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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MILWAUKEE BREWERS AND BUCKS: HURTIN' FOR CERTAIN

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The weather isn't the only dreary thing about this April. The Brewers, despite a stirring rally Sunday in St. Louis, returned to town 3-8 with lots of questions. The Bucks staggered home from an 0-4 trip that cemented a sub-.500 record and stirred no hope for their playoff series with mighty Miami. And both teams had medical issues to deal with...

 

Frank: The Brewers sure waited long enough for the comeback Sunday. They had 32 straight scoreless innings—a club record—in Chicago and St. Louis.

Artie: The Bucks might as well have gone scoreless for all the good their Southern swing did them. Can't we count the loss to Miami—minus Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, no less—as the playoff opener and get things over quicker?

F: Plus in Orlando the Bucks picked up injuries to Brandon Jennings (Achilles) and Larry Sanders (back) that kept them out of the games in Atlanta and Charlotte. Coach Jim Boylan says they'll be ready for the post-season, but how effective will they be?

A: Can't matter much against the Heat. If you're wondering when the Bucks will win again, I think the fans' consensus is next fall in the exhibition season.

F: We'll have more about the Bucks on the website. Let's focus on the Brewers, who have had to scramble at first and third base because of injuries...

A: In the immortal words of Joe Cocker, I'm not feeling too good myself. It's even hit the fan base!

F: And scramble in the bullpen because of John Axford's latest implosion, and on offense because people just haven't been hitting.

A: Which means Kyle Lohse has nothing to show for two really good starts, with exactly one run of support.

F: Sure, they miss Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, but in St. Louis they had five or six of the starting eight position players in every game.

A: Rickie Weeks might as well be injured! He's back to the first half of 2012—one RBI and 16 strikeouts in his first 45 at-bats!

F: I guess I believe Ron Roenicke's contention that Ryan Braun's stiff neck is still bothering him, but Braun sure looked bad in the first two St. Louis games, and he has 11 K's in his first 30 at-bats.

A: Jonathan Lucroy's three hits Sunday, including the game-winning homer, sure were welcome.

F: Carlos Gomez had three hits too, but that only brought him up to a .214 average. Roenicke sat him down Saturday, and you have to wonder whether now that he's cashed in with a big contract, he's back to the all-out hacking that kept him underachieving until the second half last year.

A: But in that game we saw against Arizona he was making good contact.

F: In any event, a worrying sign is that the Brewers scored no runs in 23 innings against the Cardinals' starters.

A: It won't get easier when the world champeen Giants are here this week.

F: Except that Barry Zito is due to pitch the opener. I remembered he's had trouble at Miller Park and looked up the stats. In seven games there Zito is 0-4 with a 7.67 ERA.

A: OK, let's bank on that!

F: As for the Brewers' pitching, Lohse and Marco Estrada have been quite effective but in three starts Yovani Gallardo has a 6.61 ERA and 1.78 WHIP.

A: But he was really good against the Cardinals until that seven-run sixth inning. Through five his pitch count was only in the 60s, though he wound up with 87. And the bullpen sure didn't help him.

A: Through the first four series the team ERA of 4.95 ranks 14th in a 15-team league.

A: And the run differential is minus-26 through 11 games. That's pretty bad.

F: Was it just me, or did Hart's transfer to the 60-day disabled list come out of nowhere?

A: Seems like Mr. Quick Healer suddenly turned up in a coma with a feeding tube, ain'a? Rodney Dangerfield is gone but his doctor, Vinnie Boombatz, apparently found work on the Brewers' medical staff.

F: Hart's transfer, to open a roster spot for Blake Lalli, means he won't return from his knee surgery until at least the end of May. That keeps a big question mark over first base.

A: They've got plenty of guys who can go out there and catch throws. But can any of them drive in runs?

F: And I wonder how much of a third-base question mark there'll be, given Ramirez's knee trouble and his age. He's gotten hurt twice now on slides into second.

A: They'd have another couple of potential contributors in Taylor Green and Jeff Bianchi, but they've been banged up too. Hey, what's Mike Schmidt up to these days?

 

THE END OF THE TRAIL

F: After the four-game wipeout on the road and six losses in seven games, I took a look at how the Bucks' statistics compare to last season's. Through 80 games they were averaging 98.8 points, almost matching last year's 99.0. But because the league is scoring more, they rank 12th this season compared to fifth in 2011-'12. They're shooting worse overall, 43.5% to 44.3%, but they're better from three-point range, 36.0% to 34.5%.

A: Ersan Ilyasova helps that last stat, just like he did last year. Once again he's hitting 45% from beyond the arc and ranks fourth in the league after being second last year.

F: While Monta Ellis ranks dead last among 132 players on ESPN.com's list at 27.9%

A: And J.J. Redick is having problems. He was 3 for 14 overall and 2 for 11 on treys against Charlotte.

F: He's at 36.6% overall on threes, which puts him 75th in the league. Even Brandon Jennings is at 37.5%—but he's only 41.6% on two-point shots, which puts him 144th and last in that category on ESPN's list.

A: Can't finish at the hoop! Don't get me started again on Jennings. He's my basketball equivalent of Tony Romo; have I ever mentioned that Jennings is NOT a good point guard?

F: About as often as you've ripped Romo.

A: But back to Redick. This is the guy the Bucks gave up Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb to get, possibly for only half a season and one playoff series?

F: That deal won't look like much if Redick signs somewhere else this summer.

A: I wonder if GM John Hammond noticed that in the loss in Orlando, Harris had 30 points on 13-for-20 shooting and 19 freakin' rebounds, and Lamb had 16 points off the bench.

F: Harris said it was nothing personal, but he had to feel a little vindicated.

A: Dealing these young guys isn't how you build a team. Take Oklahoma City: when they first got Kevin Durant they took some lumps, but they kept drafting good young players and keeping them together.

F: Seems like that's worked out pretty well.

A: The knock on Harris is that he doesn't play much defense—as if that would be a reason not to be on the Bucks. Seems like he'd fit right in!

F: Speaking of defense, through 80 games the Bucks were averaging 100.4 points allowed. That's about 1.7 more than last season, despite all the blocked and altered shots they've gotten out of Sanders and the other big guys. But they're ranked 19th in the league in points allowed, better than last year's 22nd.

A: Again, because scoring is up all around the league.

F: The Bucks' opponents are shooting 45.5%, a little better than last year's 44.9%, and 35.0% on threes, virtually the same as a year ago.

A: There's this hot new statistic going around, points per possession, or some such thing.

F: What I've seen is points per 100 possessions, and in that the Bucks stand at 105.7, with their opponents at 104.7. That differential of plus-1.0 puts the Bucks 14th in the league.

A: Mediocre—I guess that's about right considering their record and playoff seeding. And by the way, when it comes to the playoffs I'd like to see the NBA forget about the conferences and just have the 16 best teams advance.

F: So there might be East vs. West in all the rounds, not just the Finals?

A: Yeah. I think it's worth looking at. Because through 80 games you have Utah at four games above .500 but still having to fight for a playoff spot, while the Bucks are six games under .500 and in the playoffs. And if Utah doesn't make the post-season they could get a lottery pick with a winning record.

F: The team Utah has to catch is the Lakers. Any comment on Kobe Bryant's season-ending Achilles' injury?

A: My rule is that I never talk about him or the Lakers; it's a blood-pressure thing. I leave it to the network radio guys, who talk about nothing else but the Lakers—and of course LeBron.

F: Makes me glad I never tune in.

A: And speaking of LeBron, you know that thing about Tiger Woods getting snagged for a rule violation by some bozo watching TV?

F: Cost him a two-stroke penalty and maybe a chance to win the Masters.

A: Well, I wish the NBA allowed that kind of stuff. If it did, I'd be on the line to David Stern all game long—”Hey Dave, I just saw LeBron travel... charge...travel... charge...” The guy wouldn't play 10 minutes a game!

 

GETTING THE DROP ON TIGER

F: Here are the details of Woods violation: He hit a shot that went off the flagstick and into the water, then “took a drop” for another attempt. The rule apparently says the drop should be as close as possible to the original lie, but Woods dropped it, in his words, “two yards” behind the original spot.

A: It would seem that if you're dropping it farther away from the hole that would make it tougher, ain'a? But that's golf; all sorts of arcane stuff in the name of “gentlemanly play.”

F: Nobody on the course or in the TV booth saw anything amiss, but this viewer called in. There was a review at Augusta and Woods was allowed to sign his scorecard without any penalty.

A: Signing the scorecard being the thing that makes everything sacrosanct.

F: But when Woods later talked about the “two yards,” he wound up getting a retroactive penalty but no disqualification. Apparently the grand-high poobahs of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland, declared a while back that if someone breaks a rule but doesn't know it, he can be penalized but not bounced.

A: But here's what I don't get: At these major tournaments there are a million PGA and course officials at every hole. Why wouldn't one of those guys, as a regular policy, step in and tell Woods or whoever what he can and can't do in that kind of situation?

F: Sounds quite reasonable. But for me it's a little difficult to believe that Woods would not know the rule anyway. No matter how good you are, you're gonna hit shots that go in the water or out of bounds and have to take a drop.

A: Maybe the fact that it hit the flagstick made some difference. And anyway, under those circumstances I can see where a guy wouldn't be thinking all that specifically about where he can take his drop. I still say the blame goes to the people who are supposedly running the dang tournament. Step in and make sure the guy knows what's what!

F: Three years ago at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits there was another kind of rule violation that cost Dustin Johnson a chance at the title. He was penalized for “grounding his club” in a bunker that he didn't realize was a bunker...

A: Because the whole flippin' course looked like a bunker!

F: But again, he wasn't advised about anything before he took his shot. He was supposed to know all the bunkers, I guess.

A: If I played golf I know I'd get to know all the bunkers up close and personal. Which is one big reason I don't play golf.

 

SOME VALUABLE DAMAGED GOODS

F: Hey, how about the Dodgers' $147 million man, Zack Greinke, getting his collarbone busted in a rumble with Carlos Quentin?

A: He's out eight weeks, and that's optimistic. Nice return on the Dodgers' dough.

F: Apparently Greinke and Quentin had some “history” from their American League days. But did Quentin really think Greinke was throwing at him on a 3-2 pitch in a one-run game?

A: Makes no sense.

F: And Quentin gets hit a lot anyway; he has the reputation of “diving” toward the plate.

A: The real shame is that I wasn't there; you know how I yearn to see a bench-clearing brawl. Why couldn't Greinke have stayed with the Brew Crew?

F: If he had he probably would have clashed with Quentin in San Diego anyway. The Brewers go there next week and don't play the Padres here until July.

A: I just can't catch a break. But Zack sure did.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never been a quick healer.

 

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