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Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

Not So Far, Not So Good

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Green Bay Packer fans had some reason to be optimistic after the Packers dominated Cleveland in their preseason opener, 17-0. Milwaukee Brewer fans also were energized by some bold personnel moves and a three-game winning streak, but the Brewers coughed up a lead Sunday, lost to Houston and hit the road under .500 and running out of time.

Frank: As you know, Irish Fest is Priority One for me in mid-August. So I didn’t see the Packer game. From your perspective as a fan, how’d it look?

Artie: The first string looked awfully good on both sides of the ball. Of course, they were playing the Browns, who I read somewhere could be this year’s Detroit Lions.

Frank: Packer GM Ted Thompson declared, “So far, so good.” But it’s way too early to draw any major conclusions.

Artie: On the long touchdown pass to Donald Driver, Aaron Rodgers had a day and a half to throw. And the Pack had 230 rushing yards. Those are signs that the offensive line will be better.

Frank: Still—it was the Browns!

Artie: One thing I found strange was when the Packers went for a 60-yard field goal instead of punting.

Frank: Hey, it’s a time for experimenting. And Mason Crosby almost nailed it, hitting an upright.

Artie: But this team had punting problems last year and now has two guys, Durant Brooks and Jeremy Kapinos, who I’m reading might both get the boot, so to speak, for inconsistency. So why not give one of them a chance to put one inside the 10-yard line? The Pack wound up with only one punt all night, by Brooks.

Frank: And they also had Crosby try a 55-yarder, which he missed. It does seem odd.

Artie: This weekend the Packers should get a tougher test when Terrell Owens and the Buffalo Bills visit Lambeau Field. Not that T.O. probably will play that much, but there’s always a chance he’ll run off at the mouth.

Frank: The Packers must be thankful that Driver and Greg Jennings are quality receivers without T.O.’s compulsion for controversy. Speaking of which, the Philadelphia Eagles must hope their past adventures with T.O. will help them deal with the media frenzy surrounding their new backup quarterback, Michael Vick.

Artie: I’m thinking it’s only a rumor that Vick and the Eagles worked out a deal with PETA—change the team’s name to “Beagles” and put Snoopy on the helmets.

Frank: If only it were that easy, the Eagles may be thinking.

Paint It Black

Frank: As we learned last year, the Brewers know how to make dramatic changes. This time they packaged them into what was quickly dubbed “Black Wednesday”—J.J. Hardy to the minors to make room for Alcides Escobar at shortstop; Bill Hall sent packing while the Brewers eat more than $10 million in future salary; and Bill Castro fired as pitching coach in his first season.

Artie: No laurels for Hardy! Castro overthrown! And Hall... I don’t have a clever line for him.

Frank: Castro took the fall for a whole staff of underachievers. He said, “A coach is at the mercy of the players and their performance”—true, of course, but almost a declaration that coaches really don’t matter.

Artie: Don’t tell the Texas Rangers. For years they’ve been an offensive force with lousy pitching, but now they’re close to the American League lead in earned-run average. And who’s their new pitching coach? Mike Maddux, our old pal from the Brewers. Meanwhile, the Brewers have had a pitching meltdown, both starters and relievers.

Frank: A nice little winning streak vanished Sunday when Braden Looper and then David Weathers gave up big homers. That left the Brewers at 58-59 with seven weeks left in the season. Last year with seven weeks left, they were 69-51 and leading the wild-card race by four games.

Artie: They finish August with 12 games against teams with losing records. But they had mostly the same teams all month and couldn’t make a move. This year it just ain’t happening!

Frank: The Hardy move was very interesting. If he stays in the minors for 20 days, his eligibility for free agency will be pushed back a year, to after the 2011 season.

Artie: And it just so happens that if he stays at Nashville until the Sept. 1 date for expanding rosters, he’ll make that 20 days. And he’ll also be more attractive to clubs who might be interested in trading for him, ain’a?

Frank: I believe GM Doug Melvin when he says the 13-6 debacle against San Diego put him “over the edge.” But the timing with Hardy still looks a little fishy.

Artie: I’ll bet J.J. is having the time of his life, riding buses from Nashville to Oklahoma City or wherever. We’ve been talking all season about how his batting stance changed so much, and I wonder if he just got stubborn and wouldn’t take coaching.

Frank: To me, it seemed like his feet and hands changed position slightly from week to week.

Artie: What I’ve seen of Escobar has been impressive—smooth in the field and exciting on the base paths. Sunday he beat out a routine double-play ball to drive in a run, which Hardy never would have been able to do.

Frank: With him and Felipe Lopez—when Lopez isn’t being lethargic on defense—and Rickie Weeks returning next year—maybe in center field—the Brewers will have some real speed. And presumably more men on base for Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to drive in.

Artie: People think it’s got to be either “small ball” or tons of homers. Why not have both?

Frank: The classic Brewers of the ‘70s and ‘80s did—power from Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper but speed and contact hitting from Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Jim Gantner.

Artie: But no one goes far without pitching. This year the good times last only two or three games. Otherwise the pitching makes just enough mistakes to negate what the hitters do.

Frank: The Brewers began this week eight games behind St. Louis in the division. They play the Cardinals nine times in September, and I guess if Tiger Woods can blow the lead on the final day of the PGA Championship, the Cardinals could gag, too.

Artie: Tiger awakened Sunday thinking, “So far, so good.” But for the Brewers it’s too dang far being not so good.

Better But Not Best

Frank: Once again, the Observers got results last week!

Artie: Absolutely... Um, how’d we do that?

Frank: Remember when the Packers canceled the Family Night scrimmage because of storms? And they told fans they could use their scrimmage tickets for free admission to the team Hall of Fame?

Artie: But only if they spent more money to take a Lambeau Field tour. And only in August.

Frank: We said this was ju-u-ust a bit short of generous. And even as we were going to press the Packers changed the offer.

Artie: Amazing how the grapevine somehow tips off a team that the Observers are bringing the hammer down.

Frank: So true. And yet the Packers resisted the very simple change we wanted—namely, let the scrimmage tickets get people into the Hall of Fame with no strings attached, and no deadline.

Artie: So what’s the new deal?

Frank: A letter from team president Mark Murphy on the official Web site says the scrimmage tickets can be used for the Hall “either in conjunction with the purchase of a Lambeau Field stadium tour or as a standalone offer if you have already taken a paid tour this year. This offer is available through the end of the 2009 season.”

Artie: How will they know someone already took a stadium tour?

Frank: I reckon someone will say, “Yup, I took a tour in March” or whatever.

Artie: And how would they know if that’s a little white lie?

Frank: Exactly. The Packers, in effect, are inviting fans to be dishonest, just so the offer can still have conditions. Make it an out-and-out freebie, Mr. Murphy!

Whose glass is half-empty, whose is half-full?