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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012

For Two Brief Shining Moments...

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In a single trip, the Brewers' 2012 goal went from contending to rebuilding. The horrendous 0-6 stretch in Cincinnati and Philadelphia plunged them out of the playoff hunt and guaranteed pitching ace Zack Greinke's early departure. Two more starters, ailing Shaun Marcum and aging Randy Wolf, are almost sure to be gone next spring, along with high-priced, high-futility reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

So the next two months will involve auditions for 2013 and evaluations of the minor-leaguers obtained from the Angels for Greinke. And the fans, as they did when the four-month CC Sabathia “era” ended in 2008, will ponder how quickly a window for ultimate success can close.


Frank:
As mind-boggling as the three bullpen meltdowns in Philly were, Sunday's 11-10 disaster against Washington was worse.

Artie:
In Philly it was all one-inning calamity; Sunday was three innings' worth of nightmare.

Frank:
I was sure when it was 7-6 that John Axford would hang on. I thought, “It's only fair that they win by the score that burned itself into their psyches in Philly.”

Artie:
 That lead got “Axed” by a wild pitch. They're haunted by the spirit of 7-to-6.

Frank:
Ready to invoke your favorite solution?

Artie:
 “Fire 'em all!” It did occur to me.

Frank:
 They have fired bullpen coach Stan Kyles.

Artie:
 How many pitches did he throw? Right now I want to hire someone—whoever the pitching coach is at Triple-A Nashville.

Frank:
That's Fred Dabney. And your reasoning?

Artie:
Watching Mark Rogers and Jim Henderson pitch Sunday, and Mike Fiers in his first few starts—hey, those call-ups from Nashville are throwing strikes!

Frank:
As opposed to all those experienced relievers. On Sunday “K-Rod,” Axford and Jose Veras all walked someone who came around to score. In the first two games in Philly, the bullpen walked 10 guys in those meltdowns and six of them scored.

Artie:
I think it's time to give Manny Parra his outright release. It's too frustrating. Yeah, he can sometimes get his fastball up to 95 miles an hour, but how many years has it been that he just doesn't deliver? Of course, he'll probably wind up somewhere like Colorado and be lights-out.

Frank:
In the press box Sunday there was some sentiment toward releasing K-Rod, too. They have to pay him regardless, and he can't be in their plans for 2013.

Artie:
Maybe they should send the entire bullpen down to Nashville for a refresher course in geography, or maybe geometry. Whatever gives 'em a clue about the location of the dang plate!

Frank:
Starting this week 16 games out in the division and 12 in the wild-card race, it's clear the rest of this season will be devoted to finding pitchers who can provide some hope.

Artie:
Tyler Thornburg might be one of them. He was sent back to Nashville to start consistently, but he'll presumably be here in September.

Frank:
There's nothing but questions about the Brewers' pitching now, but in April there was no question that it looked solid. How things can change!

Artie:
It seems like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Yeah, relievers go up and down, but I think fans figured, “OK, if Axford regresses, there's still K-Rod, a proven closer. Or if K-Rod tanks, they'll adjust and Axford will compensate. But for both of them to flame out—ugh!

Frank:
And Marcum, who was having another good year, just disappears with elbow “tightness.” And Randy Wolf keeps falling victim to either homer-itis or bullpen betrayal.

Artie:
For all the injuries the position players have had—Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez gone for the year, Jonathan Lucroy for almost two months—the offense has been pretty good and the lineup looks generally OK for 2013. Of course, more deals may be ahead to get some pitching or a proven shortstop while Jean Segura, that kid from the Greinke trade, develops.

Frank:
Doug Melvin has made bold moves that paid off quickly—Sabathia in '08, Greinke and Marcum last year. But this disastrous stretch and Greinke's departure really show how fleeting the opportunities for success can be, especially for a team that has to watch its payroll.

Artie:
Which makes being two wins away from the 2011 World Series all the more gut-wrenching.

Frank:
I'm reminded of Jackie Kennedy invoking the “Camelot” image after JFK's death. “Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one brief shining moment...”

Artie:
Or two in the Brewers' case, counting '08. The Yankees and other teams with lots of dough can tell themselves, “Hell, we'll be back in the playoffs next year.” But maybe the best a Brewer fan can hope for is that every few years there'll be another convergence of talent and health and luck that creates another “shining moment.”

Frank:
In the meantime, there are two months of baseball left.

Artie:
I sure hope those young pitchers can make me hopeful.

Packed With Revenue

Frank: The Brewers' swoon is well timed in one way. It lets Wisconsin fans focus on their No.1 priority, the Packers.

Artie:
I wouldn't have minded having my attention split, like last year.

Frank:
As soon as training camp began, the Packers gave one of the starting safeties, Charlie Peprah, the heave-ho.

Artie:
I was surprised at first, but he had some knee surgery that was taking too long to heal. They couldn't afford to have him taking up space and time at less than 100%.

Frank:
True, if there's one place the Packers need vast improvement, it's the defensive backfield. I daresay a lot of people remember Peprah bouncing off the Giants' Hakeem Nicks on that long touchdown pass in the playoff loss.

Artie:
A couple of young guys will compete for Peprah's spot, and they'll need every minute of camp time they can get. But leave no stone unturned in looking for help; maybe the Pack should get in touch with Willie Wood's agent!

Frank:
You've got to feel good that the team is flush in the cash box. Net income of almost $43 million from last season...

Artie:
Do I get a cut for being a fan?

Frank:
Keep watching your mail.

Artie:
The Pack also has more than $11 million of room under the salary cap to make moves this season. And it bodes well with some big contracts coming up for extension soon—Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings...

Frank:
I guess the fans won't mind ponying up if it goes to keeping Rodgers.

Artie:
They sure ponied up for that illusionary stock last winter. Sixty-four million bucks for paper that's only good for hanging on the rec room wall.

Frank:
And for access to Lambeau Field for Ted Thompson's annual dog-and-pony show.

Artie:
If, heaven forbid, the team ever moved, they'd have to go east and become the Brooklyn Bridges. “Psst, hey buddy, how'd ya like to own a football team?”

Frank:
It's a great story that this franchise was able to stay in the Little City That Could. That came from the NFL's sharing revenue from the '60s on, and from Vince Lombardi's championships securing the fan base for the next three bleak decades...

Artie:
The Ice Age that followed the Ice Bowl. If people hadn't been packing Lambeau all that time, things would have been different, I'll bet.

Frank:
A great story indeed, but the financial report shows this franchise isn't the little David of the NFL anymore. It's a big honkin' corporation with huge honkin' revenue.

Artie:
Well, that's the NFL, ain'a?

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