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Monday, May 13, 2013

Milwaukee Brewers: Deja View

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Last week the Observers channeled Thomas Paine to describe the Brewers' status: “These are the times that try men's souls.” Today a more contemporary wordsmith comes to mind...

 

Frank: The good news, I guess, is that the Brewers' record entering this week was no worse than it was a year ago.

Artie: Also no better, at 15-20, after a second straight weekend sweep by a division rival. As Yogi Berra probably never said, “It's deja vu all over again.”

F: Wily Peralta provided a little encouragement leaving Cincinnati with a decent outing Sunday, but otherwise the pitching situation looked pretty grim. That means the chart on this page contains more deja-vuing.

A: We're not quite a quarter through the season, but that's still seven turns through the starting rotation—to say nothing about the already stretched bullpen.

F: The team's rankings within the National League give good context. Our chart uses categories that aren't dependent on an equal number of games. And right now the Brewers' rankings virtually duplicate the full-season numbers for 2012—except that being 15th now means last in the NL.

A: The offensive rankings are pretty impressive considering that Rickie Weeks has contributed almost nothing and Jonathan Lucroy is struggling. But the pitching...

F: Kyle Lohse is performing as they hoped, but the bats have been hexed in his games. The other would-be ace, Yovani Gallardo, hasn't measured up; his start Friday night was downright ugly.

A: Five walks and a hundred pitches in only four innings? A 4.70 ERA—same as the team's—and 1.50 WHIP through eight starts? Something's not right with him.

F: Ron Roenicke acknowledged that Gallardo's velocity is down, although he told the Journal Sentinel, “He says he's fine, so I don't know why that is.”

A: One thing's for sure: The guy just throws too many pitches to get through five or six innings. We've been saying that for years!

F: Last year we noted that Gallardo was among the NL leaders in pitches per inning—17 of 'em, more or less. In fact, he's never ranked lower than sixth in any of his four full seasons. And after the Cincy game Tom Haudricourt reported that Gallardo's 2012 pitch total, 3,480, led the NL.

A: So a good theory is that he's just wearing down at age 27. And he works so dang slowly! Every year he admits he should work on his pace, but it never seems to change. I'll tell ya, he better start pitching like a No. 1 or No. 2 starter or the Brew Crew is through.

F: Especially since Marco Estrada has been struggling—enough to get bumped back a couple of days, which avoided a start Saturday in Cincy.

A: Good for Estrada, maybe, but bad for rookie Hiram Burgos, who got shelled in his place.

F: And had to stay out there longer than he should have because Roenicke's bullpen was thin—largely because of Gallardo's brief outing.

A: What made Saturday worse was that the Crew roughed up a pretty good pitcher, Mat Latos, but got nothing out of it.

F: Just like the previous Saturday, when they had no trouble with the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, usually a nemesis, but lost 7-6.

A: The scoring is there, but all too often it's coming down to one or two situations where they can't get the two-out hit that would break things open.

F: Or they run themselves out of those situations. Take the second game against Texas: Jean Segura was “decoyed” into slowing down and got tagged out at the plate. Later on, Aramis Ramirez got too aggressive on an errant pitch and was nailed at third—for the first out.

A: Bad judgment by Aramis, who's no speedster and already has been hurt twice this year on slides. The Crew needs him to stay healthy.

F: Especially since Weeks is having such a nightmare start for the second straight year.

A: Yet more deja vu! Weeks was a total bust in the cleanup spot when Ramirez was hurt, and it hasn't changed in the No. 7 spot. Through 35 games he had 41 strikeouts in 126 at-bats—a .325 mark where you sure don't want it!

F: But at the same time he was leading the team in walks with 21, which made his .304 on-base percentage kind or remarkable for a guy hitting .183. The K's would indicate he's chasing too many bad pitches, but the walks seem to say he's not chasing that many.

A: But how about two homers and nine measly RBI in 35 games? You hear calls for Roenicke to sit Weeks down for a game; I say sit him down for a series. Or make him the seventh- or eighth-inning guy in that beleaguered bullpen.

 

FLIGHTS OF FANCY

A: I'm so desperate that I feel like calling up one of our radio stations and saying, “How about this trade: Weeks and Gallardo for that Jordan Zimmerman guy in Washington. Or maybe that kid Matt Harvey with the Mets.”

F: Now you sound like the bozos I hear on WFAN when I go back to New York: “Hey, waddya tink? A-Rod for dat guy Trout in Anaheim, even-up. Dat'd work, huh?” Which of course draws ridicule from the hosts, who don't suffer fools easily...

A: If you're taking calls on a sports radio show, you've got fools up your nose. But right now Trout and the Angels ain't doing so great.

F: As we speak they're 14-23. Which reminds me that I picked them to win the World Series.

A: Plenty of season left—which is what I'm counting on for the Brew Crew. I sure hope Burgos isn't demoralized by the Cincy disaster, and that Peralta continues to improve. And I sure hope Gallardo and Estrada come around.

F: The team bounced back from that 2-8 start and won nine straight.

A: But then they went 4-12 over the stretch ending Sunday.

F: Roenicke's doing his best to stay positive. But there are only so many times he can say, “We had our chances,” and have people believe it means something.

A: I'm sure getting harder to convince.

F: Back in my days with The Journal, Tom Trebelhorn used to say, “We got to the seventh inning with a chance to win, and that's all you can ask.” And after a while I'd think, “No, that isn't all you can ask.”

A: If Ned Yost was still managing here, he'd have said this about Gallardo's last outing: “I thought Yo had really good stuff, just made one or two mistakes.”

F: Per batter, that is.

A: But hey, Ned's got the Royals two games over .500 through 34 games.

F: I guess KC's five-year plan has to pay off one of these years, huh? But I do hope teams like the Royals and Pirates have good years after all the suffering their fans have gone through.

A: I guess that means that back in '69 you must have been a huge fan of the Miracle Mets, ain'a?

F: Wrong New York team, pal.

 

THE SEARCH GOES ON

F: We knew the coach-searching Bucks would interview an old friend, Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson. But they also brought in his Houston colleague, J.B. Bickerstaff. Any thoughts?

A: I'm Sergeant Schultz on this. I know nothing about young Bickerstaff, although being with the Rockets isn't bad for one's resume this season, since they made the playoffs. But I've been hearing the name of another old friend of the franchise—Sam Cassell.

F: Did I hear you correctly? The Sam Cassell whom I remember as Mr. Flamboyance, Mr. Outspoken, sort of Mr. Loose Cannon on the court?

A: He's been an assistant with the Washington Wizards the last couple of years, and highly regarded from what I hear. It's not that surprising to me; the guy sure knows his basketball and I think he can communicate with young players. Of course during the season it would be a contest to see who'd draw more technical fouls, Sam or Larry Sanders.

F: Speaking of Sanders, what did you make of the report that he and Monta Ellis had a locker-room blowup during the Miami series?

A: Of course there was a lot of frustration during the four-game smackdown, but I was a little surprised that Ellis was involved. A week or 10 days ago I read a piece about Ellis on the Grantland.com site, and it suggested he's a really good “team” guy.

F: No one really knows what happened, or why, unless they actually saw the incident. Sports Illustrated did a recent piece on Sanders and it's clear that he's always been an intense guy, with some temper issues—as his frequent T's indicate.

A: It doesn't necessarily mean there's bad blood between Sanders and Ellis. I'd still like to see both those guys here next season.

 

IT'S AN ACQUIRED TASTE

 

(During a phone conversation Saturday)

 

F: Yeah, the Gallardo thing is puzzling... HOLY COW! I just remembered... Do you realize what's on TV right now?

A: Um, is it “SportsCenter”? A Nationwide Series NASCAR race?

F: The FA Cup final!

A: I would have been guessing a long time before I came to that. I presume that's soccer.

F: More than that, it's the culmination of the most hallowed tournament in the world of “real” football.

A: If you're trying to get me to put it on, it ain't gonna happen.

F: But this is huger than huge! It's a David and Goliath matchup between humble Wigan and mighty Manchester City. It's as if the Heat was playing for the title against the lowliest of NBA clubs...

A: Like the Bucks?

F: Lower than that, like the Bobcats. Wigan is in the Premier League but in great danger of relegation...

A: Amazingly, I don't know what that is.

F: Every year in English football, the three lowest teams in the Premier League are demoted to the equivalent of Triple-A, and three teams are called up to replace them. Anyway, Wigan could be headed down but they got through the Football Association tournament—almost 800 teams throughout Britain—to play Man City, last year's Premier League champions. And they're holding their own; we're deep in the second half and the score is...

A: Let me guess—no score at all? The only other possibility is 1-0.

F: Um, you're right, but we say it “nil-nil” in the Soccer-ese.

A: Gee, I should go into business as a psychic, or take my expertise to Vegas. I'll bet soccer doesn't make for good betting, though. There can't be any over/under stuff because there's no chance anyone would go over one.

F: I think you're overstating it a lit... HEY! They did it! GOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLL!

A: For David or Goliath?

F: David all the way! And if they can just hold on for a couple more minutes...

A: I guess that's nice. I'd sure enjoy it if some NBA David knocked off LeBron and his bunch.

F: It's over! Wigan wins the FA Cup for the first time in its 81-year history. It's one of the biggest upsets ever in a competition that began in 1871.

A: But they don't even put Roman numerals on the title games?

 

DEACTIVATE HIM, PLEASE!

F: While we're talking about sports television, I'd like to mention something I saw on ESPN last Wednesday. It was after a mid-afternoon edition of “NFL Live,” and they were cutting over to more NFL blather on ESPN2.

A: No end to the hot air.

F: Here's what the woman doing the segue said, more or less: “It's never too early to look at the 2014 NFL draft..."

A: This was happening not even two weeks after the 2013 draft, ain'a?

F: Right. She went on, “Mel Kiper Jr. shows us his first 'Big Board'... on ESPN. Because we can.”

A: More like, “Because we have hours and hours of air time to fill, and we know there are enough of you bozos out there who'll watch anything involving the NFL to make it worth our advertisers' while.”

F: Just what I was thinking at the time.

A: They must have Kiper on a mighty big retainer.

F: Or perhaps... Remember, a couple of years ago we speculated that Kiper is actually a robot that they activate a few weeks before the draft?

A: Yeah. Maybe he had some extra-long life in his battery this time around.

F: If he is an actual life form, maybe they put him in one of those suspended-animation chambers from the movie 2001. Just as long as there's no HAL computer to turn it off...

A: Where I'd really like to see Kiper is under the Cone of Silence.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek rooted against Yogi Berra in at least two World Series.

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