and a second-round pick to Sacramento for Jon Brockman.

Frank: Oops, another unknown to me.

Artie: Brockman’s 6-7, out of Washington, and he left there as the Huskies’ all-time leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer. He’s a total energy guy.

Frank: So he could become the Bucks’ version of the “Birdman,” Chris Andersen of Denver?

Artie: Except Brockman can shoot, too.

Frank: I agree the Bucks’ roster looks impressive. Still, there’s one name that’s not being mentioned—Michael Redd. He’s certainly in the picture financially, guaranteed $18 million for next season. What are they gonna do with him?

Artie: First they have to find out if he really has recovered from those knee surgeries in consecutive years. The latest word is that he’s not even going to try to play until February, under the theory that he might have come back too soon last season. That’s a good idea; there’s really no crying need for him with John Salmons and Chris Douglas-Roberts as the shooting guards.

Frank: But later in the season, if he’s willing to accept a role as a sixth or seventh man off the bench, he could really help in situations where they need outside shooting.

Artie: Hey, you never know when injuries will strike. And there’s precedent for the Bucks getting a lift in February. That’s when they got Salmons from the Bulls last season, and it sure paid off.

Frank: I saw on the Journal Sentinel’s website that my former boss, Garry Howard, wrote a column saying the Bucks should bid Redd farewell right now. I don’t see why that’s necessary, since they’ve got to pay him anyway. Why not let him see if he can get back on the court in a limited role?

Artie: Absolutely. I’ve seen commentary that if the Bucks add Redd’s shooting to any degree, folks should really watch out for the Bucks.

Frank: Redd isn’t a stranger to coming off the bench. That was his status on the 2008 Olympic team, except that those guys never needed his help and he was basically unused. But he was a sub in his first two years with the Bucks, in 2001-’02 and 2002-’03.

Artie: Backing up Ray Allen before he was shipped out to Seattle.

Frank: Redd averaged in double figures both those seasons, and they were the only seasons when he's been over 40% in three-point shooting. In the five seasons after that, ending in 2007-’08, he was averaging over 20 points but not as accurate from long range. As a starter, of course, he took more shots per game, 17 to 20 all those years. With fewer minutes per game, and therefore less wear and tear, his shooting accuracy might benefit.

Artie: Another possibility is that if Redd shows he can still play, there could be teams who’d want to trade for him. Who can’t use some extra shooting?