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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

MAKES SENSE TO US: MILWAUKEE BREWERS AND BUCKS

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Different sports, different issues, but a common theme emerges...

 

Frank: The last two Sundays were tough on Milwaukee fans, with the Bucks and Brewers getting finished off in four-game sweeps.

Artie: No surprise in the Heat stomping the Bucks, and the Cardinals look darn good, but I can't find a lot of optimism right now.

F: The sweep gave the Brewers five straight losses at home, and the first happened because John Axford had another disaster against Pittsburgh.

A: He pitched himself out of the eighth-inning job after pitching himself out of the closer's job and Jim Henderson into it.

F: Afterwards, Ron Roenicke said something that got me going. The ninth inning is Henderson's but he added, “The other guys, we'll look at the lineups... Do it that way whether it's the seventh or eighth... I know the players want to be in a role, but sometimes the hitters don't match up with what you're putting out there because you have a guy in a role and you feel you've got to pitch him there.”

A: Well, duh. File that under “Common Sense.”

F: How many times do we rant about a manager—not just Roenicke, but any modern manager—feeling compelled to use three guys to get the last nine outs, no matter how any of them is pitching or whom they have to face?

A: At least three guys; don't forget the one-batter lefties.

F: Managers have an endless pile of stats on specific pitcher-batter matchups. Why not use them instead of going robotic and pushing the seventh-inning button, the eighth-inning button...

A: A lot of it is just butt-covering. But it wasn't always this way. We remember when Goose Gossage or Rollie Fingers would routinely go two or three innings.

F: “The players want to be in a role,” Roenicke said. Well, who decides there are inning-specific roles in the first place?

A: There's only one role for any pitcher: To get people out.

F: As for the Bucks, well, here we go again. No coach, no clear idea of how much their roster will change...

A: This season they outdid themselves, giving up under two coaches.

F: Scott Skiles, who basically gave up himself, and his surrogate, Jim Boylan.

A: Now comes the hand-wringing debate over who might possibly turn things around.

F: When John Hammond was asked what the Bucks are looking for, he said, “I think in this day and age, it seems like you need the coach who can show the player that he cares and then coach the heck out of him after that.”

A: Uh, when was there ever a day and age where that wasn't the right kind of coach?

F: Another entry under “Common Sense.”

A: Hey, we're starting to sound like Thomas Paine, minus the Revolutionary War.

F: All this assumes that NBA millionaires can be coached. Of course personalities differ, and the eternal challenge is finding the right mix of empathy and discipline. It seems like any team in any sport alternates between “easy” guys and “hard” guys.

A: Skiles, with that Junior G-Man scowl, sure qualified as a hard guy.

F: I guess Boylan wasn't much softer.

A: Brandon Jennings is my least-favorite Buck, but sitting him for long stretches, like the fourth quarter of the playoff finale, sure didn't go over well with the squad.

F: We'll have more about the Bucks on the Shepherd's website. But the big news last week in the NBA—-in all pro sports—was Jason Collins becoming the first active player to announce that he is gay.

A: Good for him. Those are the only three words I have to say on the subject.

F: And the only three that are necessary.

A: Let's file that under “Common Sense” too.

F: Thankfully, the immediate reaction was mostly positive or neutral—although ESPN's Chris Broussard declared that Collins was “walking in open rebellion to God.” I'm wary of people who are so dead-certain they know God's list of who should repent.

A: All I know is that if there is such a list, I'm probably ahead of Jason Collins on it.

F: It's remarkable how quickly Americans' attitudes have changed toward gay rights. Take that senator from Ohio...

A: Rob Portman, who was on Mitt Romney's list for possible running mates.

F: He was staunchly opposed to gay marriage, then did an about-face after learning his son is gay.

A: Kinda changes things when an issue suddenly has a face, ain'a?

F: Especially a face you love. It's happening all over the country. People who think they've never known a gay person find out a relative or friend or co-worker is “one of them.” Suddenly it's easier to say, “Live and let live.”

A: Just common sense.

 

AXED AND ANSWERED

A: Tom Paine probably wasn't a Brewers fan, but he had the perfect line to sum up the weekend.

F: “These are the times that try men's souls.”

A: Indubitably, as Tom might say.

F: Axford wound up pitching in the eighth inning again Sunday, but only because the Brewers were down 9-1 at the time. Unfortunately, he had no control and gave up a run on two walks and two hits in just a third of an inning.

A: Relievers cannot walk guys! If you're a reliever and you walk a guy, goodbye.

F: When Axford left, so did my friends and I. That was effective relief! I got home in time to see a little of Roenicke's post-game comments, and he said there are no plans to send Axford to the minors to fix things.

A: I'm surprised he didn't add, “We really like him in that eighth-inning role where there's an eight-run margin. That's his spot.”

F: Well, players want to know their roles.

A: Fine. “Tonight you'll be playing Biff from Death of a Salesman. Here's the script.”

F: The ironic thing about Axford's disaster against Pittsburgh is that it was one time he didn't groove a home-run pitch. The one Starling Marte hit for the tying two-run homer was about six inches off the ground but he somehow golfed it out.

A: But six homers given up in his first 11 1/3 innings—that's hefty.

F; Which brings up something I've noticed in the Brewers' pitching stats. They went into this week having given up 41 homers in 30 games, the highest total in the National League.

A: That sounds like a throwback to the Ken Macha years of '09 and '10, when guys like Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush and Braden Looper were watching their pitches sail far away.

F: In those years the Brewers ranked worst and next-to-worst in the league, respectively, in terms of homers allowed. Two years ago when they made the playoffs they improved to eighth, but last year they were back down to 12th. And now they're 15th in a 15-team league.

A: But don't homers allowed depend somewhat on where you play? And doesn't Miller Park have the reputation of being a place where the balls can fly?

F: I found something on Bill James' web page that listed Miller Park as the fourth-most friendly stadium for homers from 2010-'12, behind only Colorado, the White Sox's park and Cincinnati. But the quality of your pitching staff has to be a factor. Two years ago the Reds were next-to-worst in the NL in homers allowed. But in 2012 they were seventh-best.

A: Well, it'll be very interesting to see how the Brew Crew deals with this embarrassment at home. I'd be a little more concerned if they'd gotten swept by a mediocre team; this Cardinals bunch sure looks strong, especially their pitching.

F: The Brewers better recover quickly. After two interleague games with Texas at home, they play 10 on the road with the three teams ahead of them in the NL Central: Cincy, Pittsburgh and then back to St. Louis.

A: The sweep must have left Roenicke wondering, “What the heck do I really have here?” They started 2-8, then ripped off nine straight wins, and now they start a new week with an “L5” in the “Streak” column of the standings.

F: Roenicke said that “when we play well we can play with any team.”

A: Well duh again! That's true of every team, except maybe the Cubs and Astros. Tom Paine would be dazzled by that common sense. But the jury's still out on the Crew, and it could be out for a while.

 

IS STAN THE MAN?

F: The hot name in the Bucks' coaching search seems to be Stan Van Gundy. Is he the obvious choice for you?

A: Not really. I think he'd be an improvement over Skiles and Boylan, but I'm not on any kind of fevered bandwagon.

F: What would be Van Gundy's strong points?

A: He's coached in some pretty difficult situations...

F: Most of them connected with Dwight Howard.

A: He seems to be a good “X's and O's” guy, and I think that in terms of discipline he's something like Skiles but seems a little more sane. I think he'd get along with the players better.

F: Combine discipline with being “a player's coach.” Sounds like that common-sense ideal.

A: Van Gundy was certainly tested under fire in Orlando with Howard. It seemed pretty clear that Howard got Stan Van fired—and then asked the Magic for a trade anyway.

F: I don't remember much about all that because I try real hard to ignore anything that has to do with Howard. I think he's just a doofus. But didn't Van Gundy contribute to a “he said, he said” thing in the press?

A: He does speak his mind, and toward the end it did get pretty testy between him and Howard. But as I recall it he pretty much kept his cool.

F: I bring it up because however much discipline Skiles and Boylan tried to lay down, I think they were both pretty hesitant to go public about it in the press. My vague perception of Van Gundy is that he'd be more candid about the team's problems. Michael Hunt described him as “blunt, outspoken and sure of himself.” Might that work against his being more of a “player's guy”?

A: Yeah, I think he'd be more open with the press, but not necessarily by calling out players. I'd say he'd be more vocal in defending them from criticism, complaining about the refs, that kind of stuff. And within the locker room I think he'd be better at communicating with the players.

F: Kind of like Roenicke taking over from Macha in 2011, huh? The perception was that Macha's door just wasn't open and Roenicke's is.

A: Not that Roenicke is some kind of zany Mr. Sunshine—except in comparison to Macha.

F: The other name that's being mentioned with Van Gundy's is Kelvin Sampson, the former Bucks assistant.

A: Apart from not being able to keep track of how many recruiting phone calls he made, Sampson was a mighty good college coach. And he sure knows the organization.

F: But the guy he was an assistant to here was Skiles. Maybe Hammond wants none of that connection.

A: Plus we're reading that Sampson had a real close relationship with Brandon Jennings. If hiring him would keep Jennings here, then I'd vote for someone else. But no matter what, the Bucks have a lot more that needs doing besides hiring a coach.

 

BIG TEN PASSES GEOGRAPHY

F: One last topic that I think will make you smile. The Big Ten has decided that when Rutgers and Maryland join the league in 2014, the football division names of “Leaders” and “Legends” will be dropped.

A: What? Throw all of that three-year tradition out the window?

F: The new divisions of seven teams each will be East and West.

A: What again? Going to something so obvious, so simple—so, dare I say it, common-sensical?

F: And the divisions will be geographically correct. The East will have Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana. And the West will have Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue. It was a close call between Purdue and Indiana, but West Lafayette is ju-u-u-st a tad farther west than Bloomington.

A: I like it! And not just because the Badgers will lose the Buckeyes as a division rival after this season. It just makes geographic sense—a lot more than Missouri being in the Southeastern Conference or Utah in the Pacific 12, for instance.

F: Or a Milwaukee school being in the Big East?

A: Well, let's not get carried away...

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek can't pitch in any inning.

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