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Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008

The Sum of All Fears

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Before getting together this time, the Observers split their forces.Frank was at Miller Park for the Brewers’ series finale against San Diego while Artie, battling some kind of creeping croup, remained at Central Command to monitor Brett Favre’s regular-season debut with the New York Jets.

Frank: So the week began with the Brewers lobbying for a no-hitter for CC Sabathia and ended with the Brewers almost achieving a perfect game, but for someone else. Chris Young set down Milwaukee’s first 23 batters, and all but a couple of those outs were easy. A lot of pop ups and a lot of first-pitch swinging—not that I blame them, because Young was throwing strikes.

Artie: All 8 feet of him.

Frank: Six-foot-ten, to be precise. His delivery angle must have been tough, but he did come in with an ERA close to 5.

Artie: Well, the Brew Crew lost three straight to the Mets, split with the lowly Padres... I’m getting nervous, Frank. Do I need to be?

Frank: Nah, because Cubs fans re-e-eally need to be nervous. The Brewers had a 2-5 stretch but the Cubbies were losing seven of eight. Those collars are getting tighter and, after all, they are the Cubs.

Artie: Meanwhile, look who’s lurking: another 1982 Brewer who’s the skipper of the Astros, Cecil Cooper. Heading into this week they were six games behind the Brewers and surging.

Frank: Remember, Phil Garner got Houston to the World Series in ‘05 with a huge second half.

Artie: And let’s not forget last year with the Colorado Rockies, who won 21 of 22 to get to the Series. Anything can happen. And let’s absolutely not forget 1964 and the Phillies! The doormats of the century find themselves ahead by 6 1/2 games with 12 to play. It’s a cakewalk!

Frank: And it was, just not for the Phillies.

Artie: They proceed to lose 10 straight and tie for second. This is the kind of thing I fear with the Brewers. You see the lack of hitting with runners on base, only 16 runs in the seven games last week. Ned Yost says it goes in cycles, but how about my new theory, cycles within cycles? Cycles that are bad but get even worse. They can’t hit with runners on base, but against Mighty Chris Young they can’t even get runners on base!

Frank: They might hit if they saw anyone on base, huh? Boy, talk about looking past the silver lining.

Arttie: And now the starting pitching, other than Sabathia and Ben Sheets, is looking shaky again. Bush, Suppan, and now Parra. Hey, are those ERAs or Richter Scale readings?

Frank: Well, Parra had five San Diego runs that were unearned because of two errors. But hey, Sheets’ shutout Saturday night was very encouraging.

Artie: Because they scored a run?

Frank: Because he showed no evidence of the groin problem from his previous start. So CC and Ben look just fine heading into the last three weeks.

Artie: Plus the Cubs don’t have an easy September schedule. As we sit here, they have six games left with the Cardinals and six with the Brewers.

Frank: There is one thing in their favor. Remember a few weeks ago when I found that evidence in Numerology or Scientology or something that this is the Brewers’ year?

Artie: Who could forget?

Frank: Here’s one for Cubs fans, in case any of them are reading this. Last month they won a doubleheader in Atlanta, 10-2 and 8-0. Someone at Elias Sports Bureau found that the last time they swept a road doubleheader by at least eight runs in each game was in 1908. And as everyone knows, that was...

Artie: The last time they won the World Series. Take heart in that, Cubs fans.

Frank: But don’t take heart in their schedule, or the way they’re playing, or the fact that their top pitchers, Zambrano and Harden, have question marks about their health.

Artie: But with Bush, Suppan and Parra, lately the Brewers have question marks about performance. And that bullpen— ouch! Talk about Richter Scale readings substituting for earned run averages.

Frank: You’ll hear a sound that registers on the Richter Scale if Eric Gagne ever enters another close game at Miller Park. It was pretty brutal Friday night: Three pitches, a game-tying homer and a double.

Artie: I don’t think Ned said it, but I’ll bet he was thinking it: “Except for that, he had great stuff.”

Frank: We’ve been talking about the N.L. Central, but let’s not forget the wild-card competition to the East, the Mets and Philadelphia.

Artie: By the time people read this, the Brewers will be heading into a four-game series in Philly and then right to Chicago for three. These are big!

Frank: There certainly is precedent for the Phillies overtaking the Mets, namely last year’s New York nightmare. And speaking of Gotham, how did Mr. Favre look as the Jets beat Miami?

Artie: Pretty doggone good, from the vantage point of my sickbed in Central Command. But I’ll tell ya, seeing him in a Jets uniform was weird. It was as if the Three Stooges had a falling-out and all of a sudden you see Curly appearing with the Ritz Brothers. Or the Beatles had a big argument and John goes to Herman’s Hermits.

Frank: It’s just not right!

Artie: But then Brett goes 15 for 22, a nice compact 194 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. I knew he would air it out early in the game, and in the second series there was a rocket, 56 yards down the left sideline and right in stride for Jerricho Cotchery, his new Greg Jennings.

Frank: Now the New York tabloids will canonize him again. For a week, at least.

Artie: So Brett laid down the challenge for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. And maybe more so, Ted Thompson.

Frank: And the guys on the field responded pretty well against the Vikings. Lots of penalties, not a dominating performance, but an encouraging victory over a division rival. Rodgers’ night was 18 for 22, 178 yards, a touchdown and no INTs. And he scored the clinching TD. But he’s got to work on his Lambeau leap! The butt has to at least clear the wall.

Artie: Better yet his butt clears the season.

Frank: Which is more than Tom Brady’s will. That’s the biggest NFL news of the first Sunday: the Patriots’ Superman out for the year with a knee injury.

Artie: New England, of course, is in the Jets’ division. And guess who has to face Mr. Favre at the Meadowlands this Sunday?

Frank: Everything seems to be falling into place for the Jets. Brett might be waiting for the Packers at the Super Bowl! But you’re not the only pessimist. I talked with my nephew, a lifelong Jets fan, about this great chance for his team. His reply: “This can only end badly.”

Artie: I’m a lifetime Packers fan. Boy, don’t I know.

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years.

Art Kumbalek offers Brewers hitters a tip he employs when filing a tax return: Work the count to your advantage.