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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Break Out the Rose-Colored K-Shades

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Three years ago the Brewers reached the playoffs thanks to the bold trade that gave them a three-month "rental" of pitching ace CC Sabathia. Last week general manager Doug Melvin went for a short-term jackpot again, acquiring star closer Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets. Like Sabathia, Rodriguez in all likelihood will be too high-priced for the Brewers to re-sign. But if he's pitching here deep into October, who's going to mind?

Frank:
As if we needed proof beyond the Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum trades, Melvin and Mark Attanasio showed again that they're rolling the dice for everything.

Artie:
For a team in this market, what else makes sense? If Prince Fielder and "K-Rod" seek greener pastures but leave a championship banner behind, I'll take that!

Frank:
Landing K-Rod and some cash for two "players to be named" also shows how desperate the Mets were to avoid his $17.5 million player option for 2011, which would have kicked in if he had finished—not saved, just finished—55 games.

Artie:
A liability the Brewers dodged for a "measly" $500,000. Now the 2011 option is mutual, with a $4 million buyout instead of $3.5 million.

Frank:
And now the Brewers have maximum flexibility. He's the setup guy for John Axford, but if Axford gets hurt or melts down—he had to pitch through trouble twice in Colorado—there's no financial "hook" to having K-Rod close.

Artie:
For two nights in Colorado it didn't matter because the Brewers weren't competitive. But Saturday night K-Rod pitched a perfect eighth after LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe blew a lead in the seventh. And Sunday he protected a lead with another scoreless inning.

Frank:
Just what the Brewers needed. And so was salvaging a split with the Rockies.

Artie:
I like those big tinted glasses K-Rod wears. He's a 21st-century Ryne Duren, for us geezers who go back a ways.

Frank:
Wisconsin native Ryne Duren, at that. I've been wondering how K-Rod's presence might affect Axford, who's struggled to pitch "clean" innings. Both Saturday night and Sunday he gave up a run and had the tying run on base at the end.

Artie:
I think Ron Roenicke will be able to keep everyone positive; he seems like a good communicator.

Frank:
How about the effect on Loe and Hawkins and Takashi Saito, who'd been handling the setup duties?

Artie:
I think this might help Loe if he'd been feeling pressure as an eighth-inning guy. And with Hawkins and Saito, who've had injury troubles, it should help ease their workloads.

Frank:
So your optimism is up a notch?

Artie:
You betcha; K-Rod definitely has the goods. But there are still some major issues with this team.

Frank:
Such as?

Artie:
The defense, as I said last week. Saturday night it helped produce three unearned runs against Greinke and Sunday there was an unearned run in the ninth. And boy, Prince better keep hitting because he's not gonna cash in with his fielding. It was great that he won the All-Star Game with his homer, but defensively it seems like he's regressed.

Frank:
After improving last year, in my observation.

Artie:
Then there's something else we noted last week: the huge void at the No. 5 spot in the batting order. Casey McGehee, who's floundered, is down to No. 6 or 7.

Frank:
If there's no threat at No. 5 behind Fielder, he'll be walked more often. Roenicke addressed that Saturday night when he flip-flopped Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, with Weeks moving from leadoff to No. 5.

Artie:
It paid quick dividends; Weeks was 4 for 9 in his first two games there and hit a game-winning homer Saturday night. In the previous 94 games, the No. 5 spot had produced a .212 average, four homers and 35 RBI.

Frank:
McGehee even had two RBIs from the 7 spot Sunday. But how do you feel about Hart leading off?

Artie:
He'll be OK. He's done it before; Saturday night he had a two-run homer. And he wasn't doing much at 5.

Frank:
He admitted to the Journal Sentinel that it was his least-favorite spot.

Artie:
In terms of on-base percentage, Hart and Weeks were both in the .340 to .350 range. Where you hit can be overemphasized; after the first or second inning, who knows who'll be leading off? But who you hit behind doesn't change.

Frank:
You could surmise that Weeks, at No. 5, might have one fewer at-bat in some games. That could hurt.

Artie:
But getting something out of No. 5 would be great!

Frank:
What about Nyjer Morgan, hitting .335 through Sunday, as the leadoff guy?

Artie:
He's still essentially platooning in center field, and I think Roenicke wants a full-time leadoff guy.

Frank:
And he sure wouldn't want Carlos Gomez replacing Morgan at the top. One other thing: Through Sunday Morgan had only five walks and 37 strikeouts.

Artie:
Wow! It's like he's trying to match Greinke's ratio, except Greinke's supposed to get Ks.

Frank:
One more troubling thing for the Brewers is Ryan Braun's continuing problem with his left calf and hamstring.

Artie:
I remember Braun touting the heavy-duty workouts he did over the winter. I wonder if that bulking-up might have contributed to this. Sometimes these strains never really get better without complete rest, ain'a?

Frank:
Like Hart's side-muscle thing; he missed almost all of April. By the way, have you heard about a nickname Braun apparently has acquired?

Artie:
Can't say I have.

Frank:
He's Jewish, and on "Pardon the Interruption" I heard him referred to as "The Hebrewer."

Artie:
Cool name!

Frank:
I'd never heard it either, and when I Googled it I found only an obscure reference in a blog on the Journal Sentinel site in 2009.

Artie:
Must be an ESPN thing. But if it catches on, it'd be fun.

The Prosecution Whiffs

Frank: Roger Clemens' trial for allegedly lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs turned into a quick mistrial because the prosecution screwed up. Were you riveted to the case?

Artie:
Nah. I'd like to see Clemens get jail time because he's such a jag, but otherwise I don't see much point to it all.

Frank:
Retrial or not, it's not likely to change any minds. If you believe Clemens was dirty, no verdict will make a difference, any more than Barry Bonds' mistrial on three counts of perjury changed things for him.

Artie:
No one in the baseball world rushed to defend either of 'em.

Frank:
Why would they? From all reports they were lousy teammates, "me first" poster boys. Personal trainers, separate workout regimens, and for Clemens his own travel policy with Houston that let him stay home when he wasn't due to pitch on the road.

Artie:
Instead of all the time and money being spent on nailing Clemens, how about someone investigating how Albert Pujols recovered so quickly from what was called a broken arm?

Frank:
That's the Brewers fan in you talking. But part of the Bonds-Clemens legacy is that from now on there will always be suspicions about the top-performing players.

Artie:
Others have suspicions. I have certainty.

A Welcome Rising Sun

Frank: So did you watch the huge event Sunday afternoon?

Artie:
The Brewers' game? The NASCAR race?

Frank:
I mean Japan's amazing double comeback against the United States and penalty-kick triumph in the Women's World Cup.

Artie:
Um, that's soccer, ain'a? Gotta say that's a negative.

Frank:
It was just as dramatic as the '99 final against China, but this time the PKs didn't go America's way.

Artie:
I do know that after the earthquake and tsunami in March, Japan needed a lift.

Frank:
The social impact—"restoring a nation's spirit"—will be overstated, the way we always exaggerate the effects of games on real life.

Artie:
Like a Super Bowl "healing" New Orleans.

Frank:
But it was wonderful the way the Japanese women refused to give up. Someone called it Japan's version of America's 1980 "Miracle on Ice," and I guess every nation should have one.

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