Fiers dominates once again

August 30, 2012

POSTGAME

> The Brewers pretty much let Mike Fiers and the Cubs’ defense do the work tonight in their 3-1 win. Fiers had yet another stellar performance, going 7 1/3 innings while giving up a run on four hits. He walked one and struck out six.

The Brewers got on the board in the first inning on Aramis Ramirez’s RBI fielder’s choice. The Cubs answered back in the second inning on a Darwin Barney RBI groundout, and from there it was a pitcher’s duel. Fiers was dominant, but so was Jeff Samardzija, who struck out 10 over seven innings.

But the Cubs’ defense unraveled behind him in the seventh. After Samardzija himself allowed Nyjer Morgan to reach on an error, Jean Segura drove in the go-ahead run with a single. Then the Cubs defense did something that I can’t really explain, so you can watch it here.

Manny Parra finished off the eighth for Fiers, and John Axford recorded his 22nd save.

MY TAKE

> Fiers had 82 pitches through seven innings, so, thankfully, Ron Roenicke put him back out for the eighth. He gave up a single to Barney to lead off the eighth, and almost erased him with a double play (Corey Hart botched that and a few other plays tonight).

Roenicke took out Fiers after that when he was at just 87 pitches. I was hoping tonight would be the night we see the first Brewers complete game since April of 2011, but now I’m starting to think we’ll never see one over the tenure of RRR.

THE NEWS

> The Brewers set up their Arizona Fall League roster. The prospects going are Nick Bucci, Kyle Heckathorn, Santo Manzanillo, Jimmy Nelson, Hunter Morris, Khris Davis, Brock Kjeldgaard, and Johnny Hellweg. Mat Gamel could also be ready in time.

> The Orioles won’t make the Randy Wolf signing official until Friday.

THE NUMBERS

> The Brewers eight-game streak of 10 or more strikeouts ended. They recorded seven tonight.

> Jonathan Lucroy had a rough night, going o-for-4 with three strikeouts.

> The Reds won their Major League-leading 80th game.

> Tomorrow’s match-up:

Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.19 ERA) vs. Brooks Raley (1-2, 6.64 ERA)

Keep in mind this could be Marcum’s final start as a Brewer, as he was placed on waivers yesterday.


Yo does the job again

August 29, 2012

POSTGAME

> The Brewers once again handled the Cubs with ease tonight, winning 4-1. Yovani Gallardo had another stellar start, going seven innings while giving up a run on three hits. He walked three and struck out nine.

The Brewers jumped on Travis Wood early, as Jeff Bianchi hit his first career home run- a three-run blast- in the second inning. The only Cubs run came on a home run from Wood, the pitcher. Other than that, the Cubs’ offense was rather lifeless.

The 2011 bullpen was successfully revisited tonight, as Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford got the hold and save, respectively. If only we could have had that a few months ago.

LOOKING INTO THE NL MVP RACE

> Recently I’ve been mulling over who I think should win the major baseball awards come the end of the season, and I’ve found there are a lot of interesting award races around the game. One I’m having a particularly tough time with is the National League MVP race.

Our own Ryan Braun took it home last year after posting a career high in batting average and leading the Brewers to the playoffs. But, while Braun is nearly duplicating the numbers he put up last year- and on pace for a career high in home runs- I can’t see him taking it home this year. The Brewers aren’t remotely close to contention, which we all know always affects the MVP race. And his eventful offseason is certain to take more than a few votes away.

Other than Braun, I see three candidates for the MVP (all on contending teams): Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, and Matt Holliday. Obviously there are other sleeper guys around the league, such as Adam LaRoche, Freddie Freeman, Carlos Beltran, and so on, but the three I listed prior seem to be the choices whom all the buzz is surrounding.

Everyone was pretty much handing McCutchen the award in July, which is clearly too early. He was hitting around .370 at the time, but has fallen into the .340’s. That still isn’t bad, but, as McCutchen has fallen, so have the Pirates. If that continues, my vote would not go to Cutch.

Posey and Holliday are my top two right now; both are valuable assets to their contending teams. Assuming the Giants and Cardinals stay where they are in the standings into the playoffs, my vote would go to Posey. The Giants have an otherwise weak offense without him, while the Cardinals still have a lineup of perennial All-Stars without Holliday.

That’s my opinion on the race right now. I would be thrilled if Braun somehow came out with the award again, but I have a feeling one of the guys I listed will to do Braun what Braun did to Matt Kemp last year.

MY TAKE

> Bianchi must have been listening when I called him Brooks Conrad 2.0 the other night, because he’s gone on a tear since I criticized him in Pittsburgh. After starting his career with an 0-for, Bianchi had five consecutive hits, ending with his first career homer in the second inning.

Needless to say I’m liking the Jean Segura-Bianchi shortstop tandem than I did the Cody Ransom-Cesar Izturis tandem.

THE NEWS

> Shaun Marcum was placed on waivers today. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get nabbed by a contender.

> Randy Wolf didn’t go unemployed for very long, as it was reported that the Orioles signed him earlier today. They’ll likely use him as a relief since they’re primary lefty out of the ‘pen, Troy Patton, is taking a long time to recover from an injury. But Buck Showalter didn’t rule out using him as a spot starter in the ever-changing O’s rotation.

UPDATE: The Athletics also had “serious interest” in Wolf before he signed with the Orioles.

> Pitching coach Rick Kranitz said he doesn’t want Brewers pitchers trying too hard to get strikeouts in what could be a record-breaking season.

“I don’t want to see guys try to get strikeouts. They are a product of strike one and strike two. But when the situation dictates it, we’ve got guys who know how to strike guys out.”

“I’m just as happy with a shutout with no strikeouts and no walks. I don’t want to get caught up in all that [strikeout talk]. That’s why you have a defense out there.”

The Brewers are on pace to break the team strikeout record set by the 2003 Cubs, who featured elite arms such as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

> The Pirates released Erik Bedard. His final start with them was a loss at the hands of the Brewers just a few days ago, when he gave up seven earnies in 4 2/3 innings.

THE NUMBERS

> Gallardo made strides in quite a few stats tonight. He reached 14 wins for the third consecutive year. He won his sixth consecutive decision. He struck out nine for the third consecutive start. He threw his Major League-leading 22nd quality start. Yep, he’s the ace of the staff right now.

> Brewers pitchers struck out 10 for the eighth straight game.

> Holy crap, Justin Verlander gave up eight earned runs today.

> Tomorrow’s match-up:

Mike Fiers (7-6, 2.98 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.09 ERA)


Brewers handily take series from Bucs

August 26, 2012

POSTGAME

> It doesn’t matter how good the Pirates are or how bad the Brewers are: history tells us it’s likely the Brewers will always beat the Pirates. That happened again today, as the Brewers KO’d the Pirates 7-0.

Erik Bedard held the Brewers hitless through the first three innings, but the Brewers jumped all over him in the middle innings. Carlos Gomez hit a three-run blast off him in the fourth inning, then Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run shot following a Rickie Weeks RBI single in the fifth. The Brewers’ last run was Norichika Aoki’s sacrifice fly in the sixth.

BUCCOS RUNNING OUT OF TIME

> This is starting to become a common theme for the Pirates. Last year, they were in first place at the All-Star break for the first time since 1992. The quick assumption was that they’d finally reach the playoffs (or at least finish over .500) for the first time since that year as well.

But there was no such luck. The Pirates couldn’t even win 20 games down the stretch, and faded out of contention to a 72-90 record.

This year, the Pirates seemed to have stepped it up a notch, and have been contending for most of the year. But now they may be fading away yet again. They’ve lost 12 of their last 17 games, and have been struggling against the teams that most contending teams would beat (i.e. the Brewers, and they were swept in four games by the Padres prior to this series).

The reason for this happening two years in a row is probably because the young players are putting too much pressure on themselves. A perfect example of that is James McDonald, who had an ERA hovering around 2.20 before the All-Star break. Since the break, his ERA is over 8.00. That’s a sign he’s probably trying to do too much, and the same can be said for other young players on his team.

But the front office isn’t really helping them, either. They traded ex-Brewer Casey McGehee to the Yankees during a stretch in which he was really helping the Pirates win games, then attempted to replace him by acquiring Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins. I didn’t understand that all, considering Sanchez, a former All-Star, was hitting below .200 and had been in the Minors for most of the year with the Marlins. And all the Pirates got in return for McGehee was struggling reliever Chad Qualls. So that was clearly a bad series of moves. The Wandy Rodriguez trade looked good on paper, but Rodriguez has an ERA above 5.00 since joining the Pirates.

And while the Pirates continue to struggle, other teams are pulling away and are simply making themselves better than the Pirates. I want to say the Braves have a Wild Card spot locked up, but I can’t after last year. The Cardinals have pulled ahead of the Pirates in the WC chase as well. And there’s almost no chance the Bucs can compete with the juiced Dodgers.

While I wanted to see the Pirates contend for once this year, I can’t see it happening now. There are just too many teams that are better than them, and their struggles are holding them back.

MY TAKE

> Mark Rogers had a strange start today. He shut down the Pirates, but did so in a rather inefficient way, needing 101 pitches to get through just five innings. His three walks may have contributed to that.

When Rogers was first drafted, some considered him a future ace. At the time, that may have bode true, but after all these injuries he’s gone through, I don’t know if he’ll ever reach that point. That’s not to say he can’t be a solid two or three starter, because his stuff is definitely still there. But now I’m doubting he’ll ever be that true No. 1.

> Gomez is getting far more playing time than Nyjer Morgan nowadays, which I love to see. He’s hitting just .247, but is starting to show that power stroke everyone has been waiting for. With Morgan likely gone next year, I’m excited to see what kind of numbers Gomez will put up as a full-time center fielder.

THE NEWS

> The Brewers might not shut down Mike Fiers. They’ve been going back and forth on the decision regarding shutting him down, and have gone back to the good side.

If the Brewers do decide to shut down Fiers, it likely wouldn’t be until late September. But even Fiers himself has said he “feels fine” and would like to pitch the rest of the year.

> Ron Roenicke is going to stick with Weeks in the two-hole in the lineup. Weeks is just 8 for his last 50, but did get an RBI today.

> Vin Scully, the best sportscaster in history, is coming back to announce Dodgers games in 2013.

> The Orioles acquired Joe Saunders from the Diamondbacks. Not exactly the ace arm they were looking for, but we’ll see if he can help them with a playoff run.

> Roger Clemens went 3 1/3 innings in his first start with the Sugar Land Skeeters yesterday. He needed just 37 pitches and gave up no runs.

THE NUMBERS

> Rogers got his second consecutive win after the bullpen seemingly wouldn’t let him find one for a few starts.

> Jonathan Lucroy went a perfect 3-for-3, raising his average to .333.

> The Brewers have made five errors in their last two games. Whoever was saying defense has been a high point this year apparently jinxed it.

> Here are the probables for the upcoming Cubs series:

Marco Estrada (1-5, 4.23 ERA) vs. Justin Germano (2-3, 4.54 ERA)

Yovani Gallardo (13-8, 3.62 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (4-10, 4.76 ERA)

Mike Fiers (7-6, 2.98 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.09 ERA)

THE EXTRAS

> Yes. Yes we were.

But, according to this magazine, ESPN has the Packers going 16-0 and winning the Super Bowl. I’d take that.

> Wouldn’t you hate to play for a team called the “Sugar Land Skeeters?”


Brewers killed by Kendrick

August 20, 2012

POSTGAME

> With the lineup Ron Roenicke tossed out there today, it’s no surprise the Brewers couldn’t do anything offensively. They were shut out by the Phillies, 8-0, even though their weakest starter was on the mound. Kyle Kendrick threw eight scoreless against the for-some-reason depleted Brewers lineup, and seemed to do it pretty effortlessly.

Randy Wolf had another rough day at the office, serving up five runs on 10 hits over five innings. He walked two and struck out four. His two bad innings were the second inning, when he gave up a two-run homer to Michael Martinez, and the third, which featured a bases-clearing double from Dominic Brown.

THE FIRST BASE SITUATION: 2013 AND BEYOND

> Nobody can complain with the jobĀ Corey Hart has done at first base this year. After Mat Gamel went down for the season in a string of season-ending injuries, Hart came out of nowhere and became a near-elite first baseman, at least defensively. His bat in the lineup remains as inconsistent as ever, but he’s become one of the best defensive first baseman the Brewers have had in a long time.

Roenicke has found ways to ruin this at times, such as throwing Hart back in right field (where he’s become a sub-par defender) on occasion, or starting Travis Ishikawa at first, like he did today. If the Brewers were contending, I’m sure the media would be getting on Roenicke a lot more than it does for the matter, but we’re not, so Roenicke is safe on moves like that.

But, over the past week, I’ve been hearing that Hart might not be the permanent option at first base next year, or even after that. A while back, Roenicke said he wanted to keep Hart at first base next year, but now he’s backed off of that solution.

The one thorn in the Brewers’ side right now is actually Gamel. In my opinion, he’s run out of chances with the Crew, proving that he just can’t stay healthy. He’s a likeable guy, and I wish he still had opportunities with us, but, assuming the Brewers do the right thing, he probably won’t.

The “right thing” is keeping things the way they are now at first base and in the outfield. With Hart at first base, that gives the Brewers an everyday outfield of Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Norichika Aoki. Braun is obviously a lock, Gomez is showing signs that he might be turning into a consistent center fielder, and Aoki is far better defensively in right fielder than Hart.

But, I have a feeling the Brewers will opt to give Gamel another chance, which messes up everything I just explained. Gamel can supposedly play the corner outfield positions (although he never has in the Majors) and a little bit of third base, which at least gives him versatility. But, he’s blocked at all those positions, with Aramis Ramirez on a multi-year deal to play third. I would suggest Gamel go back to the Minors and try and become a second baseman or shortstop, but you can probably see the underlying problems with that: Jean Segura and Rickie Weeks are both locked up, and Gamel just doesn’t have the frame to be a middle infielder.

In other words, Gamel no longer has a place on a healthy Brewers team. If he agrees to become a bench/utility player, great. The Brewers will definitely need to revamp their bench for next season. But, Gamel will probably want a starting role. So, unless he decides to stay loyal to the team that brought him up and accept being a bench player, he could be facing an offseason trade, or even a release.

But, as I said, the Brewers will likely attempt to find a place for him, and that place is hopefully the bench.

Other than Gamel, Hart shouldn’t have any issues remaining at first base. Taylor Green could come back, but it would be as a back-up third baseman/utility guy. Brock Kjeldgaard was released from the organization a few weeks ago. Ishikawa is likely gone by next year. If the Brewers have any other first base prospects, they’re probably pretty far down in the system.

That leaves Hart as the starting first baseman for the long-term. People seem to forget that he’s already a free agent after 2013, but Hart himself has expressed interest in finishing his career with the Brewers, just as Braun did.

THE NEWS

> Aoki, Hart, and Ramirez were all out of the lineup on the same day. Some say Roenicke shouldn’t be blamed for our bad season. I still think otherwise, and today helps prove my point.

I don’t have an issue with giving a guy a day off every now and then, but why on earth would Roenicke take three of the biggest run producers out of the lineup on the same day? There’s no excuse for that. And yes, I know this is a “lost season,” but there’s no reason to throw away games, regardless of the situation.

> Edwin Maysonet, currently playing for Triple-A Nashville, went on the disabled list.

> Zack Greinke took another loss for the Angels today. His ERA since being traded to them now sits at an even 6.00.

> The Cubs agreed to a seven-year extension with Starlin Castro, although it may not become official for a week or so.

> The Astros replaced Brad Mills with Tony DeFrancesco as their interim manager.

THE NUMBERS

> Cody Ransom went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, making him 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in his two starts this series. But Roenicke needs to do everything he can to get the bat in the lineup somehow.

> Nyjer Morgan, Ishikawa, and Ransom went a combined 3-for-11.

> Probables for the Cubs series:

Justin Germano (2-2, 3.19 ERA) vs. Mark Rogers (0-1, 4.94 ERA)

Travis Wood (4-9, 4.83 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (0-5, 4.52 ERA)

Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.17 ERA) vs. Yovani Gallardo (12-8, 3.67 ERA)

Brooks Raley (1-2, 7.63 ERA) vs. Mike Fiers (6-6, 2.90 ERA)

 


Did the Cubs’ rotation improve?

January 20, 2012

> Probably not.

The Cubs had another Cubs-esque year in 2011, going 71-91. The actually had a half-decent offense, as they were near the top of the NL in team batting average.

But why were they so bad? Their pitching; primarily the starting rotation. Practically none of their starters performed to the expectations they were expected. They did deal a few of their starters and acquired a few as well, but I don’t know if it was enough to lift them out of the chasm that is the bottom of the NL Central.

This is how I would assemble the Cubs’ rotation in 2012:

#1 starter- Matt Garza- 10-10, 3.32 ERA

Garza was the only decent starter in 2011, despite the fact Mike Quade named him the #3 starter at the beginning of the season. Garza actually had a career year, setting a career-best ERA. His wins don’t show it, but he didn’t get run support most of the time.

Garza also had a career-high in strikeouts, punching out 197 in 198 innings. His K/9 was exactly 9, which was a huge improvement from his 6.6 K/9 while pitching for the Rays in 2010. Garza, who used to be known as primarily a fly-ball pitcher because of his aggressive use of the high fastball, could be turning into a strikeout pitcher.

For some reason, Garza is on the Cubs’ trade block. If they trade him, their rotation will have close to no hope in 2012, as you’ll see from the pitchers I’m about to talk about.

#2 starter- Ryan Dempster- 10-14, 4.80 ERA

Dempster had an awful 2011, to say the least. In 2010, he went 15-12 with a 3.85 ERA, so his numbers really plummeted in 2011. The only area he was half decent was his innings and strikeouts. He ate up 202 1/3 innings, something the Cubs needed.

Garza has a sinker, splitter, and slider in his repertoire, so he’s known as a groundball pitcher. But, his 8.5 K/9 in 2011 was a career-high, so, like Garza, he could be becoming a strikeout pitcher.

But, since Dempster’s career year in 2008 in which he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA, his ERA has consistently gone down- 2.96, 3.65, 3.85, 4.80. Maybe we could expect worse next year, but I kind of doubt it. Dempster can be a good pitcher, but he just isn’t consistent enough yet, and it may be too late in his career to turn it around.

#3 starter- Paul Maholm- 6-14, 3.66 ERA

After the Pirates opted not to re-sign Maholm, the Cubs picked him up on a one-year deal, and, in my opinion, it isn’t a bad pickup. His 6-14 shows nothing of how well he pitched in 2011- the Pirates didn’t have any offense.

Maholm definitely isn’t a strikeout pitcher, as he had just a 5.4 K/9 in 2011, to go along with 97 strikeouts in 162 1/3 innings. I don’t see him pitch very often, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe he’s a groundball pitcher. But it’s fine that he doesn’t strike out many batters- Garza and Dempster have that covered.

I think Maholm will have a decent year in 2012. But that’s just my gut feeling, I could be wrong; he’s been pretty inconsistent over the past few years.

#4 starter- Randy Wells- 7-6, 4.99 ERA

Wells got injured in his first start of the year, so he missed the first few months. When he came back, he struggled, and for most of the year his ERA was well north of 5.00. But, he had a good September that included a shutout against the Giants, and lowered his ERA by a large margin.

Wells is an extreme groundball pitcher, and his K/9 was just 5.5 in 2011. Yet, he somehow found a way to give up 23 homers in just 135 1/3 innings, which means left a few too many sinkers up.

I don’t know about Wells. I don’t see much in him, and have a feeling he won’t have more than an average season in 2012.

#5 starter- Chris Volstad- 5-13, 4.89 ERA

The first thing the Cubs need to to do with Volstad- thank him. He was part of the trade that sent the psychopath- AKA Carlos Zambrano- to the Miami Marlins, so they won’t have to deal with his antics anymore. Anyway, with that aside, I see talent in Volstad. He hasn’t had the best career so far, but he’s still young and has time to turn it around. I think the Marlins gave up on him a bit early, and it was actually their fault for his lack of wins, because they didn’t give him any run support.

Volstad is considered a groundball pitcher, but I don’t really see it, as he gave up 23 homers in 2011. He doesn’t strike out all that many, with his K/9 being 6.4 in 2011. But I think all he needs to do is start missing more bats, and he’ll be successful.

I see a bright future for Volstad, but for some reason I have a feeling he won’t be in Chicago very long.

And that’s how I think the rotation should go. There will be some competition in Spring Training, as Casey Coleman, Travis Wood, Andy Sonnanstine, and possibly Jeff Samardzija could possibly challenge for a spot in the rotation.

> Today was the day. Ryan Braun finally pleaded his case in front of three arbitrators earlier today, but not much info was released. The decision won’t be made by Saturday, however, so we’ll have to wait a little longer.

The case took place a few days earlier than expected, as it was supposed to happen after Braun received his MVP award at a dinner on Saturday. At least that’s what’s Lance Allen reported earlier this month. But it would be nice if it were all settled before the dinner; it could make things a little less awkward, or ten times more awkward.

> And that’s about it. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your thoughts.