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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

How the Greinke Saved Christmas

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While Wisconsin spent Sunday expecting the New England Patriots to drop a lump of coal in the Packers' stocking, the Brewers went shopping and put a Cy Young Award winner under their tree. Zack Greinke had a big price tag, but he and fellow newcomer Shaun Marcum give the Brewers a gaudy starting rotation and fans a lot of holiday cheer. Maybe enough to ease the sting of the Packers' latest heartbreaker.

Artie
: I'm ready to make my 2011 World Series prediction. The Brewers and Kansas City, small-market heaven!

Frank
: Maybe a tad optimistic on the A.L. side, but the Greinke and Marcum deals sure make the Brewers strong contenders for the N.L. Central crown.

Artie
: All predictions, of course, are subject to change without notice. But wow, what a coup by Doug Melvin!

Frank
: The Brewers had to give up Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, presumably their shortstop and center fielder for years to come, and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress.

Artie
: A hefty price on top of their top minor-leaguer, Brett Lawrie, to get Marcum from Toronto. When I saw Jeffress was included I felt a little buyer's remorse, but not too much.

Frank
: The Brewers also got a replacement shortstop in Yuniesky Betancourt.

Artie
: Which is a little worrisome. If you were bothered by Escobar's sub-.300 on-base percentage, check this guy out.

Frank
: Yeah, I noticed his career batting average is .272, but his OBP is .296. Which means he hardly ever walks—23 times in 588 plate appearances this year.

Artie
: But he did hit 16 homers, and the Brewers desperately need some run production from the bottom of the order.

Frank
: Speaking of OBP, fans can't be too cheerful about the prospect of Carlos Gomez in center again. He played himself out of the job this year with a .298 OBP.

Artie
: I'm thinking they might shift Corey Hart to center and have Mat Gamel play right.

Frank
: At least they know who their first baseman will be. The pitching deals mean Melvin will stick with Prince Fielder on "rental" status until free agency kicks in next fall.

Artie
: But hell, if the Brew Crew bring October baseball here again, it'll be worth it.

Frank
: Melvin swung for the fences the way he did in midseason of ’08 in renting CC Sabathia. I don't think any fans regret that move.

Artie
: Nobody wants to hear "we're building for the future." Melvin and Mark Attanasio knew ticket sales would take a nose dive if they didn't act. And they had to go all-out for pitching because most of the prospects in the organization got hurt or didn't pan out.

Frank
: Greinke has the asset of youth, just turning 27 this fall. But his ERA went from 2.16 in ’09, his Cy Young year, to 4.17 this year. And his strikeouts dropped quite a bit.

Artie
: True, but there's no reason to think he won't bounce back.

Frank
: There's sure a lot more cause for optimism now. And they don't have to beat the Phillies or Giants to win their division.

Artie
: Anyone in the Central can be had! The top four in the rotation—Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf—stand up to anyone in the division. And they'll get plenty of support from an offense that still has Fielder along with Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee and Hart. Hey, I'm getting excited!

Frank
: Greinke had some issues with anxiety and depression in the past, but Melvin said he had no concerns.

Artie
: It has to be mentioned, though. He's never been on a team that really had expectations. On the other hand, he won't face the media pressure he would in bigger markets.

Frank
: He's got a big-market salary—$27 million for the last two years of his current contract.

Artie
: But Mr. Attanasio made himself some extra ticket revenue with this deal.

Giant Breaks, Giant Task

Then came the Packers' loss...

Artie
: I can't take this! Another four-point loss...

Frank
: Which means all six of the losses this year have been by either three or four points.

Artie
: And in one of these damned night games, which take even longer than the regular ones. By next year they'll be taking commercial breaks after every play.

Frank
: Matt Flynn played very well in Aaron Rodgers' place, and so many things could have changed the result. A couple of near-interceptions for the Pack, running out of time and communication at the very end…

Artie
: My question to Mike McCarthy is, "Who made that bonehead decision for a squib kickoff near the end of the first half?"

Frank
: Which a stinkin' guard, Dan Connolly, amazingly took 71 yards to set up a touchdown.

Artie
: That was inexcusable, sure, but why squib it in the first place? At the very least you set up Tom Brady near the 40-yard line. Do you have so little faith in your special teams that you can't kick it deep?

Frank
: With the Bears beating Minnesota, the NFC North crown is officially out of reach. But the Packers got a huge break in the wild-card race with the Giants’ gag job against Philly, and another when Tampa Bay lost to the Lions. Now the Packers know that if they win the last two games they'll tie-break their way into the playoffs at 10-6.

Artie
: Right, but that means beating both the Giants and Bears.

Frank
: Both games at Lambeau, and with the Giants coming in with their confidence rattled.

Artie
: But the way I feel right now, I know something'll happen to wreck things.

Frank
: Well, go back to the bright side and think baseball.

Artie
: You mean that trade that handed away the Brewers' future for a pitcher who went 10-14 this year? Now I'm just waiting for spring training to find out what kind of unsuspected arm injury Greinke has.

Frank
: Yikes, don't let football frustration give you baseball blues.

Artie
: Hell, these are the longest nights of the year. Why not have a long night of the sports soul?

Frank
: So you're rethinking your World Series prediction?

Artie
: The Astros just decided Bill Hall is their missing piece at second base. Maybe it'll be Houston-Kansas City.

Frank
: I'll be home for the holidays, watching Packers-Giants from Long Island. Next week is our annual Baseball Hall of Fame column, and when we talk football again there's a good chance it'll be a playoff preview for the Pack.

Artie
: You believe that if you want.



No Love for the ‘L’ Words

Frank: Another triumph for the Observers! As we were preparing to denounce the "Legends" and "Leaders" names for the Big Ten's new divisions, Commissioner Jim Delany somehow sensed our wrath—and what he called "a 90% non-approval rating"—and said the conference would "address the issue."

Artie
: We should rename this column. Which of us is the Legend and which is the Leader?

Frank
: You were a legend long ago.

Artie
: I'll tell you, Vomit and Pus would have been better choices.

Frank
: For us or the Big Ten?

Artie
: Or Corn and Concrete. Or popular sports injuries like Groin and Knee. What they picked is just embarrassing.

Frank
: The divisions aren't geographic but are aimed at competitive balance. Delany used some classic mumbo jumbo: “‘Legends’ is a nod to our history… ‘Leaders’ looks to the future as we remain committed to fostering leaders…”

Artie
: Huh? One bunch is the past and one the future? And by the way, which one is UW in?

Frank
: Leaders, with Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue.

Artie
: That makes great sense for Indiana, which in football will never be a leader.

Frank
: Legends has Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Minnesota and Nebraska—which doesn't join the league until next year.

Artie
: The new Big Ten logo is terrible too. That soft, wimpy blue is the kind of color you see on four-packs of toilet paper.

Frank
: We'll let the legendary analysis end there.

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