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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012

The Sweet Bye and Bye

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Weeks off don't always come at a good time for football teams, but the breaks broke right for the Badgers and Packers. A bye last week gave UW a chance to recover from a painful loss to Michigan State and prepare for the biggest game of the year. And this week's respite will help the banged-up Packers as they face a late-season schedule heavy with division games.

 

Frank: Did you ever think you'd see a football game against Indiana described as “key”?

Artie: Just shows anything is possible.

Frank: All it takes is a Big Ten division where the top two teams, Ohio State and Penn State, are banned from the postseason and two teams, Purdue and Illinois, are 0-5 in the conference. Voila, the winner of 3-2 UW vs. 2-3 Indiana probably goes to the conference title game representing the... the... which division?

Artie: I forget. I make it my business to forget.

Frank: It's Leaders, I think. Anyway, if the Badgers win, they're two games up on IU with two to play, and with the tie-breaker.

Artie: They better do it because their last two games, hosting Ohio State and at Penn State, won't be easy. The Buckeyes are 10-0!

Frank: So UW could limp, maybe crawl, into the title game with a 4-4 conference mark. But if they beat Michigan or Nebraska or maybe Northwestern for the crown, they'd get a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

Artie: Which has never happened for UW.

Frank: I didn't see the loss to Michigan State, but the stats looked like the Oregon State game in that UW's rushing attack was stifled.

Artie: One reason was that they were missing left tackle Rick Wagner, who had a bad knee. The bye should get him healthy.

Frank: But quarterback Joel Stave is done, with a broken collarbone, and now coach Bret Bielema has to pick Danny O'Brien or Curt Phillips.

Artie: The experience factor points to O'Brien, but he lost the starting job to Stave.

Frank: UW hoped that landing O'Brien as a transfer from Maryland would work out like getting Russell Wilson from N.C. State did last year. But O'Brien's not a Russell Wilson.

Artie: Or a Scott Tolzien or a John Stocco.

Frank: Put that together with the offensive line not performing up to expectations and you've got three losses overall.

Artie: Remember, UW began the season with six new guys in coordinator or assistant-coach spots. It just looks like this might be one of those all-around transition years.

Frank: The Badgers obviously could use the bye to get healthy, but that pales in comparison with the Packers' medical issues this week.

Artie: Beating Arizona made ’em 6-3 with four straight wins. But Clay Matthews' hamstring, Jordy Nelson's ankle, on top of his hammy, Bryan Bulaga's hip—all that came with the Pack already missing Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, Sam Shields, Nick Perry, John Kuhn and Charles Woodson.

Frank: No matter how severe the injuries are, the bye turns out to be well timed.

Artie: Now my big concern is that no one gets hurt during the bye. Careful going down those staircases, guys!

Frank: The Packers likely are regretting their decision to activate Nelson for Arizona. It's a good thing Randall Cobb has stayed in one piece.

Artie: What a game he had! And James Jones, too, ain’a?

Frank: After the bye they play two straight road games, against Detroit and the Giants, and five of the last seven are in the NFC North.

Artie: I need a bye myself to store up energy for the home stretch.

 

Weird, Wild Stuff

Frank: In case we needed reminding, the World Series showed the supremacy of pitching. The Giants swept Detroit with an ERA of 1.46, two years after stilling Texas with a 2.45.

Artie: At least Prince Fielder hit his weight. Of course it was his weight as a preschooler, .071.

Frank: For the entire postseason he was 9 for 52, or .173.

Artie: OK, that takes him to fifth grade.

Frank: The Giants had only one starting position player who also started in ’10, catcher Buster Posey. But the pitching staff was full of holdovers: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, Tim Lincecum...

Artie: This time in a relief role, but looking unhittable again.

Frank: And even Barry Zito, such a big-money bust in ’10 that he wasn't on the postseason roster, out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game 1.

Artie: That came after beating St. Louis in the NLCS, starting the Giants' second three-game rally from the brink of elimination.

Frank: October had so many sudden turns. The Yankees beat Baltimore in a tough Game 5, then disappeared against Detroit. The Tigers swept the Yanks, then got swept. The Cardinals pulled off a Game 5 miracle in Washington, then had the Giants on the ropes but failed. Cincinnati had a two-game advantage, but lost three straight at home.

Artie: It's enough to make you believe that adage, “Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher.”

Frank: Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post wrote a great column about how baseball has “two radically different seasons that are hardly related to each other.” The 162-game marathon establishes two or three teams as marvels of consistency. But the postseason, he writes, “is a month-long prank” in which those marvelous teams often get ousted, to their fans' amazement, and the last team standing is hardly the best.

Artie: That certainly was true last year when the stinkin' Cardinals won!

Frank: Boswell noted that if St. Louis had finished off the Giants, the 2012 Series would have matched two teams with 88 regular-season wins, tied for 11th-best in the majors.

Artie: Flukes aren't new. How about 1954, when Cleveland won 111 games but got swept by Willie Mays' Giants?

Frank: Or every Yankee fan's least-favorite year, 1960? The Yanks won three games by a combined 38-3, but Pittsburgh won it all on Bill Mazeroski's homer. But in those days we knew the champion would at least be the team with the best record in its league. Not anymore!

Artie: It makes you wonder whether a team should push to max out its record, as opposed to just making sure they get to the playoffs and hope they catch fire.

Frank: Welcome to the downside of Bud Selig's step-by-step expansion of the postseason.

Artie: It succeeds in its main purpose: putting more fannies in the seats in as many cities as possible through September—in other words, making as much dough as possible.

Frank: The more teams in the playoffs, the more chances for a surprise team to excite Baseball Nation. But that also means more chances for a team that was truly great over six months to fall flat.

Artie: Like the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games but got spanked by the Yanks in the ALCS.

Frank: And there are more chances for the baseball gods to play their own goofy games. Like causing Hunter Pence's shattered bat to hit a ball three times and produce a crucial hit against St. Louis.

Artie: Besides all that, the playoffs just take too long! By the World Series, I had baseball fatigue.

Frank: Partly that's because the Brewers weren't involved, I suspect. But you make a good point: By the World Series, many fans in eight losing cities were probably saying, “Who cares now?” And Giants-Tigers had record-low TV ratings.

Artie: That wasn't part of Bud's plan!

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