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Monday, May 27, 2013

Still Bobblin' Along...

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It was May 2008 and things were so different. Aaron Rodgers had never started a game for the Packers. CC Sabathia was in Cleveland and Ned Yost managed the Brewers, who had no playoff appearances since 1982. Buzz Williams had just become Marquette's basketball coach. The Bucks were coming off a disappointing sea... OK, some things weren't different at all.

And two lifetime sports fans began putting their heads together...

 

Frank: My friend, do you realize the milestone that has passed?

Artie: Well, this version of the Brew Crew is another week closer to a dismal ending, and of course we are too.

F: Don't go morose on me. This is a happy occasion! Exactly five years ago we began our association as sports blatherers.

A: Wow, only five years? It seems a lot longer.

F: You sound like a disappointed spouse.

A: I didn't mean it that way, I'm pretty sure. It's just that so much has happened since the honchos at this fine publication gave me an assignment: Comb the city for someone who could join me in providing clever, insightful, amusing and meaningful sports commentary...

F: And when that failed I got the job. Ba-ding!, as you would say.

A: My wide-ranging search ended with one stop. As you know, any task worth doing is worth starting with an ice-cold bottled beer...

F: So you wandered into the finest Irish bar this side of Dublin—hell, the other side too...

A: That being Paddy's Pub on the East Side.

F: And as we watched the Brewers lose to Washington we started gabbing...

A: And voila, as Rick did not say at the end of Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

F: And more than 250 pages of observations about sporting news happy and sad, profound and silly, inspiring and depressing. A lot has come and gone in five years—or in the case of one early topic, gone and come back and gone again.

A: In the person of one Brett Favre, ain'a? Maybe in another five years he and the Pack will kiss and make up.

F: As Rodgers wants them to. In a radio interview last week he said it's time for the “healing process to begin,” ideally by retiring Favre's number.

A: And after all, Brett made that last Super Bowl triumph even sweeter by failing to get there the previous year with the hated Purple Guys, then falling apart while Rodgers was validating the Pack's faith in him.

F: Rodgers also said, “You know, our country and the state of Wisconsin, these people are a people of second and third and fourth chances.”

A: As Rickie Weeks knows only too well! Or the Bucks, who... I better stop. I'm getting morose again.

F: Back to happy talk.

A: Well, at five years and counting we've surpassed Jerry Van Dyke's first shot at a sitcom, “My Mother the Car.”

F: Which lasted exactly 30 episodes.

A: Or the original “Star Trek,” which ran only three seasons. Hell, disco didn't even last five years, did it?

F: I hope not; I don't remember. Anyway, I've been thinking of an appropriate way to mark our fifth anniversary.

A: Ice-cold bottled beer is always appropriate.

F: I mean some way our readers could join us. A memento to reward their diligence in digging so deeply into the Shepherd to reach our page.

A: I've got it! The Brewers give away so many bobblehead dolls that I'll bet they're reaching the bottom of the barrel. Next they'll be honoring Ron Theobald or Lenn Sakata—or maybe my all-time favorite Brewer-in-brief, Izzy Alcantara.

F: So your idea, I shiver to ask, is...

A: A Fairly Detached Observers bobblehead day at the ol' ballyard! The Brewers could save on production costs by putting both our heads on each body.

F: That's one way of bringing double-headers back to the big leagues.

A: And we wouldn't even ask for a cut of the gate from what surely would be a sellout.

F: Um, they almost always sell out bobblehead days anyway—although I think we'd test that marketing strategy.

A: All right, we include a lottery scratch card in each box. And if they're worried, we'll just make it a “first 10,000 fans receive” thing.

F: If fans know what they'd be receiving, there might not be 10,000 fans.

A: Then we wait until after the game and make it a “first 10,000 fans must accept in order to exit” thing. Hey, we'd be doing the Brewers a favor. Our bobblin' heads would distract people from the sorry state of affairs on the field.

F: Public service—It's what we do.

 

YO, THIS ISN'T ACCEPTABLE

 

(After Frank got home Sunday from the Brewers' 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh).

 

Artie: Even Ryan Braun bobbleheads couldn't compensate for that “close but no cigar” downer, I'll bet. If a game like that accompanied our giveaway, every dang one of 'em would be on eBay for, like, 25 cents as soon as people got home.

Frank: The “woulda, coulda, shouldas” were tilted just enough against the Brewers. Like in the seventh when Braun hit what should have been an RBI single up the middle, but because Jean Segura was running on the pitch the Pirates' second baseman broke to the bag and was in the perfect spot to grab the bouncer and end the inning.

A: Yeah, but what about the alleged ace who started for the Crew? This time Yovani Gallardo outdid himself, managing to last only four innings because he needed 94 freakin' pitches for the 12 outs!

F: And put the team in a 4-0 hole to boot.

A: How is that even possible? You'd expect that kind of thing from a rookie or an emergency call-up from the minors. Not a guy who has had success at this level. He just doesn't seem as focused as he should be.

F: Only 54 of the pitches were for strikes, which is a lousy ratio. This team has no hope at all if Gallardo doesn't turn things around—especially with Kyle Lohse now in “elbow soreness” limbo. Jim Henderson is out too, with a bad hamstring, but what does it matter if the team can't get to the ninth inning with a lead?

A: What was that word that Joe Torre used in talking about extended replay reviews?

F: “Rhythm,” as in, “We have a rhythm in this game that we certainly don't want to disrupt.”

A: Well, Gallardo has a rhythm that desperately needs disrupting! As always, today the guy took forever to make his dang pitches.

F: Two days after Marco Estrada went seven crisp innings and then told Michael Hunt, “I think the pace has a lot to do with it. If you've got a good pace going, everybody behind you is aware and ready to make the play.”

A: And so the sellout crowd—or most of 'em, anyway—had another 3 ½ hour, plodding afternoon. It always seems like Gallardo pitches the Sunday home games, and maybe it's because the Brewers figure that's a day when fans have lots more time to kill.

F: What made it worse was that for some reason the team decided to keep the roof open on a very un-ideal day. Yeah, there was sunshine for part of the game, but it was pretty cool to begin with and breezy, at least in the top deck where I was. They closed the outfield panels just before game time, so maybe the folks down below felt a little warmer, but I'll bet a lot of the upstairs customers were shivering by about the sixth inning, like I was.

A: Thanks a lot, Brewers, for a delightful stadium experience, ain'a?

F: So the Brewers enter this week, and four straight games against Minnesota, at 19-29. That's only one game behind last year's pace, but last year they were seven games behind in the NL Central race through 48 games. This time they're 12 ½ games behind the Cardinals and 11 behind both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

A: That's what a 4-15 stretch against those three teams over a month will do for ya.

F: The Brewers are 10-18 overall against division rivals. Good thing the Cubs haven't switched leagues like the Astros.

A: So here's a team that has four freakin' guys in the top dozen in NL hitting—Segura, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki and Braun—but goes into this week on a 5-17 roll.

F: Good hitting, yes, but not timely hitting these last few weeks. They've tailed off to ninth in the league in runs, and while they're fourth in batting average they're also ninth in on-base percentage.

A: There's one obvious target there. Good ol' .174 Rickie Weeks. I noticed how warmly the fans greeted his first-inning strikeout that stranded Aramis Ramirez at third.

F: He did get one hit and also hit a hard liner to right, but he's still a $10 million anchor. And Jonathan Lucroy isn't helping much. A year ago he was having an all-star first half, but this year through 48 games he's at .225 with an OBP of .283.

A: But it's the pitching—and really, just the starters—that's messing things up. The bullpen has been pretty effective—though not as much as Pittsburgh's! I heard a stat that over the last hundred games in which they've led through eight innings, they're 99-1! Did I hear correctly?

F: Everyone has a good record when they lead through eight, but not that good. Their two finishing guys, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli, have been amazing. Melancon left town with 27 strikeouts and ONE walk in 27 innings, and Grilli had five walks and 34 K's in 22 2/3 innings.

A: You just never know about relief pitchers, but Grilli was terrific last year as Joel Hanrahan's setup man, which prompted the Pirates to trade Hanrahan to Boston for, among others, Melancon. Boy, has that worked out! They went with Grilli as the closer at age 36; that's a gutsy move.

F: By the way, do you remember that Grilli was a free agent whom the Brewers were supposedly considering in the off-season? But we joked about him because his agent is, amazingly, none other than Gary Sheffield.

A: Good ol' Sheff shafts the Brewers yet again. Unless things turn around real soon, I'm guessing the crew is going to have to make some kind of move just to show the fans they're doing something. Like maybe firing pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

F: Last year the move was firing the bullpen coach, Stan Kyles, although he could hardly have been to blame for the mid-season bullpen meltdown.

A: What do you mean? He opened the door for the wrong relievers at the wrong time.

F: The worst part about the Brewers' bad stretch against the division leaders is that, through a quirk in scheduling, while the Brewers were playing one of those teams the other two were NOT playing each other.

A: And were playing well.

F: So that on most nights the Brewers were losing ground to all three of the teams they have to catch.

A: Sooner or later those three teams will be going round-robin, but by then the Brew Crew might be 20 games behind them all. I figure that with a little more than 110 games to go, to get back in this thing they need to go, like, 105-05.

F: Nothing like setting high goals.

A: Make it 100-10.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek's head has bobbled a time or two.

 

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